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date: 25 November 2020

Employment Conditions in Journalismlocked

  • Mirjam GollmitzerMirjam GollmitzerDepartment of Communication, University of Montreal


Amid the rise of atypical and casual employment across economic sectors and the decline in profits taking place in media organizations internationally, the conditions under which journalists work are changing and, for many, worsening. The number of employed journalists has declined significantly since the late 20th century, and the real salaries of the remaining journalists have decreased or remained mostly stagnant. Female journalists, freelancers, and online journalists are paid (often significantly) less than male employees working for traditional media. These trends are particularly well documented for the United States, but they are international in scope. Although job satisfaction is traditionally robust among journalists, it is starting to decline, as some studies have indicated, together with the perceived level of autonomy over the labor process.

Although those who continue to hold permanent jobs in news organizations do journalism from a position of having a steady income and social security, a growing number of freelancers work for multiple clients, experience fluctuating incomes, and must shoulder greater risks (such as legal challenges potentially arising from their reporting). Staff journalists encounter increased workloads in newsrooms as they take on the tasks of laid-off colleagues. Freelancers, on the other hand, find it increasingly difficult to earn enough from doing journalism alone and take on secondary jobs or assignments, including in public relations. Their stress is more related to ensuring that they have ongoing work; juggling multiple jobs; and doing self-promotion, administrative work, and budget planning on top of journalism. Despite this, freelancers consistently report enjoying the flexibility and autonomy their employment status affords, pointing to a complex interlinking of freedom and constraint at the core of their work experience.

It is not yet clear whether emerging ways of organizing and financing journalistic labor, such as journalism cooperatives, news start-ups, and crowdfunding, offer sustainable alternatives to the waning employment opportunities in the big news organizations or to the model of the lone freelancer. So-called entrepreneurial journalism does not only tend to emphasize teamwork across professional boundaries; it also assigns a defining importance to digital technologies. The impact of the latter on journalistic labor overall varies; some research foregrounds the increased mobility and autonomy of multiskilled reporters, and other research mentions deskilling, labor rationalization, and the increased monitoring and measuring of journalistic performance.

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