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date: 17 November 2019

Employment Conditions in Journalism

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: atypical labor, freelancing, internship, precarious job, layoff, labor rationalization, entrepreneurial journalism, labor process, journalism studies, Marxist analysis

Definition of Employment Conditions and Overview of Article

Employment conditions in journalism are broadly defined in this article, so as not to exclude any aspects of journalistic work or groups of individuals who perform journalistic work. This is especially critical because the study of employment conditions in journalism research has long been neglected and is only just emerging, and main questions and topics have yet to be clearly defined (Cohen, 2018; Deuze & Witschge, 2018). Thus employment conditions are understood to apply to paid and unpaid labor (such as internships), standard employment with generally just one employer, and freelance and other nonpermanent work performed by journalists, full-time and part-time.

This categorization includes those who regularly work as journalists, even if they do so part-time, in addition to, or alternately with other jobs. They do so in return for a fee or salary or take unpaid positions as part of establishing a career as journalists, with the goal of eventually making a living from journalism. Most of those workers have completed or are in the process of completing some form of journalistic training or are members of journalism unions or associations or at least eligible to join such organizations. The scope of this article excludes the conditions under which citizen journalists work and audience members who occasionally contribute to the news.

Working conditions vary by historical period, geographical location, industry, organization, occupation, and employment status (permanent versus short-term or freelance work, for example). They encompass working time (hours, (ir)regularity, and degree of flexibility of schedules, and rest periods), remuneration, benefits or the lack thereof, possible health hazards, and mental demands related to one’s work and workplace, as well as social and power relations with co-workers and supervisors (International Labor Organization, 2018; Vosko, 2005).

This article describes the main findings from research on employment conditions in journalism, followed by a critical discussion of the scholarly engagement with the topic. The sections in the article reflect the degree of interest scholars in the field have shown in the different factors that shape the employment conditions of journalists. After a brief historical exploration of the subject, the article discusses current employment statistics and broad trends in journalistic working conditions internationally, among both freelancers and permanently employed journalists. The longest section in this article examines Journalists in Atypical Employment and Its Effects, followed by a description of the role new technologies play in this process and a discussion of proposals for improving working conditions among journalists. The final section puts forth various attempts at theorizing working conditions in journalism before offering an evaluation of the scholarship discussed throughout article.

Brief History of Employment Conditions in Journalism

Journalism emerged as a distinct occupational activity in the 17th century, when it became a “supplementary, part-time occupation of otherwise professionally committed individuals such as printers, postmen, or tradesmen” (Splichal, 2015, p. 857). During the rise of modern capitalism, journalism was not only institutionalized as a profession—organized around the ideal of objectivity, with unions, professional associations, and training schemes emerging (Lee, 1976; Splichal, 2015)—but also evolved as a type of labor (Hardt & Brennen, 1995; Örnebring, 2010, 2013). After a long phase of nonstandardized and self-directed work preceding the Industrial Revolution, many journalists were employed by and thus financially dependent on press publishers, who controlled the journalistic labor process and offered a salary in return for labor (Cohen, 2016). This development signaled a separation between conception and execution in journalistic work, between owning or publishing, on the one hand, and news production, on the other. Whereas news making had often been done by one person operating as a newsgatherer, printer, and publisher at the same time, industrialized press publishers relied on a division and specialization of labor (Lee, 1976). This was necessary to produce media products on a greater scale and with regular periodicity, as an emerging mass audience of media consumers expected. The evolving occupations included those of publisher, editor, and writer, higher up in the hierarchy in terms of pay and status, and reporter (newsgatherer) and casually employed penny-a-liner, lower in status (Lee, 1976; Örnebring, 2010). In these early days of modern journalism, media owners commonly dismissed journalists on short notice and tried to prevent unionization in the growing print publication sector (Hardt & Brennen, 1995; Lee, 1976).

The industrialization of journalistic labor did not occur evenly or simultaneously; Germany, France, Sweden, and Estonia, for example, lagged behind Britain and the United States (Chalaby, 1996; Örnebring, 2013). Many reporters worked not in newsrooms, but directly at sites where the news often emerged, such as courthouses and parliaments. Journalism was still rarely an exclusive occupation in the 19th century and often not sustainable as a sole source of income; it also lacked clear educational and access requirements, as well as the social status that was accorded to other emerging professions, such as to lawyers. Journalists employed by newspapers often contributed to other papers and had nonjournalistic side jobs. Teachers, civil servants, and even Members of Parliament supplemented their incomes by doing journalism (Lee, 1976; Örnebring, 2013). Furthermore, many journalists chose to work outside the standard employment relationship during the 19th and 20th centuries. This was to retain control over the labor process and terms of commodification of their journalistic products in an era in which journalism’s role in a democracy was key to legitimizing the young profession but at odds with the growing commercialization and profit orientation of publishers (Cohen, 2016; Hardt & Brennen, 1995).

From the perspective of journalism history, the current casualization of journalistic labor is thus nothing new or unusual. Rather, it is a return to journalism’s roots, when “job security was never high” (Lee, 1976, p. 113). What many journalists experienced during the postwar decades of the 20th century—namely, the social and income security emerging from likely permanent, full-time work as employees of legacy media organizations—may be a historical exception whose slow demise we are now witnessing (Cohen, 2016; Örnebring, 2010).

Employment in Journalism: Numbers and Trends in Working Conditions

International and even national trends in the journalistic labor market and employment statistics for journalists are difficult to discern. National statistics agencies, academic researchers, journalism unions, and other institutions use varying definitions of what constitutes membership in the occupation, without always making them explicit. Apart from permanently employed, full-time staff journalists are freelancers, the self-employed, part-timers, journalists-in-training, and multiple job holders (working for multiple media organizations or outside of journalism, or both) included or excluded? A major source of concern is that many national statistics agencies only collect information about the primary occupation (defined as the job in which the most hours were worked) and not about secondary or tertiary jobs citizens may hold (Spilsbury, 2016).

An important journalism union in Germany has said that the number of freelance journalists can no longer be reliably be determined, because fewer and fewer of them are able to live off journalism as their main source of income—which causes them to fall out of official labor and research statistics (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, 2018). A team of journalism researchers confirmed this for the United Kingdom: “While newspaper employment has fallen sharply, it is unsettled, due to disagreement about definitions, if we have more or fewer journalists in the digital age” (Thurman, Cornia, & Kunert, 2016, p. 4).

One of the few countries for which trends are clear is the United States. Full-time editorial employment across US newsrooms has fallen to 83,000 betweeen 1992 and 2014. This is a drop of 32%, making the workforce smaller in size than it was in 1972 (Willnat & Weaver, 2014). The number of journalists in the US newspaper industry specifically, including part-time and full-time employees, fell by 38% between 2005 and 2015 (Williams, 2016). Although the number of journalists at digital-only media outlets more than tripled during the same period, the number of journalists in the two media sectors combined declined by one-fourth, from just under 70,000 to just under 52,000 (Williams, 2016). After years of growth in digital media employment, the number of employees in this domain seems to have plateaued, while the number of newspaper newsroom employees continues to drop. In 2014 alone, newspaper newsroom employment in the United States fell by 10% (Pew Research Center, 2016).

Employment statistics for journalists in other countries are not nearly as consistent across sources. For example, according to a report commissioned by the Canadian government, a third of all journalism jobs in Canada are estimated to have been lost between 2011 and 2017 (Public Policy Forum, 2017). The Canadian Media Guild, a trade union representing journalists at the national public broadcaster CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and other media, estimated that 10,000 jobs were lost in print and broadcasting in Canada between 2008 and 2013 (Canadian Media Guild, 2013). Many more thousands of jobs were lost since then in Canada (Cohen, 2016). In contrast, Canada’s official national statistics agency, Statistics Canada—which collects data only on people’s main occupation—reported that the overall number of citizens identifying their occupation as journalist (this includes self-employed journalists) was steady, remaining around 13,000 between 1991 and 2011 (Skelton, 2013). According to the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom, the number of those identifying as journalists increased exponentially, from 64,000 to 84,000 in the year 2016 alone, mainly because of a rise in self-employed journalists (Cox, 2016).

The salaries for journalists in Canada and the United States have mostly not kept up with inflation since 2005 (Skelton, 2013; Willnat & Weaver, 2014). In comparison, the salaries of public relations (PR) workers increased significantly, making the gap per year in pay between journalists and PR specialists close to $20,000 in the United States (Williams, 2014). Furthermore, with permanent employment declining in journalism and rising in PR, there are now between four and five PR professionals for every journalist in both Canada and the United States (Baluja, 2014; Williams, 2014).

According to 42 journalism unions and professional associations in 31 countries across Europe (representing around 300,000 journalists), journalism is a “profession in decline” (Brédart & Holderness, 2016, p. 24). Decreasing incomes, deteriorating working conditions, and the emergence of irregular and insecure employment were given as reasons for this assessment. For example, in France, more than a third of journalists expressed an intention to leave their jobs, although 80% remained passionate about the profession. Half of all freelance journalists who are members of National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom said that they experience financial hardship (p. 25). And although over 80% of workers entering the journalistic profession in the United Kingdom have completed at least one internship, only 8% received remuneration for this work (p. 28). Finally, there exists a glass ceiling for women in journalism. They are paid less and more often engage in part-time or freelance work. Most of the 42 journalism unions and professional associations from across Europe consider job cuts to be their main concern. This is followed by challenges they encounter when negotiating collective agreements with media organizations (Bittner, 2014). The rise in precarious employment is also a major concern. Journalists in nonstandard employment situations are allowed to join most journalism unions and professional associations in Europe, but their share of the overall membership varies sharply, as not all of these organizations admit journalism students, part-time freelancers, or journalists also working in PR (Brédart & Holderness, 2016; De Cock & De Smaele, 2016).

There are indications that online journalists and freelancers often have to go without collective representation in negotiations with employers: 70% of collective agreements for journalists across Europe are in print and broadcasting, just under one-third cover the newspaper sector, and a mere 16% of collective agreements cover journalists in online media. Only 15 collective agreements across 31 European countries have been concluded for freelancers (Brédart & Holderness, 2016).

Perceived Working Conditions of Journalists Nationally and Internationally

Working conditions among journalists are often conceptualized through the lens of job satisfaction, especially in large-scale, quantitative survey research (Weaver & Willnat, 2012). Journalists voice feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction about different dimensions of their work. Weaver and Willnat (2012) understand job satisfaction as an indicator of not only working conditions but also journalistic competency, connecting job satisfaction to the quality of media content produced. After surveying 29,000 full-time, permanent journalists (freelancers were excluded) in 31 countries, the authors found that only one-fourth of all journalists could be shown to be very satisfied with the job, and only about 40% perceived high levels of job autonomy. In much of the research, autonomy in decision-making on the job is shown to be a significant factor influencing journalists’ job satisfaction. In Weaver and Willnat (2012), this was true for almost all the nations studied, with the exception of Canada, Australia, and Singapore (where journalists had perceived autonomy but low satisfaction). Additionally, many journalists worldwide perceive large gaps between their ideal of autonomy and the actual autonomy they experience in their daily work, especially those working in Slovenia, Poland, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. One of the most pressing needs voiced by journalists regarding their work situation is to acquire and use multimedia skills.

Another representative survey, which collected the views of 27,500 journalists in 67 countries, confirms some of these trends (Worlds of Journalism Study, n.d.). To participate in the study, journalists had to earn at least 50% of their income from paid news work. This meant that most of the participating journalists were full-time employees; part-time and freelance journalists made up a small minority—namely, between 1% and (mostly less than) 20% of participants (except for a handful of countries with up to one-third of part-time or freelance journalists).

Working conditions were not an explicit area of interest in this study; however, some conclusions can be drawn from the research findings. In all but eight of the 67 countries, most of the journalists surveyed perceived time limits as either a very important or an extremely important influence on their jobs (even more journalists than those who framed editorial policy as such an influence, for example). At the same time, most journalists across the 67 countries stated that journalism ethics are a major influence in their daily work. This makes ethics the most unanimously endorsed influence on journalism internationally, according to the Worlds of Journalism Study. It also points to a possible tension between needing or wanting to act ethically and having the time available to do so in the context of daily work.

When asked about perceptions of changes in journalism over the past five years (the data were collected between 2012 and 2016), most journalists worldwide (exceeding 60% in most countries) agreed that the influence of competition has grown. Few other influences on journalism were so unanimously perceived to have increased during that period. A similar picture emerges for “advertising considerations” and “profit-making pressures”; in only a handful of countries—including Tanzania, Ecuador, Chile, Singapore, and Hong Kong—did a minority perceive these influences on journalism to have weakened rather than increased. This points to journalists working under increased commercial pressure. However, in terms of having the autonomy to select stories or to emphasize certain aspects of stories, most journalists in most countries said they have complete or a great deal of freedom. This was not true for Hong Kong, China, Oman, Qatar, Tanzania, and Indonesia, which offer journalists the least autonomy (Worlds of Journalism Study, n.d.).

Journalists internationally most clearly perceived great changes in their daily work where digital technologies are concerned. “User-generated contents, such as blogs” and “social media” were seen by the great majority of journalists in most countries as having a stronger influence than five years ago. These almost unanimously perceived changes were only surpassed by the growing influence on news making of the “use of search engines.” Most journalists internationally agreed that “audience feedback” and “audience interactions” have become more influential in news making. In line with this, the influence of technical skills grew in all countries (China being an exception), according to a majority of over 60% in most countries. Tellingly, and possibly in connection with the rise of new digital-technology related tasks, the working hours of journalists were perceived to have increased by a clear majority of 60% or more of all journalists in most countries (Worlds of Journalism Study, n. d.).

A dedicated study of US journalists (Willnat & Weaver, 2014) rendered similar results, indicating more explicitly that working conditions of journalists have worsened over time. Only slightly over 23% of US journalists reported being satisfied with their work (down from almost 50% in 1972), and only one-third perceived a high level of professional autonomy, defined as the freedom to select stories (compared to 60% in 1972). Although the number of women in US journalism continues to rise, management positions are still taken up disproportionally by men, and women tend to leave the profession earlier than male journalists. Fewer journalists than in earlier surveys (only 6.3%) said that social media has decreased their workload or improved their productivity (Willnat & Weaver, 2014).

A representative survey of trends among journalists in Germany by Weischenberg, Malik, and Scholl (2006) showed similar results. This study excluded those who do not earn a majority of their income from journalism and who work as journalists fewer than 20 hours per week. Based on these criteria, the number of full-time freelancers dropped significantly, from about 18,000 to 12,000 between 1993 and 2004 (while the number of permanently employed journalists stayed the same, at about 36,000). This is an indication that freelancers are increasingly unable to make a sustainable living from journalism alone and therefore add other work (Weischenberg, Malik, & Scholl, 2006). As far as the working conditions of German journalists are concerned, activities unrelated to the actual journalistic work of research and content production, such as the promotion of oneself as a journalistic brand, have increased. For example, journalists are engaging with their audiences on average a half hour per day (Weischenberg, Malik, & Scholl, 2006). Nevertheless, job satisfaction overall continues to be fairly high, even as pay, workload, and opportunities for training and promotion receive the lowest scores. Steindl, Lauerer, and Hanizsch (2017) have confirmed that the number of full-time freelance journalists earning most of their income from journalism continues to fall in Germany, from 12,000 in 2004 to about 9,600 in 2017. This indicates a trend toward “deprofessionalization” and “precarization” in journalistic labor, according to the researchers. Another result from the same study is that the number of women journalists has grown (it is at about 40% in Germany in 2017) but that fewer women occupy higher management positions than men (those positions were 70% men). Freelance journalists earn much less than permanent employees.

An investigation of journalists’ views in the United Kingdom indicated a more optimistic picture of working conditions, in some respects. Between 2012 and 2014, newspaper employment in the United Kingdom fell from 56% to 44%, whereas online employment rose from 26% to 52%, though online journalists were less well paid. This implies that job losses in the print sector have been offset, at least partially, by increased employment in the online sector.

To qualify for the UK study, participants had to earn at least 50% of their income from journalism. This criterium resulted in 17% of participants being freelancers (the majority of participants were employees) and the finding that the number of freelance or self-employed journalists has remained steady over time. Also, in this study, freelancing comes without a huge financial disadvantage compared to staff journalists, when measured among those freelancers whose primary source of income (at least 50%) is journalism (Thurmann et al., 2016). Nevertheless, journalists were seven times more likely than the average worker in the United Kingdom to have a secondary paid occupation. Just over one quarter of journalists engaged in other paid work. In the United Kingdom, the earnings of 20% of journalists were “likely to be at or below the living wage for many” (p. 6). This raises concerns about affordable housing, as these journalists are unlikely to ever be able to earn enough from their employment income to buy a home.

Working across multiple types of media instead of in just one type provides no clear financial benefit, whereas working for television versus print publications does. Also, local journalists earn less than international ones, and junior journalists receive lower pay than their senior colleagues. Women are more likely to be freelancers or part-timers and to earn less than male journalists, a finding that is consistent across countries. Lastly, journalists’ autonomy to make editorial decisions has decreased in the United Kingdom, as has the time available to research stories (Thurmann et al., 2016).

Journalists in Atypical Employment and Its Effects

De-institutionalization and Casualization of Journalistic Labor

Over the past twenty years, the news industry has seen a growth in individualized, contingent, and freelance labor among journalists, experiencing a particularly pronounced version of a general trend that is affecting workers across economic sectors and industries in the 21st century. Journalists in the United Kingdom, for example, have a rate of self-employment that is the highest among all occupations. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of freelance journalists in United Kingdom increased from 15,000 to 25,000, an increase of 67%, according to the Office for National Statistics (Spilsbury, 2016). This agency came up with 35% freelancers among UK journalists, twice the number noted in the research by Thurmann et al. (2016). One possible reason for the difference is that the study by Thurmann et al. excluded freelance journalists who did not earn most of their income from journalism—which excludes many part-time journalists.

Indeed, the link between part-time work and freelancing is clear. The same data showed 43% of UK freelance journalists working part-time versus 11% of employee journalists. Among part-time freelance journalists, however, 87% did not desire a full-time job, and the same percentage thought that the working hours are reasonable. Most freelance journalists (63%) had worked on permanent or fixed-term contracts before becoming freelancers and were not seeking to leave freelance journalism. Only a minority was pushed into self-employment because of a lack of adequate jobs or unemployment; most wanted greater freedom or to make the most of a business idea (for 40%, it was a mix of both; Spilsbury, 2016).

Just over 35% of UK freelance journalists had another job outside of journalism, mainly in closely related areas such as PR, photography, and digital media, one quarter working in education and research, and one-fifth in some other writing capacity (novelists, copywriters). Freelance journalists in the United Kingdom are paid substantially less than their employed counterparts (an average of 19,000 pounds, whereas the average annual salary of employee journalists is about 31,000 pounds), not least because a higher portion of freelance journalists work part-time. They are not as qualified overall as their permanently employed colleagues, and many would like advice regarding tax returns, bookkeeping, record keeping, and financial planning. The greatest skill gap (perceived by 37%) was in finding business, either pitching new work or networking; 87% said they faced financial barriers in filling skill gaps (Spilsbury, 2016).

The number of freelance journalists in Germany has grown significantly and constantly, with about 30,000 out of 75,000 journalists overall, an estimate that includes part-time freelancers (Meyen & Springer, 2009). Definitive numbers are difficult to come by because many freelancers hold multiple jobs and may not earn most of their income from journalism. The typical freelancer chooses this career path and does not freelance because of unemployment (Meyen & Springer, 2009). Some, however, choose freelancing because it makes their lives as single parents easier or because they had been laid off (Meyen & Springer, 2009). Almost all freelance journalists in Germany work by themselves, rather than in a shared office space or with workers they employ. As such, practically no freelancers in Germany count as small entrepreneurs, as defined, for example, by the European Union framework (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, 2014).

One quarter of German freelance journalists work part-time, which means fewer than 20 hours per week. This is true for women more than men owing to women’s childrearing responsibilities (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, 2014). Female journalists also earn significantly lower incomes than their male colleagues.

German freelance journalists’ biggest concern is pay for their work. The average monthly income of a freelancer in Germany is less than half the salary of a permanently employed journalist (just over 2,000 euros versus 5,000 euros). Real incomes have decreased by 8% between 2008 and 2014 (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, 2014).

The shift away from permanent-employment relationships, with job, income, and social security as the norm, has resulted in a more “post-industrial and precarious organization of labor in journalism” (Deuze & Fortunati, 2011, p. 118). The push for “flexible, multi-skilled, movable” workers (Deuze, 2007, p. 147) has led to a “deterioration of working conditions for journalists,” above and beyond the statistical indicators noted here, and journalistic work has become more “stressful, uncertain, and market-driven” (Deuze, 2007, p. 142). For example, the casualization of labor has negatively impacted the mentoring relationships between younger and veteran journalists and between reporters and their sources, both of which rely on trust built over time. Permanently employed journalists, by contrast, barely leave their desks anymore to do original research and reporting outside the newsroom, as they struggle under increased workloads caused by layoffs of newsroom staff (Lee-Wright, 2012; Reinardy, 2017).

Freelance journalists work predominantly from home, for multiple and distant clients, relying on information and communication technologies for their work (Baines, 2002). They experience conflicts with family members in finding and defending workspace in their houses or flats and are constantly negotiating the boundaries between domestic life and work. Most freelance journalists are not small businesses but work alone and suffer from isolation, afraid that contact with other freelance journalists may lead to increased competition for assignments (Baines, 2002). A lack of social security is a major concern for freelance journalists, especially the lack of statutory health insurance, unemployment insurance, and parental leave that they experience as self-employed workers (Gollmitzer, 2014).

A survey of 200 Canadian freelance journalists showed that, increasingly, enlisting the labor of these casual workers—while reducing permanent staff—enables media organizations to transfer the risks and costs of media production from companies to individual workers (Cohen, 2016). For example, reporting is becoming more “risk-averse” because nonpermanent journalistic workers are often not covered by news organizations’ indemnity insurance (Lee-Wright, 2012). Also unlike employees, freelance journalists only receive remuneration for the finished news product; the time they spend doing the research or writing is unpaid. Secondly, media organizations benefit from aggressive copyright regimes that monopolize and monetize the work of freelance journalists across platforms, making it difficult if not impossible for freelancers to reuse or resell their work. Contracts in some jurisdictions increasingly ask journalists to transfer even moral rights to their works to the media companies (Cohen, 2016).

Most freelance journalists have low salaries and take on more and more commercial, nonjournalistic writing to subsidize their journalism and achieve a sustainable overall income (Cohen, 2016; Edstrom & Ladendorf, 2012; Gollmitzer, 2014). This trend has been noted in other research. For example, Froehlich, Koch, and Obermaier (2013) study journalists in Germany with secondary employment in public relations, describing role conflicts, changing professional self-images, and the gap between the reality of everyday work and normative expectations that journalists not do PR. Fewer and fewer freelancers in Germany work for print media, such as daily newspapers and more and more work in public relations. Over one-third of all journalists are now active in this realm, but the majority of these only for 20% of their overall work time (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, 2014). Additional work outside journalism, such as in PR, is usually sought for financial reasons (Meyen & Springer, 2009). Newspaper journalists in Israel increasingly take on secondary jobs as journalism lecturers to supplement their declining incomes (Lahav, 2008).

Freelance Labor Between Freedom and Constraints

A growing number of smaller empirical studies, which often rely on qualitative interviews with freelance journalists, foreground a seemingly paradoxical finding in the research on atypical journalistic labor: enjoyment of journalistic work amid precarity. For instance, freelance journalists in Germany acknowledge high stress levels and insufficient incomes but emphasize enjoyment of their work and the freedom from direct corporate supervision (Gollmitzer, 2014). Most would make the same choice again—to work as freelancers—because they are able to work autonomously (Meyen & Springer, 2009). This is despite their struggles with tax-related, legal, and administrative tasks that employees do not have to worry about. However, perceptions of freedom are ambiguous. Some described the freedom to manage one’s time as myth that, in reality, means working all the time for fear of missing out on assignments. Being driven by client wishes and preferences limited their autonomy, for example, as some were threatened by employers with the loss of an assignments if expectations were not fulfilled (Meyen & Springer, 2009).

For example, though freelance journalists in Australia display a public service ethos, because of their financially precarious situation, their daily work largely depends on the expectations of news managers and other, nonjournalistic clients (Das, 2007). Ryan (2009) showed how per diem workers in US television indicated high levels of job satisfaction while acknowledging experiencing financial insecurity, a lack of predictability, and the pressure to be available to take shifts. She noted the workers’ reluctance to consider the limitations to journalistic integrity arising from their insecure employment status and the tendency to portray their permanently employed colleagues as having a weaker public-service ethos than they do. Massey and Elmore (2011) found that voluntarily leaving an employee position and taking up self-employment was a successful strategy among US women journalists to better combine news work with childrearing.

Similarly, Swedish freelance journalists value their employment situation for allowing them more adaptable lifestyles, including longer vacations and the ability to respond to family needs, including child care (Edstrom & Ladendorf, 2012). They also state that freelancing frees them from the more oppressive aspects of work, such as having to deal with bosses or disgruntled co-workers or to perform unrewarding tasks. Nevertheless, the gain in flexibility was relativized by constraints, such as having to adjust to clients’ needs and demands (more than employed journalists) and to accept assignments when they were already overworked or sick, because of the unpredictability of their “order situation.” Among a sample of freelance journalists in Flanders (De Cock & De Smaele, 2016), successful freelancers turned out to be those who had a broad social network, a life partner with a fixed income to rely on, and the ability to enlist professional help with accounting and budgeting. In some jurisdictions, freelance journalists are not able to become members of journalists’ organizations because their reliance on PR or copywriting as an additional source of income disqualifies them from calling themselves “professional journalists.” This excludes entrepreneurially minded freelancers from the institutional supports that are routinely available to journalists who are employees (De Cock & De Smaele, 2016).

In line with the finding that the working lives of freelance journalists contain elements of both autonomy and precarity, some scholars have observed that news work in the early 21st century is marked not by a general (re)proletarization of journalists but by a polarization of the field—between a few well-remunerated star journalists and a larger group of precarious workers (Örnebring, 2010). Based on Guy Standing’s (2011) differentiation between two emerging labor market groups in contemporary societies, scholars observe that freelance journalists who think of journalism in idealistic ways and have low incomes fall into the category of the “precariat.” By contrast, more pragmatic freelance journalists with better incomes who frame their work as business are the “proficiens” (Mathisen, 2017). To capture the increasing variety of employment situations in journalism, Davidson and Meyers (2016) propose an even more fine-grained typology. They distinguish between “bureaucrats,” who are full-time employees attached to one media organization for most of their working lives, and “professionals,” who feel stronger allegiance to their occupation than to an organization. Both career types tend to have stable jobs with generous benefits in a big media organization. This does not apply to the increasingly common “non-employed” variant, who is unable to live on his or her journalism income; the “entrepreneurial” variant, who uses occupational capital in journalism to acquire other jobs; and the “unwillingly entrepreneurial” variant, meaning struggling full-time freelance journalists (see also Meyen & Springer, 2009).

Such nuanced accounts of the experiences of both freelance and permanent workers at least partially challenge the claim that “journalism has lost the economic power of well-paid job security, the bargaining power of collective solidarity, and the cultural power of having a socially valued and purposive job” (Lee-Wright, 2012, p. 39). Many recent studies exploring the de-institutionalization and casualization of journalistic labor are even more optimistic about this development.

Entrepreneurialism in Journalistic Labor

Although it is embedded in a context of hyper-commercialization and increased profit orientation, “entrepreneurialism” as an emerging new paradigm in journalism research foregrounds the opportunities created by an erosion of the traditional boundaries. These include the boundaries between the editorial and advertising departments in companies, or between business value and the ethos of public service in journalism (De Cock & De Smaele, 2016; Deuze & Witschge, 2018; Rafter, 2016). For example, in a context of diminished resources, news organizations’ use of freelancers as an alternative to wire services is perceived as a promising way to fill gaps in content generation (Holton, 2016). News organizations see freelancers as experts in social media experimentation and personal branding, and editors incorporate freelancers’ practices into organizational strategies to enhance audience engagement. Such freelancers-turned-“intrapreneurial informants,” portrayed as inspiring and consolidating changes in the digital news-making process, are only one manifestation of many in a news environment that is increasingly entrepreneurial (Holton, 2016).

Companies’ strategies for news innovation and audience engagement include copying innovative techniques that have originated in software companies, such as agile development (Deuze & Witschge, 2018). In media organizations such as the Washington Post or the BBC, temporary project teams of journalists, market researchers, programmers, and designers are assembled to engage in fast-paced news production. The global emergence of a start-up culture in journalism is another manifestation of increased entrepreneurialism (Wagemans, Witschge, & Deuze, 2016). Media outlets such as BuzzFeed and Vox Media, which received major funding from venture capitalists, emphasize technological innovation and elevate technology staff to the same level of importance in news production as journalists (Usher, 2017). Teamwork across professions and flat hierarchies characterize entrepreneurial journalistic labor. However, news start-ups not only require founders with significant amounts of economic and social capital (Wagemans et al., 2016), but many are short-lived and not ultimately sustainable, and funding for news start-ups compared to start-ups in other economic sectors has declined (Williams, 2016).

Often used to support start-ups or freelance journalism, but also used by traditional media organizations as budgets wane, crowdfunding is a new funding model that can be considered entrepreneurial. In this context, journalists take on multiple professional tasks beyond researching and reporting, acting as publishers and, critically, as fundraisers trying to elicit micro-payments from potential supporters, including from their own social networks. They thereby promote and converge commercial and public-interest goals (Porlezza & Splendore, 2016). Thus, despite offering journalists agency unconstrained by big news organizations, crowdfunding is not only ethically difficult but “extremely labor intensive” (Hunter, 2016, p. 228), feeling like a second full-time job on top of doing journalism and privileging those with established reputations. Notwithstanding success stories in some countries, journalism unions and professional associations across Europe do not expect that journalists will generally be able to rely on crowdfunding for a sustainable career (Bittner, 2014, p. 24).

Building on this insight, Siapera and Papadopoulou (2016) have taken a critical view of the trend in journalism to entrepreneurialism—which they define as being inextricably tied not to the idea of innovation but to money-making. They proposed the cooperative as an alternative to the dominant, corporate form for organizing journalistic labor. According to their study of employee-owned journalistic cooperatives in Greece, such commons-instead-of-profit-oriented organizations are more in tune with the public-service ethos of journalism and journalists. These cooperatives, many of which were developed in response to the employment crisis in journalism, have achieved modest financial sustainability and rely on nonhierarchical decision-making among workers. Many journalists see their work in these cooperatives not just as doing journalism but as being part of a larger social movement for a more just society.

Other research renders the recent emergence of an entrepreneurialism paradigm in journalism equally problematic. Cohen (2015) pointed out that most journalists do not have the resources to build a start-up company and that therefore entrepreneurialism in many cases means freelancing. As such, entrepreneurialism captures an old rather than new development in journalism. Whereas journalists have historically been entrepreneurial in terms of getting scoops and finding good stories, entrepreneurialism today prescribes a market-based identity that is foreign to many journalists. Framing freelance journalists as entrepreneurs implies that they are self-reliant, whereas most freelancers depend on media organizations to distribute their work, and are largely unable to negotiate the terms of its commodification and reuse.

The Rise of the Unpaid and Low-Paid Intern in Journalism

There seems to be unanimous agreement that the number of unpaid or low-paid interns in the news industry is growing (Charhon & Murphy, 2016; International Labour Organization, 2014); however, little academic work has examined the working conditions of these nonstandard journalistic workers. Interns in journalism tend to be assigned the legal status of trainees, rather than employees. This limits their rights as workers and enables media organizations to not pay or underpay them for their work (Gollmitzer, 2014). The practice of using interns also makes journalism as a profession less accessible to a broad range of demographics because well-off young people are more likely to be able to afford to work without pay for weeks or months at a time (Madison, 2014). Postsecondary institutions, including journalism schools, are often enablers of low-paid or unpaid internships, making internship placements a requirement for graduation while not requiring employers to pay student-interns (Madison, 2014). At the same time, interns often do not receive the work orientation, formal training, or mentorship they had expected, and learning during the internship takes place in a haphazard manner (Gollmitzer, 2014; Salamon, 2015).

The involvement of unions representing journalists and negotiating the working conditions of interns in collective agreements with media organizations have sometimes but not always improved pay and internship quality (Salamon, 2015). Such unions sometimes have concerns that paying interns at entry-level rates will reduce the job stability of existing employees. One union who has such fears is the Canadian Media Guild, which represents CBC workers and negotiates the terms and conditions of internships with the broadcaster (Murphy, 2015). Indeed, there are clear indications that some media organizations are trying to cut costs by having unpaid or low-paid interns perform the work of fully-fledged working professionals (Madison, 2014). Although many interns perceive the practical experience they gain during internships as valuable, there is a dearth of data on the ultimate usefulness and effectiveness of internships, especially in terms of predicting future success in finding full-time work (Murphy, 2015).

Impact of Digitization on Working Conditions of Journalists

There has been an almost universal adoption of digital technologies in the production of journalism. Some research has shown that this improves working conditions for journalists, whereas other studies point to a worsening of working conditions for journalists. The benefits of technology-enabled change seem to be especially tangible when journalists experience it as not being mainly designed to cheapen news labor and reduce staff, but as leading to more transparency and participation in editorial decision-making (Meier, 2007). Some journalists perceive multimedia skilling as allowing them more autonomy, creativity, agility, and mobility in journalistic labor, as well as increasing time efficiency (Nygren, 2014; Paulussen, 2012). By contrast, journalists tend to resist innovation in the newsroom if they have to work in a culture of job insecurity (Ekdale, Tully, Harmsen, & Singer, 2015). Furthermore, digital technologies can lead to the deskilling of journalists, emphasizing the increased computerization and automation of journalistic labor, stripping journalism of its craft characteristics. This results not only in heavier workloads, but in journalists who are tied to their desks instead of investigating topics outside the newsroom (Lee-Wright, 2012; Örnebring, 2010; Paulussen, 2012; Reinardy, 2017; Spyridou & Veglis, 2016).

New remuneration models for journalists have emerged in the digital age. Digital journalists often do not get paid at all; they work “for exposure,” offering free labor as an exercise in building their personal brand in the hope of finding gainful work in the future (Cohen, 2016). Another “payment” model consists of the bonuses offered by media organizations for measurable journalistic performance. Digital journalists’ working lives are characterized by worrying about click statistics and other analytics that measure the popularity of their published work with audiences (Cohen, 2016). Rather than working with fixed publication deadlines, in an online environment, journalists are under constant pressure to publish stories which makes for an intensification of work, regularly beyond official work hours and beyond the workplace, into journalists’ homes. In the online environment, journalists’ articles become “stand-alone mini-profit centers,” detached from the medium as whole, which results in their doing promotional work on top of journalistic work and maintaining their professional social media profiles (Cohen, 2018).

Ultimately, labor conditions in journalism in the digital age are much more affected by “management strategies toward cost-efficiency and productivity maximization” than by technological change as such (Paulussen, 2012, p. 204). Örnebring (2010), in a historical exploration of the relationship between technology and labor in journalism, illustrated that changes in journalistic labor have always been driven less by technological necessity than by the desire of media organizations to increase their control over the news-production process. New technological possibilities in contemporary journalism have not led to better-quality news products “because of the accompanying rationalization of the labor process” (Örnebring & Conill, 2016; Paulussen, 2012). Nevertheless, such rationalization is not uncontested. Successful efforts by workers to unionize at digital-first outlets, such as Vice Canada and the now defunct Gawker, demonstrate that collective representation has purchase in the digital age and, more generally, that improving working conditions is a critical need among journalists in the early 21st century (Cohen & de Peuter, 2018).

Improving Working Conditions of Journalists

Current labor-law frameworks can be powerful if they are applied and enacted to address the working conditions of journalists. For example, some prominent Canadian magazines discontinued unpaid internship programs after the provincial government of Ontario found that number of publications had violated legal employment standards by not paying their interns a minimum wage (Salamon, 2015). The settlement of a class-action law suit in the United States resulted in a television production company having to pay about 200 former unpaid interns $250,000 in wages (Madison, 2014). In 2011, the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom won, on behalf of an unpaid intern, retroactive entitlement to minimum wage and holiday pay (Brédart & Holderness, 2016). In a Canadian class-action lawsuit, a freelancer successfully sued a national newspaper publisher for the unauthorized reproduction and reuse of her work in digital databases and won backpay for herself and other freelance journalists totaling several million dollars (Cohen, 2016).

As far as the working conditions of journalists in nonstandard employment situations are concerned, they generally have fewer rights and receive lower pay than permanently employed journalists. This is partly because of the barriers these workers encounter when trying to join labor unions or engage in collective bargaining, including staging strikes to pressure employers (Brédart & Holderness, 2016). In many jurisdictions, including the United States, self-employed workers are not allowed to bargain collectively with employers (p. 27), which, for example, renders them unable to negotiate a binding fee structure with employers because doing so would violate competition law.

Recently, the Competition Authority of Denmark took legal action against the Danish Union of Journalists. This resulted in the fee-recommendation lists prepared by the union to guide employers in paying freelance journalists being declared illegal (because they hindered competition). At the same time, the court ruled that freelancers who work just like employees—namely those working regularly and over long periods for just one employer on whom they are financially dependent—then they must be recognized, paid, and protected as such (Brédart & Holderness, 2016). The International Labour Organization considers it crucially important to fight bogus self-employment in the media sector, a strategy which employers commonly use to avoid financial and security commitments to workers while monopolizing their time and skills.

Apart from advocating to extend collective bargaining to self-employed journalists, new freelancer unions or recently created freelancer chapters in traditional unions explore new ways of organizing the growing number of contingent journalists, including publicly protesting unfair contracts imposed by media organizations. Membership in such organizations often gives freelance journalists access to contract and legal advice, as well as health, dental, and other insurance (Cohen, 2016).

Other proposals to improve the working conditions of journalists include efforts to tighten intellectual property and copyright regulations in favor of the content creators. Journalists could benefit from a free legal-advice service, including potential legal representation, to buffer the individualization of legal risks journalists experience. This is especially relevant for freelancers, who would likely not be supported by the media organizations they work for if a legal challenge were to arise from their reporting (Public Policy Forum, 2017). Another support tool, developed in a union context in Scandinavia already exists—the “freelance fee calculator” has been adopted in several countries in Europe. This online tool includes research time (not customarily paid for by media organizations) in the calculation of fees for assignments by freelance journalists and is starting to gain acceptance among media organizations (Brédart & Holderness, 2016).

Proposals to support journalistic labor financially, outside the standard employment relationship, include establishing independent funds for journalism and democracy, financed by advertisers and other industry players. Such funds could support investigative reporting on a project basis or provide a source of independent start-up money to enterprises and member-run cooperatives that are engaging in digital-news innovation (Public Policy Forum, 2017). Instead of financial support, online initiatives, such as Hostwriter, facilitate the exchange of advice, the search for private accommodation during work travel, and collaboration on journalistic projects among otherwise isolated freelance journalists around the world (Bittner, 2014). Finally, some scholars are calling for a universal basic income for journalists, an idea that is rooted in broader antipoverty and antiprecarity initiatives (Cohen, 2018).

Theoretical Lenses: From Marx to Foucault and Butler

The changing working conditions of journalists have been portrayed as part of broader social transformations in postmodern societies. Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity,” for example (Deuze, 2007; Paulussen, 2012), which captures the dissolution of traditional social bonds and the increasingly porous boundaries between formerly separate realms, has been used to think through changes in journalistic routines, professional identity, and labor. With a shift to individualization (as portrayed by Ulrich Beck (1992)) and individualized understandings of work, responsibility for ongoing income, social security, and training has shifted from employers to workers, in journalism and elsewhere (Edstrom & Ladendorf, 2012; Gollmitzer, 2014; Lee-Wright, 2012; Mathisen, 2017).

Other scholars frame the decreasing stability of journalistic labor by referring to shifts in the economy. In financialized capitalism, policymakers and companies treat journalism as they do any other industry in a competitive market place. Journalists today more than ever work in a sphere in which market logic, not the public interest, reigns supreme (Spyridou & Vegllis, 2016). News organizations have become integrated into transnational capital, often as a part of big conglomerates that are active in many other business areas (often financial services) and mainly concerned with stock-market performance (Compton & Benedetti, 2010; McChesney & Nichols, 2010). The evolution of a more flexible labor force of journalists, quickly assembled and disposed of, is seen as responding to the increasingly unpredictable ebb and flow of capital accumulation in the early 21st century (Almiron, 2010).

Analyses in the Marxist tradition usefully illuminate that journalists are inserted into capital-labor relations that shape their experience as workers, with capital trying to extract surplus value from workers through exploitation (Cohen, 2016). Media organizations generally offer freedom at the idea-creation stage of the production process—which explains claims to enjoyment, and perceptions of work autonomy, especially among self-employed workers—while exploitative dynamics play out in the subsequent stages of the production process. Media organizations benefit from the unpaid labor of freelance journalists (that is, compensation paid only for the finished piece, while research and writing time is unpaid) and from aggressive copyright regimes (which prevent freelancers from reselling their own works while media companies are commodifying these works across their corporate platforms; Cohen, 2016).

The notion that entrepreneurial journalism is a panacea for the problems confronting journalism is problematized as well with the help of Marxist analysis. Cohen (2016) points out that freelance journalists cannot accurately be conceptualized as independent entrepreneurs because they are in essence workers who are dependent on powerful corporations. They may own the tools to produce articles, “but they do not own the means of production necessary to bring their works to market in a way that enables meaningful compensation” (Cohen, 2015, p. 524). Other scholars underline capital’s ever-evolving attempts to control or cheapen the production process, particularly through the deployment of new technologies (Örnebring, 2010). This perspective articulates the history of industrialized journalism as a gradual separation of print technology (execution) from newsgathering (conception) and makes the contemporary trend to reverse such divisions intelligible, expecting journalists to learn multimedia skills and tasks performed by now-laid-off technical support staff—once more, to cheapen news labor (Cohen, 2016, 2018).

Lastly, some scholars use poststructuralist theories of subject-constitution to examine contemporary working conditions in journalism, addressing the paradox of perceived satisfaction among journalists whose working conditions objectively seem to be deteriorating. First, some researchers note that journalists, especially nonstandard workers, display a self-governing competence in line with Michel Foucault’s concept of “governmentality” (Edstrom & Ladendorf, 2012; Gollmitzer, 2014). With the retreat of various forms of structure and social protection provided by organizations, institutions, and governments, citizens and workers govern and discipline themselves. The construction of such “enterprising subjects” (Edstrom & Ladendorf, 2012, p. 714) inside and outside work contexts can be perceived as liberating, leading to an experience of increased agency among workers. At the same time, this shift is burdensome. Especially journalists working as freelancers perceive and appreciate their independence from corporate supervision, hierarchies, and schedules, but they often see this theoretically available work autonomy curtailed by having to provide their own social security, accounting, marketing, and controlling (Edstrom & Ladendorf, 2012; Gollmitzer, 2014; Mathison, 2017).

Secondly, some scholars see portrayals of working life not as reflections of reality but as stories constructed by active subjects (Mathisen, 2017). Judith Butler’s approach to identity construction as performative acts is adapted from the realm of gender to theorize the worker identities of atypically employed journalists (Ryan, 2008, 2009; Jordan, 2003). “Up-valuing” their difficult situation by “performing” a positive occupational identity is a copying strategy (Jordan, 2003). This approach has been useful in interpreting the claims of freelance journalists working in American network news who construct notions of individualized job security when their employment situation is clearly insecure (Ryan, 2008). The approach also makes sense of statements by freelancers who claim to experience greater job satisfaction and worker autonomy than staff journalists and emphasize that they are producing news in a more ethical manner than their permanently employed colleagues (Ryan, 2009). Instead of assuming that journalists are delusional or actively skew their “worked” reality, the performativity approach respects the potential for adaptation, resilience, and self-empowerment in worker narratives.

Discussion of the Literature

When tracing lines of historical development in the scholarship on journalistic employment conditions, job satisfaction emerges as a proxy for examining these conditions early on. This concept—outside of journalism studies used an indicator of organizational efficiency and effectiveness—was and is mostly employed in quantitative studies that comprehensively map journalism as profession, often with primary interest in other aspects of journalism. Indeed, for decades, interest in the working conditions of journalists was minimal, and interest has only gradually started to grow. The primary interest in all aspects of journalistic professionalism—and its connection to journalism’s sociopolitical role—has generally overridden attention to journalism as labor. In other words, the preoccupation with journalists’ role as watchdogs of democracy has eclipsed their position as workers in capitalist labor markets.

Challenges to narrow conceptualizations of journalism as a type of professionalism emerge from scholars using Marxist analysis. The most detailed and theoretically sophisticated accounts to date of contemporary journalistic labor, especially freelance labor, stem from scholars working in this tradition. They have cast doubt on the utility of job satisfaction to accurately reflect the working conditions in journalism, since (self-)exploitation, low pay, and life-defining insecurity barely seem to affect the enjoyment journalists derive from journalistic work. A growing number of qualitative, exploratory studies of freelance journalists in different countries have been equally instrumental in painting an initial picture of the atypical labor in journalism. These have made the evidence more robust regarding freelancers’ struggles with precarity and their simultaneous appreciation of flexible schedules and perceived work autonomy. Attempts by journalism scholars to explain this seeming paradox by referring to theories of performative identity construction and Foucault’s governmentality concept have, surprisingly, not been taken up more broadly, so that scholars still frame it as an unresolved puzzle.

Whereas the “precarious worker” school of thought in the research on current employment conditions in journalism tends view them as worsening; the entrepreneurial journalism school of thought often celebrates journalistic agency freed from the constraints of the standard employment relationship. The former sees the rise of digital technologies in news production as an opportunity for capital to cheapen the labor process. The latter frame these technologies as a key resource for news innovation organized in digital journalism start-ups or financed through crowdfunding online.

Apart from increasing the dialogue between these schools of thought, which are both crucial to exploring the contemporary working conditions of journalists, journalism scholars need to start paying attention to the extensive research on precarious and atypical labor that has been done in the neighboring fields of creative and cultural industries. It is time to design larger longitudinal studies of journalistic labor that go beyond presenting a snapshot at one point in time. It will be crucial to map what research has hinted are the constant transitions between contract work, self-, under-, and overemployment, as well as journalistic and nonjournalistic work in the lives of journalists. Moreover, because the past and current research on journalistic labor conditions is almost exclusively based on journalists’ views, new types of news ethnographies are needed to confront interview and survey findings. Such ethnographies would take place largely outside newsrooms and would follow journalists as they work in coffee shops, on the road, or in their own kitchens doing journalism, as well as in other jobs such as public relations or teaching, and interacting with family members, news editors, and other clients.

Finally, the importance of paying attention to the changing employment conditions of journalists goes beyond simply adding another research domain to the field of journalism studies. Such attention is a foundational requirement for the renewal and continued relevance of the field as such. For decades, participants in large-scale, authoritative studies mapping journalists’ views on different subjects were almost exclusively recruited from lists of permanent, full-time employees supplied by media organizations (Weaver & Willnat, 2012; Willnat & Weaver, 2014). Even as scholars of journalism notice that fewer and fewer journalists qualify to participate in their studies, they continue to exclude those who do not earn most of their income from or spend most of their time doing journalism (Steindl, Laurer, & Hanitzsch, 2017). What we know about journalists today—about their training, skills, worldviews, role perceptions, and professional ideals—continues to mostly be shaped by the perspectives of journalists working in privileged, secure employment situations. This has hindered the field’s ability to not only recognize but also address the current crisis of journalism as a crisis of employment and working conditions. By extension, to better assess the state of journalistic labor in the early 21st century, governmental statistics agencies, professional associations, and unions also need to revise the definition of who is a journalist and thus deserves to be counted, studied, and supported.

Additional Resources

The Pew Research Center, a US think tank, regularly publishes current social science research on media and journalism in the United States, including some employment statistics and salary levels. Between 2004 and 2016, the center published an annual report on trends in the US media industries, called “State of the News Media.” In 2017, the center switched to publishing individual fact sheets about media subsectors. Information on numbers of employees and salaries is listed on the fact sheets under the category “newsroom investment” if available. The Worlds of Journalism Study provides data collected by academic researchers around the world on the perceptions of journalists in 67 countries. For example, the website offers individual country reports that note the number of full-time versus part-time and freelance journalists in each participating nation. Although it offers no dedicated data on working conditions, these can be explored indirectly by consulting dedicated data sheets on perceived autonomy, changes (such as increased time pressure), and influences (such as profit expectation or competition) on journalistic work. Expanding the aggregate data available, individual-level data from the study is to be released on May 1, 2019 on the website.

The Committee to Protect Journalists monitors the number of journalists worldwide who are killed and imprisoned as a result of their journalistic work, and records their employment status, geographic location, and the reasons for imprisonment or death in each case. Searches are customizable. A good starting point for researching issues related to working conditions are the websites of national or regional trade unions and professional associations for journalists. A list containing most of these organizations around the world can be found on the websites of the International Federation of Journalists. This is a global union federation, representing unions and professional organizations from 136 countries; over 600,000 journalists are members. It is the largest of its kind in the world. Its website offers an overview of current campaigns in different countries, as well as news, publications, and reports that touch on journalists’ global employment conditions. A useful source that offers similar information is the website of the European Federation of Journalists, which monitors the situations of journalists across Europe, including all of Eastern Europe and Russia. The section on “media; culture; graphical” on the website of the International Labour Organization (a United Nations agency) offers findings and recommendations for journalists and other groups of workers.

Organizations have also been founded to respond to the specific needs of nonpermanent workers in journalism and other industries who were not traditionally associated with unions or professional associations. The Canadian Freelance Union (mostly for media workers) and Freelancers Union (workers from all types of industries) in the United States are advocating to alleviate job insecurity and precarity among freelance workers. Both offer services, such as health insurance and liability insurance, to members, but their powers are limited because they are not permitted to engage in collective bargaining for members. The Canadian Intern Association ( informs young people about their employment rights and publishes illegal or exploitative internships on their website’s “wall of shame.”

Further Reading

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Cohen, N. (2018). At work in the digital newsroom. Digital Journalism, online first.Find this resource:

Deuze, M., & Fortunati, L. (2011). Atypical newswork, atypical media management. In M. Deuze (Ed.), Managing media work (pp. 111–120). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Edstrom, M., & Ladendorf, M. (2012). Freelance journalists as a flexible workforce in media industries. Journalism Practice, 6, 711–721.Find this resource:

Hardt, H., & Brennen, B. (Eds.). (1995). Newsworkers: Toward a history of the rank and file. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Find this resource:

Lee-Wright, P. (2012). The return of Hephaestus: Journalists’ work recrafted. In P. Lee-Wright, A. Phillips, & T. Witschge (Eds.), Changing journalism (pp. 21–41). London, U.K.: Routledge.Find this resource:

Mathisen, B. (2017). Entrepreneurs and idealists. Journalism Practice, 11, 909–924.Find this resource:

Örnebring, H. (2010). Technology and journalism-as-labour: Historical perspectives. Journalism, 11, 57–74.Find this resource:

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Reinardy, S. (2017). Journalism’s lost generation: The un-doing of U.S. newspaper newsrooms. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.Find this resource:

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Edstrom, M., & Ladendorf, M. (2012). Freelance journalists as a flexible workforce in media industries. Journalism Practice, 6, 711–721.Find this resource:

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