With Gawker Media’s vote to join a union, it set a precedent for other digital media companies to follow. In this largely non-unionized industry, will it encourage online media companies to outsource jobs?
Samantha Tomaszewski, 19, junior, Lehigh University (Bethlehem, Pa.)
Tomaszewski is a journalism and political science double major. She is the news editor of Lehigh’s student newspaper, The Brown and White. This summer, she will intern with The Hour newspaper in her home state of Connecticut. Previously, she has worked for Cottages and Gardens magazine, USA Today College and The Odyssey.
As an aspiring journalist, the idea of a more unionized industry is comforting to me. The thought of a group to stand together and advocate for jobs sounds like a good thing to have in your corner, especially in a field that is constantly being discussed for its lack of employment opportunities.
However, a benefit like this does not come without its dangers. Gawker definitely does set a precedent for more unions, and I believe online media companies will attempt to outsource jobs, some already have. But looking at cases like Time Inc.—in a strange way—gives me some hope.
In late 2014, the company proposed an offer that would outsource more than 160 jobs. The Newspaper Guild of New York rejected this and effectively protected the employees it covers. The offer was referred to as an example of “unionbusting.” But this shows that the unions are there for a reason, to try to stop things like outsourcing from happening.
Unions are both the mechanism that encourages companies to outsource jobs and helps protect jobs from companies trying to outsource. It’s a vicious cycle.
Journalism jobs may be disappearing in many ways and for different reasons, so I’d rather work in a world where there are unions to help protects valuable media jobs—even if they may encourage attempts to outsource.
Journalists are unionizing because they want to keep their jobs and hopefully most of them enjoy their line of work. Maybe this is a little too optimistic, but I’d hope that media companies will eventually realize it is easier to keep the employees they have already. They are in unions because they value their jobs, and there shouldn’t be a penalty for that.
Autumn Phillips, 41, editor, The Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.)
Phillips has been the editor of The Southern Illinoisan since December 2014. Previously, she served as editor of The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, and The Herald-Zeitung in New Braunfels, Texas. She is on the boards of the Associated Press Media Editors, Illinois APME and the Southern Illinois Editorial Association.
Unionization among digital media companies is a potential sign of good things to come. Outsourcing—aka reliance on poorly paid freelancers, part-timers and even people willing to write for free in exchange for bylines—has long been the bread and butter of digital startups. Gawker is no exception. They’ve grown over the years from a couple smart, biting blogs written from a living room to a company with a couple hundred, full-time employees with benefits. Labor organizing is the ultimate sign that the digital media world is coming into its own as a long-term, viable career option, rather than a place to collect bylines before breaking into traditional media.
Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote, “The online media industry makes real money. It’s now possible to find a career in this industry, rather than just a fleeting job. An organized workforce is part of growing up.”
If digital media turns or returns to outsourcing in an attempt to be more efficient or to cut costs, it will most likely have more to do with the business climate and less to do with employees taking a place at the collective bargaining table.
Most people are surprised to see Gawker employees organize. Digital media has presented itself in recent years as a shangri-la of journalism jobs—competitive wages, benefits and a future of expected growth. From Gawker’s own reports and reporting in The New York Times, when employees finally do make it through the unionization process they hope to fight for severance pay, salary minimums for each position, annual performance reviews (which I found to be the most interesting contract demand) and a ban on health plan changes without union approval.
Those requests seem like best practices for any employer and not expensive drivers of a decision to outsource.