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The labor of journalism: Challeneges of technological and economic restructuring
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Geography, Media and Communication. (NODE)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8497-3381
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Geography, Media and Communication.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4286-7764
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Geography, Media and Communication. (NODE)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6309-2315
2014 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This paper will analyze how the technological and economic restructuring of journalistic labor impacts on three key theoretical concepts in journalism:  routines, professionalism and autonomy. Journalistic labor will be analyzed along three dichotomous dimensions: paid/unpaid, skilled/unskilled and individual/collective.

For most of the 20th century, defining journalism in terms of labor (for the purposes of this paper, “labor” is defined as exertion that generates surplus value, organized through a contractual employer-employee relationship) was straightforward: journalistic labor was done by those who were employed, commonly on permanent, full-time contracts, by traditional media organizations. It was essentially not possible to conduct the work of a journalist outside this system.

Many of the key journalism scholars of the postwar era imported concepts and theories from the sociology of work and used them to analyze journalism – among them routines (e.g. Gans 1979, Tuchman 1978), professionalism and the related concept of professional roles  (e.g. Johnstone, Slawski & Bowman 1976, Tunstall 1971) and autonomy (e.g. Breed 1955, Merrill 1974). However, when reading these works today, it is striking that the intellectual foundation of these concepts is that journalism is conducted by people who are in stable contractual relationships with likewise stable, large organizations. This, as we know, is not true anymore.

The introduction of digital technologies and networked communications poses many challenges to the understanding of journalism as labor. The barriers of entry for performing journalistic work (though not necessarily labor, see below) have all but disappeared. It is now possible for individuals to produce and distribute news content without the need for a large organization and expensive production equipment. Conversely, as distribution channels multiply and become more fragmented, audiences can also increasingly chose to not consume journalistic content, or to consume journalistic content that is available at no cost to the end-user. It is at once easier to perform journalistic work and harder to get (adequately) paid for it, i.e. to perform journalistic labor. Permanent full-time jobs in journalism are getting fewer in most of the Western world, and freelancing, part-time work and occupational fluidity (e.g. journalists producing news one day and PR material the next) are becoming more common. While journalism scholarship has had much to say about the challenges of the new digital, networked environment, less attention has been paid to the validity of the many underlying concepts and theories that presuppose a particular way of organizing journalistic labor (Deuze 2007, 2011 being notable exceptions).

                             We focus here on three concepts in particular – routines,  professionalism, and autonomy.  The theoretical challenges to these concepts are examined using three dichotomous dimensions: paid vs. unpaid labor (and its close companion, work time vs. free time), skilled vs unskilled labor, and individual vs. collective labor. What types of journalistic labor can you be expected to be paid for, and what do you increasingly have to do for free? If journalism can be outsourced and journalists replaced by algorithms and software (see Clerwall, 2014), how “skilled” is journalistic labor? As employers shift risk and responsibility to employees, individual journalists have to spend more time on personal branding and marketing. This has consequences for the possibilities of doing collective work (as in a traditional newsroom setting) when you may be competing with colleagues for scarce resources. We argue that ongoing fundamental changes to how journalistic labor is organized also require fundamentally rethinking many of the key concepts of journalism studies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
Keywords [en]
journalism, labor, sociology of work, theory
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-34330OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-34330DiVA, id: diva2:755197
Conference
Digital Disruption to Journalism and Mass Communication Theory, MU Brussels Oct 2-3 2014
Available from: 2014-10-14 Created: 2014-10-14 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved

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Örnebring, HenrikKarlsson, MichaelFast, Karin

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