The impact of digital technology on media workers

Life has completely changed

Digital technologies have transformed the media industries for better and for worse, but how can journalists win the battles against layoffs, declining wages, and stress? Collective action and the reaffirmation of journalistic skill provide a big part of the answer.

This conference was a tremendous and long-overdue opportunity to unite knowledge workers of all kinds. Media workers and university professors and other culture workers need to work together because no one else can or will do what is needed. There is no white knight on the horizon, no one waiting to ride in and solve the many issues of media transformation, value for content or the infinite work expectations created by digital technology.

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This is an on-the-ground review of what has taken place in the so-called ‘digital revolution’ in my industry, the media industry.

We have lots of cool tools now. We file stories on our blackberries from inside courts, from inside hearing rooms – from anywhere. We have cell phone cameras and video. We use Twitter and Facebook to track down newsmakers or people who know newsmakers. We can edit video on our desktops – in fact video is digitized so everyone in a newsroom has all the video on their desktops (when the server is working). We use services such as ‘Coveritlive’ to do press conferences via cyberspace – there is no longer even a need to go to the conference itself.

But the very technology that has given us cool tools has had significant side-effects. I’ve grouped them as follows: 1) the downward pressure on job numbers; 2) the downward pressure on wages; 3) the stress factor… or feeding the ‘need for speed’; and 4) the effect on collective power.

The downward pressure on job numbers

First the obvious:  All this digitization has meant a move away from equipment-based jobs. Audio and video editing can be done on a reporter’s or producer’s desktop. Videotape no longer requires lighting or sound technicians. A TV studio can be replaced by a big desktop set up known as Parkervision, which needs just one director/switcher; the rest is automated. The fact that digital equipment is easier to use has led to new expectations of how we work, and blurred job titles and job descriptions. There are producer/editors (one employer, S-Vox, calls them Preditors), and video-journalists at CBC, and whether or not their actual job titles have changed, the fact is that most media employees are doing a wide range of technical tasks in addition to other primary functions. For example, reporters at Canadian Press are expected to file copy, then do a voice report for radio clients, and many shoot video too. Sometimes they do online work after that. The growth in online departments hasn’t made up for the huge losses of more traditional work.

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