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Nora Loreto's blog

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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the rabble.ca series Up! Canadian Labour Rising. Nora is on leave as an editor with the Canadian Association of Labour Media while she takes care of infant twins. Nora's music can be heard here and her blog can be read at www.noraloreto.ca.

Unions and media: Will journalists save themselves?

| March 23, 2013

Unions get a rough ride from corporate news sources.

From the loudest and most angry leading the charge (the Sun) down to the soft opponents at (barely) progressive papers, like the Toronto Star, the industry as a whole is not “pro-labour.”

Part of this phenomenon is driven by the growth of and emphasis on business reporting. Rather than balancing coverage with the perspective of workers, the news about “business” is dominated by stories about what the masters, bosses and owners are or aren’t doing.

This is despite the fact that many of the unions who protect journalists are strong, vocal advocates for their members. However, when your members’ job is to report and analyze the news, media unions and guilds do not have the same influence on broad, public debate as does the sum of their individual members.

Across all platforms in the mainstream press, there’s an obsession with reporting corporate profits, losses and detailing the lavish or subdued personnas of those who fill the ranks of CEOs. Journalism is supposed to challenge power but instead tends to justify and normalize power’s abuses. The powerful are mostly exalted and those who challenge power are mostly treated suspiciously and critically.

This coverage is so extreme to one side that it’s fantasy to imagine the Globe and Mail dedicating a daily section to news about working people, labour issues and unions.

Instead, we have the Lang and O’Leary Exchange, for example, promoting neoliberal policies that effectively call for the destruction of the CBC. As if a television show advocating for the wholesale elimination of the jobs of the people who create the show isn’t totally insane.

This is cognitive dissonance at its finest and it’s pervasive. Uncritical, PR company-spun, regurgitated talking points are the standard and it has resulted in a crisis of logic in the mainstream press.

For example, when Rogers only made $466 million during its third quarter last year, the Globe and Mail referred to this profit as having fallen, sounding as if the company were in trouble. This narrative was then posited in such a way that made its sound as if laying off hundreds of workers was justified.

While it might make sense for a CFO to refer to profits that are lower than the year before in negative terms, profit is profit. It damages the credibility of news when journalists parrot the talking points of corporate executives.

If collective bargaining were reported like this, pay increases that were lower than last years’ pay increases would be reported as a pay cut.

If public services were reported like this, tuition fee increases would be reported as compound losses for students’ personal assets rather than an investment in a phantom future.

Journalists report through this narrow and lop-sided lens, influencing how Canadians think about corporations, profits and CEOs, as if they aren’t under attack from the very same forces. The craziest part of this cognitive dissonance is that “the media” is peddling a narrative that makes possible the self-destruction of “the media.”

It’s a machine that is hell-bent on its own suicide. The snake has finally gotten a hold of its tail and, starved, it’s eating the hell out of it.

It’s not self-destruction for everyone in the sector. The corporate executives or board members who own and profit from media holdings will be fine. It’s self-destruction for the journalist, the camera operators, the office cleaners and everyone else who relies on the industry’s survival for a pay cheque. But, unlike at Bestbuy where laid-off workers get laid off without warning, media workers themselves are the ones creating the terrain that will lead to them delivering their own bad news. Their consistent anti-union, pro-business rhetoric is at the core of the demolition of their field.

While watching the steady decline, the layoffs, the outrage, then anger and frustration that comes from journalists when they discover that they’re not immune from these forces, that despite their attempts at remaining ‘unbiased,’ ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ that they’re still caught in neoliberalism’s cross-hairs, I find myself deeply confused.

The only way to protect journalists as workers is the only way to protect anyone who is a worker: develop strong unions who can fight against the destruction of the craft, broaden union membership and raise members’ consciousness about the role they play in perpetuating the system.

Unions are critical to saving the asses of many people who work in telecommunications and this includes journalists. Unions are key to the survival of the profession. Either unions will protect the existence of secure, well-enough paying jobs with benefits, or journalism will be outsourced to an automatic news generator powered by a team of people in a basement somewhere.

Unions, though, are nothing without the power of their individual members behind them. Without workers using their labour to create the conditions that improve their industry, the union’s role will be relegated to trying to save some of the jobs announced in a round of layoffs.

The hollow, uncritical babble that’s held up as journalism today threatens the functioning of Canada’s democracy, but it also threatens to undermine and diminish the very industry that peddles it out.

If the quality and endurance of journalism jobs depends on the union, then journalists also depend on the public to have a generally favourable opinion of unions and the roles they play.

And we find ourselves again watching the snake gnawing at its tail.

Using their work to save journalism may not be an easy concept for an industry full of people who both chase after the carrot: fame, honour and being on TV, and who fear the stick: unemployment, joblessness and blogging. I know this war wages inside the stomachs of most young journalists.

But something must be done. It’s time to stop this slow, mass suicide. It’s time for an intervention.

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