Freelance journalists and interns: Responses to precarity and reconfigurations of the journalistic ethos

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-07-31
Identifier: 
etd19752
Keywords: 
Journalism
Freelancers
Interns
Neoliberalism
Professional identity
Working conditions
Abstract: 

This dissertation explores the connection between neoliberalism and journalism. It thus contributes to our understanding of ‘neoliberalized media regimes’, as recently examined by Sean Phelan, Nick Couldry and other critical scholars. More specifically, I use theories of neoliberalism to conceptualize how atypically employed journalists navigate a media landscape said to be ‘in crisis’. The subjective experiences of such journalists were explored in qualitative interviews conducted with 25 freelancers and interns in Canada and Germany. Their narrations of contingent journalistic labour capture the financial, ethical, and professional conundrums flowing from the global devaluation of news labour. I argue that these narratives of journalistic labour can be situated in a nexus of neoliberalism on three levels. The first level maps the role of journalists as workers in a neoliberal labour regime, which illuminates how notions of flexibility associated with freelancing resonate with neoliberal logics. The second level maps the role of journalists as citizens, with neoliberalism as a version of government policy-making shaping journalistic labour, that is uneven and nationally specific. The third level maps governmentality in the narratives of freelance and intern labour, understood as subject-constitution and self-governance in neoliberalism. It maps journalists’ professional subjectivity as it oscillates between an “entrepreneurial self” aligning with neoliberal logics and an “ethical self” resisting these. The dissertation illuminates the tenacity as well as the hybridization of journalistic professional identity in a changing labour market. Journalism today is often a part-time job that requires subsidizing work in public relations and similar domains. On the one hand, their journalistic ethos entices journalists to deflect neoliberal logics by upholding a public service dedication, even as it is privatized and corporatized. On the other hand, the journalistic ethos, based on individualized notions of autonomy and independence rather than structural support or cooperative modes of production, both mediates and entrenches working conditions in journalism. Thus, the dissertation complicates political economy accounts that see freelance journalists mostly as exploited workers and neoliberalism as continuing a project of class domination.

Document type: 
Thesis
Rights: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Robert Hackett
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.
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