By Ricardo Gutierrez, EFJ General Secretary
Not all professions have been so deeply affected as journalism by the rise of new technologies, and the collapse in advertising revenues of the media sector.
In a recent survey conducted by the European Federation of Journalists for the ETUI’s Hesa Mag #15, across 19 European countries, 82% of journalists identify “work overload” and “deep stress” as the most common health issue in their work. More than 80% think that the level of their salaries is unfair in comparison to the amount of work done, 65% are not paid at all for overtime work and all (100%) journalists think that the working conditions for journalists have deteriorated over the years in their own country. Over 33% have already thought of changing jobs because of their working conditions.
New ways of producing and consuming information have significantly changed the profession of journalism. Access to information has become more democratic and has increased the size of media audiences. Digital tools have made it possible to diversify journalistic formats and genres. Media companies, however, have focused on updating their business model to generate more profits, instead of investing in human resources.
In Europe, many media companies have pooled their digital and traditional output through ‘bi-media’ strategies. Journalists in general have had to familiarise themselves with online tools without compensation. Nowadays, they must produce more content for multiple media formats without extra payment, and many companies try to force freelance journalists to abandon their authors’ rights to be able to continue their collaboration with the media. This demand for multimedia journalism calls for ever more flexibility, though it is not always backed up either by investment in training or additional payment proportional to the work provided. The profession is pushed to face a scissor-effect: producing content with fewer staff for an increasing number of platforms. This trend is nothing new. In 2008, a study by Cardiff University found that British print journalists produced three times as much copy as they did 20 years earlier.
The increased pressure on working conditions coupled with the lack of fair pay have a devastating impact on the quality of information. Hence the declining health of our democracies, where citizens can no longer rely on good information to make their decisions. As one well-known Belgian journalist remarked, “Media companies have two sorts of capital: economic capital and moral or intellectual capital. Any paper without moral values is not good for its public and is bad for democracy.” A pay rise for staff and freelance journalists would improve the quality of journalism, promote ethical standards and protect the independence of news reporters.