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We call it precariat

Newswork and Precarity
WORK / Precarious working life is perhaps alluring with its freedom and flexibility. But with the precarious also comes the uncontrollable, the unpredictability and the lack of rights. Precarious work has become widespread in a subject such as journalism. Nevertheless, I am still tempted by the flexible tasks, by the sense of variability, freedom almost.


Already while I was studying to be a journalist in the 00s, it happened. I started working hard with journalistic texts. Got an assignment here and another there. It was catchy. Imagine writing a review of a film or a book and then even getting a little money for it. I was caught. Seized by the sensation of having a work, and not least of being the master of this work. Today we have a word for that kind of work: we call it precariat.

The erosion

#Precariat# is the word for that kind of thing worke, there is unstable, uncertain and where the worker bears most of the risks. Ergo, temporary work largely without rights and perhaps even without a contract. As such, this kind of thing is nothing new. In fact, it is something historically relatively new, that workers have rights and can get something that only resembles permanent work, not to mention benefits such as pension, holiday pay, pay during illness and funds for courses and further training. This kind of thing has only come about in recent times and with the professionalization of working life. But now all this is eroding. Especially in the more creative industries, such as journalism, television, music and film, there is a shift in these years towards far more freelance work, far more project-based employment, dismissals of permanent employees and thus a steadily increasing number of people working as freelancers.

To increase the public's knowledge

Is that a problem? Maybe not for the individual. At least not for those who manage well. But of course it can be a problem for those who constantly have to struggle with the stress factor of when the next income monster will come. How a customer can be found and retained. And what now, if I get sick, how will I finance my life? This is on an individual level, but the overall argument in the book Newswork and Precarity is that the precariat is particularly a problem on a societal level. The premise of the book is that journalism constitutes an essential function, especially in democratic societies, a function which is rooted in sharing information with the public, keeping those in power under supervision, uncovering (power) abuse and fraud and, in general, acting to increase public knowledge to such an extent that as many citizens as possible can participate actively in democracy. Ergo, it is the well-known journalistic eulogy that we hear. Journalism can be very different than that, but leave it alone this time. Because if we consider these journalistic cardinal virtues and then take into account the growing precariat in journalism, the book comes to a series of discouraging conclusions, which can perhaps be summarized like this: that those in power will gradually gain so much more strength than the journalistic media, which are eroding themselves by increasingly building on freelancere, who must constantly be nervous about the next income and thereby may have difficulty finding time, acquiring knowledge and the experience needed to carry out the classic journalistic function. That erosion will therefore lead to more power fraud, more fake news, greater deroute for the journalistic business models and more examples of deterioration of conditions, not only for journalistic workers but for working people in general.

You just have to accept that life is an entrepreneurial battlefield, an eternal competition.

In many ways, the book is thus also the story of neoliberalismns the victory. Not only is everyone the maker of their own success. No, everyone is also responsible for their own life and just has to accept that life is an entrepreneurial battlefield, an eternal competition where you are only as good as your last performance. A place where especially the extroverts and the marketable succeed, while the others have to watch in poverty.

The double-edged sword

The book's chapters are mostly different case studies from around the world, which make us more knowledgeable about everything from the working lives of freelance war correspondents to the solutions that collective start-ups bring to light as a counter-response to the precariat's employer-favorist.

However, the book also contains chapters, which in a more nuanced way try to treat the precariat more broadly and view it as a double-edged sword – a condition with advantages and wealth but at the same time with downsides and challenges.

Part of the spread of the precariat has also come or at least been reinforced with my generation. I am 44 years old today. I grew up with the belief that I can probably do most things. With an eagerness to throw myself into the world and see what it holds. Many of the people I know are like that. We want freedom and flexibility. We don't want to be locked into a certain role and settle for it. We want it all the way around in our lives and below that also in our working lives. We may be spoiled and naive. I think we can do anything.

And my experience is that this kind of attitude and access to (working) life is valuable and in many ways appropriate. It creates versatility and variety. One day you are a teacher, the next a journalist, then a TV presenter, then an actor, then a journalist again. In this versatility, which of course also contains versatility, when it comes to types of customers and types of environments, you not only get to test yourself but also get to know many different types of people. Prejudices are broken down more easily in the work of versatility. Bad habits may not stick so easily. You become better able to handle the sudden, the unpredictable.

One day you are a teacher, the next a journalist, then a TV host, then an actor, then a journalist again.

For me it has been enriching and always is. Today, however, my precarious conditions have been supplemented or partially replaced by an at least in principle more permanent position at the media and journalism college in Aarhus. Nevertheless, I am constantly tempted by the flexible tasks, by the feeling of changeability, almost freedom. That's why I – and a bunch of other lemmings with me – largely accept the conditions of the precariat without blinking. And that is why the precariat still thrives.

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

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