An optimistic view of the state of freelance journalism is a rare thing these days. But author and University of Toronto professor Nicole Cohen has one. She says that although it can be hard to stay positive in the face of challenging conditions for freelance workers, her research has demonstrated that there are some reasons to be hopeful.
Cohen’s new book, Writers’ Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age will be the focus of an afternoon event later this month hosted by CMG Freelance and PWAC Toronto. The discussion is scheduled for January 28th from 1 to 3 p.m. at Metro Hall in Toronto. Tickets are free, but attendees are asked to register here.
The book explores working conditions for freelancers and looks to the future of journalism. Freelance work is increasingly precarious and is often associated with poor pay, heavy workloads and lack of access to social protections. But Cohen says the rise of freelance organizations and campaigns that push back against exploitative publishers challenges the idea that low pay and precarity are inevitable facts of freelance life.
“I argue that the conditions freelancers find themselves in are the result of particular histories and decisions made by publishers and corporate executives of media companies about how to organize production, organize labour, use digital technologies, etcetera,” she says.
This perspective, she says, gives freelancers the agency to try and protect their autonomy and improve their working conditions. But they can’t do it alone.
“Change for freelancers won’t come from individuals trying to make themselves more competitive by improving their skills, networking, self-branding, or becoming an ‘entrepreneur,’ as so many freelancers are encouraged to do,” Cohen says.
Instead, she says, improved conditions for freelancers will come as a result of collective action. She cites the growth of freelance unions, J-Source’s Work and Labour section and groups such as the Urban Worker Project and the Canadian Intern Association as examples of the positive steps being made towards addressing the needs of freelancers and other precarious workers.
“This is a time of increasing awareness about and activity around precarious work. Media workers, journalists, cultural workers and freelancers are forming organizations, speaking out, joining campaigns, pushing back against publishers’ exploitative practices, saying no to unpaid work, and discussing ways of making freelance work more sustainable,” she says.
“There seems to be momentum around these issues and I hope it continues.”
The January 28th Writers’ Rights event will include a keynote address by Nicole Cohen. Other speakers include Karen Luttrell, president of PWAC Toronto, and Don Genova, president of CMG Freelance.
Please register for this free event on this Eventbrite page.
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