When Journalists Become Workers

Five years ago, unions barely existed in digital media. Today, they may save the industry from the worst of the COVID-19 depression—and provide a model to other working professionals.

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Fridays have become a cursed day in the media industry: It’s the day many newspapers and digital properties have announced layoffs. Thousands of journalists have joined the swollen ranks of the unemployed since the start of the Great Pandemic. Several local papers have suspended print editions. The Outline, the millennial-focused site that aspired to be “a next-generation version of The New Yorker,” closed its doors, leaving its staff jobless.

Friday, April 18, brought more of the same. Vox Media—the parent company of several properties including Vox.com, SBNation, and New York magazine—announced in an internal memo that 9 percent of its workforce would be furloughed from May to July, in addition to pay cuts and reduced work hours for many other employees. But there was also a rare silver lining: a guarantee of no layoffs through the end of July.

This concession didn’t come from the largesse of the Vox C-suite, but days of negotiations with the Vox Media and New York magazine labor unions.

More from Aaron Freedman

While both unions chastised Vox Media for refusing wider pay cuts for high-earners in place of furloughs, the agreements reached are still among the most favorable for media workers in recent weeks, with furloughed workers getting all health insurance costs covered or reimbursed by the company, and their jobs protected from replacement by contractors.

While Vox employees expressed mixed feelings, one message came through clearly on Twitter that Friday: Workers were proud of their union.

“[F]orever grateful for our union <3 <3 <3 <3,” Vox.com writer Rebecca Jennings tweeted. “In times like these you get to see who has your back. #1u #labor #organizeyourworkplace,” wrote SBNation’s Seth Pollack.

“If I could go back and tell January 2020 Caroline that joining the @vox_union committee meant a grueling 4-day bargaining session was in her future, I would,” Caroline Houck, Vox.com’s deputy Washington editor, tweeted. “And I’d tell her: Fucking do it; fighting for your colleagues’ jobs will be the most important thing you do all year.”

Just a few years ago, this outpouring of not just support for, but identity with, a digital media union would have been unimaginable. In fact, three years ago, the Vox Media Union didn’t even exist.

For years, the new-media landscape was entirely alien to labor organizers, and its employees—mostly young, mostly without experience as union members—were far from seeing themselves as potential card-carriers. As late as 2014, there were only two unionized digital newsrooms in the entire country: progressive outlet Truthout and The Daily Beast, whose employees had been absorbed into Newsweek’s union after a merger.

But over the past several years, digital media has seen some of America’s most explosive labor organizing. Today, 35 digital media brands are unionized, representing roughly 2,000 new members of the NewsGuild and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East. (Full disclosure: The Prospect staff unionized in 2017 and signed a new contract in 2020.) While these numbers are just a drop in the bucket of America’s 14.6 million unionized workers, they represent an area of astounding growth amid a decades-long decline in overall union density. According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, the number of unionized workers in internet publishing has grown twenty-fold since 2010.

Unionization has had obvious effects on the material conditions of digital-media workers, who had been in precarious straits well before the pandemic thanks to the consolidation of advertising revenue by Facebook and Google. Demands for stronger severance and greater transparency about the financial need for cuts had already been key parts of many digital-media collective-bargaining agreements.

Jandos Rothstein

Now, amid the crisis, negotiations between management and WGA unions at Vice, Slate, and elsewhere are ongoing. “We’re having real transparent, honest dialogue about how to handle a mutual problem,” Lowell Peterson, the executive director of the WGA East, told me.

In more than a dozen interviews, digital-media workers and organizers described how unionizations have transformed skeptics into committed activists, and turned once siloed and atomized offices into genuine communities. The bargaining units, once laughed off, have become integral to the fabric of communal life in digital media, and an essential part of the identity of many members.

“I don’t think I could have pictured the day-to-day camaraderie that existed because of the union,” said Rafi Letzter, a staff writer for LiveScience and organizer for the union representing media workers at its parent company, Future. “A thousand HR Beer Thursdays don’t have the same ability to create that.”

As workers in other creative fields—from video game designers to museum guides to podcast producers—launch their own unionization campaigns, the successes of digital-media unions offer a path forward for organizing the nearly 60 percent of American workers who are professionals.

“I think certainly there’s a shared consciousness, a shared solidarity among a whole range of workers loosely categorized as white-collar workers, in tech and art and media work,” said Nicole Cohen, an associate professor at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and co-author of the new book New Media Unions: Organizing Digital Journalists. “Having strong unions in media is really vital for having any kind of political change, let alone for democracy.”

As progressives lick their wounds from Joe Biden’s Democratic primary victory, an expanded and reinvigorated labor movement will be more vital than ever.

Such a shift—not just in union density, but the consciousness of a large set of workers who have long been resistant to identifying with those in low-paid service industry jobs—could profoundly shift not only the economic but political landscape. As progressives lick their wounds from Joe Biden’s Democratic primary victory, an expanded and reinvigorated labor movement will be more vital than ever.

You can see it in the Twitter accounts, custom logos, and online organizing that have become the normal for new locals of the WGA East and NewsGuild, as are bargaining committees that make gender and racial diversity and inclusion central demands.

Digital-media unions have transformed employees into workers, and those workers have breathed new life into once staid internationals.

But this wave of organizing did not come out of nowhere. Long before Vox workers went into a marathon bargaining session over pandemic cuts, digital organizers benefited from a perfect storm of difficult working conditions, post-recession precarity, and a happy accident.

“Kismet”

It all started in November 2007 with a strike.

Twelve thousand screenwriters, members of the east and west branches of the Writers Guild of America, walked off the job after contract negotiations with film and television producers fell through. Among the key issues for the writers, who struck for 14 weeks, was compensation for work delivered online. Writers would eventually win a share of that revenue, a first for a union that had long focused on workers in traditional, scripted film and television.

“The strike was a mandate to start thinking about digital content,” said Ursula Lawrence, who worked as an organizer for the Writers Guild of America East for several years afterward.

Along with the guild’s new organizing director, Justin Molito, Lawrence looked for openings to organize writers at digital-video companies. But it was tough going.

Ursula Lawrence

“When I started doing this work and would go and meet with middle-class, educated, ostensibly liberal people, they would be resistant to unions,” Lawrence said.

But in May 2014, Gawker senior writer Hamilton Nolan published an exposé on working conditions at Vice Media, which was then one of the dominant players in the streaming-video space. Citing anonymous Vice employees, Nolan painted a picture of a company that, despite newfound riches and a hipster aesthetic, paid workers embarrassingly low wages and lied about the editorial independence of sponsored projects. At a time when Vice co-founder Shane Smith was still feted as a media visionary, Nolan showed the frustration of workers who felt betrayed by a company that had attracted them based on values of creative freedom and public service.

Lawrence took notice of the piece. She reached out to Nolan, and the two struck up a friendship. Lawrence tipped off Nolan to Vice’s skirting of requirements for a massive tax credit it received for a new Brooklyn headquarters, and Nolan offered some leads on organizing Vice.

But the guild was still unable to gain a foothold at Vice, and in May 2015 Lawrence decided to move out to Los Angeles, where she eventually became a TV writer herself. The day she gave notice to the WGA, Lawrence had a final meeting with Nolan, seeking leads on organizing Vice.

“Well, have you ever thought about organizing anywhere else? What about Gawker?” Nolan asked Lawrence.

“It was like this movie where the top cop is about to retire and the serial killer strikes again,” Lawrence told me. “I was preparing to move to California and all of a sudden I had this massive campaign on my hands.”

NOLAN, WHO NOW works as a labor reporter for In These Times, hadn’t always wanted to organize Gawker. “There’d always be someone in the comments being like, ‘Why aren’t you unionized?’” he told me. “I didn’t think it was that important for us, people with a decent job.”

A key shift came in 2012, when Nolan started running weekly letters from unemployed people, detailing the financial, physical, and psychological toll. The series went on for 40 weeks.

Victor Jeffreys

“I came to understand there’s a power imbalance,” Nolan said. “There’s a power imbalance in America, and working people are on the losing side of that power imbalance.” Still, it took what Nolan described as the “kismet” of meeting with Lawrence to actually decide to unionize Gawker. “I’d thought about this in a theoretical way,” he said. “But never thought it was something we might do.”

After their meeting, Nolan went home and blindly sent a Facebook invite to about 50 of his co-workers, asking them to come to a meeting about organizing Gawker at the WGA offices. About 40 showed up.

It turned out that many Gawker writers had issues similar to those Nolan had written about Vice. “Gawker Media had grown into a big company really fast, it wasn’t super professional in many ways,” Nolan said. There was no raise schedule or systemic way to get promotions. Pay for the same title varied widely, and there was no official severance system.

Gawker acted as a training ground for the digital-media union movement, with former staffers playing instrumental roles in organizing other newsrooms.

Indeed, nearly every journalist I talked to who has been involved in organizing their newsroom cited the same factors: low pay, concerns about management, atomization, and a desire to secure the freedom and creativity that made people want to work for these outlets at a time when the business was doing well.

The day after the WGA meeting, Nolan—seeking to preempt the inevitable leaks from Gawker’s infamously gossipy office—published a blog post announcing the union drive. “Every workplace could use a union,” Nolan wrote. “A union is the only real mechanism that exists to represent the interests of employees in a company.”

Within a day, the Gawker union effort had made national headlines. Over the next few weeks, Nolan and his colleagues reached out to the over 100 people in the proposed bargaining unit. There was some trepidation. “A lot of people just never had any personal connection to unions before,” Nolan said. “You have to have long conversations with people about what a union is and what it isn’t.”

Nolan would reply, “The union is us. It’s not this outside thing that’s going to come in. Once you get people to understand that, a lot of the trepidation goes away.”

On June 3, 2015, 75 percent of Gawker Media’s writers voted to unionize with the WGA.

“The Secret Sauce”

While Gawker’s organizing drive had been the product of a happy accident, and benefited from a unique set of conditions—according to Nolan, Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton seemed “more concerned about getting some content out of it” than trying to bust the union—it sent a clear message to media workers. The fact that Gawker was appointment reading for the media industry didn’t hurt.

“Folks who had been reading the [Gawker] blogs began to reach out to us,” Justin Molito of the WGA East said. “Somebody called from Salon, somebody called from Huffington Post, somebody called from ThinkProgress. Immediately there were lots of meetings, lots of coffees, lots of organizing.”

Within just a few months, five new digital-media companies unionized—Salon, The Guardian US, Vice’s editorial team, ThinkProgress, and Al Jazeera America. Some had unanimous support, and all started to use the Twitter-based campaigning and public organizing that has become a hallmark of these fights.

“Partially because Gawker’s process was so public and transparent, and because of how the campaigns right after played out on Twitter, people could pay attention to the process and learn from it,” Molito told me. “People learned about organizing drives as they were occurring.”

Gawker acted as a training ground for the digital-media union movement, with former staffers playing instrumental roles in organizing other newsrooms. Nolan himself became a godfather of sorts, connecting a number of journalists to the WGA for the first time.

“In early 2017, I donated a kidney,” Dylan Matthews, a writer for Vox, recounted to me. “I got this nice note from Hamilton that just said, ‘You did a really good thing. You want to do another really good thing? You should organize Vox.’” Matthews would go on to join the Vox Media Union bargaining committee and help negotiate their first contract.

Economic factors also played a key role in growing digital-media unions. By 2017, the bubble of digital media was showing signs of bursting, as Google and Facebook began to monopolize the advertising revenue that once fueled indie bloggers. Facebook’s algorithm encouraged an doomed “pivot to video,” and outlets like Mic, Vice, and BuzzFeed laid off dozens of workers. Severance pay became a key demand in the spurt of subsequent organizing drives, which included Vox Media and BuzzFeed News.

“The earliest organizing principle was some sense of financial security,” Rafi Letzter of LiveScience told me. He and his colleagues first came together in the fall of 2018 after their independent parent company, Purch, was acquired by the British conglomerate Future plc.

“The buyout made clear that the insecurity that was affecting the rest of the industry would affect Purch people,” Letzter said.

John Thomason, at the time an editor at The Intercept, worked on that newsroom’s organizing campaign back in 2016, saying the process itself had a dramatic effect in building communities, solidarity, and even class consciousness among digital-media workers.

“The mental and emotional experience of being at the mercy of the boss—that initially felt very atomized and had led to a lot of feelings of isolation among people,” Thomason said. “When I was organizing, what mattered to me was, are you willing to put yourself out there for your colleagues in the unit. There is a way in which I had never truly lived my politics until I helped organize my workplace.”

Slack, Google Docs, and Twitter are the new organizing tools in digital media.

The months-long organizing campaign Rafi Letzter helped lead at Future spanned 11 different publications and workers in New York and California. Organizers reached out to their colleagues on Twitter, journalism’s digital watercooler. After winning the union, Letzter said he’s “super close” with several staffers at Future’s largest editorial property, the magazine PC Gamer.

“Look at all these new friends we all have,” Letzter said about the union members. “I didn’t know this person’s name before. We’re all working on something meaningful.”

Molito said stories like Thomason and Letzter’s were commonplace. “A big part of organizing is really de-siloing the corporate structure … pushing people out of their comfort zones to find solidarity with people they wouldn’t have otherwise even known. It’s them realizing that they actually do have significant power, but it’s only when they’re working in concert with a plan that they can realize their power. That’s the secret sauce.”

Alyza Enriquez

This has been most dramatic in the case of German Lopez, a senior correspondent at Vox covering criminal justice. When a group of Vox Media staffers announced their intention to unionize, in November 2017, Lopez disagreed, and soon after sent what he has since called his “worst tweets of all time.”

Lopez tweeted: “I am against #VoxUnion. Vox Media is a generous company (unusually so for digital media), and some people want to take advantage of that.”

“I am generally fine with and even supportive of unions,” he concluded. “Just not this one.”

Lopez’s tweets went viral, earning him widespread condemnation from left-wing and pro-union figures on and off Twitter. But within a year and a half, he was on the Vox Media Union bargaining committee when they successfully negotiated their first contract. He documented his “complete 180” on the subject in an article for Vox.

At the time of the tweets, “I was honestly just really skeptical that a union would do much for a media organization,” Lopez told me. He had a great experience at Vox: taking on exciting reporting projects, getting promoted, and enjoying a good relationship with his supervisors. Lopez had little to personally gain from a union, but he feared it could encourage bad behavior among his colleagues, likening it to the police unions he reported on.

“I was pretty misinformed about unions,” he said later.

Kainaz Amaria/Vox

What started to change his mind was a meeting with a union-organizer colleague, who reached out after the tweets.

“He just talked me through my concerns, he said, ‘Yeah some of us share the concerns too,’” Lopez told me. “It kind of just allayed my fears that this wasn’t some pie-in-the-sky shot.”

The colleague suggested to Lopez that, if he really wanted to ensure that the Vox Media Union didn’t end up protecting bad apples, he should join the bargaining committee. Lopez agreed.

Being on the bargaining committee opened up Lopez’s eyes to a much wider range of experiences at Vox Media. “What I learned is if you have a different manager you can have a vastly different experience,” Lopez said. “I had an idea that that was true, but some of the disparities became pretty clear to me.”

On pay, for instance, Vox’s writing fellows were only making $40,000 a year to live in Washington, D.C. Lopez remembered starting out at Vox with a similar salary, and how hard it was. “I don’t think [Vox] was taking advantage of people, but I do think it’s just way too little money for the work,” he said.

On the bargaining committee, Lopez helped secure higher salary minimums for all job levels. Ultimately, just the process of organizing—chatting all day with bargaining-committee members on Slack, having meetings with colleagues, staying up late in bargaining sessions—transformed Lopez’s outlook.

“On an abstract level I wanted to fight for my workers, but on a personal level I really wanted to fight for my workers because I got to know them and got closer to them.”

Dylan Matthews, who had also been skeptical of the Vox union before joining the bargaining committee, felt similarly. “When you’re in a bargaining room, you’re not acting as a journalist. You’re one side in an adversarial process,” he said. “I could go through with a fine-tooth comb, or act in solidarity and accept consensus-building measures, and think of what helps the unit.”

“An Ethic of Care”

Media unions didn’t always work this way. For decades, American newspaper guilds operated on the principle of “professionalism”—that journalists deserved better pay and benefits by virtue of their education and social position. “A lot of professional unions basically become service organizations,” author Nicole Cohen told me. Rather than encouraging journalists to think of themselves as workers in solidarity with a larger working class, she said they appealed to the “gentlemen of the press”—often literally so, with traditional newsrooms long dominated by white men.

The new wave of digital-media unions have been entirely different. “They’re something more than just improving your pay and your benefits, Cohen said. “The orientation of these unions, more generally, is about caring for each other.” She termed it “an ethic of care.”

“There has been a class consciousness,” she added. “Key to this success has been solidarity, seeing yourself as a worker who has connections to other workers, in your newsroom, and in your industry.”

Grassroots journalist-organizers themselves—particularly those from marginalized communities—have been central to this approach.

SARA DAVID wanted a union job. In spring 2017, she landed one as an editor at Broadly, Vice’s website covering gender and identity. The position was covered by the Vice Media editorial union contract, which had been negotiated a year earlier.

Sally Burtnick

But Vice was hardly a workers’ paradise, and there was barely any communication between union leaders and staff. “It didn’t really feel like we had a strong union culture,” David said. “I spent my first, like, year at Vice not even knowing what was said at labor-management meetings or what kind of concerns I could bring up or who I could go to to talk about it. I felt a little bit disconnected from my union, and sort of intimidated by it.”

Then in October, BuzzFeed published an investigation revealing that a white Broadly staff writer, Mitchell Sunderland, had been part of an email thread with alt-right figure Milo Yianopolous, dedicated to mocking feminists and social-justice activists.

The news shook David.

“This was a person who said good morning to me every day, who I worked with, who I considered a friend,” she said. “I felt like shit because at the time I was one of two full-time women of color on the Broadly team, and all of the things people were saying about Broadly online were that you could see we had ties to white supremacists.”

Though Vice fired Sunderland that week, the experience left David depressed. She reached out to her Writers Guild rep, who met with David and her Broadly colleagues. The rep tried to reassure them that management was being responsive, but David wasn’t impressed. She felt like the rep was humoring her, just letting her vent.

“That’s when I was like, I need to be more in the fucking union and saying what we need and asking people what they can do,” David said.

The opportunity came as the Vice editorial union geared up to negotiate its second contract, and David joined the bargaining committee. She was the only person of color in the group.

“I tried to set individual meetings with all the people of color in the bargaining unit to ask them about what they know about our contract, what they want in the next one, things like that. And it just really felt like, at that point, I couldn’t turn back.”

David described being on the bargaining committee as “a beautiful and agonizing experience. I became so much closer with my co-workers. I met people who I never had any reason to talk to before.”

She described a bargaining committee meeting where Diana Tourjée, a GLAAD Award–winning journalist and the only trans person on Vice’s editorial team at the time, was speaking about the need for Vice to improve its health care for trans people.

“All of the shine that she brings to the company is not separate from her identity, and often reliant on it,” David said. “Why shouldn’t that be part of what Vice considers to make her workplace better for her?”

When the new Vice editorial contract was ratified in 2019, it required the company’s health care plan to follow the standards of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

THAT “ETHIC OF CARE,” as Cohen has put it, spread to long-standing traditional media unions as well. In January of this year, The Washington Post suspended reporter Felicia Sonmez, a rape survivor, for tweeting a link to an article about Kobe Bryant’s rape trial after his death. The Post Guild quickly issued a statement firmly condemning management and supporting Sonmez.

“Assault survivors inside and outside this newsroom deserve treatment that is fair and transparent; that does not blame victims or compromise the safety of survivors.” the statement read.

“I used to be skeptical of newsroom unions,” Laura McGann, politics editor at Vox, tweeted in response to the statement. “I’ve changed my mind.”

Since negotiating her new contract, Sara David has seen a stronger union culture at Vice, with much more open communication between reps and workers, who are also more familiar with what the union can do for them.

“We are the first company to have gender-inclusive language in our contract,” David told me. “That came from an email thread. Someone just suggested pronoun respect and we wrote up a clause and added it to the contract. It was that easy to get something legally protected, all it takes is our own imagination. We’re writers! We’re producers! That’s something we never even thought of.

“Everyone can feel like their voice is so tiny in their union, but one nugget of an action can turn into something beautiful. It gets people to think, ‘Maybe I have something to contribute to this? Maybe my wants and needs aren’t frivolous or dumb?’”

“They Carry It With Them”

Before Gawker, union drives were largely conducted in secret, with paper lists and in-person handoffs to track support. Not anymore. Slack, Google Docs, and Twitter are the new organizing tools in digital media. And while professional organizers often take a leading role in union drives and contract negotiations, Gawker set the precedent for journalists themselves driving the work, and being the face of it.

“We incorporated the strategies that made sense for the people that we were seeking to organize,” Justin Molito said. “Digital tools allow for quicker communication, more transparent communication, and honestly empowering organizing committees in a more instant way.”

These tools have been especially important during the pandemic, with in-person organizing no longer possible. “We’ve, by necessity, had to organize online for years now, so we learned those techniques,” Lowell Peterson of the WGA East said. That’s allowed the union to keep in close touch with members on what specific concerns they have before entering cost-cutting negotiations with management.

The role of rank-and-file members in developing unique union identities—with dedicated Twitter accounts and logos that workers often adapt en masse as their social media avatars during bargaining campaigns—has also made unions more visible and normalized for white-collar creative workers in other industries. Digital-media unions have not only changed workers, but changed the reach of the labor movement into the professional sector more broadly.

Print media, for example, has seen a surge of new organizing. Staff at the Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker unionized for the first time, and workers at Hearst—a media conglomerate with 20,000 employees—are currently waging a high-profile campaign. Gimlet became the first podcast production company to unionize last year, and staff at several public radio stations have recently organized with SAG-AFTRA.

Last year, the Department for Professional Employees at the AFL-CIO rebranded one of their locals as the “Nonprofit Professional Employees Union,” and put out social media ads targeting millennial workers at D.C.-area nonprofits. When workers at the Brooklyn Academy of Music announced they were unionizing, part of a renaissance in museum organizing, their Twitter account was RT’ed by a range of digital-media unions.

Most importantly, the tech industry, long a bulwark against unionization with its libertarian ethos, has joined the surge. This February, employees at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter became the first office workers at a tech company in the U.S. to vote to form a union. They echoed Hamilton Nolan’s announcement of the Gawker union in their mission statement: “protecting and empowering each and every employee at Kickstarter so that we can do our work to its fullest and continue to deliver a lasting impact.”

UNION LEADERS have been particularly aware of the uncertain state of media, even before the pandemic. And they have advocated for cross-platform solidarity. The NewsGuild, WGA East, and the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees have been lobbying members of Congress to provide direct payroll support to journalists and other creative professionals in the next pandemic response bill.

“We want to be objective, we want to be independent, but at this point it could be an extinction-level event” for the media industry, said Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild. And that could have powerful repercussions on public health. A 2018 study from researchers at HealthMap found that news deserts correlate with the spread of infectious diseases, as epidemiologists rely on local articles to track outbreaks.

“I’m afraid we’ll see the highest fatality rates in places without digital or print publications,” Schleuss said. “People don’t know what’s happening outside without a publication to tell them.”

Schleuss, 32, was only elected NewsGuild president a few months ago. Before that, he was a data journalist at the Los Angeles Times, and one of the leaders in organizing their union. The NewsGuild got a slow start in organizing newsrooms in the 21st century, but in 2018 they boosted their ranks by 1,400 members, breaking a record from the guild’s founding in the 1930s. Successful union drives included BuzzFeed News and Quartz.

Even amid the pandemic, organizing continues. Peterson said that there’s been an “acceleration of conversations” with media workers looking to organize and secure a say in cost-cutting measures. In April, writers at Wired, who had been internally organizing for more than a year, officially unionized with the NewsGuild, as parent company Condé Nast weighs layoffs.

As media industry layoffs in the last few years have created a growing class of freelancers, some have begun to fight for their own unions. Haley Mlotek, former style editor at MTV News before being laid off in 2017, has been organizing with fellow freelance colleagues, seeking to improve conditions for writers who weren’t included in staff contracts. This grew into what is now the Freelance Solidarity Project (FSP), an affiliate of the National Writers Union (Full disclosure: the author is a member of the FSP).

“The transformative aspect of this has been really reckoning with the reality of the gig economy,” said Mlotek. “To stick with a traditional form of organizing does nothing to address the state of labor today. A lot of today’s restrictions on freelancers were written into law in the ’80s.”

Nicole Cohen pointed out that “the way [FSP organizers] think about themselves is very different than I think historically freelancers have, which has been really around a professional identity.” Union organizing, she said, has “radicalized them, in a way.”

That’s an experience shared by many digital-media writers.

Organizing the Vice union “had a great and profound impact on my life,” Kim Kelly said to me over email.

“Without it, I would have probably never formed the friendships I did with my coworkers (many of whom I still count among my best friends, and miss fiercely). I wouldn’t have felt like I had the right to pitch and write pieces on labor or politics, because before the union, I was ‘just’ a heavy metal writer.” Now, Kelly is a prolific labor journalist; her labor column for Teen Vogue is so influential that she sometimes complains about having too low a proportion of metalheads following her on Twitter to get her references.

“I think people, once they get into it,” Hamilton Nolan told me of digital-media union organizers, “they really carry it with them wherever they go.”

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