Technology changes the media/entertainment workforce

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




(2000), "Technology changes the media/entertainment workforce", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 24 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Technology changes the media/entertainment workforce

Technology changes the media/entertainment workforceKeywords Employment, Entertainment industry, Media, Information technology

The online revolution in the media and entertainment industries is changing the way journalists work and overhauling the employment patterns and gender distribution of the world's media and entertainment workforce, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report prepared for a symposium on information technologies which took place in Geneva earlier this year (background document to the Symposium on Information Technologies in the Media and Entertainment Industries: Their Impact on Employment, Working Conditions and Labour-Management Relations, ILO, Geneva, 2000, ISBN 92-2-111254-4, price 17.50 CHF).

Among the report's main findings are that information and communications technology (ICT) in newsrooms is levelling the playing field between fixed staff and freelancers, and that journalism is providing increasing career opportunities for women, who are among the major beneficiaries of the booming "new" media job market.

In Spain, for example, the report says that, while there was a decline in the labour force on daily newspapers of 15 per cent between 1992-94, "the share of editorial staff rose from 37 per cent to 46 per cent and the proportion of women among them rose from 27 per cent to 29.5 per cent".

Women, who represented less than 20 per cent of journalists in Portugal during the 1980s, now make up more than 30 per cent of the profession, which has increased fourfold in the last decade.

"Information overload" looks set to become a major occupational hazard for full-time journalists, with e-mail the main culprit as message boxes fill up with steady streams of data, press releases, electronic newsletters, internal memos and readers' responses. "Because the ICTs allow journalists to work quicker, there are greater expectations on staffers to produce more", the report notes.

The ILO report says that the vast majority of journalists in major industrialised countries now have access to the Internet, a medium which scarcely even existed just a decade ago. Approximately 80 per cent of business and financial journalists use the Internet at least once a day for research, and 80 per cent have their work published in both online and off-line publications. It concludes that "freelance journalists, generally speaking, have been the ones using and exploiting ICTs for both the longest time and the greatest gain."

While the global information society is in full swing in industrialised countries, poverty, skills shortages and a paucity of infrastructure mean that some developing countries risk lagging behind in the new information age: data from the 1990s show Internet usage in the late 1990s to have been one in six people in North America and Europe versus one in 5,000 people in Africa.

Juan Somavia, the Director-General of the ILO, has warned of a potential for a "digital divide" as technology gaps widen between rich and poor nations. He said that "improving Internet access is probably one of the most cost-effective ways of spreading the benefits of globalization to developing countries".

The report notes that, while the growth in Internet use and the overall proliferation of ICT eliminates many traditional media jobs and alters the structure of remaining jobs – particularly on daily newspapers, it is fuelling demand for workers who can provide editorial and creative input in an ever-increasing array of technical formats.

The symposium participants, who included delegates from 40 countries representing workers, employers and governments, examined working conditions and labour-management relations in the rapidly evolving media and entertainment industries.

The delegates were told that, in spite of the many new opportunities, overall employment in printed media is clearly declining: "Technology has eliminated many jobs in newspapers over the past 25 years, largely among composing room and clerical workers". Compared to these workers, "journalists have been fortunate". While the ILO report notes that the number of staff required in a newsroom has declined slightly, "journalists are not being replaced by computers".

Older workers in traditional crafts (typesetting, paste-up) appear to have suffered the greatest job losses, and job descriptions have blurred for remaining workers as technology alters established routines. The report says that "a major challenge for printing workers is to adapt themselves to new equipment, unaccustomed ways of working and sometimes moving away from print into new media". Journalists face similar challenges, and they are increasingly called upon to file stories or prepare scripts for a number of different formats, for example, radio, television and the Web, and for an increasing number of outlets.

Broadcasting is seeing a similar pattern, with declines in permanent employment because of the restructuring of state-owned media outlets and consolidation in the wake of mergers and acquisitions among private firms. But, here again, the bulk of job losses has been in technical and administrative areas, whereas production and "content" jobs have been created by new technologies.

The ILO report notes that "traditional labour-management relations have problems coping with technology and other developments in media and entertainment, because the workforce is more fragmented than before and enterprises are subcontracting work that used to be core business". New forms of social dialogue, such as the promotion of voluntary initiatives, incorporation of gender issues, and involvement of transnational corporations as dialogue partners, will be necessary. International labour standards, including those on freedom of association, collective bargaining, home work and discrimination, are thought to be relevant in a sector in which issues of ICT training, social protection, independent workers and freelancers, as well as issues of informal sector workers, are increasingly predominant.

Further information from ILO, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland. Tel: +4122/799 7912; Fax: +4122/799 8577; Internet:

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