Media Jobs And Digital Futures

Thanks to a hint this morning from David Brake, I followed a critical write-up by Nicholas Carr of a disturbing trend throughout the media industries of recent years: a gradual siphoning off of jobs brought about by two developments: outsourcing/ offshoring/ subcontracting (also documented on this blog), and the digitalization (automation/augmentation) of media work.

One key quote sums it all up (links from original post):
"An early 2007 study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that media companies announced 17,809 job cuts in 2006, up sharply from the 9,453 cuts announced in 2005. U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that employment in the publishing and broadcasting business as a whole fell by 13 percent in the six years from 2001 through 2006, with nearly 150,000 jobs lost. During this same period, even the number of Internet publishing and broadcasting jobs dropped by a sharp 29 percent, from 51,500 to 36,600."
Carr responds to an optimistic reading of this phenomenon by PBS's Mark Glaser, who suggests that all these job losses are countered by a "healthy" surge in digital jobs.

Both Glaser and Carr admit that
"the general direction in [media, MD] employment, whether online or off, is downward - and strongly so."
But they do not go into the details of how and why this is happening, and what media workers perhaps can do about it. Of course, now I could state, that my new book (Media Work) covers those particulars quite comprehensively... but that would be too easy, and perhaps not even entirely true (other recent works by eminent colleagues such as Ned Rossiter, Andrew Ross, or Tiziana Terranova do this much more critically for example). But let me list some key media industries and spell out how job loss is occurring:

- Advertising/PR/marketing communication: offshoring of creative accounts to India & China ((see the recent announcements from for example the Publicis Groupe); merging/convergence of teams within holding firms (under the much-hyped banner of "Integrated Brand or Marketing Communications"), outsourcing work to consumers through viral/buzz/word-of-mouth/interactive marketing campaigns (think the consumer-created Doritos commercial at the 2007 Superbowl which bypassed Omnicom as the firm of record for Frito-Lay).

- News/journalism: subcontracting newswork to copydesks and international news agencies (or "news instructors", like AP and Reuters , who in turn relocate jobs to India), convergence into multimedia newsrooms, outsourcing to consumers under the header of "citizen media".

- Film/TV: phasing out of below the line labor by a surge in special effects/CGI-laden scripts, runaway production (Mexico, Canada, India, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa).

- Videogames: outsourcing original creative work to specialized companies (for example: middleware, game soundtracks, localization), often located in countries in South-East Asia (Vietnam, South Korea) where governments invest heavily in the development of software industries (the South Korean case is exemplary).

All these developments are almost impossible to manage without investments in digital, networked, and global technologies and thus must be seen in a context of cutting down on costs associated with PEOPLE and IDEAS. It is the slow but sure dehumanization or depopulation of the creative industries at work here, and the only remedy is a 21st century version of mass worker mobilization.