Shadow Media, Creative Work, and Organized Networks

Media professionals are, like everyone else, hit hard by the economic downturn - but not just that. In an age of egocasting, consumers turning mediators and producers (or: produsers/prosumers), and behaviors of media firms signaling those of the people formerly known as the employers, mass layoffs, outsourcing and other forms of contingency have great impact on the employment, morale, and creative process in media work.

All of this is particularly problematic if one assumes work to take place in the specific context of media firms and companies – if one understands media work in the traditional sense of employment. That model for media work is (and has been for quite a while) not very realistic for many professionals across the media industries, as their work relationships can best be described as contingent and "atypical", which means: work takes place often without contract, without any kind of formal responsibility or accountability system, is dependent on fluctuations (for example in the market, consumer demand, pricing and financing arrangements) beyond the control of the professional(s) involved.

In 2009 we can add to this caveat on media work the emergence of what Businesweek’s Jon Fine predicts as a shadow media, consisting of
“properties created and staffed by those pink-slipped in '08 and '09. This sets the stage for epic clashes with existing players in '10 and beyond.”
Indeed – clashes with those still under some form of employment. Yet those numbers are declining fast, according to a brief but powerful overview in The Hollywood Reporter:
“Layoffs in the media industry, which includes film and TV companies, amounted to 28,083 last year, the highest since 43,420 staffers were let go in 2001 following the bursting of the dot-com bubble.”

The question is: how can we make the shadow media economy (or rather: ecosystem, if we do not necessarily assume the creative work involved is done to further commercial enterprise) visible?

One way is through the emergence of formal, semi-formal, and informal organized networks (see the work of Ned Rossiter, Vincent Mosco and Catherine McKercher in this context) of creatives (in advertising, film/TV, journalism, games, and so on). These are often not unions, but rather loosely integrated collectives, often local yet increasingly transnational in nature that act as some kind of bulwark against the intimidating nature of the global marketplace for media/cultural/creative industries.

Examples of formal global media professional networks: the International Federation of Journalists, Global Unions, and the Media/Culture/Graphical sector of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Examples of semi-formal global networks are the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), and Artbox.

Examples of informal networks: any and all nodes and hubs online where media workers come together, such as at numerous Facebook groups and Twitterfeeds (at Twitter I warmly recommend following themediaisdying).

Some personal favorites on Facebook are: "Don't tell my mum I'm in advertising - she thinks I play piano in a brothel” (5,162 members as of 10 January 2009), the Newspaper Escape Plan (2,413 members on Jan.10), "Trust me, I’m a Journalist" (with 18,230 members on Jan.10), the Film Industry Network (18,051 members on Jan.10), and the "People who have had their souls broken by working in the games industry" group (with 513 members on Jan.10).

It should be fascinating to follow these intitiatives or "spaces of flows" as Castells uses the concept. How this all translates to better conditions for creative work to flourish and professionals to be rewarded for their expertise, I do not know. But the inspiration is certainly there, and our research should follow suit.