Corporate Media Largely Ignore Labor Issues. Let’s Make Them Visible.

A year ago VICE’s Motherboard published an account of the underhanded tactics used by IRI Consultants, the “union avoidance” firm Google hired to prevent its employees from unionizing. The report used leaked files to show how IRI gathered private information on the personalities, work ethics, and motivations of its clients’ employees and then used that data to target individual workers in an effort to sway their votes in union elections.

The corporate press has recently reported on the increase in unionization efforts by workers at Big Tech firms, but it has mostly ignored the fact these companies regularly employ union-busting consultant to thwart such organizing efforts. Project Censored has been identified Motherboard’sReport on Google union-bustingAs one of the most important, but least reported news stories of 2020-2021. The sensational leaks have not been covered by corporate news media. Motherboard Publication last January The only other coverage was last January. Motherboardleaks was an 8 January 2021 post on the independent grassroots labor news site. Payday Report, which discussed IRI’s attempts to stop Seattle health care workers from unionizing but did not mention IRI’s work for Google.

Corporate news media’s lack of attention to this story is symptomatic of its refusal to focus on workers, workers’ rights and the labor movement, not to mention the economic realities of social class in the U.S. The perspectives and interests of working people seldom feature in “business” news. The result is a biased view of work, workers and their lives.

One Story Missed after another

Project Censored highlights stories that were reported independently by outlets such as Truthout, Common Dreams and Labor Notes And Payday ReportHowever, they are often not reported or ignored. CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times The rest of the commercial and for-profit news media. A glance at some of labor-related stories from the Project’s recent top 25 “censored” story lists illustrates just how oblivious the corporate media is toward workers and the realities of their working lives.

The Project identified the following: 2019 International Labor Organization studyThe study, which identified that low-wage workers have dramatically increased risk of premature deaths, stress- and fatigue-related illnesses, burnout, and declining mental well-being as one of its key findings, was published in top stories from 2019-2020. Alternative news outlets, such as Common DreamsThe establishment press completely ignored them. That same year, the Project tabbed the actions of the Trump administration’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as another important but overlooked story. The Trump NLRB changed the rules for union certification electionsEmployers were able to decertify legally recognized collective bargaining agencies much more easily than they had previously, if they received no advance notice. The story was published by Truthout, Common Dreams, The Nation Several legal trade publications, but not the corporate press.

Project Censored highlighted the topic in 2012, a year further back. legislative attack on the U.S. Postal Service by the Republican majority in Congress as a thinly veiled attempt to destroy the powerful postal workers’ union. Allison Kilkenny wrote an article about this attack. TruthoutMatt Taibbi raised concern about it in an editorial for Rolling Stone. While the corporate press reported on USPS’s financial woes and the possibility that the postal service would eliminate Saturday deliveries in order to balance its books, very few of these outlets traced those woes to the GOP’s anti-union animus.

Even when the corporate media do cover workers’ demands for better pay and working conditions, this coverage is usually shallow, lacking in context and often tardy. A case in point is the great wildcat strike wave of 2020-2021 unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which Project Censored identified as one of 2020’s top censored stories in this year’s book, State of the Free Press 2022. Almost as soon as the U.S. went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, millions of essential workers — including meatpackers, delivery drivers, nurses, teachers, janitors, warehouse workers and grocery clerks — began staging short strikes and walkouts in the face of dangerous working conditions to demand better pay, protective equipment and health benefits.

Payday Report A two-person operation, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, tracked this unprecedented surge of militancy in an interactive COVID-19 Strike Wave Interactive Map. It has identified some 1,750 strikes since March 2020. There are also a few other news outlets available, including The GuardianAlso reported on the surge in work stoppages. However, most corporate news media are. ignored the year’s unprecedented wave of labor actions — except for a brief period in August 2020 when big commercial media reported on strikes by professional athletes protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by Wisconsin police. Finally, in October 2021, when thousands of workers at John Deere and Kellogg’s struck for better pay and benefits, the establishment press began breathlessly reporting on “Striketober,”It was almost a year and a half since independent news outlets first reported on the strike wave.

Workers’ Issues Steadily Disappear From the Mainstream Media

What explains the corporate media’s abysmal coverage of workers, their issues and their movements? After all, however you define and measure it, the working class makes up the majority of the country’s adult population. Why is the establishment media so dismissive of workers and their concerns?

News critics and scholarly analysts of media have long pointed out the absence of corporate news reporting on workers, labor unions, and labor issues. In his 1979 pioneering study Deciding What’s News, sociologist Herbert Gans observed that “most news is about affluent people, almost by definition,” and he noted that working-class people who were once covered in the news had by the 1970s “virtually disappeared.” Four decades later, workers are, if anything, even less visible in the news. In his 2019 book No Longer Newsworthy – How the Mainstream Media Left the Working Class. Christopher Martin documents how the newspaper industry’s interest in cultivating an increasingly upscale audience led papers to eliminate the “labor beat” — journalists who specialized in reporting on unions and the labor movement — and to frame coverage of labor actions from the perspective of management and middle-class consumers rather than workers. Martin writes that, “across the nation and in nearly every city and town, no consistent beat covers labor or workplace issues. The occasional stories that do appear lack any sense of continuity or content.”

Commercial news outlets’ efforts to attract the high-income audiences coveted by advertisers partly explains why workers have disappeared from the news. Nikki Usher from the University of Illinois, in her book News for the Rich and the White and the Blue, Another reason could be that many journalists come from professional, wealthy families, have college degrees, and live in big cities. Usher says that 90 percent (versus 25%) of U.S. adults have college degrees. She also notes that journalism jobs often require low-paid internships. a study by the Asian American Journalists Association that found that 65 percentA few elite, selective colleges offer the most sought-after internships with national media outlets. As a consequence, she concludes, “journalism is increasingly for and by the rich and white.”

To this we could add the fact that corporate media’s coverage has been increasingly shaped by a steady stream of “flak” and “propaganda”Business-affiliated, anti–union think tanks and institutes, as well as advocacy groups, such as the Cato InstituteThe Heritage FoundationThe Ludwig von Mises InstituteThe State Policy NetworkIts numerous affiliates, Manhattan Institute, and American Enterprise Institute.

Make workers more visible

News consumers will need to take steps to hold news agencies accountable for not listening to the concerns and lives of the vast majority in order to make workers and labor issues more prominent within the news media. Project Censored is a program that monitors news and teaches literacy skills to journalists. Critical Media ProjectCan do a lot for exposing class biases in corporate news coverage. Supporting independent news outlets such Truthout, Labor NotesAnd Payday Report, which treat workers’ struggles for better pay and working conditions as newsworthy, can also help to amplify workers’ voices throughout the media ecosystem. Sharing these independent outlets’ stories and contributing donations to ensure that they have the funding necessary to continue their work are direct ways to support them.

We must also press news organizations to diversify their newsrooms by including more reporters from low income, blue-collar classes and people with non-elite educational backgrounds. As labor militancy continues to grow, let’s make sure the whole country knows about it.