Susie Cagle is a 2015-2016 John S. Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford, where she researches labor shifts, their social and economic impacts, and sustainable cooperative models to support freelance workers in media and other industries. She is a technology columnist and cartoonist at Pacific Standard and Al Jazeera America, and a frequent contributor of journalism to other outlets including the Guardian, Forbes, Aeon, and others. Her work has been honored with awards from the Online Journalism Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Yerba Buena Center. She often draws Uber CEO Travis Kalanick as a crying baby.
Reorganizing Independent Media Labor
The internet promised the dawn of a new age of independent media, with democratized and low-cost access to publishing. But as it did in other industries, the internet disrupted legacy companies and distributed power only to create opportunity for new platforms to recentralize control and profits. Today, “content” is thriving while writers, especially freelancers, are losing. New platforms such as Contently and Beacon have emerged to “save journalism” and ostensibly help freelancers harness their distributed audiences through crowdfunding, promotion, and gig-matching. But these middlemen do as much for writers as Uber does for its drivers: They are payments processors backed by venture capital, with a primary goal of providing subsidized labor to large media organizations.
This is very bad. But independent media makers are resisting this centralization through radical wage transparency (Who Pays Writers) and formal and informal collective organizing (Radiotopia and coworking guilds). Still in their infancy, these efforts could prove to be an alternative platform model that recaptures some of the internet’s lost promise.