The Labor of Digital Journalism in New Zealand and the US

Tainui Neilson

Advisor: Paul Smith, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Timothy Gibson

Enterprise Hall, #318
April 24, 2017, 11:00 AM to 09:00 AM


The digitization of news production has transformed the news industry and the day-to-day work of reporters. This dissertation investigates journalists’ experiences of technological and economic changes in their profession. It is based on semi-structured interviews with news workers in New Zealand and the United States, which are contextualized through a labor history of journalism and analysis of industry reports. The two national case studies have majority English-speaking news markets of very different size and with different mixes of commercial, public, and nonprofit media. Global changes in media industries are inflected by national cultures, markets, and legal regimes. Yet, despite these differences, journalists in both countries describe the extension and intensification of their work. The first chapter argues that Journalism Studies will benefit from a more sustained engagement with theories of digital labor. Journalists’ work is primarily mediated by computer networks, digital devices, and software, which facilitate and organize their work processes. The two subsequent chapters draw on interviews to describe the extension and intensification of journalists’ work. Work extension refers to the length of the working day and the proliferation of tasks required of journalists, while work intensification relates to increased effort as well as the reduction of down-time during work hours. I then turn to journalists’ attempts to gain a greater say in their profession and workplaces with an emphasis on the unionization of digital first newsrooms. While unions present one mechanism through which journalists can exert control in their workplaces, they are also able to intervene in the industry through their news stories. News media is necessary to forming shared understandings of our world and how we act together. Journalists in New Zealand and the US are expanding their efforts into new media platforms, producing more news, not less, reflecting on their current position, and acting to assert a voice in the future of their profession.