Pew: Young journalists, journalists of color most likely to join unions

By Eva Herscowitz

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In an industry in which coverage of labor concerns often overlaps with personal worries about wages and benefits, journalists are increasingly turning to unions at news outlets nationwide. 

About one-in-six U.S. journalists at news outlets are part of a union, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. The survey suggests, too, that unions are a promising balm for labor problems, even in newsrooms that lack unions, with 41% of surveyed journalists saying they would join a union if it were available to them. 

Responses encompassed 12,000 working U.S.-based journalists Pew Researchers surveyed between Feb. 16 and March 17. Freelance, self-employed and student or intern journalists are excluded from these figures. 

Their findings portray a broad swath of industry professionals eager to join newsroom unions. About 41% of surveyed journalists say they would join a union if it were available to them, surpassing the 16% of U.S. journalists who currently claim union membership. 

The researchers determined that the desire to join a union isn’t uniform across age groups; younger journalists are more likely to favor union membership than their older peers. Among journalists ages 18 to 29, 20% of those working full- or part-time are already members of a union at their news organizations. About 57% say they would join a union if it were available to them. 

Those figures far outpace the percentage of older journalists receptive to union membership: among journalists 65 and older, 13% are already union members, and 28% say they would join one if it were available to them.

“The desire to join a union is much more prevalent among younger journalists at news organizations than among their older peers. There is a roughly 30 percentage point gap between the youngest and oldest age groups,” said Jacob Liedke, a Pew research assistant.

“There could be a number of reasons as to why this is. While our survey did not explicitly ask younger journalists why they were more interested in being a union member, the study found that these younger journalists were also more likely to say they were very or somewhat dissatisfied with their job and that their job in the news industry has a negative impact on their emotional well-being.”

The researchers likewise identified incongruent union interest across race. Black, Hispanic and Asian journalists are all more likely than White journalists to be union members or express interest in union membership, if their newsrooms were organized already. 

Admittedly, the presence and strength of unions often hinges upon a newsroom’s receptiveness to labor organizing. About one-in-four U.S. journalists who are employed by a news organization full time or part time say their organization has a union. 

Journalists who work for larger news organizations are more likely than those who work for smaller ones to say their outlet has a union. 

Political discrepancies likewise delimit union membership:

Among journalists who say they are employed at least part time at an outlet whose audience leans left politically, about four-in-10 report that their organization has a union. In contrast, only 12% of journalists employed by outlets whose audience leans right say their newsroom has a union. 

To read Pew’s summary of the survey findings, click here. Researchers Jeffrey Gottfried, Amy Mitchell, Mark Jurkowitz and Jacob Liedke describe the survey’s methodology here.