A long-held code of journalism ethics is the standard that the journalist should never become the story. This is further compounded by the mindset that the journalist should be invisible — painfully objective — and should thus only act as a vehicle for the news.
But what happens when journalists have issues of their own they’d like to speak out on?
On September 20th, the Boston Globe employee union, known as the Boston Newspaper Guild, protested outside the WBUR CitySpace against poor working conditions. The WBUR studio was hosting the “Trailblazers: Women News Leaders From Katharine Graham to Today” event, where Boston Globe Media Partners CEO Linda Pizzuti Henry was set to speak.
This strike is a clear example of how optics play a role in the illusion of change: An ostensibly progressive news event meant to highlight the progress of female journalists was taking place while Boston Globe journalists lacked basic job protections, such as seniority rights and limited outsourcing.
The last contract protecting Globe writers expired over two years ago, meaning journalists and staff at the Globe had been working without protections during the pandemic. Many describe the fear and overwork they had to go through, all while providing news that became more vital than ever under the constraints of the pandemic.
Many of us in the journalism industry see an institution as The Boston Globe as a pinnacle of journalism and see earning a job there as a sign you have made it as a journalist. But to learn making it to the Globe means being overworked and left without protection during a pandemic is more than disheartening.
Journalists are heavily discouraged from expressing their political beliefs or donating to any political parties.
This also means that journalist’s rights as laborers are often unacknowledged, not merely because of the exhaustive working standards set by capitalism, but also because the field’s moral standards require reporters to be invisible.
These standards have in many ways enforced existing discriminatory paradigms. If we are meant to always be invisible, then the very real issue of lack of diversity within the field can never really be addressed. Moreover, maintaining a historic standard of objectivity — without any acknowledgment of how marginalized people have been excluded from this standard — further enforces and supports white hegemonic perspectives.
This is not to say that these standards are unchanging. In 2016, the New York Times began to allow first-person reporting. Moreover, there are more women and journalists of color in newsroom leadership positions than there were ever before.
But much of the field remains the same. The news of the Boston Globe strike is another disheartening example of the terrible working conditions inside of seemingly progressive newsrooms.
We have written multiple editorials about the poor conditions inside newsrooms. Newsrooms are shrinking at an alarming rate, and this has only increased rapid burn-out and toxic working conditions. The 24-hour news cycle and the invention of the internet have only worsened the problem, with consumers demanding constant free access to news — meaning more labor, often at no cost.
These same heavy standards and expectations exist in our paper. The FreeP — a non-profit independent newspaper, meaning without any funding from the University — does not have the financial capacity to pay writers or editors, and though we have greact initiatives such as the Editor’s Equity Fund, we as a student-run newspaper require a lot of volunteer hours to stay afloat.
But this is not how things have to be. And we plan on changing that. As our newsroom returns fully in person, we are committed to supporting our staff and writers and prioritizing their health and wellbeing.
We are looking forward to positive change in the journalism industry — a change that prioritizes the health and safety of its journalists, and are proud of the Boston Globe journalists for stepping up. But for now, we hope to emphasize our commitment to improving our newsroom. We urge the Boston Globe to do the same.