If Zoom Dick has reinforced anything about journalism, it’s the reminder of a stark stratification in the industry. There are people who feel totally fine literally jerking off at work and collecting a comfortable paycheck, while the media underclass writes SEO posts in a permanent stress-crouch position for barely enough money to cover rent. You’re a figurative Toobin, or you’re writing 7 posts a day, wondering if you’ll be allowed back in the office to collect the stuff on your desk if you get let go in the looming next round of layoffs, or if they’ll just throw out your succulent and your notepads when they decide to shift to permanent WFH in a few months because of the overhead rent costs.
In some newsrooms, these directives for non-Toobins are explicit. McClatchy, the owner of the Sacramento Bee wants to tie its reporters’ pay to how many clicks a story gets. In an open letter to McClatchy CEO Tony Hunter, the Pacific Media Workers Guild said that a pay-for-clicks strategy would “negatively affect newsgathering, employee morale and The Bee’s reputation.” According to the newspaper’s union, its owner is withholding months of backpay from last year’s contractually guaranteed raises unless the newsroom accepts the pay-for-clicks terms.
(“The suggestion that The Bee is tying journalists’ pay to clicks is inaccurate,” Lauren Gustus, the editor of the Bee, told the Sacramento Business Journal. “We are proposing performance metrics that measure readership and engagement to better serve our communities. This is a concept both parties agreed to in prior sessions and is one component of a comprehensive performance management process that measures performance against standards and goals.”)
But the reality is that any publication strategy prioritizing “performance metrics” continues to put pressure on the people whose daily jobs already involve stretching themselves as thin as possible for as little money as possible.
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These two groups of media workers exist within the same newsrooms, inhabit the same floors of shared office space under normal circumstances. One group is hunched over their computers, taking lunch at their desks, studying Chartbeat, trying to find one more thing to post for the day, terrified of missing a quota. The other is walking around the office, cracking jokes, having a blast, popping into the EIC’s office to say hi, sitting at a shared table because they visit the office so infrequently that they no longer have their own desk.
The Toobins get talking heads spots on cable news networks. They often look like him, too. “Diversity” at media companies gets siloed into social media and low-paying editorial roles, the cogs that allow the machine to keep turning, lets the Toobins keep, uh, cranking along. The low-paid grunt workers feed the content mines, absorb the social blowback from a hastily written headline, and allow for the Toobins of the world to continue their largely metaphorical — but sometimes literal — masturbatory practices.