Do Bloggers Need To Unionize?

    August 6, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

There have always been pro-union people and anti-union people, and you can usually guess who’s what depending on their individual caste. In this case, though it carries with it the same arguments, it will have to be decided first if an industry has emerged from nebulous existence and into a viable, thriving industry.

Do Bloggers Need To Unionize?
Do Bloggers Need To Unionize?

The burning question: Is there a need for a blogger’s labor union?

And your first thought, like mine, is quite likely, "huh?"

Labor unions are for steel workers and teachers, underpaid, over-skilled and overworked, who need collective bargaining power just to avoid a return to the 19th Century sweat-shop economy – that, and the ability to feed their kids.

(Note: I chose steel workers and teachers as examples only because the two make up about two-thirds of my own family. So that means, in general, I am pro-union, and by default, pro-American-made automobile.)

In the past two years, blogging, as a profession, has grown from geeky obscurity into a direct challenge to the journalism industry, even with bloggers’ reputation for being unruly, unvetted, grammatically and syntactically insufficient, and above all, a disorganized mess. 

But that is sort of what (okay, completely what) made the medium so appealing. They answered to no one and therefore were accountable to no one; the individualist, populist, no-truth-barred approach both what propelled it and what held it back. Abused, sometimes inaccurate, sometimes out and out wrong, but for the most part, a development for the greater good, for freedom of speech, for information exchange, for the free market of ideas.

But organized? Isn’t that a kind of bloggers’ code sacrilege? Wouldn’t this be the same disorganized collective that railed against the idea of a Blogger’s Code of Conduct?

Don’t answer that. It’s too restrictive. Bloggers are all creeds, all different kinds of people.

So back to the real question:

With whom are bloggers bargaining, and why is there a need for them to bargain collectively?

The winning answer to that is blog publishers and blog network owners, who pay on a percentage basis rather than a per-post basis. Entrants to the "profession," and yes we must call it that now, claim to make pennies for hours of work, without health insurance and other benefits afforded to other workers.

I’m not taking sides here, just stating the crux of the matter. The issue was billed as a "liberal" movement, as you might imagine, as no business-minded, robber-baron conservative type would support unionization. I might have taken a side there, though. Again, I am generally pro-union, as it seems to me it’s either that or indentured servitude and tenant farming.

It’s billed as a liberal cause because it was "left-leaning bloggers" that brought it up, according to the Associated Press, but that might have been a disingenuous way to characterize it, by invoking the spirit of Norma Rae. It may have been better to hearken back to freelance writers unions and actors guilds, which isn’t mentioned until the second paragraph, thus producing the desired gut reaction from the anti-camp.

But let’s move away from the writer’s opinion, as he already has health insurance (much appreciated, boss). We should consult the blogosphere, where the stakeholders are, instead.

"The idea of a blogger labor union seems to make as much sense as having a union for people who sing in the shower," says Mike Pechar of the Jawa Report. "Typically, a labor union has some leverage by threatening to strike against management. Bloggers threatening to strike would probably be greeted with a ho-hum or maybe even applause."

That’s the cynic’s viewpoint, and a witty one. But there are pro bloggers out there the world (and publishers) would miss.

Marketing Pilgrim’s Andy Beal weighs in, numerically. The short and skinny of his argument is that the blogosphere is still too ill-defined, bloggers difficult to identify, difficult to assess on a quality basis. And again, the idea of a blogger picket line might be one that is not easy to get behind.

Ryan Caldwell though, at the Performancing blog, is more open to the idea, saying the blogosphere (and the real world) can make room for an organized blogging collective:

I don’t think that the goal should be to improve the quality of life for *all* bloggers who want to join a labor union.

Rather, I do think that the free markets could willingly support and encourage the development of a "Premium Blogger Collective" that organized the very best bloggers on the internet into a union-like collective and then served as an authoritative central location for businesses and high quality publishing firms to find quality bloggers at premium rates.

Not only do I think that a free-market would support such an endeavor, but Google itself has now put in place the infrastructure to encourage the economics of quality. As a friend of mine put it, they’ve turned the "authority" and "quality" buttons way, way, way up on their search algorithms.

My opinion? Thanks for asking. I think it will happen and some won’t like it. I think it will be necessary in some instances and some won’t like it. I think not everybody will be admitted and many won’t like that, either.