August 6, 2007

A Union For Owners?

Bloggers on the port side of the 'sphere have suggested a new way to organize the chaos that is the blogging community. They propose a union for bloggers, which has some labor organizers salivating but a good number of us scratching our heads. Since when have owners (outside of sports leagues) needed to organize?

In a move that might make some people scratch their heads, a loosely formed coalition of left-leaning bloggers are trying to band together to form a labor union they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining or even set professional standards.

The effort is an extension of the blogosphere's growing power and presence, especially within the political realm, and for many, evokes memories of the early labor organization of freelance writers in the early 1980s.

Organizers hope a bloggers' labor group will not only showcase the growing professionalism of the Web-based writers, but also the importance of their roles in candidates' campaigns. ...

In a world as diverse, vocal and unwieldy as the blogosphere, there's no consensus about what type of organization is needed and who should be included. Some argue for a free-standing association for activist bloggers while others suggest a guild open to any blogger—from knitting fans to video gamers—that could be created within established labor groups.

Others see a blogger coalition as a way to find health insurance discounts, fight for press credentials or even establish guidelines for dealing with advertising and presenting data on page views.

Advocates argue that bloggers work long hours, monitoring news agencies and developing contacts, and that union protections are necessary. I can confirm the long hours, and so can my wife. When I worked as a call-center manager, blogging amounted to another full-time job -- and in some ways, it still does. The effort that goes into blogging can surpass that necessary for wage earners at their primary job, depending on how seriously they take both their job and their blogging.

But this is the point; blogging, with only a few exceptions, isn't a job at all. The blog writers own their own publishing, which is the entire point of blogging. In essence, the suggestions by Susie Madrak and Kirsten Burgard amount to a call to organize owners, not labor. From whom will the union protect us -- ourselves? Will we have to have a union steward to make sure we pay ourselves overtime?

Some might argue that a union would give us an opportunity to impose more professionalism on the blogosphere. That would tend to look more like a guild, but it still makes no sense. Guilds functioned by denying work to non-guild operators in an era where all economics remained local. One could say that a blogger guild would drive traffic away from non-guild blogs, but that seems very unlikely. The Internet gives equal access to all, and a non-guild writer has access to the same audience as a guild blogger could reach, which then again puts the market in charge of rewarding the better bloggers.

There is no escaping the marketplace for bloggers, and it works much better than unions or guilds. Blogs earn their readership with good writing, good insight, and superior marketing. That gives the power to the segment where it belongs -- the audience/consumer. Unions and guilds would put power in the hands of a self-appointed few who would dictate terms to people who blog to escape that kind of editorial control, no matter how beneficent the dictates may seem to those who make them.

The National Writers Union seems very interested in representing us. I'd like to know how they can structure a deal to get more from myself than I'm already paying me. If they can explain how they can get me more than 100% of my own self-generated income, I'd love to hear it. If the guildsters can explain how their editorial control benefits me more than my own, I'd be all ears. In the meantime, I'll just rely on my own executive decisions and overwork myself to my heart's content. In the case of the blogosphere, the workers have taken over the means of production -- and the Marxists still aren't satisfied. (via The Moderate Voice)


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Comments (24)

Posted by DirtCrashr | August 6, 2007 10:18 AM

There have been unions for owners in the past more commonly referred to as cartels, with the Hanseatic League towards the beginning and more recently the despised OPEC. For the Lefties, they continue to get their marching orders from the ghosts of Marx, Mao and Stalin.
What we right-side bloggers really need is a cool Star Chamber, but I wouyd just settle for more money and better instructions from the Bilderbergers - I'm always getting food-crumbs and peanut butter jamming my decoder-ring.

Posted by Sue | August 6, 2007 10:26 AM

Of course the marxists aren't satisfied, our very own marxists' goals are to control and dictate all to their ideology. Which, come to think about it, what exactly is your ideology when you have achieved your goal and it isn't what you were told it was or what you thought it was. Hmmm...

Posted by Scrapiron | August 6, 2007 10:31 AM

Typical liberal reaction, buy a dying horse (union).

Posted by cirby | August 6, 2007 10:31 AM


It's also a possible indicator of which bloggers are getting under-the-table paychecks from a particular party or group.

Posted by Shoprat | August 6, 2007 10:34 AM

It's all about gaining control and silencing the right side of blogosphere. People like you are the biggest threat there is to the liberal monopoly on information.

Posted by Immolate | August 6, 2007 10:44 AM

Ed said "Unions and guilds would put power in the hands of a self-appointed few who would dictate terms to people who blog to escape that kind of editorial control, no matter how beneficent the dictates may seem to those who make them."

This may be true in a labratory environment where certain variables are excluded, but in the gritty and dusty real world, content users could not possibly care less about certifications or memberships. The only difference it would make is in marketing exposure through networking, which is already taking place, formally and informally, in the political blogs.

Posted by patrick neid | August 6, 2007 10:45 AM

they just don't get it. never have, never will.
they were born in paradise and they imagine it to be hell.

Posted by RBMN | August 6, 2007 10:53 AM

In think in left-bloggers ideal world, a socialist government is the "owner," who'll be paying bloggers to "inform and educate the public"--the new public broadcasting. Bloggers will pretend to write interesting items for an eager public, and the government will pretend bloggers deserve a subsidy. Just like public broadcasting.

Posted by LarryD | August 6, 2007 11:18 AM

Forming a co-op to get group-insurance rates is no big deal, that they chose to call it a labor union shows a certain disconnect from language and reality.

But then, we've known they were reality-challenged for quite a while now.

Who on earth, for instance, would a bloggers union collective bargain with, and for what?

Posted by MarkW | August 6, 2007 11:37 AM

On the other hand, if they could get govt to recognize their "guild", then they could refuse press passes to non-guild members.

Congress has already considered exempting "journalists" from various restrictions that the rest of us face. it would be easy to imagine congress declaring that only "guild" members are "journalists".

Posted by docjim505 | August 6, 2007 11:38 AM

Ditto LarryD: I can see people grouping together to try to get good insurance rates or otherwise "collectively bargain" for some benefit, but a union of bloggers??? How can you have a union of people who voluntarily engage in what is essentially a hobby? What's next? A union of Saturday night bowlers? Stamp collectors? Book clubbers?

Only a liberal could come up with something like this...

Posted by Bob | August 6, 2007 11:43 AM

I'd like to see them go on strike if they don't pay themselves a living wage.

Posted by Stephen Macklin | August 6, 2007 11:54 AM

Then there are the multitude of bloggers - like myself - who do this for fun, I've never made a dime from blogging in the 4 years I've been doing it. I don't have the traffic to generate ad revenue and frankly I don't care.

The bottom line is that blogging, as it exists today, is an incredibly individualistic activity. The collectivists just can't abide that.

Posted by rw | August 6, 2007 12:10 PM

Replace "bloggers" with "Daily Kos diarists" and a case could be made for a union that would involve labor and not owners. Kos' content providers should organize and demand a living wage.

Posted by AnonymousDrivel | August 6, 2007 12:20 PM

Hmmm. In that case, who's for the National Commenter's Union? Since visitors' eyeballs are needed to generate advertising revenue and their additional commentary adds not only spice and flavor but tangible, complementary content to the end product, I'm thinking we could unite and serve as a mobile "voting" block providing instant validation for any and all blogs that cut us in on a deal.

So much for the independence of blogs and the novelty that drove its very success. Old habits die hard in some quarters, and it would seem unionizing is pretty addictive... especially to those who get to design that union.

How about this group of unionizers perform a public service and suggest/publish a pricing structure based on various data that would permit bloggers to earn a return if they so choose? Conduct a perpetually updating ad campaign (on the web) that lists a "suggested viewers fee" for reading a site's content. That would be useful to provide incentive for readers to pay for their subscriptions, as it were, to keep sites viable. At least we know that would serve the interests of the bloggers without the undue influence unionizing inevitably brings. This is about what's best for the bloggers, right, and not the unionizers?

Posted by Ray | August 6, 2007 12:24 PM

A union for Bloggers? What's next, a My Space union?

I think this is an attempt to start some uber-socialistic revenue sharing plan in which to force income generating Blogs to share their revenue with those who don't make any money. All the rhetoric about "professionalism" is just whitewash in which to disguise the real agenda.

Posted by D. F. Linton | August 6, 2007 12:45 PM

Socialist bloggers join a union, impose work rules on themselves, reduce their hours worked, charge more for their services and, in short do for that side of the blogsphere what the unions have done for the U.S. auto industry. What is the down side? You go boys and girls.

Posted by filistro | August 6, 2007 4:10 PM

Ed, it is my understanding that the National Writers Union does offer some valuable services to freelancers. For one thing, apparently they give legal advice and free assistance if you are battling over copyright issues, defamation/libel suits, etc. If somebody rips off your work or has a serious legal complaint about something you've written, it's not such a bad idea to have folks in your corner who aren't charging you a couple hundred bucks an hour.

I'm told they also offer pretty good advice on contract issues, and will walk through the intricacies of individual publishing contracts with members.

Whether they have a large enough membership to get any significant bargaining power on medical/dental and such, I really dont know, but I doubt it.

Posted by DirtCrashr | August 6, 2007 7:22 PM

They just want to form a Union so they can go on Strike, and bring the blougoisie-o-sphere to it's knees!! After a little reeducation, we can then all march in unision...

Posted by Faith1 | August 6, 2007 10:01 PM

By unionizing they hope to accomplish what other unions have--elimination of competition.

Posted by unclesmrgol | August 6, 2007 11:01 PM

rw has hit the nail on the head. When you depend on another to provide the technical support and sympathetic marketplace for you to publish your ideas, you may have to pay that entity part of your wages. Depending on how important they view themselves, they may demand more than you are willing to pay.

The solution is to learn what they do and do it better yourself. If a blogger's content is good enough, Daily Kos assistance is like training wheels -- once you've established a readership, you ought to be able to take them off and go it alone. Of course, you must be willing to pay the price of that path as well.

Posted by Niccolo | August 7, 2007 1:59 AM

Back in the early 70's when my wife and I were running a two-seat building-design office in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, we joined a local business association based in a slightly larger town a few miles down the road. It was what the Chamber of Commerce orgs used to be.

The cost of membership was trivial. It got us access to very economical medical/dental coverage, cheap access to the seriously cool alarm system the ass'n pooled resources and had installed in our small town's police dept dispatch office, and serious weight in various local gov't forums.

If the blogosphere could get this kind of a group going, it might be worthwhile. After all, the blogosphere is composed of huge numbers of small businesses (whether there's any net revenue or not).

It would take some care to see that it doesn't get subverted for narrow leftist political purposes, though.

- Niccolo

Posted by jaeger51 | August 7, 2007 9:20 PM

Time to start a union of blog commenters! Just send me 10 dollars a month, all of you, and I'll...welll....look into it and get back to you....

Posted by Mark Gisleson | August 8, 2007 12:38 PM

I attended that workshop and while part of this was about giving bloggers access to group health insurance, there was more to it than that. Jonathan Tasini, former head of the Natl. Writers Union was present and tactitly admitted that was a large reason why the NWU exists, but their membership (which IS open to bloggers) is helpful to writers who negotiate with publishers.

The bloggers union is forming as the Bloggers Guild, a more accurate name so far as function goes. As one of the first bloggers to draw a paycheck (stipend really), I had no basis for determining how to charge for my work. A bloggers guild will allow members to remain up to date on the going rate for professional blogging work, as well as helping bloggers in setting ad rates.

This group is just starting up and I'm sure I'll be writing about it as warranted, but I'm excited because without any kind of network we're all just poking along reinventing the wheel on our own when other bloggers have already gone there, done that, and have the blueprints.

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