This reading outlines the issues surrounding media-related labour and the blurred lines between flexible working conditions and exploitation. This is immediately relevant for us as I found myself relating to a number of the issues raised, such as the pros and cons of extended low-paying or unpaid internships and the uncertainty of freelance media work. Safe to say this text has made me even more anxious about my future in this field and has positioned me to seriously consider extending my 2017 travel gap year by at least an extra year to further delay facing the harsh reality that is this industry.
Okay, let’s try to be positive here. The benefits of informal work do look good on paper, as indicated by Richard Flordia’s optimistic Rise of the Creative Class. Theoretically, through undertaking informal employment, you can work the hours that suit you and live an autonomous and liberated lifestyle. It is also relatively easy to start doing what you love in order to build your resume if you are prepared to do it for less than minimum wage or for free. In relation to my own life, I’m currently in this position with my recent creation of my own media production business, Elemdee Media. I’ve done some videography jobs for free and others for a small amount, and I’m flexible in the sense that I can edit videos from home and in my own time.
However, it is needless to say that informal employment in the media field has some serious downfalls. To name a few, there are no minimum wages, you run the risk of being exploited and you are usually either overworked or out of work entirely. Unpaid internships and months doing informal freelance jobs do not guarantee eventual job security or formal wages. If all this wasn’t enough, it is especially difficult for women to secure formal work in this field. Based on these facts, I tend to think Bakker’s description of this current state of as ‘digital sweatshops’ is sadly pretty accurate (2012). Additionally, the current nature of informal work also puts those in more formal 9-5 jobs in jeopardy as more and more unpaid ‘contributors’ may threaten the need for their full-time position all together.
Lobato and Thomas try to keep our pride intact by proposing some solutions for these issues faced by creative workers. They assert that in order for informal work to be ethical and fair, clear differentiation of intent needs to be identified (e.g. between unpaid internships with future career in mind and hobbies undertaken purely for self-satisfaction) and appropriate regulation needs to be put in place. In an ideal world, we need “the creation of regulatory systems that enable the most productive and rewarding kinds of formalities and informalities to coexist.” Easier said than done, but one can dream…