Labor communicators’ keynote speaker urges creation of “working-class media”
Journalist Carla Murphy was keynote speaker at the biennial convention of the International Labor Communications Association in Silver Spring, Md., Nov. 14, 2019. She called for stepped-up efforts to create a "working-class media." | Al Neal / PW

SILVER SPRING, Md.—The U.S. needs “a working-class media” to “recover” control of the national conversation about income inequality, class and race, and their intersection, social justice journalist Carla Murphy told labor communicators at their national convention here yesterday.

Murphy said that without such a working-class media—now non-existent except for People’s World and a few other outlets—the corporate class and its mischaracterizations, or worse, of workers, would continue to dominate the national discussion.

And that discussion also excludes the linkage between class and race, she told the International Labor Communications Association biennial convention.

Murphy, a well-known journalist on Twitter, keynoted the convention, which drew many of the nation’s top union communicators to the Tommy Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring, Md., a Washington suburb on Nov. 14-15.

The convention also featured panel presentations on new media and its use, labor-community coalitions (with the successful fight against Missouri’s right-to-work-for-less law showcased), use of social media, and online and offline organizing.

Whole-group sessions saw two California union communicators explain how they changed the populace’s view of workers and unions in the Golden State and a discussion on organizing to combat wage theft in Minnesota. An awards banquet honored the best labor journalism of 2018.

Murphy explained labor media, if it grabs the opportunity, can refocus the socioeconomic discussion, by addressing issues such as widespread anger at flat or declining incomes since 1970, why there should be “a view of power from the underside” of the income scale and how the 1% abuses their control of politics and the economy. That anger spans races, incomes, and political affiliation, she noted.

The void labor media could fill is left by the decline of the mainstream media due to the collapse of revenues thanks to the internet and the mushrooming explosion of alternative outlets such as blogs, cable channels, talk radio, and Twitter. The anti-worker right has exploited the void, Murphy said. Workers and their allies have not kept up.

“Media is an ecosystem to establish the terms of the debate” over the future of U.S. workers, she said, not just in terms of income but also in terms of control of the workplace.

“Fox and talk radio established that” ecosystem “for the Republicans.” But the U.S. needs funding to find, train, and staff working-class people on their own media system, she added. “Organized labor should turn its attention to the mediascape in a massive way,” Murphy said.

“Labor is not present in the media,” and that means “it is ceding a power position” to the corporate elite, the right wing, and their political allies, she pointed out.

But if and when labor decides, as a movement, to create its own alternative media ecosystem—the AFL-CIO was lobbied to do so in past years, but did not—it also must not make the same mistakes the mainstream media has in terms of who it hires and the perspectives they bring.

Murphy noted the nation’s remaining newsrooms are still overwhelmingly white, male, and, now, college-educated. That’s even though the number of newsroom workers has declined by approximately half since 1990, federal data shows. Meanwhile, the number of social media workers more than tripled and is now double newsroom employee rolls.

The demographics of the nation’s newspapers and TV networks—before everything broke up—did not reflect the nation’s population, she said. And they still don’t. Women and people of color are vastly underrepresented and 80% of news media workers have college degrees, while only one-third of the population does.

As a result, the views and even the regular lives of women, people of color, and other minorities get and got short shrift, if they’re covered at all, she noted.

That led to massive distrust of the mainstream media in the un-covered communities, Murphy said. And that mistrust predates the collapse of the mainstream media with the advent of the internet and its takeover of the mainstream’s revenues. It also predates the rise of the right-wing media ecosystem.

“But the internet also democratizes the media,” Murphy noted, both by lowering barriers to individuals entering the news stream and by letting people force to the fore topics the mainstream media previously ignored. She gave as an example the “turning point” of the Occupy movement, precursor to “Fight for $15 and a union.”

Journalist Carla Murphy, left, with Lisa Martin, president of the International Labor Communications Association, at the organization’s convention in Silver Spring, Md., Nov. 14, 2019. | Al Neal / PW

Both put income inequality and the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us front and center in national discussions, Murphy noted. They’ve stayed there ever since. But even when the mainstream media covered those issues, its outlets did so from the perspective of their readers—especially the 1%–and often of its corporate advertisers. That gave workers little space or attention, she noted.

That’s also where the labor press can come to the fore, Murphy said. It can do so not just in print and over the internet, but through social media and other forms of new media. But it also needs to find—and to have somebody fund—“working-class reporters to write about working-class issues.”

Those issues transcend race, she stated.

“The common interest” of working-class issues of income, wealth, and imbalance of power “bonds the American working class more thoroughly than race-based residence, segregation, and other differences divide us,” Murphy said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.