'Don't rock the boat': Pervasive precarity and industrial inertia among Queensland journalists

  • Linda Brady Griffith University, Nathan
Keywords: Australia, collectivism, digital disruption, Fourth Estate, industrial relations, journalism, MEAA, precarity, Queensland, unions, workers' rights


While considerable academic attention has been paid to the effect of industry turbulence on journalists’ perceptions of their professional identity and the normative values of journalism over the past two decades, there has been less focus on how transformations wrought by digital incursion, corporate economising, and the rise of neoliberal ideologies might have injured journalist’s industrial agency. This article argues that journalists’ willingness to assert or advance their industrial rights at work has been diminished in Australia by the increase in precarity that has arisen as a result of shifts in the media landscape. It argues disruption has created precarious working environments in which uncertainty and fear drive an unprecedented and almost universal sense of self-preservation that has detached journalists from industrial engagement and the mechanisms that support safe and secure working conditions—to the detriment of the journalism industry and the public it serves.


Download data is not yet available.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Linda Brady, Griffith University, Nathan

Linda Brady is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Griffith University Centre for Social and Cultural Research, in Queensland, Australia. Her research focuses on journalists’ industrial rights and agency. She is a former journalist and newspaper editor who worked in both Australia and Sri Lanka, with more than 30 years’ experience in the journalism and communications fields.


Alvesson, M. (2003). Methodology for close up studies: Struggling with closeness and closure. Higher Education, 46, 167-193. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1024716513774

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020, December 11). Trade union membership. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/earnings-and-work-hours/trade-union-membership/latest-release#data-download

Bishop, J., & Chan, I. (2019). Is declining union membership contributing to low wages growth? Reserve Bank of Australia. Retrieved from https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/rdp/2019/pdf/rdp2019-02.pdf

Bonyhady, N. (2020, December 11). Union membership dips again but members earn much more. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/union-membership-dips-again-but-members-earn-much-more-20201211-p56msk.html

Bowden, B. (2017, July 5). Three charts on: the changing face of Australian union members. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/three-charts-on-the-changing-face-of-australian-union-members-80141

Brannick, T., & Coghlan, D. (2007). In defense of being native: The case for insider academic research. Organizational Research Methods, 10(1), 59-74. https://doi.org/10.1177/1094428106289253

Bray, M., & Macneil, J. (2011). Individualism, collectivism, and the case of awards in Australia. Journal of Industrial Relations, 53(2), 149–167. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022185610397139

Bray, M., Macneil, J., & Spiess, L. (2021). Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2020. Journal of Industrial Relations, 63(3), 338–356. https://doi.org/10.1177/00221856211003597

Carr, D. (2014). Risks abound as reporters play in traffic. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/24/business/media/risks-abound-as-reporters-play-in-traffic.html?_r=0

Cooper, R., & Ellem, B. (2013). The state against unions: Australia’s neo-liberalism, 1996–2007. In Global Anti-Unionism (pp. 163-183). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cooper, R., Ellem, B., Briggs, C., and van den Broek, D. (2009). Anti-unionism, employer strategy and the Australian state, 1996–2005. Labor Studies Journal, 34(3), 339–362. https://doi.org/10.1177/0160449X08319656

Curtin, J. (2019). Women and trade unions: A comparative perspective. London, UK: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429427978

Das, J. (2007). Sydney freelance journalists and the notion of professionalism. Pacific Journalism Review, 13(1), 142-160. https://doi.org/10.24135/pjr.v13i1.890

Davies, N. (2009). Flat earth news: An award-winning reporter exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media [eBook]. London, UK: Vintage. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=U2E79Pq0ZDwC&pg=GBS.PA1&lr=&printsec=frontcover

Dorney, G. (2018, October 18). New parliamentary report on union decline. HRM Online. https://www.hrmonline.com.au/enterprise-bargaining/report-union-decline/

Dwyer, D. K. (1996). Questioning between heartbeats: The interviewing techniques of journalists. Performance Improvement, 35(7), 16-19. https://doi-org.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/10.1002/pfi.4170350706

Dwyer, T., Wilding, D., & Koskie, T. (2021). Australia: Media concentration and deteriorating conditions for investigative journalism. In J. Trappel, & T. Tomaz (Eds.), The Media for Democracy Monitor 2021: How leading news media survive digital transformation (Vol. 1, pp. 59–94). Nordicom, University of Gothenburg. https://doi.org/10.48335/9789188855404-2

Fair Work Commission. (2018, June 15). What is ‘injuring’ the employee in his or her employment? Retrieved from https://www.fwc.gov.au/general-protections-benchbook/adverse-action/injuring-employee-in-their-employment#field-content-0-heading

Fenwick, C., & Howe, J. (2009). Union security after Work Choices. In A. Forsyth & A. Stewart (Eds.), Fair work: The new workplace laws and the work choices legacy (pp. 164–185). Alexandria, NSW: Federation Press.

Fisher, C., Flew, T., Park, S., Lee, J. Y., & Dulleck, U. (2020). Improving trust in news: Audience solutions. Journalism Practice, 15(10), 1497-1515. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2020.1787859

Fitzsimmons, K., & Smith-Frigerio, S. (2020). Still there for you?: Why millennials still love generation X’s friends. Ohio Communication Journal, 58(March), 91–104. https://www.ohiocomm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Fitzsimmons-Smith-Frigerio-OCJ-2020.pdf

Gahan, P., Pekarek, A., & Nicholson, D. (2018). Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2017. Journal of Industrial Relations, 60(3), 337–357. https://doi.org/doi:10.1177/0022185618759135

Gilfillan, G., & McGann, C. (2018). Trends in union membership in Australia. Statistics and Mapping Section, Parliament of Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1819/UnionMembership#_Toc527380735

Hampton M. A. (2010). The fourth estate ideal in journalism history. In S. Allan (Ed.), The Routledge companion to news and journalism (pp. 3-12). London, UK: Routledge.

Hanitzsch, T., Van Dalen, A., & Steindl, N. (2018). Caught in the nexus: A comparative and longitudinal analysis of public trust in the press. International Journal of Press/Politics, 23(1), 3–23. https://doi.org/10.1177/1940161217740695

Hayes, K., & Silke, H. (2019). Narrowing the discourse? Growing precarity in freelance journalism and its effect on the construction of news discourse. Critical Discourse Studies, 16(3), 363–379. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2019.1570290

Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2014). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research (5th Ed.). SAGE Publications.

McNair, B. (2012). Journalism and democracy: An evaluation of the political public sphere. London, UK: Routledge.

Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. (2017). MEAA submission to senate select committee on the future of public interest journalism. https://www.meaa.org/mediaroom/meaa-submission-to-the-public-interest-journalism-inquiry-170714/

Meehan, K. (2001). It’s the hard life for freelancers. Australian Journalism Review, 23(1), 99. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/ielapa.200205148

Molloy, S., & Bromley, M. (2009). Stirred but not shaken: How the next generation is adapting to the online domain. Australian Journalism Review, 31(1), 77–90. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.728816705131728

Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus groups as qualitative research (2nd Ed.). SAGE. https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781412984287

Morgan, D. L. (2019). Conclusions: Future directions for focus groups. Basic and Advanced Focus Groups, 129–132. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781071814307.n12

Murtha, J. (2015). What it’s like to get paid for clicks. Colombia Journalism Review. Retrieved from https://www.cjr.org/analysis/the_mission_sounds_simple_pay.php

Neilson, T. (2018). ‘I don’t engage’: Online communication and social media use among New Zealand journalists. Journalism, 19(4), 536–552. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884916667871

O’Donnell, P. (2017). Beyond newsrooms: Younger journalists talk about job loss and re-employment in Australian journalism. Australian Journalism Review, 39(2), 163–176. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.360242624341501

O’Donnell, P. (2021). Job loss and unionism in Australian journalism. In T. Marjoribanks, L. Zion, P. O’Donnell, & M. Sherwood (Eds.), Journalists and job loss (pp. 66–78). Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429325588-6

Örnebring, H. (2018). Journalists thinking about precarity: Making sense of the “new normal.” # ISOJ Journal, 8(1), 109–127.

Park, S., Freeman, J., & Middleton, C. (2019). Intersections between connectivity and digital inclusion in rural communities. Communication Research and Practice, 5(2), 139–155. https://doi.org/10.1080/22041451.2019.1601493

Prince, M., & Davies, M. (2001). Moderator teams: An extension to focus group methodology. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 4(4), 207–216. https://doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000005902

Rodrigues, U. M., Niemann, M., & Paradies, Y. (2021). Representation of news related to culturally diverse population in Australian media. Journalism, 22(9), 2313–2331. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884919852884

Roy Morgan. (2021). Roy Morgan image of professions survey 2021. Retrieved from http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8691-image-of-professions-2021-april-2021-202104260655

Sales, L., Iggulden, T., McKenzie, N., Cain, C., Laundy, C., McManus, S., Setka, J., Wawn, D., & Zaf, A. (2018, March 7). Two of Australia’s most powerful unions to merge: For years now union membership in Australia has been in steady decline [Video file]. 7.30. ABC. https://search-informit-org.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/doi/10.3316/tvnews.tsm201803070203

Schultz, J. (1998). Reviving the fourth estate: Democracy, accountability and the media. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Standing, G. (2016). The precariat: The new dangerous class (2nd Ed.) Bloomsbury.

Tandoc, E. C., & Thomas, R. J. (2015). The ethics of web analytics: Implications of using audience metrics in news construction. Digital Journalism, 3(2), 243-258. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2014.909122

Ward, S. J. A. (2009). Journalism ethics. In K. Wahl-Jorgensen & T. Hanitzsch (Eds.), The handbook of journalism studies (pp. 295-309). London, UK: Routledge.

Wei-ern, J. W. (2019). Aspirational well-being and digital media: Southeast Asian international students' use of digital media and their pursuit of the good life in Melbourne, Australia. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, RMIT, Melbourne, VIC. https://researchrepository.rmit.edu.au/esploro/outputs/doctoral/Aspirational-well-being-and-digital-media-Southeast-Asian-international-students-use-of-digital-media-and-their-pursuit-of-the-good-life-in-Melbourne-Australia/9921864097601341

Wood, A. (1995). Exploitation. Social Philosophy and Policy, 12(2), 136-158. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0265052500004702

Zion, L., Dodd, A., Sherwood, M., O’Donnell, P., Marjoribanks, T., & Ricketson, M. (2016). Working for less: The aftermath for journalists made redundant in Australia between 2012 and 2014. Communication Research and Practice, 2(2), 117–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/22041451.2016.1185924

PJR icon
How to Cite
Brady, L. (2022). ’Don’t rock the boat’: Pervasive precarity and industrial inertia among Queensland journalists. Pacific Journalism Review : Te Koakoa, 28(1 & 2), 173-188. https://doi.org/10.24135/pjr.v28i1and2.1250