10 Questions with Mic's Zach Howe
One of the Guild’s newer members, Zach Howe was part of the organizing committee that ushered the union into Mic’s newsroom earlier this year. A copy editor and an organizer, Howe grew up in a family that read the dictionary at dinner and loves words. “Making sentences beautiful often makes them more meaningful, which is an incredible thrill,” he said. He acknowledges that most people can’t take low-paying copy editing jobs if they have debt or dependent family members—which is part of what motivates him to improve wages and conditions for workers in the media industry.
1. What is your role at Mic?
I’m a copy editor and fact checker. Mic’s copy team plays a fairly large role in the editorial process, making sure everything we publish is true and sensical, but also as not-fucked-up as possible. It’s great to work with journalists who are eager to address notes about a voyeuristic tone of talking about trans people’s bodies or a pro-cop perspective on gun violence.
2. You were on the organizing committee for Mic. Why was it important to unionize there in particular?
We had just had layoffs. In addition to more than 20 writers, we lost a third of the copy team with no explanation — we just watched people’s names get deleted from our Slack channel. People were so scared.
More generally, journalists aren’t always keen to think of themselves as workers. Obviously there is no fourth estate, and I wouldn’t join one if there were. The radical potential of our work is structurally — and purposefully — tamed by our ritualistic invocation of objectivity, as if “holding power to account” isn’t already picking a side. Unions help us understand our position as workers, and I think a more unionized media could produce more interesting, honest journalism.
Even more generally, it can be hard to derive the value in your life from yourself and your peers, rather than your boss and other authorities. In an increasingly uncertain future, it’s going to be much safer to do the former. Unions help us learn how.
3. How have you seen the industry shift from your perspective?
My friends, especially those who work freelance, talk about the increasingly intimate ways they have to sell access to themselves — their time, their identities, their interests — in order to succeed in the casualized, woke, and defunded media industry. Everyone is more anxious and thinks it’s their fault.
4. How have you seen your workplace transform as part of the unionizing process?
People are less afraid to talk to each other and are demanding more and more to be treated respectfully by management. We just want the chance to do meaningful work well.
5. You work as a copy editor. We’ve seen this industry slash copy editor jobs. Why is your role crucial to the industry and for readers?
Copy editors are focused on the reader’s experience of the text. We make sure it’s consistent and accessible, that it conveys information in a sensitive, accurate way. That frees writers and editors to focus on telling a good story.
Copy editors do so much to preserve the reputation of a news organization and its writers. The economy increasingly demands every institution and person have a strong brand identity that can withstand constant criticism. We’re key to that.
6. Where you do see the journalism industry in five years?
In the 1950s, Italy tried to regulate the influence of TV ad money by not letting ads play during shows. All the ads were consigned to their own 30-minute window. That window quickly became the most watched on television. I see something like that happening.
7. Where do you go or what do you do to stay on top of digital trends that might affect or influence your work?
Study Hall is this great community of media people with a newsletter, chat rooms and industry gossip. I love them.
8. What makes you hopeful for the media industry? What worries you?
The workers make me hopeful. My fundamental political belief is that people know how to and want to take care of each other, if we just create the right conditions. I have infinite faith in workers across media and our ability to create those conditions. I’m worried about pretty much everything else.
9. What do you think the role of the union is in supporting/fighting for workers who are part of marginalized groups?
Many people know unions have a very racist, sexist history. They drew lines around what was “real” work and what kind of work deserved protection. But these days, everything feels like work! Keeping up with social media posts, applying for jobs, maintaining a legal immigration status, doing child care, taking your meds. Obviously, these types of labor are especially necessary for people who don’t have legal and sufficient employment — exactly the kind of employment that traditional unions protect.
Unions could be fighting for universal health care, the abolition of ICE, and the end of data collection by tech companies. Those are worker issues, and they would get so many more people involved.
10. What is one thing you wish every NewsGuild member knew?
Communism will win, but only if we let it.
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