While doing some research on the rise of the archetypal media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, I was struck by how early he grasped the unique opportunities for cross-promotion offered by the modern media. Having linked newspapers and newsreels during the first world war, he proceeded to launch a Hollywood studio and urge his print managers to expand into radio. The result was that the Hearst empire soon marched in multi-media step.
Since Hearst, Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi, Kirch and Time-Warner have carried this type of synergy to new corporate lengths. Despite this, Jeremy Tunstall argues that the dominant experience of at least the later 20th century has been "occupational fragmentation", with a wider range of media-related jobs perceived as having less in common. His reader assembles a wide range of case histories and surveys to flesh out this thesis, which is organised around what he terms horizontal and vertical axes. The horizontal covers professionalisation and unionisation across similar roles. The vertical covers widely differing levels of reward and power, subject to market forces.
As the media have converged in the electronic era, fragmentation has increased so that "all media work has become more similar and more similar to office work in general". If this is hard to deny, the sheer variety of reports gathered here - from the historic case of Hitler's mogul Alfred Hugenberg to the vicissitudes of post-Soviet media operators in Russia or changing media occupations in sub-Saharan Africa and in Ireland - provide much food for thought about the human and personal factors in media change. This could serve as a counterbalance to technologically oriented texts in undergraduate media studies.
As a seasoned observer of media practice, Tunstall is wary of forcing his diverse material into neat categories or trends. But what emerges is a pattern of complexity-within-simplification: of increasingly blurred roles as media workers have to become technologists and performers; of constant pressures to conform; and of casualisation.
The latter has become the dominant factor in most media workers' careers, as many contributions show. It has gathered pace with the roll-back of unionisation since the early 1980s. What the long-term effects of such insecurity and the corresponding reduction of training opportunities will be is unclear. The ecology of late 20th-century media could soon seem as remote as the lives of Hollywood's first stars.
Ian Christie is professor of film and media history, Birkbeck College, University of London.
Media Occupations and Professions. First Edition
Editor - Jeremy Tunstall
ISBN - 0 19 874246 0
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £16.99
Pages - 310