Blogs & Comment

Another day, another 650 layoffs. Will life ever get better for journalists?: Peter Nowak

If you know a journalist, hug them

(Photo: Roberto Ferrari/flickr)

(Photo: Roberto Ferrari/flickr)

Another day, another layoff. That’s the life of a journalist in today’s world. And it’s depressing as hell.

The latest involves 657 full-time jobs being axed at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation over the next two years, mainly thanks to the loss of NHL rights to Rogers. With hockey accounting for about a third of the CBC’s revenue, the cuts were inevitable. Many of the layoffs will be from sports and sales, but some will be coming from news operations too. I’ve lost count of the total jobs lost in Canadian journalism over the past year or two.

Whenever students or young people ask me for advice about getting into journalism, I earnestly tell them, “Don’t.” Why anyone would want to subject themselves to this kind of non-stop barrage of doom and gloom is beyond me. At this point, being a crack dealer has more appeal (especially in Toronto).

It’s not just the layoffs. If you’re a freelancer like me, there’s also the constant stream of rejection. Sure, that’s a fact of the job and you somehow learn to deal with it, but it doesn’t help when editors turn down your pitches because their budgets are continually being cut. On top of it all, there are the oh-so-joyous reader comments. Journalism is one of those few fields where you rarely hear from people who actually appreciate your work, assuming they’re out there, but boy do you ever get a steady dose of commentary from people who don’t.

Put all that together and it’s no wonder that esteemed journalists, including well-respected and highly paid newspaper editors, are fleeing the business. Meanwhile, surveys are naming “reporter” as the worst possible job one can hold – worse than being a lumberjack or fighting on the front lines as a soldier, apparently. It’s a highly stressful and underpaid field to be in at the best of times, which is why there probably isn’t a journalist around now who isn’t thinking of an exit strategy. (If anyone is hiring professional Lego builders, please get in touch.)

The Internet is to blame for all this, of course. Online has decimated the advertising revenue that media outlets have traditionally relied on, while a plethora of other sources and options from Twitter to Reddit have in some ways obviated the need for journalists. And let’s not even get started on robot reporters. Even the NHL deal that provoked the CBC cuts is rooted in Internet disruption, with Rogers correctly worrying that live sports is the only thing TV viewers are still willing to pay for.

Far be it from me to be curmudgeonly about this development – I do believe it’s actually a good thing for society. The business of journalism is being transformed before our very eyes and, like all creative destruction, the end result will likely be better than what came before. But just like our teenage years, there is still that awkward and painful transition to get through.

It’s possible for journalists to rise above this negativity and lay the ground work for what comes next; to become leaders of this next wave. In some ways, we’re in a very exciting time because it’s one that invites experimentation and entrepreneurialism. But the fact is, many of us aren’t equipped for this new reality. We learned how to report and write and many of us don’t know how to do much else.

We can learn new skills and become entrepreneurs, but that calls into question the very nature of technological advancement. If it’s supposed to make life easier, why are things getting tougher? The easier thing to do, as many journalists and indeed people in many fields are finding, isn’t to try and find a new way in an unproven world but rather to move into something safer and more concrete. It’s a natural human instinct that technology is rubbing up against, at least in this case. Technology is making it a lot easier to find movie showtimes or hail a cab, but it sure is making it trickier to earn a living.

It’s going to take some time to figure this all out. In the meantime, if you happen to know a journalist, give him or her a hug. I guarantee they need it.