Underpaid and overworked is how Alberta native Clyde Grey describes his first six months as a journalist.
When the 26-year-old graduated from journalism school last April year he became known among his friends as the “Traveling Journalist”.
He went wherever there was work. Hoping to establish himself as a print journalist, he found himself in Yellowknife, Manitoba and his most recent position, as a general assignment reporter in Alberta, where he says the quality of his writing suffered and so did his desire to be a journalist.
“I’ve logged over 3000 kilometres just to end up working on an oil rig,” he said.
“At every newspaper I worked, you name it, I did it. I wrote up to eleven articles a week. I took pictures, copyedited, was involved in layout and at two papers I was given the responsibility of keeping the web site up to date. Who has the time to write a good article?”
This was one of the questions at a recent Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing in Gatineau, Quebec last September.
The hearings come as the CRTC studies regulation and consolidation in media after the multi-million dollar takeover deal between CTV-CHUM and CanWest-Alliance Atlantis.
The CRTC is investigating “big player” domination, such as CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns several television stations and 11 daily newspapers across Canada.
Many journalists told the hearing that “Media consolidation has reduced the quality of journalism in Canada, creating a crisis in local and community news and an environment in which journalists are overworked and fewer are digging beyond the press release or sound bite”.
“In the space of a daily news cycle, it is virtually impossible for one reporter to do an adequate job even on a press conference,” Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) told the hearing.
Welch also told the CRTC that reporters these days are feeling the time squeeze, finding less time to verify sources, underground background and context, and even to explain the information in a clear and concise manner. “There is certainly no time to do some good old-fashion digging, following up on tips or courting sources, the kind of gumshoe reporting that often yields the ground breaking stories,” she said.
The CAJ and the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) said part of the reason for the decline in quality news comes from a push in big news organizations to repackage news content from print to TV to the web and vice versa.
“In the age of repackaging, journalists are expected to do more work with fewer resources,” said Lise Lareau, president of the CMG organization representing 6000 media outlets across Canada, including CBC, the Canadian Press and Reuters.
Lareau also said that fewer people are working harder to repurpose the same content for a variety of formats.”This has a real impact on journalists,” she said. “It means that in many cases fewer people are out there on each story asking the hard questions, doing the background work and digging beyond the press release or the sound bite from the same scrum.”
But major media companies CanWest, CTV Globemedia, Quebecor and Shaw Communications argue that media consolidation, with the millions of Internet voices, is increasing the diversity of voices in the media, not limiting them.
Rick Brace, president of CTV, argued at the hearings that because of consolidation and the building of strong companies, there’s an increased chance of making that product better.
The idea behind consolidation is that someone living, let’s say, in Montreal can listen to, watch, read or click on a news story and get the same coverage because the story comes from the same company.
Another rising concern, said journalists at the hearing, is the workload expected of journalists coming out of journalism school. In many cases, new journalists begin work at small community newspapers and radio stations, where the workload is often more than is expected.
Grey told The Concordian the amount of work asked from newspaper owners goes beyond his scope of knowledge.
“At one paper in Alberta I didn’t have time to craft a story, or check out a source, or dig because I was concerned about other duties.”
It was beyond “paying the dues” he said, and he left last week to work in the lucrative Alberta oil business.
“I lost my motivation,” he said. “Most newspapers looking for reporters often insist you have some layout skills and website experience but the reality is that a reporter will be responsible for much more, and at the least cost to the publisher. I work on the oil rigs and the work is hard and long but the financial benefits are great.”
Grey writes a small column for a paper back home and that keeps him writing and earning at the same time. “It’s far from what I expected when I graduated.”
Part Two: What to expect after
J-School. Journalism is like any business: you have to slug it out.