Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Free journalism

Now that I have your attention, the closure of the The Kamloops Daily News compels me to comment, after all everyone has an opinion and I’m an asshole. (I’m not completely convinced that expression was explained to me accurately.)

In the Beginning
I chose to leave the car business in 2006 against some advice to study photojournalism.

My career had stalled, I had become both bored and frustrated with my work and I couldn’t bear the thought that being my future for another thirty years.

After prayer, contemplation and gaining some insight into who and what I am, journalism became a welcome, interesting and exciting direction to pursue.

I chose photojournalism specifically because I have a history of photography I’m proud of and I believed I could do good, relevant work in the field illustrating the plight of Canada’s marginalized peoples.

Warned at the outset by Mark M. Hancock, a Texas-based photojournalist, there was little work in the field, I continued my pursuit because I didn’t see a future for myself within the car business.

Hancock was correct, however, there is very little work in the field, his conclusions about job prospects were echoed by the graduates of the photojournalism program I was enrolled in at Loyalist College when they returned to the school for presentations of their experiences working in the field.

Instructors at the school also told us of the changing landscape in journalism, where news organizations were closing down their offices abroad, and shrinking the size of their newsrooms.

I switched programs while at Loyalist from photojournalism to e-journalism because I understood online news to be the future of journalism.

I’m pleased with the education I received and proud of the work i did at school, I don’t regret my choices.

It was a great experience and my professional future in the car business at the time was personally untenable, I needed a change, any change, for my own wellbeing.

Graduation at Last
I graduated in 2008 just in time to catch the world-wide economic meltdown, I couldn’t have planned things better.

Among the the thirty-something photojournalism graduates and twenty-ish e-journalism graduates from my school alone in addition to graduates of journalism programs at schools across the country, I was competing for work with all those other journalists laid off from news rooms downsized or shutdown outright.

Eventually I had a job offer, at $12-$14 per hour. At the time was barely surviving on $15 living in my mother’s basement.

I didn’t decline the offer, but when it was explained to me their journalists all worked a second job to make ends meet I probably didn’t respond with an appropriate level of enthusiasm.

I still consider myself fortunate to have worked at Black Press’ Kitimat Northern Sentinel, It was a great experience, both professionally and personally, and I’ll always be grateful for my wife who supported and encouraged me in this opportunity.

But it was only a temporary position, and despite receiving other job offers while I was in Kitimat (and therefore unable to accept them [damn me and my ethics]), I’ve been unable to find work in my chosen field since.

Getting an education, then being unable to find work relevant to your training is hardly a new or unique story, or even the point of this post.

Looking for Work
I was invited to attend a workshop put on by the Asian Canadian Journalists Association (my maternal great-grandfather was of South Asian descent, so there), where I had great conversations with Matt O'Grady, BC editor at The Globe and Mail and Heron Hanuman, web manager/digital producer/former anchor at CTV.

Both men were generous with their time, and provided insight into landing a job in journalism based on their experiences.

One thing struck me as odd, when you get a bunch of journalists together inevitably threats to the future of journalism will be discussed, in my conversation with O’Grady we discussed the distribution of news for free online as a threat to our futures.

He mentioned the use of paywalls as a way to ensure journalism is done on sound economic footing.

i suggested online isn’t the only place people are getting “free” journalism since you can’t walk through any transit hub without running a gauntlet of people trying to hand you a Metro or 24 Hours newspaper (I didn’t mention an of the local newspapers run by Black Press or Glacier Media [The Northern Sentinel is a paid subscription newspaper].

He countered that the quality of the journalism was not as good in papers such as his, or any of the other national papers.

In my subsequent conversation with Hanuman we discussed this agreeing that, while as journalists we understand the difference in the quality, or at least the type of news at Metro or 24 Hours, most casual consumers of journalism may not, or may not care.

And this, I believe, is the crux of the problem.

The Problem
If you want to access high quality, timely news without paying for it you can do so easily. This isn’t about the Internet at all.

We’ve been accessing “free” news for years, first on our radios, then on our television sets.

“Free” news wasn’t invented online, it’s been a major portion of our news diet for decades, and will continue to be so.

The expectation that people may receive news without paying directly for it is something people are conditioned to expect.

The expectation of free print news may not have such a or long illustrious history, but it is well established by both Metro and 24 Hours newspapers, and not to be forgotten there is the newspaper that arrives once or twice a week on your doorstep.

Those papers may not be The Globe and Mail or the National Post, but neither the Globe nor the Post are Mcleans or Time Magazine.

“Paying” for news may have be the domain of print media, but not everyone is working from the same script.

The Solution
I don’t have one.

At least I don’t think I have one, because what I think should work doesn’t seem to have been made to work yet, and I don’t know why.

Print journalism’s economics is based in advertising, the amount you pay for subscriptions is trivial in print journalism’s budget.

This previously successful model has been disrupted by the Internet, with sites like Craig’s List, Kijiji, Ebay and others sucking up the classified advertising that used to be at the back of the newspaper, which used to be a significant revenue generator.

The part I don’t get is why, despite exponentially increasing page views, online advertising doesn’t fulfill the diminishing revenue from print operations.

In a print publication full page ads are the providence of the most well-heeled advertisers, but no advertiser can tell how long you spent reading their ad, or if you flipped pages right by it.

On the other hand, online advertisers can at least tell how long you were on a page with a header or sidebar ad.

If it is a commercial you have to sit through before your online video plays, you’re likely going to have to sit through it because there isn’t enough time to go to the fridge and get a refreshing beverage before you desired content starts to begins.

Advertising rates for online are lower than for print and I don’t know why.

So, I know what I think the solution should be, but I don’t know why it isn’t.

The Precipitate
Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.

Thank you for reading this far, this post is far longer than I expected and much longer than most of my posts.

I’m currently back in the car business, and happier with it than I would’ve expected.

I miss journalism, but I don’t realistically see it as my future anymore, the last job I applied for had over 80 other applicants, and I didn’t make the shortlist.


Related Links
24 Hours
CTV British Columbia News
The Globe and Mail
Kamloops Daily News
Kitimat Northern Sentinel
Loyalist College
Mark M. Hancock
Metro News - Vancouver
Bonus Video

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