A few weeks ago, the Toronto Star announced 52 new layoffs, including 26 people who were hired specifically for their tablet edition — a project that was supposed to transform the journalism industry for the better.
This announcement is only one in a series of job cuts that happened this year. It seems that every single media conglomerate — Rogers, TorStar, Bell Media, and PostMedia — has come to a point where they can’t afford to pay their writers. The journalism industry has always been precarious, but with the introduction of digital media, it seems to have lost control. No one knows what to do. The Toronto Star, for example, has said that despite the layoffs, it will continue to focus on maintaining a strong web and mobile service, as it is the future of news consumption. But, what does that mean? And how does this affect hard working journalists?
First of all, it increases the workload for journalists — without increasing the pay. For the same salary, reporters are now expected to do everything from layout to online production, in addition to interviewing and writing content. They are photographers, digital experts, and social media gurus. I saw a job posting the other day that asked candidates looking to apply for an entry-level reporting job if they were well-versed in Indesign and HTML, able to act as photographer and writer, and able to edit other reporter’s copy. Essentially, the candidate should be able to run the newspaper on their own.
With less staff, quality suffers. News is reported before facts are accurately checked, headlines are misspelled, and photos aren’t laid out properly. Things can get messy fast when one person is responsible for that much work.
The problem is that journalism is constantly changing, and instead of trying to deal with it patiently and with care, news publications are making industry-changing decisions based on the most current technologies available. People are consuming much more of their news on their mobile devices or their work computers than their tablets. Podcasts are becoming more popular and information packaging is now just as important as the content itself. But, what will be “in” 10 years from now and how will that affect how the news is consumed?
The solution isn’t simple. In fact, I can’t even begin to imagine what it is. Revenue is plummeting and the news organizations can’t keep up. Publications need to invest in online advertising and sponsorships — all of the things journalists despise — at least for now. As a journalist myself, I personally feel as if good journalism has to be publicly funded (and not just the CBC). By depending on private corporations, whose ultimate goal will always be to create revenue, news organizations will suffer. They will be forever in debt to declining ad spaces and subscription rates. If the public was willing to contribute and help subsidize part of the cost for informed news, then the goal of profit-making is replaced with that of simple story telling. Isn’t that what we want?
I realize that these solutions aren’t permanent, and that it places the onus on non-agencies to fund a whole profession. But at some point, society is going to have to make a choice. Should publications continue to cut staff and hope that the quality of information and news doesn’t decrease, or should we invest in our journalists? These corporations can spend money on good writers, editors, and producers — or they can spend money on new technology that will probably be out of date in a few years.
Which would you rather have?