In Canada media organizations aren’t on life support; they’re committing suicide by a thousand cuts
Outdated technology and a shift to the internet are having a drastic effect on newspaper, radio and TV job prospects.
By Jan Wong – A student of mine, a freshly minted journalism graduate, recently asked to meet for coffee to discuss her new job. In addition to her duties as weekend newsreader at a local radio station, she had begun covering Fredericton city hall. The station manager abruptly fired three veteran journalists. That left only one other reporter and my student.
The firings happened on a Friday. My student expected the worst, but Monday came and went, and she still had a job. Then she realized her survival might have been due to her pay rate. She made minimum wage, $10 an hour, while her unfortunate colleagues had been making $15 an hour.
Minimum wage, shrinking newsrooms, slave reporting—no need to stop the presses. For several years now, news organizations have been cutting workers and slashing budgets as advertisers and consumers defect en masse to the Internet.
In the United States, storied media brands are on life support. This summer, the New York Times announced it would sell a once-prized asset, the Boston Globe to the owner of the Boston Red Sox. The price tag: $70 million. Twenty years earlier the Times had paid $1.1 billion for the Globe, the highest price ever paid for an American newspaper.
Also this summer, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, announced he would pay $250 million for the Washington Post. Many in the newsroom wept, even though Bezos promised to uphold the grand traditions of a newspaper whose investigative work on Watergate toppled an American president.
In contrast, in Canada media organizations aren’t on life support; they’re committing suicide by a thousand cuts. Facing the same trends as their US counterparts, media outlets here haven’t found any saviors in sports-franchise owners or website billionaires.
In the past five years, media jobs losses nationally have reached about 10,000 in Canada, according to preliminary data compiled by the Canadian Media Guild. Of this number, the print sector lost nearly twice that of the broadcast sector—6,000 jobs versus 3,700. Categories include journalists, printing-plant workers, technicians, mailroom employees, sales persons, accountants and managers.
In other newsrooms, the cuts have been so deep they have reached bone. Inconceivably, top positions such as that of editor in chief or publisher have been eliminated. And whole departments have been outsourced, including that of copyediting and layout. For instance, Postmedia Network Inc., which owns a chain of daily newspapers across Canada, including the National Post, last year moved much of its editorial production to a centralized location in Hamilton, Ont.
It’s hard to think of another industry whose survival strategy involves not producing its core product and not getting it to customers. The online Huffington Post swiftly recalled how the Globe mocked the National Post in 2009 when it stopped printing a Monday edition and confined itself to an online version.
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