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Column: Finding meaning as a young journalist in a demoralized industry

Good journalism needed now more than ever
Hannah Hiaasen, center right, hugs her sister Sam following a memorial service for their father, Rob Hiaasen, one of the journalists killed in the shooting at The Capital Gazette newspaper offices, Monday, July 2, 2018, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

As I sat in a relative’s house in Abbotsford at the tail end of a weekend scouting rentals and touring the city I’m soon to move to, the ticking of a wall-clock broke the silence.

For my generation, it’s an antiquated device, with pockets full of gadgets that perform that basic function and endless more. Yet it’s a symbol that endures. The passage of time has not been kind to my industry as it struggles to retain relevance and value on those pocket gadgets.

A mere two years into my career, I’ve entered journalism at a time in which hope, at times, seems all but lost. After two years, I have to engage myself in career existentialism — why do journalists do what we do? — and consider an exit strategy should it all come crashing down.

Economists and developers I’ve spoken to have all said we’re due for another recession. How hard it will hit, however, remains uncertain. But buyouts, layoffs, attrition and closures are all ever-present already.

“Our strategy is working,” proclaimed Postmedia chief executive Paul Godfrey (no relation) in a tone-deaf memo to employees as his company announced yet another round of certain job loss.

But Postmedia is only the low-hanging fruit. Rogers, Global, Bell and Torstar have all shed jobs recently. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper of record, is no longer available in the Maritimes. The list goes on in a litany of shrinking news coverage.

This was all clear to me as I entered the industry; decline is not new in the news business.

Add onto that, now, devastation in Annapolis, Maryland, where a man entered the Capital Gazette office and massacred five people. Jarrod Ramos, the alleged killer, appears a deranged individual whose vendetta against the paper dates back years.

But the vilification of the news media is not contained to the deranged.

After Buzzfeed broke the news of the extent to which fake news had infiltrated the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the term quickly mutated. No longer referring to intentional misinformation, the term is derisively used to describe news one simply doesn’t like.

Since the attack on the Capital Gazette, reporters from all over have been commenting on their own experience, seemingly ubiquitous, with harassment and threats.

In that respect, I must count my blessings. While I’ve seen some pushback on certain stories, I’ve never received repeated emails and comments, nor the threats that so many others have. With that in mind, I send gratitude to those who do and carry on with their work — particularly women, who bear the brunt of the attack.

Why, in a landscape of loss compounded with the demonization of the media, do we put our hearts and countless overtime hours into this work? It’s demoralizing to have to consider exit strategies just two years into my career, and yet I’ve no desire to work anywhere else but the newsroom.

There’s always some level of hope. While many outlets stay the course, others are challenging the traditional models. La Press is becoming a non-profit and Discourse Media has continued to expand and experiment.

This all comes at a time in which those who disseminate the news are all the more necessary. A tool that was intended to democratize, social media is now being used by the powerful to push their own unadulterated message. Never mind the context, fact-checking and counterpoints that can be provided through journalism.

This isn’t about self-congratulation in the press club. It’s about having enough people paid full-time to sit in court or legislatures, to file freedom of information requests and to research the validity of claims of the powerful.

It’s about engaging the public to find value in journalism and to encourage everyone to take responsibility for the survival of a vital function in our democracy.

The benefits of that were made all the more clear just last week after former deputy RCMP commissioner Peter German released his report on money laundering in B.C. casinos. While German noted some deficiencies (to be generous) in the entire system, he had kind words for some individuals.

Chief among those German thanked for their service were investigative reporters Kathy Tomlinson with the Globe and Mail and Sam Cooper with Global News. And it’s reporters like them who give meaning to an industry that can at times feel crushing.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter


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