Wanderings – Reassuring shop talk

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to a colleague from Western Canada about photojournalism, journalism, and the media industry as a whole.

Throughout the hour-long conversation, we discussed many of the larger issues involving media in Canada. My colleague’s perspective was reassuring in that what I have seen and experienced is not localized.

Since the early 2000s the media industry has contracted substantially. Mergers and consolidation have meant that there is less competition in media markets. With any merger there are cutbacks and job losses. Maximizing shareholder profit has also contributed to cuts, as has the rise of the Internet. Those cutbacks have seen outlets cut from the bottom, sending many journalists and other media workers to the unemployment line.

Many I went to school with no longer work in this industry because of cutbacks. I have worked for radio, print, and online media companies and been downsized more often than I care to remember. Too bad none of these cuts affected my waistline.

Many cuts have seen a number of newspapers contract the number of editions published or close altogether. In the last three years, two local daily papers have lost publication days, and one weekly permanently closed. It is a story that echoes in many parts of the country.

In fact, many communities are becoming media deserts where there are no media left to report. No media means no accountability and no documenting of what happens in the area.

Another issue with the industry today – which my western colleague brought up – is the rise of the “citizen journalist.” Starting a website is inexpensive and anyone can use a camera or a cell phone to take photos. Practically anyone can do this and no experience is required.

Those who work in the industry have either gone through traditional schooling for the craft, or have learned through the school of hard knocks. Claiming to be a journalist because a person has a camera and a website is like me saying I am an electrician because I bought a pair of pliers and some electrical tape. Taking a bunch of photos and sticking them online is not journalism. Nor is spreading unsubstantiated gossip and rumours from social media.

Journalism means asking questions, verifying facts, digging deeper, and telling the story. Add a camera into that mix, and it means telling that story with one photo and have it live up to the adage of being worth 1,000 words. Not to sound flippant, but that takes experience and knowledge, something which the “citizen journalist” does not have.

Talking with my western colleague was reassuring and even re-energizing. He is now in his third year as a freelancer since he was forced to pivot his career. Since then he has had bylines in many international and national newspapers covering many important issues – from the impact of climate change, to logging in old-growth forests, to the opioid crisis. Important stories are being covered and read. We both agreed that things in the industry are beginning to improve. People see the value in real news, real journalism (and photojournalism), and not just some drivel on a social media platform.

In July I hit the five year mark of my time at The Leader. Since joining the newspaper I have covered the gamut of topics: news, sports, entertainment, and even a global pandemic (much to the chagrin of the keyboard warriors). I look forward to reporting on many of these topics in the years ahead on these ink-stained newsprint pages. Thank you for reading.

Originally published in the August 25, 2021 issue of the Morrisburg Leader.