I began working at The Edmonton Journal in 2005, as a paid summer intern. I had left my job at The Standard in St. Catharines, Ont., for the chance to work at a major urban daily.
I was thrilled to find so many people milling about the Journal‘s newsroom on my first day. Sports, lifestyle, entertainment, and editorial folks worked in other areas of the newsroom, and there was a whole team of photographers. Support staff sometimes transcribed reporters’ taped interviews, and kept everything running so smoothly. People had time to mentor me and the seven other interns. They read our work, shared their expertise, and led workshops to improve our interview skills. More than one person could take time to craft feature stories, go on the road, or assemble binders dedicated to cracking the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy system. There were librarians who supported our research and many different editors to argue with and challenge us through the day.
I was living the journalism dreams I had adapted somewhere between the first time I saw a printing press in the basement of my hometown newspaper office, and when I graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism.
After my first summer, I moved onto the crime desk for a one-year contract. I was then made a permanent reporter, and eventually found my way to the Alberta Legislature beat before getting to cover the environment. By the time I left in 2012, I had mentored summer interns, perfected the art of packing fast to hit the road when necessary, planned feature story packages, and got to assign stories and edit copy on weekend shifts.
But my journalism dreams do not quite square with the realities of today’s newsrooms.
In some ways, my journalism career was very small compared to the fascinating opportunities afforded by new and alternative media. In other ways, however, it is difficult to replicate as new newsrooms, with fewer people and different approaches to coverage, emerge.
In the last decade, newsrooms across the country have cut people, sections, and/or distribution services in order to reduce costs.
This year, for example, The Journal was hit by a whole new round of layoffs. It was gut-churning to watch from the outside, as fragmented social media updates tumbled in from friends and former colleagues. From the inside, former editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand offered a great deal of insight here, and reporter Jana Pruden made it real in a series of Twitter updates you can read here. According to reports, Postmedia was again scaling back costs across the chain in an effort to turn a profit. The Journal’s newsroom would be merged, more or less, with that of the recently-acquired Edmonton Sun’s.
These kinds of cuts and scale-backs have impacts on communities, how they see themselves, and democracy.
If mainstream outlets fall back, what happens to journalism now?
Against this backdrop, earlier this year I reached out to Karen Unland, a former Journal editor, a new media entrepreneur, and one of my very favourite people on the planet. I wanted to do something, to explore the effects of a swiftly changing journalism landscape for people living in Edmonton, in Alberta, and in Canada.
It seemed fortuitous, really, that the annual National Newspaper Awards–an event that celebrates the best print journalism in Canada–would be held in Edmonton in May.
Karen approached Brian Gorman, an assistant professor of communication studies at MacEwan University and the author of the recently released Crash to Paywall: Canadian Newspapers and the Great Disruption.
Together, we hatched a plan to bring media practitioners, educators, and Edmontonians together to talk about “a blueprint for a new free press.”
We have so many questions for the panelists who have agreed to join us. Questions like: what happens now? what will journalism look like in the future? how will it be funded? what does it all mean for communities?
If you’re in Edmonton on May 26, come out and contribute your thoughts and your questions. Here are the details:
Journalist Interrupted: Towards a blueprint for a new free press
When: 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Thursday, May 26, 2016
Where: CN Conference Theatre, MacEwan University – Room 5-142 (105th Street Building) 10700 104 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4S2