By Kayla Perry, Editor-in-Chief
It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is rapidly changing.
From print publications moving to primarily online content and charging for online access to publications staff being laid off in numbers too big to bear, journalism is changing: in an industry once loaded with fact checkers, multiple levels of editors, and design teams, the average journalist has gone from one person, sitting at a desk with a telephone and a typewriter, to an all-talented media guru, who must possesses the ability to not only conduct interviews and write articles, but also take photos, shoot video, edit footage, fact-check, proof read, and layout their articles, all while maintaining a strong social media presence.
While it’s natural for any industry to change, more and more journalists are realizing that there is only so much one person can do in a work shift, let alone a twenty-four-hour day.
Laura Gregorini, a former full-time journalist and mother of three, is no stranger to the stress and demands of a modern day career in journalism.
After obtaining of BA in Rhetoric/Italian Studies at Laurentian University and a Degree in Journalism from Cambrian College (both located in Northern Ontario), Gregorini started a placement at one of Sudbury’s local papers, The Sudbury Star.After working in the placement, she was promoted to temporary reporter, and finally a permanent reporter.
During her tenure at the Star, Gregorini regularly covered the education, entertainment, and police beat: however, nearly seven years into her position at the Star, Gregorini would become pregnant for the first time, taking maternity leave and never truly returning.
Gregorini stands firm in her opinion that media workers do not have fair labour rights. She explained that during her time at the Star, she worked gruelling hours, often even taking calls on her personal time, and still, she “very rarely” claimed overtime: until, that is, a union representative stated that she “should be compensated.”
“I was familiar with the routine and the overtime hours involved with the life of a reporter. I couldn’t leave the computer screen in mid sentence – if there was a late breaking story and I was on, then it was my duty to get as much information as possible before press time.
Sometimes an editor would call me at home too, to clarify something in one of my stories,” said Gregorini.
Gregorini’s story is not uncommon. Around Canada and the U.S., media workers often experience similar circumstances: it appears as though journalism has become a lifestyle, rather than the nine-to-five job that Bob Vaillancourt remembered, during what he called the “best time of journalism.”
Vaillancourt began his journalism career in 1970. A Sudbury native, he worked for numerous Northern Ontario publications before settling in to work full-time at the Sudbury Star for 38 years, during which time he also wrote freelance articles for Canadian Press and the Globe and Mail.
“When I started out, we were using typewriters: reporters were reporters and did nothing else. If you wanted assistance, you had research assistants, photographers, proofreaders, copy editors… It was a great time to be a journalist,” said Vaillancourt.
He said the comparison today is that a journalist is expected to be his or her own photographer, editor, proof-reader, and researcher.
“So much has fallen on the shoulders of the individual that I’m not sure I’d want to work in that environment today… To be a journalist today is extremely stressful.”
Vaillancourt also highlighted the dangers of citizen journalists to the journalism industry, stating that social media sites such as Twitter and WordPress blogs have enabled citizens to ‘report’ in real time, taking away from the popularity of later published news articles.
In fact, Vaillancourt went so far as to predict that in ten years from now, “journalism as we know it today is not going to exist.” He urged anyone considering attending journalism school that they must be a “futuristic thinker”: although he believes there will still be niche opportunities, he is sure that the industry will change in an even larger way than it already has.
In late 2010, Vaillancourt happily retired from full-time journalism, and is presently volunteering with the Salvation Army, stating that it is far from the stress of the newsroom, although he stated that no matter what, he “always had fun” working in the field and that there is “no other job in the world like journalism.”
Gregorini’s decision to leave full-time journalism, on the other hand, came when she recognized “the importance of being around (her) children in their early years.” She said she “realized that working as a full-time reporter would not enable” her to live a family-oriented lifestyle which she yearned for.
After her third child was born, Gregorini began searching for jobs available in local media: however, she quickly realized that job availability is low, and competition is high.
“At a time when the industry is experiencing massive change, jobs are few and far between,” she explained. “When a position comes up, there is some major competition. And for me, who wants a nine-to-five position, that’s even more a rarity.”
Currently, Gregorini is self-employed as a freelance writer. To date, her work has appeared in publications such as the Sudbury Star, Sudbury Living Magazine, Northern Ontario Business, and CIM Magazine. She also currently provides copywriting services for a marketing firm, and occasionally worked for the City of Greater Sudbury, writing initiatives and creating other press materials for local businesses.
Although Gregorini has a positive future outlook for the future of journalism, and specifically for women in the media, stating that things “could change,” she said she would advise young journalists to know what they are getting into.
Although the high-stress, low-pay stigma has accompanied journalism jobs for decades, it is with continued further technological advancements that modern-day journalists are expected to do more, for less, in a much shorter time frame.
The future of journalism is bleak, but one thing is for certain: the golden age of journalism has been replaced by the golden age of multitasking.
This article was funded by Media Works, a project of CWA Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian University Press and the National Campus and Community Radio Association. For more original labour stories and a handbook on media worker rights and labour reporting, visit www.media-works.org.