Peter Mansbridge meeting Centennial TV students 2008. UTSC/Centennial grad Mahesh Abeywardene, reporter for The Lanka Reporter in Toronto.
It seems everywhere you turn these days, you hear more and more stories of station closures and cutbacks in local news programming, layoffs at newspapers, and hiring freezes at the CBC and other places. For members of the information industry, especially journalism students, this must be a scary time. For those colleagues who have already been laid off or bought out, ditto.
The issue -- let's call it a crisis -- is not just water-cooler talk. It permeates much of our daily conversation in the halls of the journalism school at Centennial College in Toronto, where I teach.
But with the dark clouds, there is, to be cliched, a silver lining at the (gulp) end of the rainbow for journalism jobs.
1) Young and cheap is a good thing.
When the free daily Metro laid off all it's paid media workers recently, including some of our former students, to let the paper be put out by interns only, we decided as a faculty not to send anymore students on placement there. One reason is to protest the "work for free" trend of papers relying on cheap but inexperienced newcomers who haven't got the life experience or journalism experience that more seasoned veterans bring to the product.
But the bad news this symbolized for what we hope will always be an attempt to strive towards excellence in journalism, is also a beacon of hope to those journalism students about to go out on the job market, and to those, like the bright young high school students I met yesterday at a recruiting session at the University of Toronto/Centennial College joint journalism program, who hope the market snaps back by the time four years from now, that they are ready to look for work.
Here's the bright light: a colleague of mine who used to work at the National Post says the layoffs and attrition now decimating jobs in that newspaper, mean journalists who are "of a certain age", let's say in their mid-50s, are being bought out or given early retirement, which will allow news companies to save those big salaries, and go out to hire young, inexperienced, but keen and cheaper recent journalism graduates.
At the Vaughan Today newspaper, run by Multimedia Nova corporation,which also publishes the Town Crier newspapers, and Corriere Canadese, a recent graduate of our program is now the city editor, after less then 2 years out of school, another grad is Online editor, same time frame, and a third with 3 years out of school is one of their staff. Granted, these are talented, passionate journalists, but it took me, aged 47 now, from 1983 to 1995 working in Fredericton, Moncton, Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal and overseas for several years in Italy, for CBC, before I made it as a reporter for CBC in Toronto (the big time!).
2) Talent will still rise to the top.
With newspaper advertising drying up again, and a broadcast advertising drought again prompting big media companies to retrench, as they did when I was in j-school in the early 1980s, during the last recession, it seems a bit like deja vu now. Back then, I was one of 6 journalism students hired straight out of university (Carleton B.J. 1983) by the CBC TV's wonderful training department to work in newsrooms for the summer across the country. Yes it was a recession. But not to blow my own horn too much, I was chosen along with these other students: (they are pretty famous) Howard Green (BNN), Tom Spears (CBC Calgary), Susan Bonner (CBC TV National reporter). If you are good, and keen, and job search with tenacity, you will get work.
As Rita Shelton Deverell, journalist, author, actor, voice coach, and storyteller in residence at Centennial, told a class of students two weeks ago, be the kind of reporter who, when you submit a story to the editor by deadline, gets this response: "I love you!" because the story needs very little editing, very little work. Make your editors' lives easier.
David Downey of CBC Radio (national news in Toronto) this week told my radio news students at Centennial (post grad program) that news managers will still hire the creme de la creme, when and how they can. So if you are talented, and work hard, are passionate about storytelling, and are willing to travel, then there is hope for finding work, even during these tough times.
3) Online is the new "black".
If you are going to be trying to get work, managing editors and hiring managers want students who can do more then just print reporting, or just photography. Be able to shoot a video, edit it, perform an on camera, do a radio news report, take a photo, and post a story on line...all in one day. More and more, all these forms of storytelling are moving online.
At Canadian Press in Toronto, Managing editor for Ontario Wendy McCann says her reporters, like Tamsyn Burgmann, have to do all those things when covering a big story. At Centennial, we are training our students to be multiplatform journalists:
they can write & take photos for their bi weekly community print newspaper, but they also can post daily stories and photos for TorontoObserver.ca, the college's online 24-7 news site. The site also publishes their audio interviews and radio reports, and has room for their their video stories which they do as well.
When post-grad student Laura Stanley, who finished her program this January and is now on internship, looked for freelance work with Durham's community newspapers earlier this year, (now run by Ian Caldwell former CTV Toronto assignment editor), not only was he impressed that she could take photos for the print editions, but that she could also shoot, edit and write and report TV News stories as well, for his website.
Our journalism school's online news site are run by Eric McMillan, managing editor of Town Crier and its online sites, Irene Thomaidis, who is an online editor for Sun media, and Phil Alvez, online editor at Vaughan Citizen, and also by by Ted Barris, a published author of military history books, and a blogger, and broadcaster, and by Neil Ward, formerly with the A-section and Sports at the National Post doing nightly editing and layout and an online editor, as well as page editor, for the Royal Gazette in Bermuda. Gary Graves of CBC.ca teaches online posting of all forms of content, and our students' work is prominently displayed on several online sites:
1. Toronto Observer.ca
3. Centennial Journalism on You Tube
4. Observer Radio
5. Observer TV
For years, the course which required students to conceive, design, report, write, and publish their very own "niche" specialty magazine, only required them to print glossy hard copies. Now the course requires a strong online component.
The introduction to news reporting class now also requires proficiency in audio editing and field interviewing using a digital camera and a digital audio recorder.
The online imaging course requires students to create a website for their photos.
Our Radio and TV courses all product live to air newscasts for our online news channel over the Internet.
There is a lot more.
But it gives you an idea that journalism schools which make sure their students have the strong fundamentals combined with the knowledge of how to tell stories online, should be producing graduates who will either find work in existing media outlets, or, create their own news sites and start ups.
NOTE: Monday March 9 2009 the Ontario Association of Broadcasters is holding a Career Day in Toronto where 24 of my students and I will participate in their round tables, with hiring managers. It should be interesting to hear from the head honchos, what advice they are giving journalism students. I'll try to update this blog, afterwards.
4) Diversity and ethnic media are flourishing.
A recent report on CBC Radio in Toronto says if you want jobs in the news media, consider working for the ethnic news outlets. According to the report, they are flourishing, and ad revenue is strong. With students in journalism school increasingly from diverse backgrounds, ethnicity is now a plus to get work. If you speak another language, why not look for jobs with OMNI TV, the Chinese dailies, the Iranian and other webnews sites operating in the Greater Toronto area. Here is a link to the story, by CBC's Priya Sankaran.