Is journalism even a profession anymore?

Probably not

July 7, 2013

Mike RobinsonVANCOUVER, BC, Jul 7, 2013/ Troy Media/ -As anyone with a daughter or son in journalism school knows, the study of mass media writing and reporting is becoming more expensive and the practice less and less remunerative, assuming, of course, a job is even found. I would really like to see the employment statistics of J-school graduates over the past decade; I bet that they are depressingly awful.

The financial meltdown of 2008 was a precipitating factor for many young graduates leaving the journalism trade. The internet has also greatly aided and abetted the slimming, trimming and folding of the print newspapers of the Boomer era. Several friends who were newspaper editors and publishers are now enjoying early retirement or new careers in corporate or governmental public relations. None of them are enthusiastic about the future of print news media; most of them forecast its demise within the decade if not sooner.

I have been a curbside observer of this media employment meltdown both as a parent of an MA in television journalism, and a frequent contributor to old media via op-eds for the Calgary Herald and on-air commentary for CBC Radio 1 in Calgary. On September 18, 2011, I contributed my first new media piece to Troy Media.

Eighty-seven online op-eds later, covering numerous topics in the hydra-headed domains of politics, culture, and travel, I survey my approximately 65,250 words (at 750 words per piece) with bemused amazement. I now routinely conceptualize a piece by Sunday evening, compose it subconsciously by Tuesday, word process and send it to my editor on Wednesday, and await its publication the following Sunday morning.

As each new Sunday morning develops, I try and resist the addictive urge to visit the Troy Media site to see the tallies for Tweets, Facebook Shares and Likes. Predictably my mood brightens when an article soars into the double digits for any category. Likes are particularly addictive. And then there are comparisons with other op-edifyers: “God forbid – is he actually out-performing me?” I think as I scan the Sunday morning league stats.

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Things really improve emotionally when I am sent an e-mail by Troy Media’s media tracking service announcing that my piece has actually been picked up by a ‘dead tree’ press paper. I am especially glad when the Vancouver Province, the Edmonton Journal, the Winnipeg Free Press or the Guelph Mercury runs one of my op-eds. Their electronic editions can push Tweets, Facebook Shares and Likes into the statistical stratosphere. Similar joy arrives at my computer desktop when I am informed that the Powell River Peak or the Slave Lake Lakeside Leader has chosen to run a piece. Their rural ability to hold and grow readership with local news is noteworthy in the new media universe.

More difficult to gauge are the thousands of websites that browse and republish your pieces. Some exotic news sites in mainland China take my pieces and e-translate them into bizarre ESL English that defies my authorial cognition. They are sometimes hilarious. Most often a piece is published if a commercial key word is found several times. A recent article was republished in the Chinese Wheelbarrow Works Joint Stock Company website, simply because I wrote about using a wheelbarrow to move firewood at my house.

I am putting about four hours of effort into my online journalism career every week now, not counting the subconscious effort that happens between the ears when I sleep. I have also advanced in the world to the position of ‘Syndicated Journalist’ on the Troy site, with accompanying advertisements stating how much it costs to subscribe for a year of columns. All this new found glory is grounded, however, by my vigilant wife, who asks the simple question: “How much have you made for all of the time you are putting in to your journalism career?” The answer is, “Nothing.”

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So we are back to the question asked in the first paragraph. I can answer that I am a journalist, but so far new media hasn’t paid me a cent. One could argue that I am influencing opinion, developing my writing skills, even having fun. I suspect I am. But the cruel reality is that a profession provides paid work to those who hold the requisite qualifications. Newspapers used to pay their columnists; in new media we work for free. Millennial job seekers have no choice but to give this option a pass. A profession has to pay.

Troy Media syndicated columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in B.C. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO.

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