|English | Español||April 18, 2014 | Issue #67|
Keep the Dream Alive, Man!
Help Ensure the Work of a Whole New Generation of Authentic Journalists
By Candice Vallantin
Which brings us back to the $10, $20 or $100 question: why exactly, should you fund this fantasy? Bear with me for a second and let me dispel some myths you might have about this trade.
When I tell people I’m a freelance journalist they tend to have the same reaction: their eyes get a little wide and dreamy, and I can see them conjuring some romantic Hollywood image of a journalist who gets to spend weeks pursuing just one story, nabbing a scoop, making headlines, and celebrating the whole adventure while sipping martinis in expensive stilettos.
The reality is far less romantic and it’s best summed up by Chris Turner, a Canadian author and freelancer with countless award-winning stories and a couple books under his belt, who gave me a piece of advice just months before I jumped ship and became a freelance journalist: “Don’t do it now,” he said. “It’s hard work and they pay is crap. I want to quit every six months.” He was mostly right.
In terms of timing, the year I quit my job to go it alone, journalism jobs were dropping like flies. In 2009, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation cut 800 jobs, Roger’s Communications laid off 900 people, CityTV another 60, and just half-way through the year, Masthead, which covers the Canadian magazine industry, reported 31 magazine closures compared with just 12 start-ups. The magazines that did stick around significantly reduced their page counts. More journalists fighting for fewer stories did not bode well for a newbie like me.
Especially as a woman, for some reason, the going seems especially tough. While 43 percent of Canadian newspaper employees are women, the Canadian Newspaper Association noted in 2002 that that only 8 percent of them are editors-in-chief and 12 percent of them publishers. The vast majority tend to work in “pink-collar ghettos;” they make up 70 percent of the advertising department and 80 percent of the accounting and finance staff. In 2011, not much has changed. Linda Kay, the associate professor and chair of the journalism department at Concordia University in Montreal, says that although women make up two-thirds of the enrollment in journalism schools across Canada, the proportion of men to women reverses once in the newsroom.
In terms of pay, Turner wasn’t exaggerating and I bet he’s doing better than most. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re an independent journalist, you’d probably make more serving tables. Canadian freelancers get paid at most a buck a word. Well-known writers sometimes more. Generally speaking, the going rate hasn’t increased in over a decade. When we do get paid, it’s weeks if not months down the road—and that’s if checks are on time.
Of course, no one joins this trade because of the dough. The money—or lack of it—isn’t the biggest thing that gets under my skin; it’s the professional isolation. Even when I worked for a media company, the pace of things rarely left room for much learning or mentorship. I never went to journalism school, so my motto has always been to fake it until you make it, but at a certain point, you hit a plateau. I had so many questions about the industry, about the direction of my ideas, about the tone of my stories, and about the proper use of online media. How on earth do I make this work? There was almost no one to turn to for answers.
But all hope is not lost. There are opportunities out there for solid, independent and authentic journalism. At a time when corporate media is cutting spending left, right and centre, independent media organizations like Narco News or The Tyee in British Columbia for example, are proving that the rise of online media is not a death sentence for quality journalism, but the beginning of something new. Reader-supported media especially has the freedom to delve into stories that might not make headlines in advertising-funded news platforms. It’s hard to seriously address corporate accountability for example, when corporations fund the pages stories are published on.
So whether you can spare $5 or $50, your donations to the School of Authentic Journalism will ensure that a whole new generation of independent journalists from all over the world have the opportunity to learn how to dig deeper to take your stories to the next level.
Please make a donation today, online, at this link:
Or you can make a check out to:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027 USA
That’s what the dream is all about, man. That’s why your eyes get a little wide when I tell you what I do. It’s not Hollywood, but it’s still pretty damn exciting.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism