The Globe and Mail has launched a new contest: Journalism Dream. The winners of this contest (one writer, one photographer) get a some-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver where they would become part of the Globe's Olympic team in February.
Except, they wouldn't be treated the same as the rest of the Globe's Olympic team. While real journalists will get all their expenses paid, plus a proper salary, these "guest" journalists get airfare and hotel, a laptop and $1,000 spending money, which works out to $200 per photo assignment or article that they're expected to write over the two weeks of the Games.
According to the rules: "Prize winner and his/her travelling companion are solely responsible for all costs not expressly described herein including, without limitation, applicable taxes, fuel/currency surcharges, ground transportation, meals, beverages, room service, gratuities, merchandise, telephone calls, insurance together with any required travel documentation, and all personal expenses of any kind or nature, together with any applicable overnight layover. ... No further compensation will be made to the guest journalists for their submission of articles/photographs."
Some of you might think that this is an equitable trade, even a beneficial one for participants in the contest, especially if you consider the $1,000 (which would be used for things like meals) as payment for the articles or photos.
What bugs me about this contest, though, is just that: it's a contest. Becoming a journalist is seen as some sort of prize to be won, rather than a job to work hard for. And this, by one of Canada's most prestigious newspapers.
One of the big problems facing journalists these days is this impression people have that it's somehow glamorous. So many people want to become TV reporters or newspaper columnists, and so few positions are available, that the cost of journalism is being brought down (the law of supply and demand). Freelancing rates have been stagnant (or even decreasing) for decades as inflation has reduced the value of those rates. New outlets (both traditional and new media) use "citizen journalism" as a code word for replacing expensive professionals with amateurs willing to do the work for free in exchange for what they hope will be fame or recognition (in the end, that never comes - even TV reporters and newspaper columnists can walk around town without being noticed).
CBC Radio's The Current explored the issue of internships on Thursday (after an article in the New York Times about people paying to get unpaid internships), and it's no surprise that media interns were a big part of that. (For others, you can check out the Unfair Internships blog).
I realize I'm part of the problem here. I took two unpaid one-week internships (one at the West Island Chronicle, another at CBC which led to a handful of paid shifts in radio), though I should point out that neither of those were major factors in getting my current job (which began with a paid internship).
I also work for free for this blog (though in that case, at least I'm exploiting myself and marketing myself at the same time). Though a few people stop me to say they love it (one cute girl told me that last night, in fact), I don't pretend that I'll get famous or rich through it, or that it will ever replace the work done by professional investigative journalists.
Still, the thought of turning this into a contest prize giveaway like some cheap laptop...