The difference 10 years makes

Did they know what they were getting into?

Did they know what they were getting into?

This week marks 10 years since I walked into an office building at 1010 Ste-Catherine St. W. and began a career as a professional journalist.

It was the day after the Journée nationale des patriotes, and I began an internship as a copy editor at The Gazette, a newspaper owned by the Canwest media empire.

Through the decade, the path hasn’t been easy or always positive. I was laid off three times, the second one resulting in more than a year of unemployment in which I tried doing some freelance writing and started a blog for fun. But thanks to hard work on my part, and some managers who for whatever reason thought I was worth it, they always brought me back. And now with a permanent job, I don’t have to worry (as much) that I’ll be let go because not enough people got pregnant.

In those 10 years, I’ve made many mistakes, and learned from them. I’ve grown, matured, relaxed, and become more of an adult. I went from someone who had only a passing knowledge of sports to someone who can talk with some insight about the latest news (even if I really have no opinion on what to do about the power play or what position Alex Galcheyuk should play). I went from a green newbie who had no idea of the paper’s history to one of those veterans who brings out a “Back in my day…” during intern season. Plus, of course, I have a lot more money than I did 10 years ago.

But my employer has changed, too, and in much more dramatic fashion.

The Gazette added the word “Montreal” to its name, its parent company is now Postmedia, and it has no relation to Global TV (though we still share the same building). The paper has been radically redesigned, it’s smaller in both page size and thickness, it publishes only six days a week, it has colour on every page, and some features and regular columnists have disappeared, with other new ones taking their place.

The website no longer looks like this. Instead of stories being posted automatically by a machine importing them from that morning’s paper, stories are written directly into WordPress and then copies are made for print.

A bunch of ideas were tried, some of which were successful, others not so much.

We went from editing pages in QuarkXPress 3.32 (which was already nine years old when I started) on a Power Macintosh G3 to editing stories in a web browser using brand-new MacBook Air (reporters) and MacBook Pro (editors) laptops, with a stop in between when we used PCs.

And the team is much smaller than it used to be. I took out a schedule from 10 years ago, and it listed 34 copy editors, including myself, on the news desk, and a further 13 on the features desk, or 47 total. And all of them worked for the print paper. Today, there are 20 copy editors split between four platforms. The person who first hired me no longer works there. Neither does my first boss. Or her boss. Or his boss. Or his boss. Or the CEO.

Many of the print jobs have since been centralized, as Canwest and then Postmedia decided it was more efficient for stories that appear in different papers across the chain to be edited once. Others — including the Gazette’s entire printing plant — were eliminated as the company decided to outsource various functions it considered non-core.

There are changes I agree with, and those I strongly disagree with. There are changes that made things better, and changes that made things worse. There are changes the union has fought (and is still fighting), and there are changes everyone has accepted or welcomed. I’ve heard all the complaints, and I agree with many of them. But I also know it’s a struggle to produce quality journalism when no one wants to pay for it. And if no one finds that magic business model that saves newspapers before it’s too late and they all die, then at least I’ll have done my part to keep its heart beating one more day. Because despite everything, newspapers like the Montreal Gazette expose stories that would not otherwise be exposed. And that’s something we need as a society.

Through it all, I remain grateful, to the organization and its employees past and present who helped me grow, who gave it their all even while they worried about their future or complained about things they didn’t like, and particularly those who thought this Steve Faguy guy was worth keeping around.

 

11 thoughts on “The difference 10 years makes

  1. Dilbert

    Congrats on 10 years. If you think those 10 years were wild, I can assure you that the next 10 years will be many times more than that and then some again. Change, and the pace of change, will keep your work interesting for the forseeable future! Good luck!

    Reply
  2. Dorothy

    When Coke switched packaging to cans from bottles, did the company fret about going out of business? Ditto milk and any other number of univerally-used products that changed the mode of delivery.
    Newspapers should be no different. But here they are, at a time when, as Rupert Murdoch nailed it, there “is a hunger for news” and they just can’t seem to figure out what drives readership.
    It’s all about content. Wash, rinse, repeat. Content. It begins and ends with that word.
    It’s not the ‘paper’ in news that the problem but the ‘news’ in newspapers. Or what passes for news in the business.
    Who rings doorbells anymore to get stories?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      When Coke switched packaging to cans from bottles, did the company fret about going out of business? Ditto milk and any other number of univerally-used products that changed the mode of delivery. Newspapers should be no different.

      Except people didn’t refuse to pay for coke and milk.

      they just can’t seem to figure out what drives readership.

      Newspapers have plenty of readers. The problem isn’t readership, it’s advertising.

      Reply
      1. Dorothy

        Sorry Steve, many newspapers do not have “plenty of readers.”
        I wonder what print circulation look like when ‘bulk buyers’ (airports, hotels, libraries) are excluded from the paying customers.
        To some extent, newspapers are a victim of a non-stop news cycle, which renders so much obsolete in a matter of minutes or hours, never mind the next morning.
        But hers is a wonderful opportunity for print to reinvent itself, with –cue the drumroll please– good old-fashioned investigative reporting.
        And that means knocking on doors at all hours of the day (or night) and answering phones that ring in a newsroom.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          But hers is a wonderful opportunity for print to reinvent itself, with –cue the drumroll please– good old-fashioned investigative reporting.

          I don’t know any major newspaper that doesn’t do investigative reporting. The problem is investigative reporting is expensive and time-consuming, and it’s a loss leader, not a money-maker.

          And that means knocking on doors at all hours of the day (or night) and answering phones that ring in a newsroom.

          What kind of investigative reporting requires knocking on doors in the middle of the night?

          Reply
  3. Kevin

    Journalism is one hell of a tough business these days, and the fact that you’ve been able to survive (and thrive) over ten years is a testament to your talent, hard work, and basic decency as a human being. You deserve all the good things that come to you.

    Congratulations – you’re an example to us all!

    Reply

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