Journalism: It’s just for fun

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…

12 thoughts on “Journalism: It’s just for fun

  1. Jim J.

    Journalism, glamourous? Pfft.

    Most of the journalists I am acquainted with (having worked in an intensely political environment for 5+ years; namely, the New York State legislature, I met quite a few) are poorly-dressed, put-upon schlubs, who I find don’t write particularly well, almost invariably don’t ask terribly insightful questions and, far too often, regurgitate nearly-verbatim quotes from press releases in their columns.

    It oftentimes seems that their desire to avoid “bias” means, to them, that they make liberal use the word “allegedly,” as in “the naked suspect allegedly ran down Ste-Catherine St. to the corner of Peel Street at 1:00 p.m. last Saturday afternoon, firing a handgun into the crowd, until he was taken into custody by police.” Right. “Allegedly.” Wow, you are really unbiased. Don’t want to prejudge the outcome of that case. In that case, the use of “allegedly” doesn’t make you unbiased, it makes you stupid.

    Now, of course, the editorial process impacts on some of this; in the interests of space and wishing to avoid potential libel issues, stuff invariably gets cut down and “allegedly” gets sprinkled throughout the article. Fine, fine. Point conceded.

    However, if anything, journalists are typically scorned, rather than thought of as glamourous.

    Read Chapter 16 of Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” to get a better understanding of the way journalists think and write.

    1. Jim J.

      Since this is on Google, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that it’s perfectly legit and that somehow, someone has paid the property royalty to Mr. Klosterman. If you’re the kind who agonizes over issues of content ownership and copyright, then govern yourself accordingly.

      Specifically, if you read from the first full paragraph on p. 197 up to the break on p. 199, then pick it up at the break on p. 206 and read through to the end of the chapter at p. 209, this neatly encapsulates what I perceive to be modern-day journalism, as practiced by regular, everyday reporters, writers, editors and page designers who are not investigative journalism superstars à la Woodward & Bernstein.

  2. MM

    Wow! What a great contest. Can the winner even do a free spot to help CTVglobemedia save local TV! Oh wait, that’s another contest. Possibly a new show on CTV. Forget about “Do you think you can dance Canada”, how about, “Do you think you can be our tool Canada”

  3. Stephen Gordon

    Maybe this is simply an acknowledgment that there really isn’t anything that people have to learn to become a journalist.

    If media outlets start picking people at random to do journo work, will anyone notice?

  4. Josh

    Well, it doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground, does it? What of the Idols, the Apprentices, the Hell’s Kitchen chefs? Nobody wants to work to get famous anymore these days, Steve. Why should journalism – at least, as in this case, Olympic journalism (which in a home-soil Olympics we know is going to amount to little more than boosterism anyway) – be any different?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      American Idol winners are promised record deals, at least. In other words, a job. Winners of the “Journalism Dream” contest get to work for free (or, at least, dirt cheap) and have to pay for their own telephone calls.

  5. Jean Naimard

    Journalists now are expected to be croporate mouthpieces, so it’s only normal that they would get people whose critical thinking has been dulled by stupid croporate games (a contest) to become “journalists”.

  6. princess iveylocks

    On a happier note, at least this posits journalism as an exciting, desirable career. No one would enter a “Call Centre Dream!” contest, even if it did involve the Olympics…

  7. WKH

    wow and I remember getting told by a certain Uni newspaper office mini-dictator that we shouldn’t get honorariums, we should actually feel privileged to work there. So gosh I wonder where people get that idea it should continue in the professional world, since I’m certain my experience was not limited. You can’t tell people in J School “do not work for free, you are worth more than that” and then pay them nothing when they are indeed WORKING at university papers with standards at least as high as the average community weekly, then expect it not to carry on further. Combining the problem is the fact many of the early adapters to blogging (mostly the celeb ones –see Perez and Trent at pinkisthenewblog) are now pulling down serious bank thanks to advertising, so people do see it as “glamorous.”

  8. Ex Intern

    Thanks for linking to Whether in the field of journalism or any other field, it is never fair to assume that one can hire free labor simply because a field is competitive. This is why we have labor laws: to trump the collective action problem of potential workers competing against each other and having no way of getting organized.


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