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The Sun or Province? I’ll pass.

April 26, 2011

As far as community newspaper journalism jobs go, mine is about as guaranteed as they come. I am not getting fired or laid off anytime soon. I know this. It feels good.

At the same time, and perhaps because of this security, I have not lost all ambition. While I wouldn’t hate working at my newspaper until I retire, I still hope to achieve some unspecified, umm, achievement. I don’t know what that is but I know what it isn’t: an every day job as a reporter at one of British Columbia’s two biggest daily papers.

In fact, I would much rather work as a reporter at my current newspaper, than at either the Province or the Sun. (Caveat #1: there are one or two positions at the Sun, particularly, that I’d probably take; and if the pay was right, perhaps a couple more. But for the purpose of this post, I’m looking at a general assignment reporter position, e.g.  someone whose job it is to churn out copy for the web and the paper).

There are a couple reasons for this:

1. Security

A lot of people work at the Sun and Province. A new reporter, thus, automatically starts at the bottom of a very tall tree. But that can be OK. More scary is the fact that the outlook is still bleak for large daily papers. I didn’t go to the Sun’s website or paper for coverage on the Japanese tsunami, like I would have gone to its pages 20 years ago. And yet there are still people producing that type of content. It doesn’t matter that, as a reporter, I wouldn’t be assigned to collect wire service material for the website. The fact remains that the Sun and Province — and Postmedia in general — seem to have no overarching vision for the 21st Century. The reliance on photo galleries to generate page views demonstrates that, as does their woefully behind-the-times website.

Many community newspapers, meanwhile, are running about as lean as they can get. That’s bad for workload, but there also comes a time when your job can’t be cut. And that’s an OK feeling.

2. Lack of vision

As I said above, the Sun and Province have no ambition at the present time. They’re not treading water so much as flailing about for air. That’s not a great feeling and is definitely not conducive to producing, or showcasing, great journalism.

3. Beats

As a community newspaper reporter, you have the opportunity to cover an array of beats and get to know a range of people. That breadth can be exhilarating. It’s kind of like the difference between reading a piece of genre fiction, or an epic on the scale of War and Peace. You get to see all the moving pieces and how they interact with each other.

At a daily, while one can get the same sort of breadth the depth that comes with covering small events as well as large is missing. Instead, one tends to jump from one major event to another, with little time in between to focus on the smaller stories that put the big ones into context. That can result in a loss of perspective. If you spend every day writing about murder, it’s hard to grasp and life-altering just how dramatic such an event can be for those involved.

Then there’s the fact that those diversity of beats allow the curious journalist a little bit of variety in their days.

4. Independence

While most reporters can pitch their editors story ideas, when you work for a community newspaper, those pitches aren’t going to get shot down often, if ever. Essentially, as long as a story mentions your community by name, you have a green light to write about whatever tickles your fancy.

The downside

Of course each of those points come with downsides. Job security can mean working with colleagues who have lost their desire and should have retired years ago. Community papers are often (usually?) ignored by their owners and have no guiding vision for the future. You can get stuck in pretty shitty beats, or covering lame stories for months if not years between big news events. And that independence also means you don’t get much training or editing to help you improve.

But at this point, they’re all not enough to make me want to throw my lot in with another crew.

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