Connect with us

Jobs

Opinion: Mass layoffs and burned-out journalists signal the erosion of Canadian news

Published

on

In early February, Bell Media decided to lay off 4,800 employees while also selling 45 regional radio stations. This came just two months after the CBC announced its plans to cut approximately 10 per cent of its workforce over the next year, beginning in December 2023. 

These mass layoffs are, in my opinion, a watershed moment for journalists in Canada, demonstrating the worrying decline of the news industry. You, I, and everyone should be concerned. 

The situation at Parliament Hill

Including the company’s previous round of layoffs in June 2023, Bell has laid off more than 6,000 employees in the last nine months. In a press appearance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called this a “garbage decision,” critiquing the process where “small community newspapers are bought up by big corporate entities who then lay off journalists and chang[e] the quality of [their] offering.” 

In another instance, Minister of Canadian Heritage Pascale St-Onge added that the government could assist the news industry once Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act — which regulates streaming platforms and requires them to contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian content — is fully implemented. The bill became law in April 2023. But, Bell executives say they require immediate relief from the government

Note that this is happening while the federal government has yet to reach final agreements about Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which requires online platforms like Meta and Google to compensate Canadian media companies whenever these platforms use or share their content. Like Bill C-11, Bill C-18’s purpose is to enhance economic fairness between news businesses and online platforms. In theory, the money that would return to Canadian newsrooms from this bill would mediate their current issues of rising production costs, declining television advertising revenue, and competition with tech giants

Google reached a deal with the government in November 2023 where Google must pay $100 million annually to publishers and continue to allow access to Canadian news content on its platform. Still, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission, an administrative tribunal that regulates Canadian broadcasting, is yet to conclude the details of this implementation in the bargaining process with Google. Meta, however, responded to the Act by blocking links or removing the visibility of accounts that showcase Canadian news on its social media platforms. Critics have since argued that the bill causes more harm than good for Canadian journalism, as it is inhibiting Canadians’ access to news.

Like a snake eating its tail, it surely feels as if Canadian journalism is in a state of gridlock. Stuck in limbo, our government must also confront the fact that the Local Journalism Initiative, which federally funds hundreds of local journalists and underserved regions, expires this month.

Journalists are tired, too 

But the worrying state of Canadian news goes further than that: we should be concerned about the journalists themselves. 

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published an enlightening article last year about burned-out journalists choosing to quit the industry. Their causes for burnout ranged from job instability to issues with censorship to lowball salaries. 

The pandemic only magnified pre-existing challenges for journalists. A survey by the International Centre for Journalists found that job insecurity, confronting increased disinformation, online harassment, growing attacks from elected officials, constant witnessing of human suffering, and workers feeling like their ethics have been compromised while covering COVID-19 have all led to media workers being exposed to heightened mental health problems.

Unfortunately, a 2022 report from the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma found that Canadian news workers suffer from “alarming” levels of work-related stress and trauma. 28 per cent of respondents are diagnosed with anxiety and 21 per cent are diagnosed with depression. To put this into perspective, the rate of diagnosed anxiety among Canadian journalists is nearly 11 times the rate of the general population, and the rate of diagnosed depression is over four times higher.

As news companies lay off employees, Bell Media’s vice-presidents of local TV and news say that “multi-skilled journalists” will replace teams of news correspondents and technicians for reporting — meaning an individual must take on the responsibilities of multiple people. Now that’s a recipe for colossal burnout. 

Keeping our heads up

Honestly, I’m not particularly hopeful about Bill C-18 following the successful footsteps of its parallel in Australia, as the Australian government’s private negotiations with big tech were completed before their Facebook news ban became codified into law. Our federal government seems unwilling to back down, and Meta is stubborn in striking deals with us.

While we’re stuck in this unfortunate stalemate, the best we can do is unlearn our reliance on consuming news through Meta’s platforms. Go directly to news organizations’ websites, download their apps, and sign up for their newsletters. Show journalists you care and are still willing to stick out these rough times for them. Plus, who knows, maybe Meta will eventually follow suit from Google. 

Despite all this, it is undeniable that journalists play a crucial role in our democracy by providing us with information about the world with accuracy and integrity. It’s difficult work, but it is also important work. 

Seven out of 10 US-based journalists surveyed by Pew Research say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their jobs these days. Simultaneously, three-quarters of the journalists say they are extremely or very proud of the work they do, and nearly eight out of 10 respondents say they would pursue a career in the news industry all over again if they could go back in time. 

Although we, as news consumers, can do our part by creating more traffic on news organizations’ websites, or paying for subscriptions if that’s a viable option for you, the responsibility should not rest entirely in our hands. Editors and union representatives need to better consider journalists’ mental well-being in their agendas, develop support programs, and be more empathetic to the specific anxieties that come with being a journalist.

It’s a rough time for all, but the rough times seem to particularly rock the boat for journalists — not just in Canada, but globally too. As a student journalist, I wish I had more comforting words for you, but I, too, can’t fully shake off the uneasiness of it all. Keep your head up, I guess.

Charmaine Yu is a third-year student studying political science and English. She is an editor-in-chief of The Trinity Review and a features editor at The Strand. She is the What’s New In News columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.

Continue Reading