OPINION: Who watches the watchmen?

One of the most common questions I get asked is if I’m scared about the future of media.

Trevor Hewitt (Thom Barker photo)

One of the most common questions I get asked is if I’m scared about the future of media.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t — us journalists work in perilous times.

Just last week, the Globe and Mail announced a voluntary severance program — its fourth in the last decade — in an effort to cut $10 million annually from it’s operating budget.


As much as I wish it weren’t so, the Globe is the rule, not the exception.

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I have friends who work all throughout the industry: from tiny CBC stations up north to giant legacy media newsrooms in Toronto.

And despite the differences in our career choices and trajectories, despite our hobbies and where we fall on the political spectrum, when we chat, I hear what amounts to different versions of the same trepidation from just about everyone.

Despite the fact they love what they are doing, despite the fact they are all ecstatic to be ‘making it’ in the industry, there exists a nagging sensation in the back of their head:

Will it be me next month?

I won’t lie to you, I’ve heard that voice too.

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According to Statistics Canada data, total journalism jobs from 2001 to 2016 dropped 7 per cent — from 12965 to 12050.

While that’s already bad enough, when you factor in Canada’s labour force rising 18 per cent during that same time — 15,872,070 to 18,672,470 — that number jumps to a relative decrease of 20 per cent.

One in five journalists — ouch.

Let me reiterate: to say things are bad would be an understatement — that time has passed.

They are beyond bad.

They are beyond dire.

At times, they are downright dangerous — especially for those who have staked a career in the paradoxical terrain that is the ubiquitous-yet-dwindling landscape of news in the age of social media (call it death by 1000 clicks).

But despite a growing uncertainty about everything from organizational revenue streams to the viability of career paths within the industry, I have hope.

I have to — after all, this is my life.

I don’t mean that in a rhetorical, work-to-live sense.

I mean that I live to work in journalism.

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Despite all the challenges, all the long nights and weekends cut short due to breaking news (in the case of crashed Cessna’s and downed trees, sometimes literally), I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You know how some people were born to be firefighters, social workers or high-end pet groomers?

That’s me, but with reporting.

For most people, the last thing they want after getting home for the day and settling into a Netflix-centric trance is to be called back into work.

And while I won’t deny the fact that binge-watching Archer with an 18-pound Maine Coon/Tabby mix on my lap is a fun way to spend a Wednesday night, it doesn’t even come close to the rush I get from that middle-of-the-night breaking news call.

It’s an indescribable feeling: cruising down a barren street at 3:15 a.m. to a story you were just tipped off to and know little-to-nothing on, yet one you must also inform the public at large about.

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that, in the 24-hour news cycle, any editor worth their salt will tell you your deadline is a consistently-resounding five minutes ago.

To me, that’s both the best and worst thing about breaking news: you’re always on its tail.

So when I hear about these cuts and fear for my job security, it isn’t about being worried over where my next paycheque is coming from.

It’s a fear that, one day, I might wake up and not work in the one role I’ve ever found that makes me genuinely excited for work, day in and day out.

There’s a quote from the Roman poet Juvenal that fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen might be familiar with: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — literally translated: “who will guard the guards themselves?”

Journalists are a lot like policemen. It’s easy to knock the group as a whole based on the (I’m the first to admit) objectively wrong actions of a few — fake news and all that.

But when you need a policemen, you really need one.

It’s the same with journalists.

Do we make mistakes? Yes.

Are there some bad apples amongst us? Absolutely. I’m the first to admit it.

But for every unscrupulous journalist, there is another who radiates raw, unbridled passion to get the story — and get it right — above all else.

For every individual writing listicles about cats, there is another honing their knack for sniffing out even the tiniest whiff of suppression or deception (if only the answer to our field’s woes was an en masse move towards moonlighting as human lie detectors).

So when you hear about cuts to news organizations, please don’t roll your eyes.

Please don’t repeat platitudes about how “it’s their fault for getting into that industry” because that isn’t the point.

The point is that, for every journalist writing clickbait that bites the dust, you are losing one of the other kind:

The ones who run towards the smoke.

The ones who wake up in a cold sweat worrying over whether they misrepresented a source through the quote they used.

The ones that will shed sweat, blood and tears to tell your story, even if it means getting into the car in the middle of the night running on three hours of sleep.

My gas tank is always full.

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