Make no mistake: I’m not going anywhere.
Four years ago, I was a year into my journalism dream. I was frustrated. Despite many efforts, I’d not yet landed a real gig. I was writing lots, but the money coming in was meagre. I would teach a few days a week, then write the rest.
The writing was the truly good stuff. It was hard. It pushed me. I realized this made it an endless source of satisfaction: you know, the idea of overcoming the challenge, which brings with it that rush of adrenaline?
That’s what I’d discovered since leaving my teaching career, which had been good, but not great. I discovered I could plan a lesson, get the kids engaged, see them leave a class having learned something new. But I still knew I could find something even better. Something I truly loved, which would fill me with an energy I’d yet to find.
Writing was and still is just that for me.
It’s about conveying to the reader an idea, an argument, an issue, a problem. It’s putting your finger on an idea, one which is eluding everyone else. It’s finding the exact spot of that itch.
But in March 2013, I was feeling like the world was against me. I looked at friends who were chasing the same dream, and it seemed like they were doing so much better. I’d see readers discussing what my friends had written. How do I get to that point, I asked myself.
Get over yourself, I told myself. Up your game. Get noticed. Take some stands and be ready for people to tell you you’re wrong.
In the theatre of ideas, that’s how it works. Not everyone is going to like you. Many are going to be over the top in their criticism.
But many more are going to read, quietly, and nod their head in agreement.
Be a voice.
And so I got back to work. I wrote about hockey. I wrote about rugby. I wrote lifestyle stories about the best barbecues and how to run your own Canada Day-themed scavenger hunt.
I got noticed.
In mid-June, while sitting on the futon in my brother’s tiny Toronto apartment, days ahead of covering Canada vs. Ireland at BMO Field, an interesting job posting appeared: something called “mobile editor” at The Province.
I’d applied twice before to Vancouver’s family tabloid. I’d landed an interview the second time, to possibly be an intern for the summer of 2013.
Ros Guggi, then the deputy editor, had said she was impressed with my background and that some of her colleagues had suggested me, but, she said, “go get some daily experience.” Fair enough, I thought.
This time, I knew I had to have this job. I emailed Paul Chapman, one of The Province’s senior editors and who I’d written the long weekend stuff for, and Erik Rolfsen, who was in charge of the web desk, and who had supported my rugby blogging efforts for The Province (“I have no money to pay you but I can help get you in to stuff,” he’d said when I pitched the idea). Both said “YES APPLY” or thereabouts in their replies.
A week later I was being interviewed by Ros and Erik. A day after that it was a second interview with managing editor Shannon Miller.
The day after that…my life changed.
That can’t be understated. This was the job I’d been looking for my whole life and I got it. It was the Friday before the Canada Day long weekend. Erik called and asked me if I could start on the following Tuesday.
I’d signed on to teach ESL for the summer but the journalism job was the one I wanted. It was a no-brainer. I felt terrible about leaving the ESL folks in the lurch but of course when I called them up to explain what was happening they totally understood and hey, actually, they had a new teacher who really wanted to teach as many classes as possible.
On that Tuesday, I sat down with Carey Bermingham. She was going on mat leave in a week and I was going to be taking over her role. She toured me around the newsroom and got me rolling on the job.
I realized I’d arrived. These were my people. They had the same stupid sense of humour. Everyone knew far more about just about anything than was possibly necessary.
It was nerd heaven.
That’s almost four years ago. It’s been an amazing time. My colleagues have made every day fun and exciting. I’ve been so damn lucky.
I’ve learned a pile about how to be a better writer. I’ve learned how to be an editor, to help colleagues find an extra kick in their own story telling. I’ve learned how to produce podcasts. I’ve learned how to host podcasts. I’ve learned how to be the expert guest on radio shows (yes, I’ve been on the CBC many times — and TSN 1040 too). I’ve learned how to be a lively persona in front of the video camera.
Today, Friday, March 24, I was told I’d be laid off in two weeks.
It’s been a ride and I’m looking for more.
Let’s be clear on this: this move is not about journalism. This is not about finding younger, cheaper people to do the work previously done by older, more expensive and more experienced staff. In a rational business, young staffers with digital skill sets should be the last people you cut. It’s not my instinct to blow my horn too loud, but I must mention this: I did a million page views since our newsrooms were merged last June. That puts me in the top 10 of our operation — and writing technically isn’t even in my job description. I’m supposed to just be doing basic web site management. I wrote because I wanted to and I jumped at every opportunity I saw.
That I connected with so many readers remains a thrill.
Instead, I’m part of a group of 29 journalists — yes twenty-nine — who are being cut out of a thriving newsroom. The Sun and The Province made $18 million in 2016. Even so, Postmedia demanded people leave via buyouts. Then they merged the newsrooms. Then they demanded more people leave through buyouts.
And then they cut again, but this time on their terms. And so I’m out. Vital colleagues on the web desk like Almas Meherally and Harrison Mooney are out too. So are some incredible young reporters in Nick Eagland, Dan Fumano, Bethany Lindsay and Stephanie Ip.
A rational place, which recognizes the incredible vitality of journalism in Canada’s second largest English-speaking media market, would never let go of their youngest, most energetic journalists.
It’s all to keep bleeding the stone till the bitter end. We’re not set up as a regular media company. No, we’re set up like a failing plastic cup factory. One day the production line will stop, but not before every drop of productive sweat has been wrung out of the operation.
It’s all about buying golden cufflinks and returning profits to men who sit behind big fancy desks in far away offices. Men who, as far as any of us can tell, don’t actually do anything beyond hold meetings and undoubtedly drink fancy coffees.
That’s the frustrating thing: journalism in this town still works. I know the numbers well enough to be certain of that. Change is inevitable; but the end is not.
This is all to say: I’m soon to be a free agent. I’m on the hunt for something new. Yes, I’m applying for jobs. But if you’ve managed to read this far and you find yourself saying “hey, I should at least meet this guy,” well hey, I’m happy to meet with you too.
paddy.johnston AT gmail.com is my email. Let’s chat.