Back at it

25 Mar

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.

Interviewing Canada rugby sevens captain Nanyak Dala at the 2014 USA Sevens.

***

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.

 

Welcome to the Web, 22 years later

23 Apr

Wednesday was a bit of an anniversary.

I too am a Mosaic person. I first used it sometime in the winter of 1994/95, probably at the Lexington public library. The web has been a thing for most of my life, and this is mostly because of the people at NCSA.

So, happy birthday to the web browser!

Stuart Scott and the power of positivity

10 Jan

Between, the Charlie Hebdo murders, Boko Haram’s slaughtering thousands in Nigeria, the ongoing madness in the Middle East, political tensions everywhere, the looming climate crisis, it’s been hard of late for me to avoid getting bogged down by the ugliness of the world – but reading this from Mike Wilbon about Stuart Scott’s endlessly upbeat attitude, even in the hardest hours of cancer, is a good antidote.

I like to laugh – but I’m going to rededicate myself to taking the deep breaths first and then ramping up the positivity.

I still believe in the power of positive thought and action. Let’s reminder ourselves of that. Let’s work in a new way, let’s work on laughing at ourselves a little bit more. We’ll all be better for it.

Big rich dude tells young people to work for free; here’s why he’s wrong

4 Nov

As I tweeted, I find myself coming back to this question far too often:

How did we get to the point where we believe there should be positions where people shouldn’t be paid for their work?

There’s no denying that I’ve written some things for free. When I was first writing the rugby blog for The Province, I did it mostly for the experience.

But I wasn’t facing deadlines and there wasn’t any expectation of production – that was all on me, on what I felt like doing. I decided to approach it like a job because I could afford to – I was still working as a substitute teacher. That meant I could pay my bills.

It also opened doors for plenty of paid writing. I got the opportunity to do some freelancing for The Province. I wrote about hockey for Hockey Now. I also landed writing work for other places.

But the unpaid stuff was mostly just for practice – and because I liked writing about rugby.

The real issue is the premise posed in my question: you work, you get paid.

What the Governor of the Bank of Canada is suggesting is the horror show that exists in the US. Young people taking unpaid internships at major (and very profitable) firms to ‘get ahead.’ Of course, most of those people have mummy and daddy paying the bills. It’s a horrifically closed, classist shop. It’s not what Canada has prided itself on being. In so many ways, we’ve broken down the ideals of a classed society. Yes, inequality still exists. Yes there are people who are overpaid and who are underpaid – but there’s a common notion to both of those.

There’s a reason why Canadian labour law limits unpaid internships to those who are studying in post-secondary settings.

This is also one of those cases where blue collar folks really do have it right and the white collar folks have it wrong: ever heard of an apprenticeship? We pay young people while they are learning the practical aspects of a trade. Why? Because it’s pretty obvious they are working.

That must continue to apply to ever place of work in this country, despite what the rich old dudes at the top may want.

Two Toronto mayor’s race electoral maps

27 Oct

For your consideration.

Yup, lots to mull over here.

Dig through the CBC’s ward-by-ward data and it becomes clear what happened: huge turnout saw gains for non-Ford vote everywhere in Toronto while the Ford vote bled away everywhere but the north-west districts of the city. Pretty much what everyone predicted. But also, yes, 1 in 3 Toronto voters still went with Ford. This should be instructive to everyone.

A further visual breakdown from the Globe and Mail:

On Ben Bradlee

21 Oct

Bradlee and Woodward. It’s the photo everyone seems to be using. It’s a good photo.

I never met him. I’m not sure I know anyone who did (but it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out I do).

But there’s no denying his influence in my career choice.

As most of you know, I’ve come to journalism a bit late – it was the notorious career change at age 30. Notorious because everyone changes their career, or so we’re told, not because it’s been a bad change.

It’s been the best change – but again, most of you know that.

So much of my interest in being a journalist goes back to Watergate. I wasn’t alive for it, obviously, but All the President’s Men has been one of my favourite movies since the day I first watched it. I don’t know when that was – high school? – but it’s from well before I even had an inkling that journalism might be the thing. It deals in issues that have always been important to me: about what’s right, about informing readers, about contributing to the theatre of ideas, about speaking difficult truths.

Over the years, I’ve added to my understanding of the affair. But I always find myself drawn back to Jason Robards’ masterful and well-regarded portrayal of Bradlee.

He’s the guy steering the ship. He’s the guy who believes in his young guys. He’s the guy doing the teaching, about what journalism must be and how it must work. Get it right. Be aggressive. Tell stories. Sloppy isn’t just unacceptable, it’s dangerous. Even in today’s world of ‘get-it-done-now’ journalism, these are essential. In many ways, I find myself hearing these ideals bubbling back into importance. Fast is important. First still counts. But getting it right still reigns supreme.

With that in mind – three things I’ve read about Bradlee tonight. The first is the Washington Post obituary. It paints a picture of a very driven man, who made friends with powerful people but who also pressed his reporters to do good work. He held strong principles – and he believed they were important for America.

Second is a note from former Washington Post staffer Ezra Klein, now editor-in-chief of Vox.com. Bradlee was long retired when Klein started at the Post in 2009, but Bradlee was still about. He also seeped through the institution – a good thing, Klein suggests in his piece, called “What is was like to meet Ben Bradlee.”

Last is a fun list from Vanity Fair, written two years ago, of various barbs, zingers and other correspondence from and about the desk of Bradlee. It’s witty and instructive: I’ll leave you with the final entry, from a 1973 letter:

As long as a journalist tells the truth, in conscience and fairness, it is not his job to worry about consequences. The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run. I truly believe the truth sets men free.

Some amazing video from the #OccupyCentral protest in Hong Kong

29 Sep

A compelling 7 minutes. It’s not continuous but there’s plenty to be pulled from it.

The Western Way of Life, as told by one of John le Carre’s spies

24 Sep

“I reserve the right to be ignorant – it’s the western way of life’ – Alec Leamas

Loved the book; loved the movie.

Capital leaves, then the people: meet the city of Detroit, ‘urban prairie’

15 Sep

There you go. Amazing to see, isn’t it.

From left to right: 1949, 2003, 2011.

Higher resolution image here.

Hunter S. Thompson on 9/11

12 Sep

You’ve probably seen this already, but my thought:

You think of Hunter S. Thompson writing a long time ago, but here he is, writing on September 12, 2001. Which doesn’t seem that long ago, but maybe it is?

Anyway, he the modern world pretty much nailed. It’s…an odd feeling reading this.

From ESPN:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.