Breaking down the trends and rebels of today’s media landscape in Montreal and beyond.
New reporters are expected to hone a slew of skills ranging from writing to video-editing as they prepare to enter an industry that continues to try to adapt to new forms of media—as it did for television and radio.
Did video kill the radio star?
Concordia’s journalism program reacted to that demand by proposing a visual journalism diploma program that was approved by the university’s senate during their meeting on March 14.
“There’s an increasing priority on video as readers shift to their mobile devices […] which brings new revenue streams, new opportunities,” The Globe and Mail’s managing photo editor Moe Doiron told The Link.
The one-year 33-credit program set to begin in May 2015 claims to prepare journalism hopefuls to “the demands of professional journalism [as they shift] from discrete newsroom roles into combined ones that [require] the journalist to be polyvalent, capable of producing stories for text, video, audio and online media,” in its 30-page program proposal available on the Concordia website.
“When I think of photojournalism, I think of stills, of news features, but it’s so much more now,” said Brian Gabrial, chair of Concordia’s journalism department.
There are a host of photography programs across the country, but community-college Loyalist College offers the sole photojournalism-specific program in Canada. Concordia will be the first to do so at the university level.
The program positions itself as complementary training for people who already have journalism experience as it seeks out recent journalism undergraduates, working photojournalists and reporters looking to diversify their skillsets.
“I think this is an opportunity for the school to have an impact on the industry in the future as opposed to forming these people who would just conform to the model that’s in place,” said Stanton Paddock, who was hired last year to spearhead the program that had been in the works since 2008.
A roster of experts and professors from the Department of Sociology, Communications and Journalism were consulted for the program’s creation. During its first year, it will be headed by the Journalism Graduate Diploma program director, Peter Downie.
“It’s telling that they decided to hire me before the program was even approved; they knew this was important. It was probably the biggest investment they made into the program,” added Paddock, who was a photojournalist and teacher in the United States and who researches trends in journalism education. His first mandate was to rework the proposal that had, according to him, sat mostly untouched since it was first drafted.
The program features 11 courses, including Visual Storytelling, Documentary and Photographic series, and News and Feature Photography, that are spread out over three terms throughout the year. The anticipated cost of the program in its first year is $179,648, which includes teaching and new equipment costs, according to its proposal.
What had first been pegged as a photojournalism graduate program was termed by Paddock the “visual journalism diploma program” in his rewording of the proposal. With shrinking job openings in the field, the original term seemed limiting.
Both The Montreal Gazette and The Globe and Mail shut their summer photojournalism internships this year, leaving only the Waterloo Region Record and The Winnipeg Free Press offering paid summer programs for students in the country.
“We’re seeing a drop in internships even if they’re cost effective, but it’s also because there’s a shift in types of jobs,” said Doiron.
With media convergence, many employment opportunities require applicants to have experience beyond photography or writing.
“You can’t really expect to have a legacy media job, say, at The Gazette or National Post anymore. People don’t realize that they might end up working at a trade magazine instead,” said Joshua Rapp Learn, who wrote an article, “Student Internship Opportunities Shrinking Across the Province” for online Canadian journalism resource J-Source. Learn completed internships at National Post, Canadian Geographic, The Canadian Press and The Rio Times and is now reporting for Greenwire, a media publication reporting environmental news.
It can be hard for a photojournalist who has been around for a while to all of a sudden accept that they’re going to be shooting video, and it can be hard for someone who’s only been writing for years to start taking photos and shooting video with their iPhones, said Learn.
“You can’t always teach an old dog new tricks. There’s going to be a transition period,” said Doiron, adding that “to survive, journalists should have an equal weighting” in writing, photo and videography.
“I’d like to see more quality. There are a lot of people getting slaps on the back for bad video because they got the story,” said Doiron.
According to the Pew Research Journalism Project’s “The State Of News Media 2014,” a yearly report “examining the landscape of American journalism,” 36 per cent of Americans watch news videos online. But, “producing high-quality video—or even streaming it live—can be costly, and the payoff is not clear.”
The study also found that 5,000 jobs were created at online news media outlets like VICE, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and small startups.
“Anybody who really wants a job in journalism is going to get one. There may be hard times along the way,” said Gabrial.
Paddock, Gabrial and Doiron agreed that despite the diminishing number of traditional journalism positions, there is no lack of opportunity. Young journalists will just have to be creative about their career paths.
“You do journalism because you care. You can’t be in it for money,” said Paddock.
For that, “there’s always wedding photography,” he added.
With two issues published to date, The Alpine Review’s business model is still very much an experiment.
Throughout the 285 pages of the Montreal-based magazine’s first issue, and the 315 pages of the second, the one thing you won’t find is any advertising.
It’s only sold online or through a limited amount of carefully selected stockists, where it comes with the hefty price tag of $35 per copy.
This would usually raise some flags when looked at through the lens of the ever-contracting magazine business. But when you speak with founder and publisher Louis-Jacques Darveau, you’ll find that thriving in the mass-market magazine industry was never the point anyway.
“I never really cared about the industry, the way it runs and operates, in respect to reliance on advertising and the complexities of distribution,” he said over the phone from Toronto.
“The idea was never to make it a profitable venture, it was to find a way to connect with people who share similar ideas.”
For the 39-year-old strategic advisor, it was more of a personal project than a business venture from day one. He had ideas he wanted to expand on, and after spending 15 years advising clients big and small, he felt ready to finance the project.
Along with co-editor Patrick Tanguay, the two Montrealers wanted to put together a platform where they could explore some of their overlapping ideas.
Darveau knew if he committed to making a tangible product such as a magazine, it would be easier to draw interest and collaborators.
“I wanted to show that I was committed to the process, not that I was trying to transform or tackle the industry’s problems,” he said.
Tanguay agreed that a printed product would be the best way to accomplish what they were looking to do.
“I think as a medium, print is the form that makes you think the most about the content, which is what we wanted,” he said.
A handshake sealed the deal with a printer in Barcelona, and 4,000 copies of Issue 1 were published in October 2012.
In terms of content, the magazine steps far away from Montreal and delves into a wide array of issues that make it hard to define. It’s not particularly niche, nor is it really a general interest magazine.
The first issue was centred on the idea of antifragility, a look at “what is antifragile, what is merely robust, and what will ultimately prove too fragile to survive the tumultuous future,” according to the magazine’s website.
The second issue, released last October, had the theme of “returns” and discussed how people reflect on the past to look for solutions to today’s problems.
Jeremy Leslie, author of The Modern Magazine: Visual Journalism in the Digital Era, called it “in-depth, intelligent and fascinating in its scope.” Science fiction author Bruce Sterling said it “makes Montreal look hipper than Berlin.”
A lot of this stems from its editors, who both said they wanted to approach everything about the magazine in a different way.
Instead of saying they interview subjects, they say they “borrow their brains for a few hours.”
When the magazine ran a piece on famous chef Jacques Pépin, “We didn’t just want to run a straight profile on him. It’s been done a thousand times,” said Darveau.
Instead, they asked him one question: why is it that chefs share their recipes?
“This idea was to find out why chefs share recipes very openly and it doesn’t impact their success, whereas in other industries, people want to protect what’s theirs,” said Darveau.
“It was a way of looking at the open-source model and showing that it’s not really a new idea,” said Tanguay
When one essay in Issue 2 tackled the topic of drones, it looked past the military conversation that usually dominates the subject, and focused on how the availability of drones will affect our everyday lives in the future.
3-D printing was another topic in the same issue, but served only as the frame for a discussion about jumping to conclusions when it comes to technology.
“We want to find that counterpoint or counterargument for each subject,” said Darveau.
So far, the magazine has sold best in Germany and the U.S., where Darveau says sales have been positive enough for a case to be made to increase the amount of copies printed, though he leans more towards the idea of exclusivity and keeping the number of copies around 3,000 per issue.
Darveau admits he doubts The Alpine Review will ever be profitable in the classical magazine sense, but in his most optimistic tone said he could see it reaching that level as a platform for an organization.
“I believe there could be a way to make this publication a vehicle for an organization that relates to the ideas we’re sharing, and this kind of thinking,” he said.
Tanguay added how they’d be interested in exploring a model similar to Offscreen Magazine, which ditched regular ads for sponsorships.
“A business model will need to emerge at some point,” Darveau said. “But if it’s not right, I’ll keep doing it on my own.”
You’ll probably have some opinions by the end of this article.
Keep them to yourself.
That was the impression Popular Science magazine gave its readers after announcing last September it would close the comments section of its website. Opening her editorial with “Comments can be bad for science,” then-digital editor Suzanne LaBarre explained that “trolls” were counterproductive to the magazine’s work.
“Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story,” she wrote.
Popular Science, of course, is in the minority—most publications out there actively seek readers’ feedback. Radio-Canada.ca’s online comment section has been up on the entire site since May 2009.
The website’s digital news director, Pierre Champoux, sees the section as a “commitment […] to hear what’s on Canadians’ minds.” Behind this PR-like answer, though, lies a desire to change a flaw associated with old-style journalism.
“Our television and radio reporters used to work in prescription mode,” Champoux added. “We told people, ‘Here’s what you should know […],’ but we didn’t expect to hear back from them.
“With time, our reporters have discovered interaction can be a good thing,” he continued. “They used to be afraid of being criticized.”
For big publications, creating space for readers to give their two cents can be a costly ordeal, but none of the organizations that were asked about the cost associated with curating comments gave any figures, citing business reasons.
Some organizations gave a clearer picture of how costly an endeavour comment curation can be, however. According to the Huffington Post, the website employs “the equivalent of about 30 full-time moderators [who] work 24/7/365 in six-hour shifts going through hundreds of comments per hour” according to an interview with Poynter.
The New York Times has three full-time moderators and 10 part-timers. Champoux estimates two moderators go through Radio-Canada.ca’s online comments each hour.
The Montreal Gazette, meanwhile, relies on its readers to oversee the website’s postings.
“We trust the community to flag us. We’re not moderating as much as we’re monitoring the conversation. If it goes off track we’ll step in,” said Mick Côté, the paper’s digital editor.
“Step in” entails a comment being flagged and someone, usually Côté, making the call as to whether or not the post should be taken down.
While Popular Science may be an anomaly when it comes to shutting out comments entirely, its qualms no less epitomize the difficulties involved in carrying such a section.
In 2012, Gawker changed its commenting policy. Like LaBarre, Gawker founder Nick Denton, too, wanted to keep trolls at bay. Would-be commenters could either register with Gawker’s in-house “account option,” dubbed “Burner,” or log in through their Twitter, Google or Facebook account.
The Gazette resorted to a similar solution over a year ago by requiring readers to log in from their Facebook account to comment on online stories.
“The previous platform we used allowed for anonymous commenting. Since switching over to Facebook, we’ve noticed a drop in trolling and inappropriate comments,” said Côté.
Radio-Canada knows a thing or two about inappropriate.
“During the 2012 Quebec elections, Option Nationale—which is not a major party—was the most efficient on social media,” said Champoux. “I spent an entire evening on Facebook after someone from the party called me out, saying we weren’t covering the party the way we should.
“Various people throughout Radio-Canada were inundated with dozens of what seemed to be copy-pasted messages,” he continued. “It was clearly the work of some commando who was following the orders coming from social media or someone from the party.”
To avoid such conundrums, in March 2011, National Public Radio implemented a policy based on a trial period in which comments made by new users are “reviewed by a community manager prior to the comments appearing on the site,” according to an editorial the radio network published on its website.
Then there are times when the section has to be closed altogether for certain articles. Aside from issues related to offensive content, there are also those tied to potential legal ramifications.
Sylvia Stead, the Globe and Mail’s public editor, felt the wrath of her readers when the newspaper’s website closed comments for a certain Rob Ford article.
“The reason for closing in these cases is to avoid contempt of court, which ensures that all individuals have a right to a fair trial and that right should not be impaired by pre-trial statements or statements during a trial,” she told The Link. “Our reporters and editors are well trained in what can be printed in legal cases, while members of the public are unaware of the legal principles and rules for criminal cases.”
While having comments on one’s website may sound like an all-expenses-paid trip to a guaranteed migraine, these opinions may actually have a direct impact on reporters’ work, says Champoux.
“A few times we managed to get in touch with people [who commented] and sometimes it enhanced a piece. But we don’t do it enough,” he said.
Many reporters, already burdened by their publication’s requirement to use social media on top of carrying out their main duties, would likely gasp at the idea of adding yet another task to the list—especially after a cost-benefit analysis of such an effort.
At best, comment sections require many resources for very little tangible returns; at worst, they can be thorny and filled with nonsense. This ambivalence is not lost on Champoux.
“We know there’s an element of risk carrying comment sections, but it’s interesting for us, as journalists, to see what moves people and find out what aspects of our coverage we could elaborate on accordingly,” he said.
The plight of the unpaid intern has been well-documented, having to fight for measly, unpaid hours to get some all-important exposure. From finance to fashion, the ubiquitous “non-remunerated position” (a nice way of saying “we’ll pay you in coffee and experience”) has been spotted even for luxury hotel busboy positions.
In the field of journalism, which is seeing both massive cuts by major players and a proliferation of startups, the quest for a good internship means sifting through reams of dubious ones.
Internships are encouraged but not required in Concordia’s journalism department. Postings are passed along to students if they seem to have some journalistic merit.
“I always look through the emails, but most of the time it’s for a bad joke, more than an opportunity,” said second-year journalism student Matthew Guité. “Nine times out of 10 they’re not worth the time.”
It’s a problem the department is well aware of.
“I’ve tried this year to really reduce the amount coming the students’ way,” said Brian Gabrial, chair of Concordia’s journalism department. “Because they’re not filtering through it, [or] they’re just ignoring it.”
Gabrial says the amount of paid internships has decreased, but notes there were never many to begin with. What students can get out of these jobs, in lieu of money, are contacts and real-world experience.
“They’re usually unpaid, and I have a hard time sometimes justifying sending a student off to do an eight-week or 12-week internship with no pay,” said Gabrial. “But I think that’s the name of the game with a lot of places.”
Desiree Hostettler is tasked with sifting through these requests for free labour for the department. As a journalism graduate student, she has a contract to spend 10 hours a week helping connect students with prospective work.
For requests from recognized media that the department has worked with before, this simply means forwarding the message along to students.
“Others like online blogs or startup magazines are sometimes a bit sketchier, so we research them,” said Hostettler. “Does their website look professional enough? Would our students be possibly interested in these internships?”
She said that students can also contact her for advice on the quality of an internship they are considering, or if there’s a specific type of job they’re looking for. However, she believes a full-time position is needed to better answer requests from students for the most popular postings.
Guité was trained at CJAD during a two-week unpaid internship, which he says was the ideal fit for him and has led to employment at the station as a part-time show producer and technical operator.
One problem he sees with most opportunities passed along is having to move to a different city—often Toronto but as far as London, England for one CBC internship sent to students by the department—for weeks or months of unpaid work.
For Guité, doing free work for “really small content creators that aren’t well known that aren’t going to be a draw on your CV” is not a trade-off he’s willing to make.
“That might fly for the CBC because going to London to work for them might be the opportunity of a lifetime for a student that can afford it, but for most [internship postings] having them on your CV isn’t going to do a lot,” he said.
An unpaid job in one of the most expensive cities in the world obviously excludes some from applying, but Gabrial points out the experience is valuable for those who can afford it. Students who get the CBC London job are also able to apply for a scholarship through the department to help cover costs.
“Back in the day, I couldn’t have afforded to go to London for six weeks,” said Gabrial. “But on the other hand those students [that did go to London] have come back and are working now. It’s not like there wasn’t a payoff for that.”
Gabrial personally forwards along internships that will get students work in journalism. However, other opportunities that may interest students are passed along as well. This includes a two-week internship at The American Pavillion, a “hospitality and communications hub” at the Cannes Film Festival, according to its website.
The job came with a $3,000 price tag, plus travel costs.
A representative from the company gave a presentation ahead of last year’s festival in the basement of Concordia’s Communications and Journalism Building. The event was booked by the communications department and forwarded to journalism students.
“He tells you that if you’re accepted into the program how privileged you are […] they make you feel very special to be chosen, that Leonardo DiCaprio has the same badge as you,” said Alexandra Giubelli, a Concordia journalism student who was selected as an intern at last year’s festival.
“They make it seem like the chance of a lifetime.”
Giubelli says she was told she would be able to network at the festival, and could potentially work for the Hollywood Reporter. However, she said that it later felt “like once you paid them you were left to your own devices.”
As one of about 150 interns working the pavillion, unable to hand out business cards during her 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. shifts, she enjoyed the glamour but questions how useful the job was for her career.
“We assumed when they would look at the brochures if it’s the Cannes film festival, there’s probably not going to be a lot of journalism involved there,” said Gabrial, adding such an opportunity could offer exposure to an aspiring film critic.
“[With] that kind of internship you’re just going for the name and the recognition of the organization that’s sponsoring it, and students have to be cautious when they look at that,” he said.
Giubelli does not blame the department for passing along these job postings, but believes some follow-up should be done to see if it’s worth sending to students again the next year.
“At some point there is a need to take things a step further,” said Giubelli. “But maybe they should ask, was it worth it? Is it worth sending this to our students?”
Concordia is working to offer more paid opportunities to its students. The journalism department’s co-op program began this semester, where first-year students are offered paid media work based on academic merit.
However, given the industry norm of unpaid work, attracting partner companies has not been easy.
“We’re having trouble getting news operations to be part of the co-op. Most of them know they could get a student for six weeks without paying them,” said Gabrial.
Undergrads can also submit a proposal to the department to work 160 hours at a media company for credit. If the job pays, however, it is ineligible for credit. It’s a policy Gabrial says isn’t going anywhere—likening the situation to how college athletes do not get paid.
“At first I was observing and shadowing, but the more you show initiative the more you get to do,” said Joel Ashak, who worked at Radio-Canada last semester for credit. “I got a job out of it, so I was one of the lucky ones.”
Ashak now works on the production side, getting clips together for newscasts. But his aim is to be in front of the camera once he completes his degree at Concordia.
He stresses the impact working under real pressure can have on young journalists.
“When you write articles for school, you don’t put your mind into it as much as if it was published,” said Ashak. “You work way more seriously when you know people will be reading your article.”
As the publishing industry grew increasingly unstable for major print magazines over the last decade, a trend began to take root: while some top-level publications faltered, smaller niche magazines thrived.
As readers gradually turn more and more to the Internet for their news, niche magazines continue to do well by serving specific—and often times very loyal—readers looking for news on topics that aren’t a mouse click away.
But what happens when that audience unexpectedly suffers a major financial blow?
That’s what Canada’s oldest magazine, The Canadian Sportsman, learned last year. The monthly trade publication printed its final issue in December after a 143-year run.
Founded in 1870, the newsletter-turned-magazine covered the Canadian harness racing industry, finding its way to racetracks, training centres, places where horses are sold and subscribers’ homes.
Many of those homes were hit hard in 2012 when the Ontario Liberal government controversially axed the Slots at Racetracks Program.
“I didn’t know how long it would take, but I knew we would be a casualty of the decision,” publisher and editor Dave Briggs told The Link over the phone from the Sportsman office in Straffordville, Ontario.
“We were already facing challenges as a magazine; we just couldn’t absorb a hit like that,” he said.
Inaugurated in 1998, the SARP was a partnership between the Ontario government and the horse racing industry to help sustain the latter by introducing slot machines in certain racetracks.
Revenues from the slots were divided between the province, which received 75 per cent, and the municipality where the track was located, which got five per cent. The remaining revenue was divvied up between the host track and race winners.
“The program was tremendously successful for all partners,” said Briggs.
As a result of the cancellation, an estimated 9,000 jobs have been lost in Ontario’s horseracing sector.
Its abrupt ending hit breeders the hardest, the same people the Sportsman relied on as readers and, more importantly, as advertisers.
“When the market you serve suffers a 50 per cent contraction, any magazine, regardless of the topic, is going to take a major hit,” said Briggs, who had been with the Sportsman since 1995 and had overseen many of the changes it underwent to try to stay afloat in the ever-changing publishing world.
When he started with the Sportsman, it was more akin to a newspaper than a magazine, with copy still bracing the front page and a focus largely centered on news items.
Knowing most of the information it was offering could now be found online, the magazine eventually stepped away from delivering the news and focused on longer features instead.
“With the onset of the Internet, the decision was made to no longer be news-based but to be more features-based, a real magazine,” said president Gary Foerster, hours before the last issue went to print.
Copy was removed from the cover, its size was shrunk down to save money and the emphasis was moved to photography and what Briggs called “longform articles that couldn’t be found elsewhere.”
The decision was made to start offering the Sportsman online as well, but its demographics, consisting mostly of older subscribers from rural areas, never took to the idea.
Ultimately, all the changes did was briefly put off the inevitable; the blow the horse industry suffered was too severe, and the Sportsman was no longer seen as economically viable.
“It’s a combination of all these factors, but the slots program certainly expedited the closing,” said Foerster.
The magazine lost about half its subscribers following the cancelling of the SARP according to Foerster.
The final, 100-page issue was a mix of features and letters sent in by frequent contributors and many readers after news spread of the magazine’s closing.
“When a magazine is that old, it’s been a part of families for different generations. For a lot of people, it was a little part of their lives,” said Foerster.
“I’m proud of the work we put out until the very end,” said Briggs.
“But the last two or three weeks have been tough, like writing our own obituary,” he added.
On Oct. 11 of last year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made her way to the Grand River Raceway in Elora, Ont., to announce a restructuring plan to be put in place that would help support the breeders and racetracks that the now defunct slots program had once carried.
A total of $400 million was pledged to the horse racing industry over the next five years, representing an influx of $80 million each year.
Through the slots program, the industry had been making nearly $345 million yearly.
“The thing is,” said Briggs, “the slots are by and large still in the racetracks. It’s just that the horse people aren’t getting any of the money anymore.”
When asked about the recent government announcements, and whether or not they could influence a rebirth of the Sportsman in the future, Foerster was clear with his answer.
“At this point, there are still so many unanswered questions,” he said.
“We made the decision to bring the Sportsman to an end, and right now I cannot see a time when it would be viable to run it again,” he said.
The Sportsman closed with a subscription hovering around 5,000.