by Sarah Gayda
Last week, Post Media laid off 54 employees at the Vancouver Sun and Province, including 29 journalists. That's a 42% reduction in total staff.
This comes on the heels of months of voluntary buy-outs (19 journalists from the Sun and Province agreed to buy-outs two months ago) and the merging of the two newsrooms just over a year ago. Combine all that with multiple rounds of lay-offs and cost-cutting measures in previous years, and it's clear we are witnessing the worrying decline of local journalism.
After last week's layoffs, Peg Fong, a journalism instructor at Langara College, told On The Coast, "Journalism is going to be gravely impacted here locally, provincially and nationally because of the loss of these journalists." She's right.
Tweets from journalists last week were both harrowing and uplifting. The unlucky with low seniority said farewell to positions they loved while the ever-fewer journalists that remained pleaded with other media outlets to scoop up the talent that was just let go.
Mirroring the demise of traditional news media everywhere, the deterioration of the Sun and Province is troubling. There are so many examples of the fourth estate shining a much-needed light on hidden issues and positively impacting government decisions. If it weren't for the Globe and Mail’s Kathy Tomlinson's investigative reporting into Vancouver's crazy-hot housing market, would shadow flipping really have been brought to the public's attention? Would the province have introduced the 15% home buyer's tax? I doubt it. If it weren't for the New York Times reporting on questionable fundraising tactics employed by the provincial Liberals, would Christy Clark really be handing back over $90,000? Likely not.
And what about all of the issues that haven't yet been uncovered — that haven't been the focus of incessant reporters, merely because there are so few incessant reporters left? I tend to think that BC Hydro's Site C project isn't facing nearly the scrutiny it would have if the same number of journalists were as gainfully employed as 20 years ago. Similarly, I think there's a lot more to discover about the growing gang violence in BC, despite the excellent work of Kim Bolan.
As saddened and fearful as I am by the diminished support of quality journalism everywhere, I have to admit that I am also part of the problem. I let my subscription to the Vancouver Sun lapse several years ago after CanWest Global Communications was sold to creditors in 2010 and other talented scribes, such as David Baines, agreed to buy-outs shortly thereafter. I have also failed miserably at convincing my kids to read the large, foreign looking, quickly-becoming-archaic broadsheet with me. Despite my best efforts, they are drawn to more alluring "news" sources like The Onion, Reddit or Facebook.
I feel somewhat helpless when it comes to holding the dark days of journalism at bay. My meagre subscriptions to the Globe and Mail and the New York Times seem like attempts to dampen the forest fire with a squirt gun. But I like to imagine that I'm donating to a dying, worthy cause — an underdog — the now-rare commodity that is genuine journalism.