Wednesday, 16 December 2015

CHCH-TV: Rich people with hearts of stone

When I first set foot in a journalism class 40 years ago, I was not prepared for what I was about to hear. My first year professor, Tom McPhail, began the class this way.

"If you've come here to be a creative writer, ask for your money back," he said. "There's no room for creativity in news. And if you've come to get a job in print, forget it, print is dead."

I felt like walking out of the class, and transferring to Western University where I had planned to study English, but was talked out of it by an earnest guidance counsellor who predicted my future would be brightest if I went to Carleton University to study journalism. After hearing that first lecture, I believed I had made a mistake, but I'd already moved from St. Catharines, and there was no turning back.

I should have listened to that little voice, I thought, two years later when I lost my first fulltime job at the Ottawa Journal which folded just milliseconds into my journalism career. I had worked at the Journal all through J school, and I loved the scrappy little paper with its odd assortment of kooks. So when it folded, I was heartbroken; McPhail was right.

Print was dead, or should I say my print career was dead before it even got started.

I never held down a full time job as a reporter again. What a waste of Her Majesty's loans and grants.

Over the past 40 years, we've all heard the death knell of quality journalism, as newsrooms have become little ghost towns populated by interns. The unions have become a joke. Today, getting a job in news is like winning a lottery that doesn't have a pay day.

I hardly recognize print versions of newspapers anymore. They really have become only useful for wrapping fish and lining bird cages.

And now, it seems, broadcasters are on the block.

Recently, Bell Media gave hundreds of journalists their walking papers, and just this week, CHCH-TV announced it was declaring bankruptcy and selling its station in Hamilton for parts.

I still feel that same twinge of pain I felt nearly four decades ago when I learned about the fate of the Journal. It makes me wonder how anyone can teach journalism these days with a straight face.

The situation at CHCH was particularly cruel. The employees weren't even given a severance package by a cynical group which bought the station only to rip it apart and try to move the licence to Toronto. You can read their story here. It is awful.

Tom McPhail, it seems, got the story only half-right.

Print is dead, but so is broadcast journalism. Long live rich people with hearts of stone, and watered down Internet news peppered between cat videos and dick shots.

It's a sad ending for a great tradition.

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