November 28th, 2021

Much has changed in journalism over the years


By AlBeeber on October 30, 2021.

When I saw my Canada Pension Plan cheque had been deposited in my bank account, it dawned on me that I’m old.
Three years ago at the gym, a few of us were on the treadmill debating about whether we should take it at 60 or wait til 65. We were all in good health but universally we felt if we didn’t take it at 60 and then died a couple years later, we would lose out on getting at least something. It was a morbid session but being 59, it was a discussion we all wanted to have and it helped time pass.
My own financial advisor was fine with me taking CPP early and I trust his judgment implicitly. But when I thought about CPP, I also realized that I’m now the oldest journalist I see on the beat covering assignments anymore.
With the retirement of Terry Vogt from CTV, I am by far the eldest statesman of city media covering scrums. I miss seeing Terry; he was a great guy who was also occasionally our goaltender for the Herald hockey team years ago..
When I’m out in public these days, one thing I notice is I’m the only person I see carrying a notepad anymore. In fact, I don’t know if anyone here at The Herald actually does except for our court reporter.
To me, that’s a bit strange. When I studied journalism at SAIT, we had to take shorthand and to even get into the course, we had to pass a typing competency test.
While my familiarity with shorthand has pretty much vanished like my youth, I still have shortcuts that ensure I’m getting accurate quotes and information. And accurate quotes are just as important as getting facts straight. But quotes themselves are not the story, the information gathered is and it only becomes a story when we piece all that information together and assemble it in a way that will keep a reader’s attention from the first word to last.
In recent months, I’ve started carrying a voice recorder as a backup and it’s come in handy when covering scrums or doing interviews on the phone or even following along to Zoom meetings. It’s definitely a handy tool, especially for quotes.
But I still take notes to get the gist of the stories I’m covering. I find transcribing takes a lot of time and impacts the flow of the stories I write if I focus too much on quotes.
Journalists at heart are story-tellers, whose work is not only to get the facts but to tell those facts in a compelling fashion.
I’ve always told people that great writers are not always going to be great journalists because being a reporter requires special skills, including the ability and willingness to ask tough questions of all people we interview. We have to be fearless when tackling stories and know how to create trust with our interview subjects.
We also have to be outgoing and occasionally a bit brash which was terribly hard for me when I started out. I was so shy as a kid I wouldn’t walk into the Raymond pool hall alone, even if my friends were inside. So before starting my first newspaper job, I gave myself a two-hour pep talk as I drove on the winding road along Lake of the Woods. By the time I got to Fort Frances, I was ready to take on all comers and as soon as I stepped foot on the town’s main street, I knew I was going to be OK.
While great writers may not necessarily all make good reporters, great journalists have to be great writers with a strong command of the English language because if we aren’t writing stories capable of attracting and holding interest, we aren’t doing our jobs.
Still awake? Asking for a friend.
And our jobs, unless we are writing columns or editorials, is to leave opinions out of our work. Journalists aren’t unpaid publicists for the politicians we support or the social causes we espouse. We have no business putting opinions into news stories which I’ve seen happen too often in my career.
Opinion pieces shouldn’t masquerade as objective journalism.
We also need to keep our political affiliations to ourselves to ensure we maintain at least the perception of objectivity while covering stories.
Until the last few years, I would never have known what party any journalist in the city supported because for most of my career, we kept our cards held tightly to our vests unless we were writing opinion pieces.
While the way we do our jobs has changed with voice recorders, cellphones and email, one thing hasn’t for me – and that’s work ethic.
From the day I started my career in 1980 at the Fort Frances Times and Daily Bulletin three days before my 21st birthday, a milestone that may be fodder for another column, we all prided ourselves on how many hours we worked in a week and how much we produced.
Working overtime and many days without time off was a badge of honour that earned bragging rights among us. We prided ourselves on our stamina and commitment to our jobs.
At a Legion event Thursday, I was actually talking to Tony Deys about that; we used to work extra hours and volunteer to do more because journalism was our life.
In the 34 years at the Herald, I’ve put in a lot of long hours doing my job, often missing family celebrations including my son’s birthdays.
I literally missed much of his childhood because of my workload and devotion to my job.
The relationship with my son suffered but devotion is needed if journalists want to do our work the way our audiences, employers and advertisers deserve.
Journalists are the conscience of our communities, the work we do which keeps people informed about what is happening politically and socially in our communities. Without strong, objective local journalism, democracy would suffer.
We journalists have to be devoted and willing to put in the hard work and long hours to fulfill our responsibilities to the communities we serve.
It’s what we’ve always done – it’s what I still do after all these years.

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