Gabrielle Brassard-Lecours, journalist and editor with the French edition of Ricochet, wrote this piece in response to news of layoffs by Montreal-based newspaper La Presse. It was originally published on September 24, 2015.
It was predictable that La Presse would lay off a number of employees after announcing last week that it was eliminating its print edition in favour of a new digital format optimized for tablets. The sword of Damocles looming over the office on Montreal’s St. Jacques Street finally fell this morning. Predictable or not, it’s always regrettable to watch journalists and employees pay the costs of housekeeping as management tries to balance its books.
“The French-language newspaper says it is cutting 102 permanent and 56 temporary positions. They include 43 newsroom positions,” the Huffington Post told us this morning. The atmosphere in that newsroom, as journalists and other workers now enter an unbearable waiting period, must have resembled that of a wake at a funeral home.
The digital future
For years, the media landscape has been contracting. I would know. I lost my job as a journalist three times in three years at three different media outlets (Radio-Canada, Transcontinental and Newzulu). What does the future hold, then, for the profession we often call “le plus beau du monde” (the most beautiful in the world)? A digital transition is without a doubt inevitable, but it raises a host of questions and uncertainties for the future of any daily news outlet. Ricochet is in a position to know. Despite having decided from the start to be web-exclusive, we are hardly free of financial precarity, and cannot afford to ease up on the search for the financing we need to stay afloat.
We can ask what the implications are of going fully digital. Should we cut back on journalists to pay more videographers? We often say a picture is worth a thousand words, but is that really true? The media certainly tends to favour video; it’s faster and more sensational than text, and it requires less attention than reading does, but what about information? Analysis of facts? Rigorous and investigative long-format writing? It isn’t true that Internet users are incapable of reading more than two pages of text. The popularity of the long format used at, say, the Guardian proves that there is genuine interest in the long-winded. News consumers are showing a real desire for a return to basic information less centred on imagery and instantaneity. Yes, we are in the midst of a digital transformation, but at what price, at the expense of what type of information?
In the digital era, who will have access to information? Though we might be in a time of unprecedented connectivity, access to technology is far from universal, even in Quebec. Whole sections of the population, for reasons of age or income, will lose access to information, precisely because it will only be online. That raises important questions for democracy.
The forgotten workers
The journalists whose faces accompany the articles (an absurd practice, since it’s not the faces that should determine what sells, but the content) that we read every day in the few remaining daily print newspapers are the ones who get the attention and go viral on social networks.
But to make a newspaper, one that’s daily and especially in print, an incalculable number of people work unseen, often until late into the night, in order for the news to be delivered each day. Yes, it’s sad to see journalists lose their jobs, and every time cuts are announced, we make a big deal about the profession, precarity, and the realities of the industry.
But we don’t hear about those whose faces we never see, whose names we don’t know, and who have often worked there for more years than most newsroom journalists have been alive. They lose their jobs in silence, marked only by a number in layoff announcements. It’s often harder for them to find new work, in some cases because of their age, but more likely because their jobs are simply ceasing to exist. Think, for example of printers or evening editors.
On a day that brings sad tidings about this profession that we try to love each day despite all its costs, the future of journalism has once again been put into question. Solidarity to the workers, journalists or otherwise, of La Presse.