You may remember that a couple of the earliest posts on this site referred to an article I was asked to write by the Irish Times. Well, that article is in today’s Irish Times and also online here. It’s the first time I have been published in what I would consider to be a mass-selling newspaper or a paper “of record”. Given that it is now two-and-a-half months since submission, I am pleasantly surprised that this article saw light of day. They even used a snazzy photo of downtown Montreal taken from what I think is the south-facing slope of the mountain. Enjoy!
You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper
It used to be that if you needed a job, apartment, car or toaster you would look in the classified ads in the newspaper. If a newspaper could build a city- or region-wide monopoly on classified ads, this became the proverbial license to print money for media outlet owners. People knew that the paper was the place to look. Hence, papers had three revenue streams: unit sales, commercial advertising and classified ads.
When the latter started to move online about ten years ago, it dealt a massive blow to the former two. The most used classified ads site in North America is craigslist; it is so pervasive that it has now joined facebook and google in the list of nouns that are also used as verbs. As a young journalist one might think I would resent the existence of online classified ads sites, but no, I do not. In the past two weeks I have bought a microwave, a lamp, a tea pot and a couple of air mattresses off such sites, and I’m still hunting for speakers, a bass guitar and another lamp. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
There is probably a fine line between being bold and being naive, and I don’t quite know on which side of that line I now stand. An application for an online sports writing job has been sent, by me, to some email address hidden under a craigslist-given pseudonym. There is nothing to lose, I tell myself, even though I know that it would be a great and welcome surprise – “a miracle”, if I believed in such things – if I hear back from them, let alone actually get the job. Additionally, I just fired off three feature story ideas to the features, foreign and diary editors from The Irish Times. Fighting for the crumbs off the table.
And then there is my CV (a resume here is called a CV – “say vay” – by French speakers), which has an element of the Marge Simpsons about it.. When she asked Smithers what to do with a machine after getting a job in the nuclear power plant, Mr Burns’ camp sycophant says ‘Mrs Simpson, according to your resume you invented this machine.’ Now, I have not told fibs like that, but my stated trilingualism now demands that I bring my solid posh conversational French up (down?) to fluent Québécois French and that potential employers might be mildly impressed with the fact that I can speak Irish. Well, I could a few years ago anyway.
This is the blog of a 24 year-old Irish emigrant to Montréal, Québec, Canada. It’s going to be a blog about a writer-journalist-sub looking for work, hopefully finding some, and what he thinks about it all. Oh it’s all so terribly self-important, you say. Yes, this first post is, and for that I offer an apology couched in the language of well-it-couldn’t-be-any-other-way. This blog, though, is about an industry – the words industry. You won’t find it as a career category on job search sites, but it exists and has existed for millennia. Robert Harris, the brilliant English journalist-come-author, has in recent years published two novels written in the first person through the moniker of Tiro, Cicero’s servant and scribe. This was over 2,000 years ago, and Tiro’s main job was to research, write and express. His game was words, as is mine today.
Lots of people will tell you that this industry is dying, and they are right, but only if we think of the words and journalism industries as synonyms and only if we think of journalism as meaning newspapers. Are newspapers dying? Probably. Any young journalist should expect their undeniably rapid decline to be terminal and take any future change to this process as some sort of bonus. It’s a sort of dour yet Monty Python-esque always-look-on-the-bright-side-of-life mélange of attitudes. Most people in the business don’t seem to know for how long news and comment will continue to be produced and consumed via chemicals placed on dead trees; they may guess, but they don’t know.
Furthermore, journalism is moving and moving fast. If newspapers are on a permanent downward curve, it is primarily because of THE invention of our times, the Internet. News comes within minutes of the event, in some cases being consumed live like a Chinaman eating fish. Let’s play a little game. I’ll list some words that have been newsworthy recently and you count how many of them you first heard about in a newspaper: Egypt, Thierry Henry handball, Haiti, Chilean Miners, Michael Jackson, Icelandic volcano, flooding, Gulf oil spill. Get it? Most of us can understand the emotional sadness at the demise of some wonderful titles in recent years, but only the most conservative writers could call the move towards online journalism a bad thing in itself.
While one can’t really say that the words industry is in better health than ever, I propose that we don’t see the decline of newspapers as a decline in the industry itself. Think of it as a Venn diagram. We have all the jobs there are where one of the major responsibilities is to write and write well. Journalism is a subset, and within that subset is another called print, and within that is another called newspapers. While newspapers sell fewer copies and take in far less revenue through advertising than before, sales of iPads and Androids go up. As my late granddad used to say, “easy come, easy go.” And as the case of Tiro shows, the words industry gives writers the chance to work in areas that are not necessarily journalism. If Tiro was around today, we might think of him as a spokesperson for a political party; a sort of Alastair Campbell of the ancient world, but without the spite. Politics and online copywriting are just two of the many areas inside the words subset but outside the journalism subset.
This blog is more than just the musings of a young man who can’t quite figure out what he’s doing with his career, however. You, dear reader, will have to put up with me trying to figure out what this place is and what it means. In recent years I have developed an odd fascination with Canada, despite having spent only four days and three nights in the country. And that was in Vancouver, a couple of thousand miles away. I did my postgraduate dissertation on how federal politics is reported in two Québécois newspapers, La Presse and Le Devoir. I regularly stayed up until 3am in Dublin watching ice hockey on satellite television. I have only ever met one nasty Canadian, a rather loathsome girl from British Columbia who treated a good friend of mine terribly, and thus far she is the exception that has proved a rule – Canadians are fantastic people.