Nadia Elkharadly: The Death of Journalism

Nadia LogoI’ve been trying to “make it” as a writer for the past couple of years now, and I will tell you that the journey is a difficult and extremely slow going one.  So when I received this article from Warren Cosford’s ever enlightening newsfeed, I considered it both very informative and extremely depressing.

http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/11/10/pity-the-interns-how-do-we-help-those-who-help-us/

Written by Mireille Silcoff, this article is more of a column and opinion piece on internships, and concept of free labour in exchange for experience and the hope of getting ahead.  It’s a concept that many of us aspiring creative types are all too familiar with.

mireilleMirelle Silcoff is a celebrated and frequently published writer, with pieces appearing in New York Times Magazine and the Walrus.  She also once held the title of Senior Editor at the National Post.  She’s also held intern-like positions early in her career, floundering along as so many of us do when we’re young and unsure of what we want, and especially how to get it.  I found her article on the intern/free-work phenomenon intriguing, just as she was intrigued after reading a book called Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin.  The title is self-explanatory.  His work has been compared to Naomi Klein’s landmark expose on sweatshop labour No Logo.  Perlin takes the stand that internships, as they are commonly practiced, are exploitative and illegal, according to labour laws in most developed nations.  Now, I haven’t actually read this book (the information I share with you here is taken from Amazon.ca), but I’ve lived that free labour, tiring life of an intern.

internnationThe summer after my second year of university, my father helped me score an internship in the Rogers Cable Public Relations department, under the incredibly intelligent, accomplished and driven Taanta Gupta.  A former journalist, Gupta had worked her way up the ranks to be the spokesperson for the media and communications conglomerate.  That summer was more of the best learning experiences of my life.  I did every little thing that was asked of me, from fetching coffee to packing gift bags, to getting a wicked sunburn while setting up at a celebratory picnic on Toronto island (they were finally getting cable internet and everyone and their dog – literally – showed up to take part in the festivities).  I sat wide eyed and eared in meetings, trying to glean as much as I could about this murky corporate world that seemed to offer a chance to be creative, while also remaining relevant, and of course, making a living.  But make a living I definitely did not.  While I treasured my weekly morning meetings with Gupta, soaking up every piece of wisdom she chose to share with me, I did not get paid a cent for the summer of long hours and menial tasks.  Don’t get me wrong, I have zero regrets about taking that internship.  I gained a great role model in Gupta, a woman who worked her way up to the top of her game and had a fantastic reputation and veritable empire to her name.  I learned that if I was strong and put my mind to something, I could accomplish it, just as Taanta Gupta had.  All it took was many years of hard work, some paid, some not, but all worthwhile.  Considering what I’m trying to accomplish now, it’s a series of lessons that have stuck with me to this day, the most important one being that it wouldn’t be the last time I’d be working (basically) for free.

InternWanted-copyReading Silcoff’s article and reading up a bit of Perlin’s book, I saw much of myself and my career aspirations and accomplishments reflected back at me.  When one is desirous of a job with a creative slant, the competition is fierce, and every opportunity is seen as a leg up.  You’ve got to do what you can with the tools available to you, and take the chances you can in an attempt to get ahead.  When I found that a job in publishing as a writer or editor wasn’t available to me, I created my own.  I started with my own blog, I started writing for the Examiner.  I bought a DSLR camera and learned how to use it so my future readers would have pretty pictures to look at.  And then I began contributing to to Don’t Believe a Word I say as well as the newest blog on the block, AddictedThe only one of those outlets I currently get paid for is the Examiner, and even then it’s only by click (hint hint CLICK AWAY PEOPLE.)  Hell, I’ve spent more money on my writing jobs than I’ve made at them.  And as much as I love going to shows all the time, and telling people all about it via my writing, there are some days when I feel like my future as a writer is a little bleak.

Brian's PhotosThe facts are very clear.  In this day and age, print media is a dying breed, and online media outlets are frankly a dime a dozen.  Anyone with a laptop and access to Wi-Fi can become a “writer”, I’m proof positive of that.  More and more bloggers and online writers are finding their ways into the photographer’s pits at large shows and events, seen by some as taking the place of a legitimate journalist writing for a legitimate news outlet.  There are others that see these online writers and photographers as taking their rightful place in a fast paced brave new world of journalism, leaving the legitimate journalists out in the cold, relics of a bygone era.  In an age where instant gratification is seen as a right and not an occasional bonus, online news sources that can be updated if not instantly but with by the day or even by the hour content are people’s go to sources for entertainment and information.  Magazines and newspapers still take time to go to print; to most people used to just refreshing a website, any information that’s more than a couple of hours old is just stale.  Is this the right point of view? Maybe not, but it is reality.  Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest have reduced everyone’s attentions spans to pictures, moving pictures and thoughts of 140 characters or less.  People want what they want, when they want it, and in bite sized format to suit their busy lives and tired brains.

BirdieBut what happens to reliability in this brave new world of instant access journalism?  How much fact checking and research can truly be done in a short span of minutes or even hours?  Does journalistic integrity suffer in an age of instant gratification? Absolutely.  The one silver lining to potential mistakes being made in online forums is that, unlike with print, mistakes and misinformation are easily and instantly corrected.  Spelling mistake in your introductory paragraph?  That can be fixed the moment it’s noticed online.  In print, it’s out there for the world to see and cannot be taken back.

newspapers-deadWhile there are several pros to online journalism, there is one very sad con.  With this influx of online content producers comes another conundrum picked up on by Silcoff’s piece:  with so much content readily available, no one wants to pay for it.  If we’re living in a brave new world, this is that world’s never-ending internship.  Why pay for content when there is a veritable lineup of online journalists willing to give it away for free?  Therein lies yet another conundrum; with such a deluge of content out there in the internet, how do aspiring writers set themselves apart to grow an audience of readers?  And I’m not just talking about passersby, I mean loyal readers who follow a writer’s work, and keep coming back for more.  I can’t even get most of my friends and family interested in what I have to write.  Thinking about getting strangers to sit up and pay attention is even more depressing.

hopelessSo what is left for aspiring writers and journalists like myself?  Do we resign ourselves to a life of being overworked and perpetually underpaid?   Do we plug away at our passion while spending days at uninspiring jobs to pay the bills our passions can’t afford?  Do we continue taking internships well into our thirties in the hopes that this next one will turn into something real?  I don’t have any answers for myself, or people like me.  I just hope that I never lose that inspiration and that no matter how hard it is or how hopeless it may seem.  Because when you lose your passion, print-is-dead-2what do you have left?  I love music, I love writing, and I love writing about music.  So until someone pries this laptop out of my cold dead hands, I will continue to do what I love to feed my heart and my soul, even if it doesn’t feed my body.  In the end, I’d rather have my creativity, even if it means I’m tired all the time and doing what I love for no money.  Writing is my outlet, my craft, and I hope to write for the rest of my life.

“If the urge to write should ever leave me, I want that day to be my last.” —  Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel prize winner for Literature 1988 

Until next time,

Xo

N

Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonNadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

5 Responses to “Nadia Elkharadly: The Death of Journalism”

  1. Excellent piece, Nadia. As a member of team DBAWIS I think you are successful !

  2. You should start a band. Oh, wait…

  3. The one thing I will say is that no one (can I write that as one word?) will be a success if they do not commit themselves to their craft or art. Separating yourself from the herd is hard, but if you write well and have your own perspective, you can break in in any field of writing. It just takes time. And, yes, you are successful. I read your Examiner posts regularly. And your DBAWIS column. Then again, looking at my track record with music, that doesn’t bode well for you, does it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: