Journalism can be a tricky field to play in. With shrinking newsrooms and budgets, keeping a staff up to size can be tough, and reporters will pay the price. With the uncertainty of the future, how can a journalist protect their work, and prepare themselves for a layoff or a lockout?
On September 12, journalists at the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun voted to accept their contracts with Postmedia Inc. after 34 months of negotiation. Speaking to the Review before the decision, Gary Dimmock, a senior reporter with the Citizen, said he hadn’t done much in preparation for the potential lockout. When it comes to his sources, he said “most of the folks in my tickle trunk know exactly what’s been going on.” He didn’t have any unfinished work to close off. Keeping your sources in the know is always key, as you may hope to carry them with you in the future, Dimmock said.*
Terri Monture, a union staff representative of the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), says that in the event of a strike, a journalist should, “…secure anything they were working on, remove their personal possessions, and reach out to their contacts to let them know that a labour disruption is happening.”
A January 2018 TEDxSan Fransisco talk by Mar Cabra, head of the data and research unit at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), noted that your files are your intellectual property. Cabra also said that journalists need to “think long and hard about how we archive what we have.”
The ICIJ released a list later that month on how journalists can better protect their work and sources. Some of their suggestions included using encrypted apps to keep communication private using apps like Signal. Among the rest of the list are using things like password managers to make sure nobody can get into your accounts and enabling two-factor authentication on all accounts to decrease the risk of hacking and up the protection on your work.
Back in June 2018, Rogers Media laid off around 75 full-time staff, and their publications underwent some major changes. Those included in the layoffs were Krista Hessey of Maclean’s, Valerie Howes of Today’s Parent, and Diana Duong of Chatelaine, a publication which also saw Lianne George step down as editor-in-chief, later replaced by Carley Fortune. On Sept. 12.
Fortune announced on Twitter that her last day at Chatelaine would be Sept. 13 and that it’s, “time for a new chapter.” She is now the executive director of the Refinery29 Canada.
Laura Hensley, currently a national lifestyle reporter at Global News, was affected by the Rogers layoffs when she worked at Flare. She says she has a few methods to protect her work and her job.
First off, Hensley saves all her documents onto a hard drive, which she updates every two-to-three months. She says she should be backing it up more often, but Google Docs has made her “lazy,” as the service is so easy to access via the internet. The sharing software, beloved by journalists and editors, makes it easy to work across distances. But Hensley points out that it’s crucial to keep additional copies of your work on other devices, nonetheless.
She says saving your documents is important should you ever be barred access to your work emails, such as in the case of a lockout or a layoff. CMG President Kamala Rao says that, depending on your contract, your employer owns your email, and everything that it contains. If that’s the case, Rao says you should make sure that you’re backing up your data regularly.
Hensley also keeps much of her email correspondence in a document, which she backs up to two accounts, just to be cautious. She also suggests keeping physical notes, for years, or indefinitely. “If you’re ever not sure, keep it.”
But perhaps more important in protecting yourself as a journalist is networking, according to Hensley. “If you know that the industry is fickle, and you’re not sure what the future holds, be constantly working on relationships with other people,” she says. In what Hensley refers to as a small industry in Toronto, a good reputation can go a long way. If you produce good work and make a good name for yourself, “chances are you’ll be able to get work if anything should happen.”
*Clarification: A previous version of the article indicated that the labour dispute was ongoing. Journalists at the Ottawa Sun and Ottawa Citizen voted to accept new contracts in September. The article has been updated to reflect this. We regret this error.