Redefining the job
written by MEAGHAN MCBRIDE
The idea of a multi-tasking journalist isn’t a new one, but now that technology is forcing journalists to work in four dimensions, the unions that represent them say reporters have to be on their toes.
The Toronto Star and its union have agreed to a contract in which all new hires will be classified as journalists. This title enables the Star to ask anyone who is not an editor to either write a story or take pictures, or produce audio and video.
Brad Honywill, president of the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild (SONG), of which The Star is a part, knows what it’s like to have to juggle more than one thing at a time.
“I was a two-way person at the Windsor Star earlier in my career and it was difficult to do a good job when you had to think about both getting a good shot and getting all the facts as well,” Honywill says.
He adds it was important to move with the way the world of media was going, but as a protector of workers, he says there are several issues to deal with along with these changes.
Time constraints, physical impact, quality of work and even job security for some were the main examples he listed.
“There’s concern amongst the photographers particularly, that if you’re giving reporters cameras and video gear that it’s going to hurt them. Not so much the other way around, because I think that publications will accept weaker quality photos before they accept weaker quality writing,” Honywill says.
Fred Kuntz, editor-in-chief at the Toronto Star, believes that no one at the daily has to worry about the security of his or her job.
According to Kuntz, all current employees have a four-year time span to decide whether or not they want to take on this title. Those who decide they’re for it will see an immediate hike in pay and must take the Star’s video training course StarNext. Those who do not, have two years to decide to specialize in print or in images, but will still have the label of journalists.
With more than 50 staff members already agreeing to be in the program, he sees the reaction as a positive one.
“You have to support your staff with training and development, you have to give people opportunity and that’s why we’ve made this all voluntary. So by doing it strictly as a voluntary basis the people who are skeptical and don’t want to do these things can hold back. Why go to somebody who you have to force to do something when there’s already so many people who have volunteered,” Kuntz says.
Rob Lamberti, crime reporter for the Toronto Sun, has experienced what it’s like to be a four-way journalist and says although he feels like the quality of his work suffers, he has gained a new appreciation for those in the broadcast field because he feels they would have a harder time making the change..
“I know my brothers and sisters in television have a harder time than we do when talking to people at a crime scene. I’m absorbing their difficulties. I can still do my world, but they can’t do my world. I can get away with it, they can’t,” Lamberti says.
Kathy Best, managing editor at the Seattle Times realizes the importance of moving along with technology.
“We’re having to do more with existing resources and that puts a strain on us and that can be bad, but if it forces us to look at habits we’ve developed over the last hundred years that may have made sense in 1908 but not 2008, that’s not a bad thing,” Best says.
Both Kuntz and Honywill stress the importance of unions in times of transitions and how they give employees a sense of security.
“We’re there to set the ground rules so that people are getting out there. Their concerns are being recognized and they’re being compensated. The last thing we want to do is to be obstructionists just for the sake of being obstructionists. We want our employers to prosper, but we also want to make sure our members are taken care of and get a fair shake in whatever skills are involved in this transition,” Honywill says.