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Francis Campbell: Church, newspapers look to turn the tide

  • February 19, 2019

It sometimes seems that you are playing for the losing team.

That team can be a profession like journalism, which is on a lengthy losing streak. Just last week, the Canadian Press news agency announced it was cutting six positions because of declining revenue. Four journalists in the Atlantic bureau in Halifax received layoff notices, to take effect in about six weeks. 

Halifax and all of Nova Scotia is home to a modest number of working journalists. Most people in the industry here know each other or know of each other. Many of them have worked side by side at some time in their careers.

So an announcement of four layoffs is devastating. When two young, talented reporters on the layoff list tweeted about losing their dream jobs, the reality set it. 

Job losses are disturbing at any time. When professionals who enjoy what they do and who are proficient are forced out, disturbing becomes heartbreaking. Adding to the heartbreak for those passionate about journalism is the constant erosion of a once-vibrant profession. Advertising and circulation have fallen steadily and significantly in this end of the country, causing a consistent decline in revenue for most media outlets. Downsizing, layoffs and early retirements are a familiar part of the media landscape.

Not enough people are paying for news information from traditional sources. Social media and online information often supplant real news produced by trained and professional journalists. Advertisers don’t think media outlets that are losing audiences provide enough bang for their promotional buck. And the vicious cycle leads to job losses for dedicated journalists who thrive on telling stories.

Another team facing long odds is the Catholic Church. Fewer people are attending, buildings are more than half empty for Sunday Masses and revenues from the collection box are almost impossible to sustain.

The Canadian Media Union has said the latest round of layoffs is the fourth significant round of job cuts in less than a year. The union said the workforce will be 15 per cent smaller than a year ago and journalists who remain cannot be expected to provide the same volume of work as before the job cuts.

The Church, too, cannot be expected to provide the same volume of service as when the attendance was more buoyant and more priests were available.

Both the Church and the business of journalism have to find new ways of doing things to cope with significant changes. In the journalism world, outlets have put up paywalls to protect content from those who had been accessing it for free. With the onslaught of Internet services, news that once was only available to newspaper purchasers became available for free at the click of a computer key. The only way to monetize the Internet news was for publications to put the content behind a paywall. 

The Church in this corner of the world is trying to reinvent itself as well, amalgamating parishes to better utilize the dwindling clergy numbers and to offer parishioners busier and more engaged churches.

In the Gospel of Luke, Simon and the other fishermen said they had toiled the entire night and had caught nothing. Still, Jesus asked them to put out from land again and to put their nets into the water. 

Simon agreed, and when he cast his nets his crew caught so many fish the nets began to tear apart and other boats had to be summoned to help carry the haul.

It’s unlikely there will be an overflow of journalism jobs or overcrowded church pews in this end of the country anytime soon, but God is no doubt telling us something. Tim Currie, director of the school of journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, said the job cuts are a sign of the times in the industry.

“I think what we’re seeing is the media landscape continuing to fragment as news outlets continue to specialize, try to find a niche, try to find a business model that allows them to differentiate themselves.”

As troubling as losing streaks can be in both the pews and the press, we must resist the temptation to throw in the towel. Instead, it’s time to again cast the nets and hope for a better catch.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)