Toronto Star's digital journalists and the market devalue of journalism

Last week the Toronto Star announced a couple of things. First, they laid off 11 full-time page editors. Second, they announced the creation of a new department, torstar.ca and its intention to hire 17 new digital staff including video editors, digital producers and social media assistants. This is the first time folks in the torstar.ca wing of the company have actually been journalists. Historically torstar.ca been staffed by production folks and was, for a few years, jobbed out to another company completely.

The odd thing is, the new hires will be paid a good deal less than their compatriots in the print newsroom. According to a memo sent by the paper's editor-in-chief Michael Cooke and its managing editor, Jane Davenport, the Star will pay the new hires the same kind of money they could make at Bell Media, Huffpo or Facebook. They called the lower salaries (over $200 per week lower, in some cases) "market-based rates." The memo states: "... new digital jobs cannot be rated on print business legacy rates of pay."

This is an odd position, especially in a unionized shop that is in the print business. A digital journalist is still a journalist and must be doing the same work as a print journalist. So why is one employee paid less just because his or her work doesn't end up as ink on cellulose?

And, the new positions are in a different department from the main newsroom, which means that although they are unionized jobs, the new hires won't be bumped, if there are layoffs. And, of course, that means that print journalists don't roll into the torstar.ca positions. They could, of course, apply for the 17 new slots, but they'd have to take a cut in pay.

According to Unifor unit chair for the Star, Liz Marzari, the union is worried that the digital journalists are getting substantially lower pay for the same work. And, since, in the near future almost all journalism work will be digital, that means the new hires will set a new low bar for journalists working at the Star. "We object to the company trying to take an end-run around hard-won seniority," says Marzari. "We understand that if there were lay-offs the new digital journalist hires would be vulnerable, but let's have a conversation about it, not just isolate them."

She says Unifor can take legal action and wants to continue discussing the situation with Star management.

Of course, in an ideal world Star staff would have already acquired the digital skills they need to be capable online journalists. And, in that same ideal world, they would be paid the same no matter what kind of journalism they practiced. But clearly, that's not the case. The Star has historically treated online work as production work, not journalism.

Back in the late '90s I visited the Toronto Star to see how they tackled online news. My hosts directed me to a sprawling space full of eager young faces, all illuminated by monitors that still gave off the nerd-attracting pheromones of fresh packaging. But this was not the newsroom of the Toronto Star. This was a whole other team, the web team. They were not journalists, not part of the Guild and they were not paid on the same wage scale as the ink-stained folks nearby. In fact, they weren't even allowed to alter copy from the newsroom. What went in the paper went on the site, no rewritten headlines, no new subheads, no grabber quotes. Certainly no video or new photos. Nothing. The people in the room were just web jockeys, there only to shovel the print edition online. The Toronto Star wanted to keep these young people as far away from journalism and as far away from the Guild as they could.

But now, even though the new torstar.ca team will be doing journalism, the old ideas of the print view of the worth of digital journalism seem to prevail. It is devalued. And the Star seems to want it both ways. They want the cachet of being an elder statesman of print journalism in Toronto, but when it suits them, they expect to behave like a nimble, digital native, despite having far more overhead, legacy equipment and legacy union agreements.

That's not fair. It's not fair to long-time Star journalists who will be bought out, retire or move on without truly participating in digital journalism. It's not fair to the new hires who will be blamed for setting a new low in journalism wages and who will lack the deep experience of the Star culture and maybe of serious journalism and still be expected to publish quality work. And, it's not fair to the publication's readers, who should expect both the best journalism and the most modern delivery of that news and not have to settle for one or other because the Star wants to cavort around as mutton dressed like lamb. 

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: David Sim/flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story...

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.

If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.

We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing.

Make a donation.Become a monthly supporter.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.