Earlier this month, The New Yorker ran an incredibly sobering feature by staff writer Clare Malone under the attention-grabbing, though perhaps slightly hyperbolic, headline: Is the Media Prepared for an Extinction-Level Event?

The piece provides excellent context and colour (red!) that describes the time of turmoil currently clouding over the American journalism landscape.

She cites, for example, a December 2023 study from an employment firm that found 2,681 layoffs had occurred in broadcast, print and digital news media with still a month left to go in the year. Those numbers already surpassed losses seen in 2022 and 2021.

Any naive hope of a turnaround in the new year has instead been replaced by a further sense of disappointment and exasperation. Mass layoffs at outlets like Sports Illustrated, the Intercept, NowThis and Condé Nast’s Pitchfork have amplified anxieties across an industry teetering on the precipice of what some economists call “market failure.”

Then, just last week, Vice Media, the once spry, gritty digital upstart that synonymously rejected everything about the so-called “legacy media ethos” and helped provide opportunities to many early career journalists has seemingly met its untimely and unceremonious end; its carcass seemingly picked to the bone by private equity.

Another week comes, another batch of journalism jobs goes.

The situation is not much rosier on the Canadian side of the 49th. After all, when America sneezes, Canada catches a cold, the old saying goes.

Many Canadian media outlets are facing an existential crisis. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier David Eby sounded off at the announcement that hundreds of journalists across the country were being furloughed by Bell Media for the sake of increasing a dividend.

CBC/Radio-Canada announced in December it plans to cut 10 per cent of its workforce. Aberdeen Publishing, which owned several community newspapers in B.C. and Alberta, is winding up its operations. Both southern Ontario community news chain Metroland Media and Black Press Media, which owns dozens of community newspapers and websites in B.C. and Western Canada, are currently navigating the choppy waters of creditor protection and restructuring.

When journalism jobs are lost, “news deserts” expand. They become prime land to be colonized by misinformation and disinformation campaigns and crusaders, writes Brent Jolly @Brent_T_Jolly @caj #cdnmedia #cdnpoli #journalism

In Quebec, it was only a couple of months ago that broadcast giant TVA announced it was cutting almost a third of its staff. Combined with the closure of Métro Média and others, the opposition Parti Québécois came forward with a series of policy proposals designed to help cauterize the bleeding. The province’s minister of culture and communication, too, has promised to front-burner a plan to help stave off calamity.

While the theoretical public policy wheels may be turning at Quebec’s National Assembly, the current paralysis on Parliament Hill is palpable.

Although a detente has been reached with Google over the Online News Act, news organizations are still months away from seeing any actual money. Journalists, as the front-line workers in this whole kerfuffle, will, no doubt, be the first to experience the pain of ever-growing financial shortfalls.

The Canadian Journalism Labour Tax Credit, increased in November’s fall economic update, remains sidelined by political grandstanding and chicanery.

Across the country, hundreds of early career journalists participating in the Local Journalism Initiative, a program that hires journalists to cover local courts, police forces, and legislatures, is scheduled for an unromantic sunset at the end of March. As the federal bureaucracy operates at its glacial pace deciding about the future of the program, journalists plying their trade in communities spread across the country are dealing with the anxiety of not knowing if they’ll have a job in a little more than a month's time.

Just like beat poet Allen Ginsberg described witnessing “the best minds of [his] generation destroyed by madness,” too many Canadian journalists are oscillating between the heightened challenges of surviving in an increasingly hostile world while trying to ignore the deep feelings about when the next “cutdown day” will come.

Despite what some conspiracy theorists and other card-carrying members of the Tinfoil Hat Society may have you believe, journalists are not robots or, worse, paid spokespeople of the Prime Minister’s Office. They are real people who have families, feelings and a substantial devotion to the craft of journalism and the vital accountability function it is designed to serve.

When journalism jobs are lost, it affects us all.

As someone who is entrusted with representing the interests of Canadian journalists, I know that the vast majority don’t want the public’s sympathy. What they want is for the public to wake up from their warm cocoons of comfort and give a damn about how democratic norms are being eroded before our very eyes every single day.

When journalism jobs are lost, “news deserts” expand. They become prime land to be colonized by misinformation and disinformation campaigns and crusaders.

When journalism jobs are lost, taxpayer-funded agencies are able to exceed their mandated authority. It’s a carte blanche recipe for impunity.

When journalism jobs are lost, diverse voices and perspectives are silenced. Important public interest stories go untold.

When journalism jobs are lost, electoral participation declines. Fewer candidates compete for office. Incumbents win. Democracy dies in the darkness.

In a time when Canadians are more divided than ever, good quality journalism has a critical role to play — not only to tell Canadians what they need to know but also to answer the critical question about “why” something is happening.

It’s good to see that in December, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage passed a unanimous motion to evaluate the need for a so-called National Forum on The Media to address some of these pervasive issues.

The problem with this approach is that addressing the current media crisis will not be solved by firing off a single silver bullet. We are not a single tax credit program away from rewinding the clock to a long-departed halcyon age.

As 2018 data from Unifor shows, the costs of producing quality journalism are exceptionally high. For example, the cost of reporting a simple news story was $331. For a more complex story, that amount increases to $935. For an in-depth investigation, it cost a staggering $10,710.

A commitment to a free press in Canada is going to require a complete rewriting of our social contract. It’s going to be a painstake exercise where, as a society, we will have to reflect upon how we value truth, accountability and the role journalism must play as a “civic good.”

There’s no time like the present. Some journalists have gotten the ball rolling. But we’d better move with a sense of urgency and purpose because Canada, unlike the United States, doesn’t have a list of benevolent billionaires it can count on to come to the rescue and stave off a democratic deficit or an extinction-level event.

Time is ticking.

Brent Jolly is the national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists. The CAJ is a professional organization with more than 700 members across Canada. Its primary roles are public interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.

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The national news scene needs a partial reset anyways, in part because we're better off without Bell Media altogether. Still not as extreme as Postmedia which I have to regard as the "One America" of Canadian print (and I'm guessing Sun News would've been the equivalent in broadcasting). The closest I come to supporting the more common reporting is a Black Press subscription, which in my case is the best I can do for regional news at this time.

The national scene needs alternate organizations that actually put journalism before profit, and more than ever.