Why Saskatchewan is a good place to be a journalist
“Book your ticket out west,” says CBC Saskatchewan television and radio reporter Devin Heroux. “Come to the Prairies!”
Heroux isn’t promoting the Saskatchewan Roughriders or the province’s summer events like Craven Country Jamboree — he’s talking to all the journalists out there.
The job possibilities for journalists aren’t as bad as they’ve been made out to be — at least not in Saskatchewan. The economy is booming, advertising dollars are flowing and new outlets are popping up like spring flowers.
Heroux was one of the 75 per cent of last year’s graduating class at the University of Regina’s journalism program who had already secured a job before graduation. In fact, Heroux had two offers: one from the new Metro Saskatoon as a full-time staff writer and the other from CBC as a radio and television reporter.
He chose CBC as he had done work there previously, though the broadcaster had wanted him to get journalism credentials in addition to his Bachelor of Arts before giving him a full-time job.
“CBC was waiting for me with open arms; they approached me even before I graduated and said ‘when you’re done, we want you,’” says Heroux. “It was very nice because I didn’t panic at all about jobs.”
He’s not alone, either.
When Calvin To was choosing a place to do his summer internship for Ryerson University’s Master’s of Journalism Program in Toronto, he chose to go to Saskatchewan and intern at CTV Saskatoon as a reporter after speaking to professors and journalists in the field.
“It was probably the best thing I could have ever done for my career at that stage,” he says. “The people at the station taught me how to report and they gave me the opportunity to report and that’s why it was a fantastic experience.”
He finished his last year of the program back in Toronto and after months of job searching he landed a reporter position with Global Regina in July.
“I think it’s a great place for new grads looking to get started,” says To. “You can become a reporter here quicker simply because it’s a smaller centre and you can get valuable experience.”
Patricia Elliot, assistant professor at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism, says that she’s sure most of the recent grads have all settled into jobs by now, although she hasn’t kept in touch with all of the students.
“Basically if you walk out with a degree in hand in Saskatchewan you’ve got a good shot [at getting a journalism job],” she says. “We have students turning down jobs.”
The facts and numbers
The University of Regina’s School of Journalism is the province’s only journalism school. In 2010, the School of Journalism surveyed graduates in the current economy. The study surveyed 128 graduates from the school’s journalism program between 2004 and 2010 and asked what they did in their first year after graduation. The relatively small sample size returned encouraging results: an overwhelming 90 per cent said they were in salaried employment in the field of journalism and 24 per cent did freelance either alone or on the side from their salaried jobs. None reported being unemployed, though 13 per cent reported that their job was outside of the field of journalism. However, only 45 grads responded to the survey, or about 35 per cent.
The school also surveyed the employers and Elliot says she was surprised when most Saskatchewan media outlets said they were planning on adding positions in the next five years. In some instances, they said their hiring would stay the same and hardly any said they would be cutting jobs.
“The future looks pretty good for journalists out here in the west, and particularly in Saskatchewan,” says Elliot.
Internship experience that is paid
Jobs may be a plenty but it is a requirement of U of R students to do a 13-week internship first — and surprisingly, these internships are always paid.
Mark Taylor, an instructor and internship coordinator at the school said when the school opened 32 years ago, there was a “vision” that the internship program would allow students to gain paid experience.
“I think the reason is that the students aren’t giving themselves away for free,” says Taylor. “Journalism is not a high paying business to begin with, so I think the idea for them to get paid from day one is so they are more of a member of the newsroom than just an intern.”
Heroux, who interned at Saskatoon’s daily newspaper The StarPhoenix as well as the Bangkok Post in Thailand, contributes much of his success today to his internships.
“It is a 100 per cent requirement of the employer that we get paid because you get what you pay for,” says Heroux. “To be frank, something like six weeks is not enough to establish yourself and an unpaid internship is not enough to establish yourself.”
The head of U of R’s program, Mitch Diamantopoulos, wrote in departmental magazine The Crow that the school has established the “strongest internship program in the country” and the beneficial internship is the “envy” of the country’s journalism schools.
Elliot agrees and says that the combination of a placement longer than many schools, the payment students receive and the contacts they make is doubly beneficial: First in creating a strong portfolio and second in getting hired.
“These internships are like staff positions, they get a lot of experience out of them,” says Elliot. “Nobody is going to pay an intern and not have them do real journalism work.”
Heroux agrees, stressing the importance of compensating students. “The paid internship is key to why people in Saskatchewan are getting jobs.”
The economic boom
Saskatchewan’s economy was less affected by the economic downturn than other provinces in the country, and — as this StarPhoenix article from March puts it — Saskatoon’s economy is ‘red hot’. The article says that according to the Conference Board of Canada’s spring metropolitan outlook, Saskatoon’s GDP growth is forecast to be leading the country at 3.6 per cent in 2012 and Regina is in fourth after Calgary and Edmonton. The Conference Board credits Saskatchewan’s resource and mining sectors along with major projects including infrastructure and cultural developments as reasons for the rosy economic outlook. The attractive economy coupled with population growth in the province has made advertisers see Saskatchewan as a good place to advertise, says Elliot.
There are a number of reasons why journalism jobs are more abundant in Saskatchewan, one being that half of Saskatchewan’s population lives in small communities, many with local newspapers that need journalists.
The resource boom is another reason, and as Eric Howe, an economics professor at the University of Saskatchewan explains, the province has a resource boom about every 25 years.
“When these things happen it is only human nature that residents think that people elsewhere have finally figured out what a good thing we have going for us here,” he says. “And hence are moving here.”
Howe also says that there are more job openings in general in the province because it doesn’t have “mountains or oceans and has winters which go down to -40 degrees,” so many potential job applications prefer to live elsewhere.
Dale Brin, the publisher of Saskatoon’s year-old community weekly, the Saskatoon Express, can attest to that and says that the advertising dollars are “flowing freer” in Saskatchewan than in surrounding provinces.
More money, more media outlets
All of this is prompting a number of new outlets in the province.
The Metro chain of newspapers opened outfits in Saskatoon and Regina in April, and independent start-ups have found a home in Saskatchewan as well, such as the Express, which launched last year and Verb magazine, which launched in 2008.
Even CBC is looking to expand its local coverage in Saskatchewan, though it was forced to delay plans it has to launch local radio service in Saskatoon after the dramatic cuts to its budget in April. CBC Saskatoon is now slated to launch next summer.
Whether or not these new publications survive and thrive remains to be seen, says Elliot, but for now, the growth is positive.
“There’s more competition in the media right now than I’ve seen in quite a while and hopefully that’s going to be generating more jobs,” says Elliot. “So, I think Saskatchewan is a great place for any young journalist to start their career.”