Les Nouveaux Journalistes, le Guide Entre précarité et indépendance
by Pascal Lapointe and Christiane Dupont
Presses de l’Université Laval 2006
ISBN 10 : 2-7637-8431-3
ISBN 13 : 978-2-7637-8431-1
Review by Francis Plourde
I started freelancing during undergrad and was lucky enough to meet an editor-in chief who had begun her career just as I had. She was kind enough to guide me into the industry, but not everyone in her position has that patience. As a result, many young journalists leave the field after a couple of bad experiences, not knowing whether they could have survived as journalists and entrepreneurs.
With those young aspiring journalists in mind, the two authors of Les nouveaux journalistes Le Guide wrote a guidebook for newcomers.
Pascal Lapointe is the editor in chief of l’Agence Science Presse, a science-oriented newswire, and Christiane Dupont freelanced at La Presse and Le Devoir. Both have been involved in l’Association des journalistes indépendents du Québec. Together, they share more than 20 years of experience.
The “New Journalists” as the book describes them, are journalists who won’t be able to find a steady job in a newsroom. Also called freelancers, they are the growing majority of journalists in Quebec – and in Canada.
The book’s title, noting the liberty as well as the instability inherent in freelancing, well defines the profession. Lapointe and Dupont address several issues, including the threat of a booming PR industry that has seen its budget increase in the last 50 years, while newsroom budgets tightened. The budgetary shortfall left news coverage full of holes, and Dupont and Lapointe offer suggestions for the new journalists to fill these gaps. Covering industries or institutions that don’t benefit from PR people and covering areas where no critical, analytical coverage is offered are two examples of journalistic “niches” for “new journalists”. Ninety-nine per cent of subjects and interviewees, they remind, are left behind in daily coverage.
While some of the tips are not new or original for working freelance journalists (the importance of sources, of good writing, where can you find ideas, how to arrange a schedule, a family life, fill paperwork, etc.), the tools are priceless for beginners who still don’t know much about the industry.
The book is not meant to provoke debate about the industry, but the perspective is fresh and leads readers to question some fundamental issues. Are the new journalists essential for the future of journalism? Can they improve the quality of information?
For now, freelance journalists are perceived – at least in Quebec – mostly as wannabe journalists who will scratch and claw their way into the industry, without regard for ethical concerns. How can freelance journalists address conflicts of interest?
For Dupont and Lapointe, the answer is not clear-cut. Nevertheless, they offer some guidelines. Beginners, they say, should not be disheartened by the tough early years. It’s not your talent (or lack) holding you back, it’s just the way it is. For those who are well established within the industry and who want to leave journalism for better paying stints in other fields: don’t worry, they say. Editors-in-chief will always welcome back journalists they know and respect.
Toughing it out, though, can still seem like a one-sided deal when new journalists have no insurance or protection within the industry. The balance of power is in favor of the editors-in-chief, who can force journalists to sign contracts that place reporters at a clear disadvantage. Such reporter abuse was rampant in the nineteen-nineties, when newspapers like The Gazette and Le Journal de Montreal started imposing harsh contracts on their freelancers.
But, the authors council, if the “balance of power” doesn’t change between freelancers and editors-in-chief, the quality of journalism will suffer in the long run - with consequences for the industry and society.
The future can seem dark, but it’s thrilling, they say. You just have to be prepared.