Business

New Journalism Program Unveiled For People Willing To Work For Free, Dislike Job Security

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William Burroughs, Photo: Brian Duffy, 1960

Touting it as a new beginning for people who don’t mind things ending – without severance, vacation days, or any idea where their next paycheque will come from – John Percival, dean of freelance at the Ryerson school of journalism, cut the ribbon on a fresh academic stream. The announcement was made at an austere ceremony with few frills apart from the dozens of barista-journalists manning the pour-over coffee station in a corner of the conference room.

Provisionally called the ‘Bachelor Of Blogging & Freelancing While You Work Another Job,’ the 18-year program is scheduled to launch over a long weekend sometime in 2016 while the kids are napping, and has already been inundated with applications.

“I think it’s a honest approach.” Says Odessa Perrin, one of the estimated 1800 applicants for the 3 placements the program will commence with. “We all know you don’t get into journalism to make lots of money, or own a car, or ride the bus. You do it because you like staying up late worrying that you won’t get a job in your chosen profession, or if you have one, that you’ll lose that job and have to admit that everyone you know was right.”

With its flexible hours and ‘Compensation Unlikely’ approach the new program has many saying it is just what the industry wants as it turns increasingly to skeleton-crewed newsrooms. More clearinghouses than traditional media establishments (with things like professional development and permanent positions), most of those left with jobs in the new model are there to filter user content and field submissions from freelance writer’s charging as little as $0.exposure/word.

“We want to develop writer’s who can pen well-researched, thought provoking, in-depth, balanced, insightful pieces capable of grabbing readers’ attention in an extremely crowded marketplace and winning multiple awards.” Explains Dean Percival. “We just don’t want them to expect to get paid. Or make this a career. Realistically they’ll need to find another one of those.”

That’s where the program steps in, offering internships at businesses as diverse as Uber, The Toronto Star (delivery department) and seasonal pop-up shops, to name a few.

“There are also great opportunities in landscaping and roofing.” Percival adds, noting that as those jobs often start and finish early there is a good 28 minutes left to write every day while hitch-hiking to the evening classes the program offers. “Apart from having to look up as cars approach this is a really valuable time to put pen to paper, or thumb to outdated smartphone as the case may be.”

The new program already has the support of a number of large names in Canadian journalism; among them Helene Dior, head of the Trying To Make Money department for The Globe and Mail. “I would call my support grudging but firm.” She says while rolling spare change from the lobby soda machine. “It’s less than ideal that this is where we’ve gone as a business, but until we can somehow re-convince readers to pay for their news, advertisers that we are more effective than Google, or shareholders to not want a profit, this is the direction the business will continue to head in.”

At the close of the new program’s muted unveiling, Dean Percival provided a few key talking points to the gathering of unaffiliated reporters and potential students interested in becoming unaffiliated.

The program – while being part-time – will cost close to full tuition; an attempt at preparing students for extremely precarious finances. Those who are accepted will also be responsible for maintaining a suite of expensive software, doing their own editing, and completing their own photography and info-graphics. And as a general rule assignments will be due 15 minutes after they are given.

Having answered most of the immediate questions Percival finished by opening up the floor, asking if anyone had 300-500 words to say for free.15365521_s

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