One year out; post journalism reflections

A year ago I walked out of a newsroom for the last time.

Oh sure, there have been social visits to other newsrooms, even a couple of freelance gigs. But when the new owners of the Burnaby and New Westminster NewsLeaders decided to pull the plug and end the illusion of competition with their established papers they’d maintained for six months, I knew my 31-year run as a newspaper journalist was done.

Before there was the internet and we didn’t have to shoot and edit video nobody watches, write stories, produce podcasts, Tweet and Facebook, we actually had some time to have fun.

It’s been happening everywhere in our industry. As readers and advertisers abandon newspapers that can’t decide whether they want to be newspapers or low-rent TV stations because owners have no idea how to harness the internet, reporters, photographers and editors are being kicked to the curb by closures, layoffs and buyouts. Many of us are senior, experienced leaders in our newsrooms with years of institutional knowledge, deep connections in the communities we cover. Management regards that as a burden on their bottom line. For readers and advertisers it’s a tragedy, as they lose voices they’ve come to trust and appreciate. And so the swirl down the drain accelerates.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer journalist communicator
Blowing off steam between assignments in the studio.

Journalists don’t just wear their journalism jacket when they’re on the clock. You live and breathe it 24/7; when you watch the evening news, surf the web, read the work of other journalists, you do it through the prism of journalism. You have an appreciation and respect for the work it took to tell a story.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer journalist communicator
Remember when journalists smoked in the newsroom, kept a mickey of Scotch squirreled in a desk drawer? This guy, John Wawrow, is one of the best old-school reporters I’ve worked with. He’s still hanging on, covering sports for AP in Buffalo.

As a photographer my head was always on a swivel as I drove around town, keeping an eye out for something new or different that might be newsworthy or could make a good photo.

I still do that.

As recently as five years ago, I could never have imagined myself not being employed as a journalist. But as the dominoes of our industry began falling all around and parties for parting colleagues became more frequent, the possibility became more and more real.

Still, we forged on, the stress of uncertainty roiling our bellies even as we put out good papers with fewer resources and increasing demands on our time to feed the internet beast even if it never reciprocated our attention to its insatiable demands; of the hundreds of crappy videos our newsroom produced for our websites, I don’t recall ever seeing one second of advertising pre-roll.

When the hammer dropped, it fell with a thud of inevitability.

Not that that made it any easier. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism. It’s also extremely exhausting. When our fate was sealed, it was as liberating as it was frightening.

As far as I know, most of my NewsLeader colleagues are working again. Some of us are still finding our legs in new professions, learning new skills. We’re moving forward, instead of hanging on for dear life.

All steamed up

Steinbier is German for stone beer. It’s a traditional method of brewing beer in Bavaria and parts of Scandinavia that uses super-heated granite stones to boil the wort.

The quick caramelization when the rocks are dropped into wort, or the wort poured over the hot rocks, creates a smokey, slightly sweet and malty beer.

German brewmaster Sebastian Sauer, of Freigeist Bierkultur in Cologne, recently visited Steel & Oak Brewing Co. in New Westminster, to share this old-world brewing technique.