Because it really does matter.
As she waits to learn whether her beloved daily newspaper career has come to a sad, sudden and unwelcome end, Canadian crime reporter Jana Pruden writes an extraordinary stream of live tweets on the value of journalism.
January 19, 2016, was arguably one of the worst days in the 112-year history of the Edmonton Journal. The Journal is one of two daily newspapers in Edmonton, the second largest city in the Canadian province of Alberta and the northernmost city in North America with a population of more than 1 million.
On that day, Postmedia Network Inc., the largest owner of newspapers in Canada, laid off 90 journalists with no warning. The news rocked Canadian newspaper journalism, as Postmedia consolidated newsrooms in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver.
Jana Pruden, a senior reporter who covered crime for the Edmonton Journal, launched a series of tweets about the layoffs that became instant classics, liked and retweeted hundreds of times. Taken as a whole, they constitute an elegy to an institution, a history lesson, an eloquent self-reflection and an essay on the importance of journalism in a democratic society.
Pruden gave me permission to reproduce an edited version of her tweets from that day and the days following. To see all of her tweets, go to her Twitter profile.
On the day of the layoffs, the first staffers to lose their jobs at the Edmonton Journal were editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand and managing editor Stephanie Coombs. The Edmonton Sun’s managing editor, Donna Harker, also lost her job.
As the day wore on, the hardest hit Postmedia newsrooms turned out to be in Alberta: the Journal and the Sun in Edmonton, which lost a combined 34 journalists, and the Herald and the Sun in Calgary, which lost a combined 25 journalists.
Pruden had the day off, which gave her time to ponder her future at the Journal …
… and recall the reasons she had embraced journalism as her calling.
Pruden, who writes true-crime stories and investigative features, according to her website, had not set out to become a journalist. Far from it.
So Pruden got into newspapers the old-fashioned way.
Pruden thrived as a journalist, even if the industry did not.
The layoffs did not challenge her core beliefs about the need for strong journalism to keep powerful institutions in check.
A bit of background about Postmedia Network and the layoffs:
Even with 200 revenue-generating print, online and mobile properties across Canada, Postmedia’s balance sheet is shaky at best. As of November 30, its debt totalled a staggering $670 million, with $25 million of it due by next November.
Postmedia piled on its initial debt in 2010, when it bought bankrupt Canwest’s publishing arm. Postmedia ran up additional debt in 2015, when it bought Quebecor Media’s English-language Sun Media holdings — ironically, to help generate cash to make interest payments on the initial debt.
To be fair, Sun Media has helped Postmedia’s bottom line. Without Sun Media, Postmedia’s print advertising revenue — its largest revenue source — would be in double-digit free-fall right now, according to the company’s financial reports.
On top of the weak revenue trend, about half of Postmedia’s debt comes due in summer 2017 and the rest in summer 2018. That puts pressure on the company to refinance the debt and cut costs.
Unfortunately, a newspaper can’t cut costs by cancelling newsroom magazine subscriptions. It has to lay off people — good people.
By noon, Pruden still didn’t know her fate, although she mused about a missed phone call.
Every newspaper has its cadre of haters, but an event like a newsroom mass layoff seems to inflame them to even greater depths.
Throughout the ordeal, the crime reporter, true to form, did not lose her sense of humour.
Pruden paid homage to the reporters who spent their careers pursuing stories in the public interest.
Pruden begins to deliver a remarkable lesson in newspaper history in 140-character bursts. It’s also a love song to newspapers.
Pruden began to pay homage to laid-off Edmonton Journal journalists as their names trickled out.
Pruden lamented the loss of not only experienced old-school journalists, but also the innovators, the experimenters, the people leading the charge into the next generation of news.
The news about Pruden’s job arrived in the early afternoon. She survived the cuts — a Pyrrhic victory.
The morning after the layoffs …
Two days after the layoffs …
Pruden dropped a bombshell about her future.
And so Pruden’s daily newspaper career came to an end — on her terms.
The Guelph Mercury ceased print publication on January 29.
The Nanaimo Daily News shut down all operations on January 29.
Rogers Media announced it is cutting 200 jobs.
The Toronto Star is closing its press plant and laying off more than 300, including 13 in the newsroom.
Jana Pruden still calls herself a crime reporter on her Twitter profile.
She continues to write about crime.
And she still can’t resist the lure of a good story.