How B.C. journalists moved on from being laid off their jobs
By RICA TALAY
The day the “suits” walked into the 24 Hours newsroom in Vancouver, Michael Mui knew he was getting laid off.
“I remember watching them walk through the door,” Mui recalls. “I knew right away it was the day, because when’s the last time you have three people walk into a newsroom like they own the place?”
In September 2016, Mui was one of the last reporters working for the commuter paper when Postmedia decided to close the Vancouver office—one of the first steps in shutting down the national paper entirely.
The experience is not unfamiliar to those working in journalism, as increasing numbers of small community papers, niche publications and big-city dailies have closed in recent years. But for journalists who have worked years to get a staff position, it’s a devastating loss—leaving them emotional and weary about the future of journalism.
After taking his severance pay, Mui went back to school, at BCIT, to study public relations and worked in marketing at a law firm in Richmond.
When he initially spoke to LJR, Mui had no intention of returning to journalism—saying it would be “the dumbest mistake he is never going to make.”
“My heart wants to, but my logic, my financial brain, my brain that tries to assess what I’m going to do for the rest of my life is saying no, no and no,” he said at the time. About a month later, Mui landed a job at the rapidly expanding Star Metro Vancouver newspaper.
While Mui says he’s happy to be back working with familiar colleagues (including Star Metro Bureau Chief Erica Bulman, who was his editor at 24 Hours), Mui also realizes where the future is heading.
“I know I can go into PR anytime I want… So if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”
Alyssa Noel, former editor of the Whistler Question, says she was “lucky” in terms of how she lost her job. She was kept in the loop about the closure by management and had two months’ notice before the community paper closed in January 2018.
“It feels terrible to be the last editor of the newspaper,” Noel says. “You go back and think, ‘Oh God, could I have done more?’ Could I have written differently? Should I have more foresight or tried different things? It doesn’t feel good.”
According to Noel, the Question was closed because, financially, it didn’t make sense for Glacier Media to have two community papers in a town of only 12,000 people.
“To have two papers in a community our size is pretty much unheard of these days.”
Ultimately, everyone in the Question newsroom got a position at the Pique, the alternative Whistler paper. Since the Pique is also owned by Glacier, they shared the same advertising employees, so no one lost their job. But Noel had to make 16 calls, to each of their columnists, sharing the unpleasant news they were losing their gigs. “It was brutal.”
While Noel understands Glacier’s decision to close the Question and is excited about her new position as arts and entertainment editor at the Pique, she says she still got emotional on the last production day for the Question, when co-workers and a few past contributors gave a toast to the paper.
“Every Monday… I put the last page in for production, to look at and tweak and send to press,” Noel recalls. “Our designer’s name is Lou, and I always shout to her ‘OK Lou, it’s done.’ And when I yelled for the last time across the [Question] newsroom to her, I just burst into tears.”
Tessa Vikander is another journalist who considers herself “one of the lucky ones” after being laid off at her part-time staff position at the Westender in December 2017. Two weeks after Glacier closed the community newspaper, Vikander too took a reporting position at Star Metro. The job came about thanks to a call from her former instructor at Langara College, Frances Bula, who knew there was a job opening at Star Metro—and knew Vikander was looking for work.
At the time, Vikander had been offered a position at Vancouver is Awesome, also owned by Glacier, so she was hesitant to accept the new position. But on Christmas Eve 2017, she signed the contract for Metro.
It also helped her tweet about the Westender closing was featured in a CBC article about the paper closing.
“I was kind of thrust into the spotlight,” Vikander says. “Everyone knew Tessa Vikander was going to be changing jobs.”
Throughout this experience, Vikander says she’s learned that there are always opportunities, no matter what challenges the industry faces.
“You know, it’s a difficult career,” Vikander says. “My commitment to journalism is I’ll continue to do journalism as long as it’s giving back to me.”