By Rica Talay
The day the ‘suits’ walked into the 24 hrs newsroom in Vancouver, Michael Mui knew he was getting laid off.
“I remember watching the suits 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 Sept. 2016, Mui was one of the last reporters working for the commuter paper when Postmedia decided to close the Vancouver office, as the early stages of phasing out the paper entirely.
It’s not an unfamiliar occurrence across the realm of journalism, as increasing numbers of small community papers, niche publications and daily papers 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. Mui says, no matter how much he loves journalism going back would be “the dumbest mistake he is never going to make.” He says he would only consider going back if there was job security, but for now is doing marketing because of the many opportunities it can offer.
“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.”
About a month after the LJR initially interviewed Mui, he was hired on to Metro, now known as Star Metro Vancouver, as part of the Star Media Group’s expansion aimed to produce more original local and investigative content. Even though he took on the position, Mui is still bleak about the future of journalism and says if it wasn’t for Metro editor-in-chief Erica Bulman, he wouldn’t have taken on the position. Mui formerly worked with Bulman when she was the editor-in-chief for 24 hrs.
“If it wasn’t for Erica asking me, if I was switching my current job at the law firm it would be to go to another place to do marketing or PR,” Mui explains. “I was going to leave anyways, but because Erica had asked I rather go leave and try it out.”
Mui claims his decision to go back to journalism is “short-term”, but stands to be proven otherwise
“I know I can go into PR anytime I want… so if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”
Former editor of the Whistler Question, Alyssa Noel, 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 Jan. 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 closing because, financially, it didn’t make sense for Glacier to have two community papers in a town of 11,854 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 Pique Newsmagazine, the alternative Whistler paper. Since 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, she says “It was brutal.”
Although, Noel understands Glacier’s decision for closing the Question and is excited about her new position as the arts and entertainment editor at Pique, which was her previous position before she become the editor of the Question, she still got emotional on their last production day, where her co-workers and a few past contributors gave a toast to the Question.
“Every Monday… I put the last page in for production, to look at and tweak and send to press,” Noel says. “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 newsroom to her, I just burst into tears.”
Tessa Vikander also considers herself one of the lucky ones after being laid off at her part-time staff position at the Westender in Dec. 2017. After Glacier closed the community newspaper, within two weeks she took on a position at Metro. The job came about thanks to a call from her former Langara College instructor Frances Bula, who knew there was a job opening at Metro and knew Vikander was out of a job.
At the time, Vikander had been offered a position at Vancouver is Awesome, also owned by Glacier, so she was hesitant to accept the position. But on Christmas Eve, 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 thrusted 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.”