“It’s like mourning the death of someone.”

Joanna Frketich can feel her heart breaking as she glances around The Hamilton Spectator one last time. She reflects on the companionship she found within its walls with those who equally care about the craft of storytelling. Long hours were spent at her desk having lively debates and brainstorming ideas with colleagues, while working under tight deadlines and the direction from editors.

“I always think of the newsroom as something that’s alive,” says Frketich. “It’s such a place full of ideas and passion.”

The Spec’s newsroom was officially closed in September 2023 as a cost-cutting move by its parent company Torstar. While its journalists still have jobs, they now all work from home. It is one of the many Canadian newsrooms that has closed over the past several years.

“It’s a very unique environment to work in and it’s not like other offices,” says Frketich. “You really do your best work in a newsroom.”

A newsroom environment brings life and energy to a journalist’s career. With the increase in remote employment, however, the newsroom is a space many young journalists will never inhabit.

When Frketich began her career 25 years ago, the exhilarating newsroom setting was a familiar place. These days, she works in the seclusion of her home office.

“As a young journalist, I can’t describe how important it is to be in newsroom,” says Frketich. “They bring a totally different perspective and energy into things, and they can learn so much from senior reporters.”

Frketich says that “journalism is going through a very difficult time,” with interviews done through video calls, tips from editors through email and images pulled from stock photo banks. These pandemic-inspired ways of doing journalism are practices that new journalists adapted to while finishing their education, as most schools transitioned to a remote style of learning while COVID-19 closed classrooms.

After completing half of his journalism degree online during the pandemic, Jake Webb is now working remotely as a freelancer for SaltWire. He graduated from the University of King’s college this past year, and a long day of screen time is a routine he knows well.

“Transitioning to learning journalism remotely in school has prepared me for the new reality of work,” says Webb.

Journalist Joanna Frketich describes what she and her Hamilton Spectator colleagues lost after their newsroom was closed in September and employees were assigned to work from home permanently.

This new reality began with the rise of the pandemic and has persisted even as COVID-19 fades. As of the beginning of 2023, about 31 per cent of Canadian workers were working remotely, and only six per cent of those people did so before the pandemic started.

Technology has reduced the need for a reporter’s need to chase where the news is happening. Aside from writing stories at home, most of Webb’s meetings and interviews are done over the phone, just like they were when he was in school.

“People prefer to do phone call interviews because it’s easier,” says Webb. “In school, I once had to go to Dartmouth for a story I was working on, and I remember thinking it was the worst.”

Journalists depend on the voices of others to create quality journalism, but modern journalists must also learn to depend on themselves.

“The hard part is that you’re your own boss,” says Webb. “You don’t get a team of people to help you and you don’t get advice from the editor in the same way. It’s way more independent.”

Webb says that he always pictured himself working with a team, and while he is currently a part of one, he feels more distant from them when communicating over phone calls and emails.

“In a newsroom, there’s more hustle and bustle,” says Webb. “Everyone is doing something and there’s always something going on. You get more tips and story suggestions just by being around people, and it’s an active workplace community. However, when you’re alone, you are removed from that.”

Janet Candido is a Toronto-based HR consultant. With 20 years of experience in workplace systems and culture, she has never seen isolation quite like it is now.

“I don’t think the quality of work is as good if you are working remotely and not collaborating with anyone,” says Candido. “People are working on their own and the product isn’t as good as it could be.”

She works closely with her clients to help them deal with the effects of the pandemic and working remotely, as many remote employees are finding themselves lonely and feeling stuck at home.

“The ones that are more successful at working remotely maintain external networks,” says Candido. “They connect with people during the day, whether it’s a virtual coffee break, just to get out of the work and connect with a co-worker.”

Canadians work an average of 1.7 days per week from home, according to the Working from Home Around the Globe: 2023 Report. Candido says that journalists who can find ways to keep themselves socially active will be able to thrive.

“A lot of companies set things up within the organization to try to mitigate the isolation,” says Candido. “Virtual book clubs, virtual gaming rooms, things that get people together.”

Frketich and her co-workers are trying their best to stay connected by arranging a place to work together outside of their homes and planning social outings through a WhatsApp group chat.

“At least once a week I’ll have that chance to see my colleagues, to get talk face to face and do all of those little things you would do in the newsroom,” says Frketich.

While Maryanne McLarty has had plenty of experience with remote journalism, she says she most enjoys journalism for its hands-on aspects. She has recently left her job as a producer and radio technician for CBC to discover the next steps in her journalism career.

“I chose journalism because not every day is the same,” says McLarty. “You can talk to so many people and you can hear so many stories.”

She is interested in freelancing, which comes with the bonus of getting to travel and tell stories at the same time.

“The idea of travelling is really cool because you can freelance from anywhere, and in a way, be your own boss,” says McLarty.

McLarty graduated from the University of King’s College in 2022, and, like Webb, found that the effects of COVID-19 on her schooling impacted her career in a positive way.

“It was a big adjustment for the students as well as the teachers. However, I do think that it prepared us well for what journalism is now,” says McLarty. “We were learning online, we were interviewing people via Zoom, we were editing stuff in our room, and now that’s the reality of journalism. Unless you work in a newsroom which is becoming less common now.”

“In a newsroom, there’s people that can give you feedback right away and tell you what you need to change, but at home it’s very independent,” says McLarty. “I was responsible for my own timeline, my own schedule, and I had been used to professors giving me a deadline already.”

Frketich is adjusting to her new way of producing journalism at home. She says she is fortunate to have an office space in her house, her work occasionally interrupted by her barking dog. But she still longs to be reunited with her colleagues at The Spec in a newsroom once again.

“We really miss the newsroom,” says Frketich, “and we hope that we will be able to have that again, one day.”

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About the author

Chloe Hannan

Chloe Hannan will soon graduate with a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree from the University of King’s College.

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