Finding a New Baseline

Radiyah Chowdhury is Atkinson’s Digital Engagement Coordinator for the next four months. You can follow her at @radiyahch.

In my first year of journalism school I was given an assignment to write about a great moment in Canadian journalism. I submitted an essay on how Joseph Atkinson paved the way for socially responsible journalism with the creation of what is known today as the Toronto Star. Of course, there was no way I could have known that about five years later I’d be sitting in the Atkinson Foundation office, reminiscing about that very same paper.

I haven’t opened that file since 2013, as I personally don’t know anyone who willingly relives assignments from first year. But going through it was a strange experience, especially as I reflected on how I began my journalism career learning about the Atkinson Principles and what decent work in my field should look like. With a degree and some work experience under my belt, I know now that the world beyond that classroom differs significantly than what I expected at 18.

When I was choosing what to study in my last year of high school, I asked a well-known journalist for some advice. He told me not to go into journalism – the market was bad and there really wasn’t that much money in it. At the time I was admittedly offended, expecting advice on how I could succeed in this industry. Looking back now, I don’t think he meant it maliciously at all.

He wasn’t wrong.

I graduated school in 2016 when major media companies were slashing jobs at alarming rates. They still are. My closest friends from the program decided to pursue careers in other fields and I don’t blame them. There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to advancing your career, and privilege is certainly a big one.

Some of us can’t afford to work unpaid internships because we have to eat, ultimately disadvantaging us once we graduate. Most have debt or other living expenses and would rather change careers entirely to guarantee salary and benefits instead of living on the edge of precarity. In my few years as a professional, hearing about what journalists sacrifice in their lives to do this work makes me feel enormously sad. Especially when I think about how much they’re worth in proportion to how little they’re valued.

One of the Atkinson Principles is the rights of working people. I believe all people have the right to decent work – including journalists. I believe we have the right to fair compensation and safe work environments that value us and treat us well.

And as journalists suffer, so does the rest of society – journalism is necessary for a healthy democracy. But the industry has a lot of work to do. As a young person still at the early stages of my career, I’m trying to unlearn negative work practices that were ingrained in me informally as “typical.”

Recently, a mentor told me that she needs me to expect more from a job. She said working at Atkinson would be good because they’re all about decent work, and it’ll help me set a new baseline for what’s acceptable. I reckon most people new to the workforce struggle to find their own baseline, but I’m happy to have found myself at a place that advocates for economic and social justice. I look forward to helping Atkinson Foundation while I’m here but more than that, I look forward to them helping me.