A LITTLE more than a year ago, when we launched The Magpie, there were scattered news reports of a strange, new, flu-like illness that was sweeping through a city in China.
Within six weeks, and just two editions into the new project, we were locked down, and learning on the run how to work together without being together.
Now, 15 editions in and halfway through Volume II, working remotely has become our old normal, and the past year has been the rude dinner guest of teachable moments: an oppressive bore that just doesn’t know when to go home.
However, the circumstances have delivered a jolt of realism to a planet run by people who often forget there’s a real world out there.
On this planet, we try our best to be fair, and accommodating, and aware of the often ridiculous pressures with which our students must deal, just to get an education that guarantees them nothing much beyond debt.
In that other, real world, stuff happens, and you have to get on with it and get the job done.
I have seen presses die, computer systems crash, phones and electricity go dark, and entire staffs decamp to work their shifts in a corner of someone else’s newsroom.
Twice, I was part of a Newspaper Guild that went on strike right at the beginning of the busiest shift of the week. (When journalists fight, we fight dirty.)
When I arrived at the Toronto Star, in the early 1980s, the editor-in-chief, Marty Goodman, a workaholic madman, was dying of cancer and running the paper from his deathbed – and he still terrified every reporter, editor and photographer in the newsroom.
Somehow, though, the news always got out (or up) when it was supposed to, and how it was supposed to.
They don’t call it the Daily Miracle for nothing.
At The Magpie last year, we had almost two months to get to know one another and establish practices and procedures, before we had to retreat inside and talk via text messages and online meetings.
This year, we didn’t even have that luxury, but this class came together as a team almost instantly. And the students got better at what they do with every issue – better writers, editors and photographers, and managers and team members.
They are: Cole Buhler, Brittany Burridge, Nikita Case, Brendan Collinge, Brooklyn Cooper, Haley Grinder, Preston Hodgkinson, Benjamin Hollihan, Chris Ranta, Austin Schuster, Andy Trussler and Peter Williams.
It’s true, what they say about writing being a lonely business. However, publishing is a team sport, and these guys came together to form as tight a unit as I’ve seen.
So, as much as our students may have hated working and studying online, I’m pretty sure they’re going to look back on the past 13 months with pride – as an experience that proved they were adaptable enough to thrive in a weird business with ugly working conditions, mean pressures and insane managers.
Journalism is a miserable craft, uncertain, unpredictable, difficult, and punishing to mind and body.
Yet, as we used to say at The Star, it sure beats working for a living.