Low pay, high demands, racism and isolation go with reporting jobs in smaller and rural markets. The conditions raise questions about how to keep local news alive and attract the journalists needed to report it
By Emma Buchanan, J-Source, Dec. 21
When Neha Chollangi relocated to Osoyoos, B.C., for a reporting job in late January 2021, life at a small town paper was far from quiet. She watched from her bedroom window as wildfires rolled in apocalyptic waves as they made their way to the Okanagan border town. The week of one of the worst fires in the region, Chollangi’s small newsroom — about six people total and three editorial members — was short staffed.
“It was insanely hectic, and that’s because I’d never been in this situation before. Wildfires and stuff are things I saw on the news,” she said, adding that seeing the fires every morning from her bedroom and reporting on them left her feeling like she couldn’t escape.
For Chollangi, the experience of moving 4,000 kilometres away from everyone she knew in Mississauga, Ont., where she grew up, was exciting and taught her a lot, but it was also initially isolating in a way she couldn’t understand before she arrived.
Chollangi lived in a motel for the first month and a half after she moved to Osoyoos. And when she found a place, she didn’t know whether she would be able to keep it.
And as a young racialized journalist in a town with a predominantly older and white population, Chollangi says she also had to learn to deal with microaggressions and grow a “thicker skin.” “(It was) definitely not something that I dealt with on such a regular basis in Toronto or Mississauga,” said Chollangi.
Some community journalists across the country echo Chollangi’s concerns, and describe life in local news as a revolving door where local reporters are systematically burned out, their work under-resourced and where they’re subject to an industry mentality that small towns are a training ground where local reporters often leave shortly after they arrive.