Kai Nagata thought not, and quit. Many young journalists disagree
By JOËLLE POULIOT, The Gazette, July 29
Just under three weeks ago, 24-year-old Kai Nagata dropped a bomb on the Canadian journalism industry: a manifesto bashing mainstream television news, posted online after he quit his job as CTV’s Quebec City bureau chief. (“Why I quit my job” is at kainagata.com.)
In the days following his blog post, as it went viral, Nagata was criticized by many veteran journalists; they called him a hack, naive, radical, immature, narcissistic, insane and verbose. Others publicly admired his eloquence and courage.
What shocked me was that most journalists in their 20s (like Nagata) kept quiet. Perhaps it was due to fear of damaging their career debut.
While Nagata is off to whatever his next venture might be, referring to himself as a “freelance human” on Twitter, many new journalism school graduates are just entering the news jungle and struggling to survive in it.
“In a way, he hurt the credibility of young journalists – because who really wants to hire a 24-year-old now, if they appear so flighty and are prepared to quit on a whim?” one CBC intern told me.
Nagata left a job that a lot of young journalists would kill for. And his public statement (which noted casually that he had “excelled” at the job he was leaving) made us “kids” look cocky and ungrateful.
Nagata deplored the superficiality of television news and its creation of monsters like the Will and Kate Show, as well as the disparity between what people watch and the important things they should be watching. Many young journalists share those criticisms and concerns.
“Information is like food; it’s a basic necessity in life,” Philippe-Vincent Foisy, a radio intern at Radio-Canada who hopes to become an investigative reporter, told me. “We’re always going to need information. But right now, it mirrors what we are as a society. Fatty, salty fast food is often picked over a real meal. We seem to have forgotten how much valuable information is crucial for a society’s health.”
We all witness excellent journalism on a daily basis, whether it’s uncovering municipal corruption or reporting on human-rights abuses in Syria. But it’s disillusioning to see how often those stories get buried under pieces about Kate Middleton’s frocks. Junk-food journalism sells. But again, young journalists know this.
A professor at Concordia University taught us how to analyze an article according to whether it had “a heart.” Students would roll their eyes; it sounded corny. But when I think about why I chose journalism, I realize she was right. Why would I be writing if I didn’t put my heart into it?
Still, it can be discouraging when you put your heart into something and it doesn’t have the effect you’d hoped. As Concordia student and freelance reporter Hugo Pilon-Larose asks: “What’s the point of the fourth estate if people choose junk news over stories we cover with such passion?”
That comment, and others I heard when I talked to colleagues about the Nagata case, indicate that many of us are asking the same things he was. “I’ve questioned my reasons for becoming a journalist, over and over again,” Marie-Claude Frenette, who works at a paper in Terrebonne, told me.
But I also discovered a determination to keep trying to make a difference. “I’d like to tell Nagata that it’s possible to win against those who don’t care about the quality of information,” Pilon-Larose told me. “That’s what drives us to work in the morning.”
It’s pretty exciting for young reporters to play a part in the evolution of journalism, even if we have to expect to be overworked and underpaid. Here’s a shoutout to all my journalism “peeps” who wake at ungodly hours to go to their internships (often unpaid); who open Journalism for Human Rights chapters in their universities; who freelance for publications and stations they believe in (often for free); who make documentaries on their own time; and who work three jobs just to be able to afford to do what they love.
If Nagata doesn’t have the heart to work in media again, I have to admit I appreciate that his last contribution was one of metaphorical self-immolation. But did he really need to trash his colleagues’ work when he lit the match?
Instead of bickering about who killed journalism, let’s face the challenge of bettering it together.