Alberta J Job reality check …not cheque

On the Canadian Association of Journalists discussion forum a young journalist from the UK inquired about getting a journalism job in Alberta. I couldn’t help but give her a little reality check and counter some of the less than honest responses she received. This applies to moving, living and working in Alberta in general in the current overheated economy.

Dear Rebecca,

Top of the pay scale for reporters at the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune was under $40k…and you’ll have to fight to get that. Typically, you’ll be offered under $30k.

…and they did not have full benefits. You have to pay for your Alberta health card and half the benefits package. approx $100+ per month out of your pay cheque. Sadly ironic that the richest place in Canada can not find it in themselves to offer free health care. It’s an attitude that you will see reflected in other social issues.

In this northern Alberta boom town, according to CMHC, in the first half of 2007, the overall average salary is $95k and the average house price is $309k. This is about the same for Edmonton but Calgary is higher and Fort MacMurray is insane with a 1000sq-ft house costing $600k and the average salary required being $150k to live there….which is what the truck drivers at the tar sands projects make.

There are a couple of newspaper chains. This was a Bowes Publishing paper but now owned by Sun Media as are many of the small Alberta papers you see job openings for (ask yourself why?) and probably the best of the small papers in Alberta yet 5 people left there this summer who had been there less than 6 months. One left after 2 months. Very few stay longer than a year. There are a few compounding factors but generally, no one can afford to move/live there so everything else is moot. If you moved/lived there 5-10 years ago when houses were cheap (half the price) then you are doing OK.

A lot depends on what standard of living you are willing to accept. If have a family of four you owe it to them to not make them live in poverty and squalor in a dirty basement apartment or gravel pit trailer park. If you’re single and still enjoy living the “college life” and roommates…go for it.

My experience traveling and working in Alberta last year was that unless you are independently wealthy and journalism is just a hobby or unless you can get a job in the oil biz or construction trades you simply can’t afford to live there.

Here is some career advice for all you budding journalists out there. When you are finished J-school, go get your welding, pipe-fitting or instrument tech certificates for when you get sick of living in poverty or have to get a part time job to actually feed your family. In fact, you’ll make more working part time in a skilled trade than full time in journalism.

Indeed, the key to making a living at journalism in Canada in general is to find a location where the pay and benefits match the cost of living. IE: in small town Nova Scotia you may only make $25k but you can also buy a house for $50k.

Generally, in Canada, only the major news organizations (CBC, CTV, a couple of big newspapers) or some places with union shops actually offer reasonably compensated and rewarding career these days.

If you check out the Jeff Gaulin Canadian journalism jobs website you will notice after awhile many jobs posted for Alberta papers. …and they will be posted again in 3 months …and again in another three months. Think about that and wonder why. There are reasons why an employer keeps posting the same jobs 2,3,4 time a year.  …and this doesn’t just apply to Alberta. There are crappy employers everywhere.

Indeed, not all employers are created equal. In Alberta, with the exception of 1 or 2 independents, only the major papers (Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Medicine hat) even come close to offering reasonable wage and benefits in relation to the cost of living. …and as mentioned in earlier, one just laid off a dozen…but one just posted 4-5 positions in recent months. As they say, “your mileage may vary.”

…otherwise, save some money, treat it as a vacation, stash away your open return ticket and leave when the bank machine won’t give you any more cash.

You’ll enjoy Alberta much better.

…and here is a link to some journalism job websites.