Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fun With Figures

Despite obvious jumps in prices for things people use and need, the feds say inflation is down. John Button, a savvy financial commentator on Ottawa's CFRA radio station said last night that government figures are becoming laughable. The books are cooked to keep interest rates down to save the mortgage business and reduce government debt payments. In fact, the real inflation rate is 6%, and probably higher. And since very few of us got a 6% increase last year, most North Americans are feeling the pinch.
In the media, the loss of buying power has been pretty relentless. The starting rate at entry level jobs is about 1.25 times the minimum wage. When I first started out, in the early 1980s, even Thomson paid 1.5 to 2 times the minimum. That would put the starting rate for reporters on weekly and small daily papers in the $650-$700 range, instead of the $450-$500 it is now. Newspaper freelance rates tanked when the Aspers bought the National Post. (One good thing I can say for Conrad Black: his papers appreciated the work of entrepreneurial independent journalists. Now those papers treat them like serfs.) I'm about to dump a freelance client because their rate has gone up only once in the past 14 years. And magazine rates at large publications in Canada seem perpetually stuck at $1 a word, which was good money in the 1980s but stinks now. To do a 3500 word piece for a quality magazine requires a month of complete attention: getting enough information to pitch the article, meeting with editors, gathering material, writing it, going through the inevitable re-write and revision process, dealing with fact-checkers, and often consulting on the art that will be used. If you could do that every month of the year, you'd still make a substandard living. Add to that the uncertainties of the trade, things like articles being overtaken by events or dropped for lack of space, or articles that don't run because editors have lost interest in them, or just don't like the finished work. Then you end up having done all of the work for a $1000 kill fee. Because good magazines seem to be dying at a rate in Canada of about one loss every two years, there are literally dozens of award-winning writers who are settling for newspaper work and contract writing or who are willing to write for far less, in real terms, than they made twenty years ago.
Now, I know blog readers will say something about the Internet, but the simple fact is that honest Internet journalism doesn't make any money. Those who do write for web-based news publications are paid peanuts. News aggragators, unless they are on the take, do their work for nothing in the hopes, I suppose, that they'll eventually find a money-making avenue. I blog because I work alone quite a bit. It's a way for me to communicate, and to express myself politically, which restrain myself from doing in my academic work and journalism.


Anonymous said...

Electronic/computer items and a lot of other consumer goods, which are made in China, are cheaper than a few years ago.
But housing, food, energy and lot of other services have soared during the past few years.
CPI is simply laughable when it comes to showing the real cost of living.
When we have another recession, I think its going to be pretty grim for a lot of Canadians.
All the consumer debt and those in hock to the Pay Day loan bunch show a lot of problems out there.

Ottawa Watch said...

The next recession will be here by the end of the year. Count on it. The collapse of US house prices will start a new recession that will combine huge job losses, credit collapse, and inflation of prices for basics like fuel and food. The US will try to push the Chinese to revalue their currency, but I think that's too late.