Business and Journalism, what I didn’t know starting out

Sometimes I wish business school had been my first choice for university.

Well, not that I’m willing to spend another arm and a leg going to school, but there are some business fundamentals we all need when we’re out there in the world running around as journalists.

There’s a whole world out there of money, excel spread sheets, and deals waiting out there for you, so here’s a short list of things you should know.

Labour costs money

This seems like an obvious observation, but as a student coming from years of working for free it’s not as immediate of a realization as you might think.

Think about it, what did you do for the last two years of school? You spent those years doing internships and giving away your labour for free at the cost of experience. When you get into the working world you unconsciously expect that somewhere, someone will be able to do everything you need for free.

For example, imagine you need someone to redesign your newspaper layout? Don’t count on friends to help you. It’s not that they don’t like you anymore, but skilled labour requires compensation. How this compensation works is through hourly fees, and when you calculate in HST, GST, PST, and FML you’re looking at a lot of money spent, but for a good cause.

There are a lot of people out there who are willing to volunteer their expertise and advice; their abilities and writing to your organization, but for labour intensive jobs you need to provide compensation.


  • Never try to find free work for labour intensive jobs, you’ll pay later
  • Always try to figure out costs ahead of time and try to find estimates for work
  • Compare and contrast everything in terms of cost, and think to yourself “Is this worth it?”

Doing everything yourself sucks

As a young managing editor, I have a broad knowledge of journalism fundamentals that are of no use to someone who works on the business side of things. Sure, I know how to interview people and build relationships, but put a Excel spreadsheet in front of me and things start to fall apart.

Know how to file a T4 with the government? Know who you would even call to do that? Did I do anything right? While it’s possible to do this on your own, the work you do might be riddled with mistakes that could have some economic ramifications and maybe result in a broken limb or two.

Working on your own will burn you out pretty quick too. People can learn how to do taxes pretty easily, sure, but having someone who knows accounting, who knows how to deal with companies, and who knows how to calculate things to the cent is more valuable than vibranium.

Having someone who can share the burden of business can also be educational. At the newspaper I work for, we have an excellent business manager who should be paid more for all of the questions and answers I get from her every single day. Find people to collaborate with in all aspects of your work from writing to business.


  • Team work is vital in succeeding as a small business
  • Finding someone who knows accounting and business fundamentals is extremely helpful
  • Try to learn as much as you can about the business world through educating yourself

Understand Copyright Laws

When you’re blogging away or doing work for your personal website, images found on the Internet are a tempting temptation to help illustrate your articles. It’s easy enough to find them, but when you’re working with a small newspaper or large newspaper they can become a headache quick.

As someone who works for a newspaper you are no longer an individual… well, I don’t mean you’re some kind of Borg-like robot, but the work you do represents something much larger. There’s a kind of monetary strength behind your actions and if you violate copyright law people will attempt to take the money that is “rightfully” due to them.

For instance, say you find a stock photo that looks like it’s free to use. There are no watermarks on it and a few other websites have used the photo. “Why not?” you think as you upload it to WordPress. In all likelihood, someone took that photo online from a stock photo site and through a game of broken Internet ethernet cables it’s portrayed as being free. They will try to send you invoices, they will email you, they will threaten you, and they will try to sue until you cough up the dough. Luckily most of the time it’s just a cash grab, so you can tell them to hit the road and they’ll stop bothering you, but it can be tough.

Knowing copyright laws is as simple as referring to your Canadian Press Stylebook or that Ethics Textbook you never used in school… or sold a while back. And this applies to everything since as you grow older you start to realize that truly nothing in this world is free.


  • Take your own photos and generate your own media
  • Use a program like TinEye to trace back photos to their source and be careful of using unsolicited images
  • Spend some time reading up on ethics and copyright laws in Canda, I suggest this link

Work Journal

This is a short section since it’s pretty straightforward. Keep a journal of your hours and activities. I’ve found that marking down important dates, times, and events has been extremely helpful in looking back on past dealings with clients/people/readers/everyone.


  • Don’t make it comprehensive
  • Make entries something you can fill out in about five minutes
  • Record dates, times, locations, and whatever else is necessary to keeping a good record of where you have been and what you have been doing


These are three small things I’ve picked up over the time I have spent working at Nikkei Voice. With some help along the way you can become a pretty independent business person, but always watch out for people trying to take advantage of your operation.

Always think to yourself, “What do they want” before you sign that deal, do that interview, or publish that article. It’s always helpful to mull things over with a hot cup of black coffee too.

Want to know anything else? Comment at the bottom and I’ll get back to you.

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