Vancouver Sun and Province layoffs speak to the need for a guaranteed annual income

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      More job losses at local newspapers: it's a story that seems to keep repeating itself across the country.

      Earlier this week, it occurred in Surrey with Black Press's decision to combine the Surrey Now and Surrey–North Delta Leader into one newspaper.

      Today, Pacific Newspaper Group handed out pink slips to 54 staff at the Vancouver Sun and Province, including 29 newsroom employees.

      The parent company, Postmedia Network Inc., posted a $17.8-million profit in the last quarter, but that wasn't enough to stave off the guillotine for many hard-working employees.

      In the coming months and years, there will undoubtedly be more consolidation of community papers and daily papers.

      If the Sun and Province newsrooms could be combined and downsized, what's to stop this from happening in other Canadian cities where Postmedia owns Sun or 24 hours tabloids and daily broadsheets? Not much, apparently.

      Amid the understandable mourning and anger, there are two deeper issues at play.

      The first is the federal government's reluctance to interfere with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's eagerness to increase digital-advertising revenue.

      While CBC president Hubert Lacroix likes to point out that it's just 10 percent of its $253 million in annual ad business, it's undoubtedly going to grow.

      CBC recently made a big deal out of asking for $400 million per year from the treasury to wean itself off advertising. But in the current fiscal environment, it's unlikely that the Trudeau government will go along with that.

      So as the private media outlets downsize, CBC becomes an even more important source of information. And it will try to grab a bigger slice of the digital-ad pie, though it's already facing formidable competition from U.S.-based tech giants.

      The second issue is far scarier for journalists at newspapers and television and radio stations.

      And that is the increasing automation of journalism, which could cost many more reporting and editing jobs in the future.

      Machines have great potential to replace people

      Last year, the major wireservice Associated Press said it would use an automated writing service to cover minor league baseball. Associated Press has also automated countless stories about corporate earnings.

      "Once developed, not only can algorithms create thousands of news stories for a particular topic, they also do it more quickly, cheaply, and potentially with fewer errors than any human journalist," the Tow Center for Digital Journalism states on its website. "Unsurprisingly, then, this development has fueled journalists’ fears that automated content production will eventually eliminate newsroom jobs, while at the same time scholars and practitioners see the technology’s potential to improve news quality."

      In a word of warning, the Tow Center advises journalists "to develop skills that algorithms cannot perform, such as in-depth analysis, interviewing, and investigative reporting".

      But what if media companies like Postmedia can attract enough eyeballs to its websites through algorithms to generate a profit through the sale of digital advertising? What if the biggest publishers in the world decide that investigative reporting is too damn expensive and doesn't generate the same rate of return as automated earnings reports?

      We've already entered a world where computers are placing ads on other computers. That's having a huge impact on advertising salespeople, including those who work at agencies.

      So why not go all the way and have the articles computerized, too? Don't think this thought hasn't crossed the mind of people inside the executive offices of major media companies.

      If autonomous vehicles might eliminate millions of driving jobs in the coming years, what's to stop forms of artificial intelligence from delivering a body blow to journalism?

      And if that happens, what's the point of having so many Canadian journalism schools focused so heavily on training young people to work in this field?

      The tweets below capture the heartache of some of those who lost their dream jobs today.

      As sad as they might be to read, they're also a reminder of the precarious nature of work in the 21st century.

      Today, it's newspapers. Earlier this week, the energy giant Enbridge said it was going to dump 1,000 jobs. In the past, automation has wiped out thousands of jobs in the B.C. forest industry. Next week, it could occur in another industry, perhaps banking or retail or telecommunications.

      So far, very few Canadian politicians are publicly calling for a basic income guarantee, a.k.a. a guaranteed annual income, to offer dignity and some assurances to those who are being thrown onto the street.

      It's time to start that conversation—before the next provincial and federal elections and before millions more North Americans find their livelihoods replaced by machines.