Ellen Roseman is a Canadian writer, specializing in personal finance and consumer issues.
Roseman is also a renowned journalist who has been a strong advocate for Canadian consumer rights for the past 35 years. There is plenty of evidence of this in her current column at LowestRates.ca, as well as in her multiple published books.
Roseman has a 20-year history as a columnist for the Toronto Star’s business section, following two years as business editor. She also spent 20 years at The Globe and Mail as a columnist and associate managing editor of the Report on Business.
Despite her busy schedule, between finishing her next article and preparing material for her courses (she teaches at University of Toronto and Ryerson University), Ellen Roseman and I had a quick chat about how COVID-19 has changed her day-to-day life, how she’s adjusting to the new normal, and some thoughts on the future of journalism after the pandemic.
Mariana Valle-Mesen: You had been working from home long before the pandemic affected everybody’s office routine. How has self-quarantine affected you, or your work days?
Ellen Roseman: I used to go out on weekdays for some appointments, meetings, lunches and coffee breaks. Now all that activity has stopped, except for Zoom sessions, short walks and grocery shopping.
With more time at home, I should be doing more work. But I’m also working on previously neglected household chores and things I could have done earlier (like my taxes!), but I’m a procrastinator and need deadlines staring me in the face to get moving.
I now start work later in the day and spend more time following the news. COVID-19 has both health and financial implications and I need to stay updated on both fronts. I also hear more from readers about pandemic-related problems, such as not getting refunds on cancelled travel, wedding plans, concerts or sports events.
MVM: What are some of the challenges that you face in keeping up with the fast-paced updates of COVID-19, and what methods do you use to best sort these out?
ER: When working on a story, I do mainly online research. For example, when CBC Marketplace interviewed me about the refund difficulties, I started reading comments from unhappy customers on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Social media channels help me find stories before they break into mainstream news. Google is also indispensable, with my home page giving me new leads on topics I’ve searched for recently.
MVM: How are you detecting truthful sources given the short period of time you have in between one breaking news event and another?
ER: My go-to sources are the names I know – Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, New York Times, Economist. When I find a good story in a source I don’t know, I check Wikipedia or Google to check the source’s political stance and decide whether to follow up or not.
ROSEMAN’S TIP: My son Richard Trapunski is music editor at Now Toronto. With the concert scene going quiet, he’s doing more stories on COVID-19. I recommend his article on how to judge the validity of news sources and the COVID-19 facts or myths they perpetrate.
MVM: Do you think newswires are playing a bigger role in covering COVID-19 topics, since we have first-sourced news?
ER: I use newswires to find people I can quote on stories I’m covering. Company websites can be large and sprawling, and sometimes may not give media contacts or only a phone number without an email address. This last one is important to me as email is my preferred way of getting information. Company news releases on wire services have good contact information at the end. It’s helpful and saves time.
MVM: In what ways are you keeping your stories as creative as possible and not letting them just blend in with the overwhelming amount of COVID-19 content out there?
ER: I write a monthly column for LowestRates.ca, a site that helps people shop for mortgages, insurance and credit cards. In my April 1 column on COVID-19 resources for consumers, I used links to send them to financial expert Preet Banerjee’s YouTube series on COVID-19 and Carleton University professor Jennifer Robson’s document compiling federal and provincial benefits for people who need them.
In my May column, I looked at the pros and cons of deferring your mortgage or credit card payments. I give a few examples to show how much extra interest you’re incurring – since the skipped payments will be added to your outstanding balance or your new monthly payments when the deferral ends.
MVM: What activities are you doing to balance your work/life routine?
ER: I’m catching up on timely TV series, such as The Morning Show on Apple TV+ (about a Me Too scandal at a large corporate U.S. network) and The Plot Against America on HBO (based on Philip Roth’s alternate history novel about famed aviator Charles Lindbergh winning the 1940 U.S. election).
I’m also organizing calls with friends to catch up for 30 to 60 minutes. In recent years, I stopped using the phone, resorting to email or texts. But these days, I appreciate having the time to hold long chats.
MVM: You have had many years of experience in journalism, how do you see the media landscape changing after this pandemic?
ER: The media landscape was already changing because of steadily declining profits, layoffs and buyouts. The pandemic is accelerating this trend, while at the same time increasing demand for information from trusted gatekeepers.
I hope mainstream media will get enough of a confidence boost to stave off further cutbacks for a year or two. They may be able to lower costs by allowing staff to work more from home or in their vehicles. Here’s a fun story by Global TV reporter Sean O’Shea about how COVID-19 is changing the way he works – in a 2004 GMC cube van, converted into an office for him and his editor, with enough room for them to sit two meters apart.
MVM: It seems to me that we are all more connected to each other than we had thought. Now more than ever, we are only a click away from anything we want. The way we connect during this quarantine will mark a turning point in all of our lives. Do you think you will come out a different person after this experience? How do you think or hope others will change?
ER: I’m keen to learn about COVID-19 in other countries. Why did Sweden take a different approach to containment than other countries? Why did a new outbreak occur in Singapore after the government loosened restrictions? I’m more likely to check local sources these days, rather than international news filtered through a North American lens.
I’m also spending less than I did, since I stay home and buy only necessities. In the future, I may keep up my newfound frugality with fewer visits to the hair salon and more recycling of clothes and shoes I own, instead of new purchases.
Cutting back expenses is good for the planet, but bad for profit-seeking media companies. How will mainstream newspapers, magazines and TV stations survive? Is there another way to prop up media, aside from government support? Will consumers pay more for news?
I think Canadians appreciate the value of investigative news during this crisis. Yet I worry that household spending may be squeezed during what looks like a deep recession to come. It seems the advertising-financed business model won’t work any longer, but we don’t have other ways to keep independent media alive. It’s time for innovative ideas to come to the forefront. I hope they do.
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