The other day, I wrote a piece about the decline of newspapers. I put the blame fairly squarely in two places: leveraged buyouts that have encumbered formerly profitable newspapers with hefty debts; and on managers who have strangled the papers themselves as a way to cover the payments on that debt. It is a self-perpetuating cycle: the papers can't cover debt costs and pay dividends at the same time, they cut staff, people say there's nothing in the papers and stop buying them or turn to free news sources, newspaper profits decline, staff is cut, more people stop reading, more profit slippage, more staff is cut...
I was too kind to mention editorial deadwood, except in passing.
For instance, there are the various head cases and pals of editors who hang like barnacles on the newspapers of the country. The Ottawa Citizen's David Warren is one such place-holder. His former publication, the Idler, was unread by the public but was a darling of the troglodyte right in Canada. When the Idler deservedly succumbed to the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace, Warren was very much between opportunities. His pal Neil Reynolds set him up with a very comfy gig at the Ottawa Citizen, where he's been a mainstay of Frank Magazine's "Drivel" section for some time.
In a piece in today's Petfinder, Warren babbles on about the decline of the newspaper trade. His two targets: newspaper unions and journalism schools.
I want you to read the piece.
Here are some comments I'd make if I marked it:
First, the intro sucks. It is pedantic, not particularly connected to the argument, not original, and it doesn't answer the age-old question: "who gives a shit"? Most readers would be gone by the third or fourth sentence.
Second, the column has holes as grotesque and obvious as a sucking chest wound. The first obvious one is Warren's disdain for the union. Why mention it? Is it to maintain right-wing cred or tag it as part of the problem? You can't leave stuff like this dangling.
Third, if J-schools are the problem, do tell us why. Is it because the students went to a university? Is it J-school curriculum? If so, why? Would you prefer history majors? English majors? Sociology majors? I look among my circle of friends in journalism and find them all. The column falls down because the writer does not seem to understand that a degree in journalism in not a mandatory qualification for journalism. Daily newspapers hire people from college papers, from journalism schools, sometimes from community colleges. Even half-bright people with intellectual pretensions who are too lazy to get a post-secondary education can make a decent living in journalism. If Warren seeks an example, he should look in a mirror.
Fourth, Warren talks about the situation of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Its troubles are the nut of the column, yet there is far less description of the Star-Tribune's travails than of the dinosaurs. David, the readers do know what killed off the dinosaurs. They don't know why the Star-Tribune is on the ropes. And you didn't tell them.
Did an inordinate percentage of Star-Tribune reporters and editors go to journalism school? Um, we don't know and neither does Warren. What Warren does know is the paper was sold twice recently. I'd say that might be the genesis of its business-side problems. At least it's a solid fact, unlike the rest of the smoke tossed around by Warren.
My last question: If a paper is filled with copy like Warren's, written by someone pulling down $100K a year, is it in trouble? Does it have any business offering buy-outs and cutting staff while running dreck like Warren's? Does it entice people to lay down a buck, rather than get their news and commentary online for nothing? Surely there's a libertarian writer who can do research, structure a column properly and make words sing. And I bet there are cheaper ones.
(And I'm not offering myself. I'd rather work at Little Ray's Reptile Zoo out in Greely than in the Baxter Road snakepit).
Again, when a company is asking people to spend a dollar on a product that is offered elsewhere for free, there has to be a certain amount of value-added. So my last question: would you pay a buck to read that column? And don't forget, the Citzen let you read it for free.
I would have failed the column with the words: "Looks too much like a rush job or first draft".
Canwest touches a 52-week low and probably an all-time low before doing a dead cat bounce and rising a few pennies. Torstar stays at a new 52-week low.
The Star is tumbling toward 40% of its value in 2004 and is down 10% in a week. I wonder how long before the Honderich, Thall, Campbell, Atkinson and Hindmarsh families start howling and Lenny's bankers call.
I vaguely remember a mantra of sorts: "Content is king... content is king..."