Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When beancounters run the media...

gutting the newsroom is the first knee-jerk reaction to every financial crisis.
The Guelph Mercury just committed suicide and the publisher doesn't even realize it.
A tip of the hat and final salute to eleven more journalists who are now looking for jobs. They join the dozens of reporters and editors laid off this week from the Hamilton Spectator and the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.
News executives: when people tell you "I don't buy the paper because there's nothing in it," can't you see the cause and effect of newsroom cuts?
I had my first newspaper job on the Hamilton Spectator in the summer of 1978. The paper had a hefty staff that filled its large newsroom. I went into the Spec newsroom three or four years ago and it felt like I was wandering the Prairies. I can't imagine the skeleton staff that's left can put out a paper that is of any use to the people in Hamilton.
The storm that began brewing in the small-town papers of Canada in the early '90s -- long before the Internet -- has reached the cities.
Yup, thank God for the Internet. It's the best thing that ever happened to lousy media managers, puppet publishers and cowardly editors.

Yesterday, I listened to a talk by Mark Bulgutch, CBC's Senior Executive Producer News and News Specials, who wondered aloud about print media giving away their stories on the Internet. He, like me, argues the "giving away what you try to sell" business model doesn't sound like a winner.
I was glad to hear Mark's take on it. It's not what media managers are usually saying.

So, why do they do it? Why do corporate types think it's a great idea to splash news and feature articles, along with wire copy, on the Internet where people can read them for free? Why did publishers throughout the world play along with the idea that news copy has no value?
Because they never valued it. To them, news was a sort of duty, like following the CRTC's Canadian content rules on radio. They weren't in the business to gather news and sell it. They saw themselves as sellers of ads. They'll chase every little ad through the cyber universe, even if they have to give away the editorial content of the newspaper to do it.

Music publishers (i.e. record companies) understood the value of the creative process. The news media managers didn't. That's why you pay for music on the Internet, or you risk prosecution. So people -- even the pirates -- understand music has some worth but believe news is a free commodity.

I do believe the Internet will be a useful place for journalism, but we're nowhere near there yet. Until we get paid for our work as journalists, the Internet is just a toy. Our primary living is on paper, and the devotion of time and effort to the web should only come when there is a certainty of being paid. If I was publishing a newspaper, I would put nothing but teasers on a web page. And if I was on the board of CP, I would demand the member papers be banned from posting the co-op's copy.

The deep thinkers in academia, the people promoting convergence and multi-platform delivery, feel the same way as the media executives about the value of news and features. There is no place with greater contempt for working journalists and journalism than academia. And that goes for journalism schools, where tenured faculty normally wouldn't be caught dead doing journalism. While the typical sessional -- the people who teach one or two courses but still work in the business -- has a clue, most tenured faculty, who are steeped in bullshit communications theory, have no real credentials in journalism itself and are spiteful refugees from the business.

Meanwhile, for the second time in two weeks, the Dominion Bond Rating Service and Moody's have downgraded Canwest's debt. I think the next level down is "wallpaper". (HT: Tim Meehan on facebook).


Canwest hit a new all-time low today of 30 cents before rebounding to 34 cents.

(BTW: Could any investor rely on Morningstar's "news"? It's just Canwest's press releases, which are an interesting collection of "whistling past the graveyard" PR.)


Anonymous said...

The only where you can get regular news about Canwest stock is in Winnipeg where Canwest has no newspaper presence despite its head offices being there. And the Winnipeg Free press is one of the few papers not offering its contents for free from its website.

Warren K said...

But putting up subscription/registration walls is what the NYT, Star, Globe and others did - and people just found out ways how to get behind said walls, and circulate the news anyway. You'd have to an armed division of lawyers to police the breaches in the news wall, and I don't think even then it'd work.

I am with you on convergence having been a disaster - stronger properties being used to cross-subsidize weaker ones, and everyone getting weak as a result, etc.

But I don't think the walls thing would work. The genie is out of the ink-stained bottle.

Ottawa Watch said...

I think it works if you start with the wire services. If AP, Reuters, UPI and CP put a ban on web use of their material, the papers can fall in.
I don't advocate a pay-er-view wall at this point. I think you don't post copy at all until you have a model that pays.
Look, sometimes I sell fossils. If I made this offer: "I'll bring a fossil to your house tomorrow morning and you have to pay me, or I'll bring it to you anytime you want for free", which would my customers go for? And if you were practicing law, would you post a do-it-yourself will kit on your web site?
After newspapers give away the news, what, exactly, do they have to sell?

Antonio said...

it truly is frightening to see the newsroom cuts at papers only because it is newspapers that generate the news compared to TV and Radio which just usually replay it with sound and pictures.

Scary times ahead...

Anonymous said...

I used to buy a daily paper but found I don't need to anymore with plenty of free online content.
I'd renew my subscription if it wasn't so readily available.

Ottawa Watch said...

I don't subscribe to a paper. I kept trying to subscribe to the Citizen but the idjuts kept bringing me the Post, and even that didn't show up all the time. I buy the Citizen most days and the Globe about three times a week. Half the time, I've already read the Citizen web page, so most of the news is not all that new.
I have professional reasons for wanting to read the print version, and I make enough money that a few bucks for newspapers doesn't hurt. Most people aren't in that situation.

Anonymous said...

Even the Hearst corporation in San Fran is downsing and doing it on the backs of those journalists who should have been more vigilant and/or at least paying attention. Hearst's threat seems to be a device to extort concessions from the Chronicle
labour unions. Ironically, 100 years ago or so, the Hearst Press marketed
itself as being "labour friendly" media.



Hearst Threatens to End San Francisco Paper

By Richard Pirez-Peqa
The New York Times
February 24, 2009

Hearst Corporation said Tuesday that it would close or sell The San
Francisco Chronicle unless it could wring concessions from its unions,
raising the prospect of San Francisco becoming the largest city in the
country to lose its dominant newspaper.

Hearst said The Chronicle, which has daily circulation of 339,000, lost more
than $50 million in 2008 and will lose more this year. It has had
significant losses every year since 2001.

"Without the specific changes we are seeking across the entire Chronicle
organization, we will have no choice but to quickly seek a buyer for The
Chronicle or, should a buyer not be found, to shut the newspaper down," said
a statement by Frank A. Bennack Jr., Hearst's vice chairman and chief
executive, and Steven R. Swartz, president of its newspaper division. The
company did not specify those changes, other than "a significant reduction
in the number of its unionized and nonunion employees."

The California Media Guild, which represents many Chronicle employees, had
no immediate response to the ultimatum, which union officials said surprised

A Hearst executive called the statement "a warning" to the unions, and said
that the company did not want to close the paper. He was granted anonymity
because he was not authorized to speak for the company.

Hearst owned The San Francisco Examiner for more than a century, but the
rival Chronicle became the city's dominant paper. In 2000, Hearst bought The
Chronicle for $660 million, and sold The Examiner. But it kept many Examiner
workers, significantly increasing the size and cost of The Chronicle's

Since 2006, newspaper advertising revenue has plunged nationwide, and more
so in California. The Chronicle has made deep cuts, signed a contract to
outsource printing and explored selling its building. The Examiner, which
has a much smaller staff, is now a free paper.

Note: The Examiner may indeed be a free paper, but it now has a very labour
intensive distribution system. In downtown San Francisco it has employees on
virtually every street corner who aggressively attempt to persuade you to
take one of their papers. While the notorious "chronic - ill" may not be
making money, the Examiner somehow has the resources to pay an army of