I was on TVO's Agenda tonight discussing the state of the newspaper business with TorStar's sorta new top exec John Honderich, Globe and Mail editor Ed Greenspon, and Carleton University's Chris Dornan.
I'll add a link to the show when it's posted on TVO.org Monday.
I'm sorry, but I just don't buy the "public service" claims of media managers anymore. When I sat there listening to Honderich and Greenspon talking of the importance of their work to democracy, I knew their real loyalty lies elsewhere.
These are some of the things I wanted to say but never got the chance:
1. Has anyone noticed that all of the debt that's been saddled onto the news industry was used for mergers and acquisitions? Not a penny went toward making a better paper or TV newsroom.
2. How can the Globe claim to be a serious, important paper when it has done so much to trivialize the coverage of politics? "Who's Hot and Who's Not" must make Dick Doyle spin in his grave.
3. What is journalism doing to bridge the huge gap between the age of its newsrooms and the demographics of the general public? (Since most newspapers haven't done serious hiring in more than twenty years, and many reporters being well into their 50s, there are two generations of Canadians who are not well understood by journalists).
4. How can Honderich talk about the importance of journalism to the community when his own company's chain of weeklies, Metroland, has ravaged the coverage of small-town Ontario? It buys up good papers and turns them into bad ones and drives independents to the wall with cut-throat competition.
5. Why are newspapers doing nothing serious to get people under 30 reading them? Honderich talked about the Star's strong home delivery. That's newspaper sales to seniors, people from generations when newspapers were a badge of the middle-class, like having a piano in your home. That market is literally dying off.
Steve Paikin was amazing when he brought up the Star and the Globe's decisions to get rid of their Queen's Park columnists. Greenspon looked like he had been hit by a plank. He lamely tried to compare the Globe with TVO, then promised some sort of magic secret thing that would make Queen's Park coverage better. In the context of what he said earlier about columnists adding value to the old news the Globe prints, the whole thing was laughable.
And Honderich's scoffing at my remarks about convergence was a howl, considering where I was sitting: in TVO's studio in Ottawa, in the CTV-Globemedia newsroom, which is a converged TV and print operation, one in which the Star just took a $200 million bath.
Here's something truly bizarre: Michael Cooke, the Toronto Star's new editor, hatched a plan when he was still at the Chicago Sun-Times to outsource editing to Canada or India, according to the Chicago Tribune. The plan was supposed to result in cuts to another 30 newsroom jobs. Of course, the Newspaper Guild and the journalists at the paper reacted with horror. Now, the idea has been shelved by the paper's new management team.
It's not as off-the-wall as it seems. Canadian and American law firms are already outsourcing some briefs writing to India. And if you can paginate all Canwest papers in Hamilton, why not do the work in Calcutta? I'm sure they can spell most English words right, so they should be able to copy edit.
Later, you can add cop checks, obits, maybe even movie and CD reviews.
And the Canwest Deathwatch continues, with the Aspers expected to be toast perhaps a little later than I thought, though still within the calender year:
Market analysts expect Canwest to be bankrupt by the end of the year.
And the future of journalism looks like this:
heGlobe and Maildrastically modified Tits book re-view coverage several weeks ago, becoming the latest, as far as I know, in a long list of newspapers
(From the front page of the Midland Free Press web page. The Midland Free Press was Canada's best independent newspaper in the 1940s, '50s and early 60s. It was bought by Thomson from its local owners. Then, in the early 1990s, it was sold to Southam. It was later flipped to Osprey. Then Osprey was sold to Quebecor. In 1990, it had a staff of five reporters and a full-time editor. Now it has a part-time editor and a staff of one reporter.)