Friday, March 13, 2009

The Crisis in Canadian Newspapers: Badgering the Ostriches

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.

MEANWHILE

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.)

8 comments:

BC Mary said...

Mark,

I watched TVO with interest, this evening, while the 5 of you were discussing the news business in Canada.

I'd like to talk a bit (maybe tomorrow) about the CanWest performance on the West Coast. They have made a fascinating effort to ignore one of the most significant set of trials ever to happen in this country. Trials arising from an unprecedented police raid on the B.C. Legislature, Dec. 2003.

When CanWest in B.C. decides to ignore (or to promote) something, there's not much anybody else can do about it. But ... this was so serious ...

For almost 3 years, I have run a blog trying to fill in the gaps.

I'm tired, too, at this point (2:00 AM) so hope to return tomorrow.

BC Mary
The Legislature Raids
http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/

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BC Mary said...

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Mike, hello again:

Perhaps this editorial, from my blog, best explains my concerns about public access to the news in B.C. which, because of convergence, means CanWest all the way.

Although it focuses on B.C., the story has national implications. Dave Basi was an important part of Paul Martin's leadership campaign, apparently hoping for Chief of Staff position if events had unfolded as he expected. It was "Basi's Boyz" who unseated Herb Dahliwal, for example, and who martinized every BC riding.

It's a complex story, involving Agricultural Land Reserve charges against Dave Basi, as well (also ignored by CanWest).

The RCMP press conference, the day after the historic police raid, informed the public that it should come as no surprise that Organized Crime had seeped into every corner of BC society since 2001 ... a comment which continues to motivate my efforts to keep a spotlight on this story.


IF CANWEST HAD BEEN DOING ITS JOB, MAYBE B.C. WOULDN'T BE IN THIS MESS

By BC Mary
The Legislature Raids - 6 March 2009

This was one of the most important trials in British Columbia history. Why haven't we heard more about it?


It started off OK ... remember the full front page of Vancouver Sun completely taken up by 27 Questions, perfectly reflecting the frightened thoughts of British Columbians whose Legislature on Dec. 28/03 had just been taken over by police?

For a while, things were as they should be, with BC's flagship newspaper giving voice and quite a bit of printer's ink to major concerns, such as "Was organized crime operating within the BC Legislature?". Then, within a year, any mention of the historic raid had almost stopped.

What happened? What went wrong? Why were British Columbians -- so uniquely dependent upon CanWest for almost all news -- left in the dark? Or worse: told that 30 uniformed police sergeants hauling files out of their Legislature was nothing to worry about?

Two examples:

1) Les Leyne's column on March 3, 2009 in Times Colonist says it all in its title: "BC Rail Case buried in political trivia." Political trivia, eh? Yeah, sure. "Nuthin' to see here, folks, just keep movin' along please ...." Thanks a lot, CanWest.

2) The Jasmohan Singh Bains trial, about which CanWest published nothing for 6 months. Then an astute citizen overheard a remark about it during a Basi Virk hearing in Dec. 2008. He looked around the Supreme Courtroom, saw no media, and decided to tell BC Mary.

Frankly, I couldn't believe it. It took me 2 days to verify the story ... scarcely believing my own eyes when I found it was true: the Bains trial had taken place in Victoria in June 2008 ... just down the street from the Times Colonist newspaper office. And not a word had been published in 6 months. Nothing.

Why do I think that's significant? Very, very significant? Because:

* it was Jasmohan Singh Bains and others, who police were investigating when they raided the BC Legislature.

* it was while police listened to wiretap conversations between Bains and Dave Basi that they heard of BC Rail hanky-panky. Dave Basi, Bob Virk, and Aneal Basi are now on trial in BC Supreme Court for fraud, money-laundering, bribery.

* Bains, at the time, was thought to be Mr Big of Drugs Trafficking on the West Coast.

That's why.

And that is one heck of a lot: Especially now, when shootings and killings in BC's Lower Mainland are a regular, almost daily occurrence. And when B.C. is being linked to the huge drug cartels causing Mexico's apparent meltdown.

You think maybe the people of B C are concerned? You think maybe they expect their media to make an attempt at covering more than the self-serving news releases of police forces (police which are clearly out of their depth)? You think people haven't noticed elsewhere that "Gang violence in B.C. is linked to Mexico drug wars"?

Well ... I broke the Bains story on Dec. 11, 2008. Not CanWest. That's right, BC Mary broke "Mr Big's" story right here on The Legislature Raids. My headline read: JASMOHAN SINGH BAINS SENTENCED TO 9 YEARS and I fully expected Google to pick that up, and that the wider public would be informed. Ha! Apparently that's not how it works in B.C. anymore.


Two more Bains-free months passed by quietly. Plenty of street chaos, nothing about Mr Big.

Quietly - except on the streets of the Lower Mainland and the suburban expanses of the Fraser Valley. There the silence continued to be broken by the wail of sirens and the chatter of small arms fire. [Tell me something: do we honestly imagine that criminals don't know the Bains story? and that they don't high-five and rejoice in their apparent immunity?]

Then something I said to Ian Mulgrew caught his attention. He promptly wrote a column headlined: "Drug dealer linked to legislature raid imprisoned" [Vancouver Sun, Feb 17/2009] and gave me credit as his source.

God knows how Mulgrew -- calling the trial "a key victory against a cocaine ring" -- got his column past all the roadblocks and into print, because it hadn't happened before and it has never happened since. To this day, nobody mentions Mr Big's trial in CanWest print. But I'm pleased that many other, small news media have reprinted the story as I wrote it.

We'll hear more about Bains during the Basi Virk Basi / BC Rail trial. The thing is: we'll probably have to be there in the courtroom to hear it, or we'll have to read about it on these blogs. That is, unless a new owner is publishing The Vancouver Sun, The Province, or Times Colonist.

So ... doesn't this explain why CanWest news media is facing such a drastic financial crisis right now? Isn't it proof that they can't fool all of the people, all of the time? And that maybe they should stop telling people that 8,000 pages of only recently released confidential government documents (which they obviously hadn't read yet) are trivial.

Let no one forget that all 8,000 of those secret government documents are available now, at only a five minute walk from Sun and Province headquarters ... but not one serious story (not even a sensible word!) has been published by CanWest.

Time for CanWest to notice that people are mad as hell and they aren't going to take this kind of "news" any longer. CanWest has been part of the problem in B.C. Now it's time for a genuine news service to become part of the solution.

- BC Mary and friends.

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SOMETHING TO WATCH FOR:
A Media Advisory from the Loyal Opposition!


Keep an eye on CanWest today, March 6, and for the next day or two ... see if they make any mention whatever of what Leonard Krog is doing.

Today, at an Open House in Vancouver, Krog had the 15 binders of secret government documents organized and available for media viewing and photocopying.

Research staff were on hand, photocopies were prepared on the spot -- or even in advance if requests were phoned in -- and Krog was there in the afternoon to answer questions relating to the 8,000 pages obtained by Defence lawyers as Freedom of Information requests.

“... These documents shed some light on the B.C. Rail corruption scandal, and the public deserves to have access to this information,” New Democrat Attorney General critic Leonard Krog said.

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BC Mary said...

MARK,

Pls excuse the typo. Sorry.

M.

Anonymous said...

You handled yourself pretty well. Honderich and Greenspon seem in a bit of a bubble.
Meanwhile, all the desk editing by Sun Media maybe centralized.

http://torontosunfamily.blogspot.com/2009/03/say-what.html

Ottawa Watch said...

Christ. I saw something on Sun Media pulling out of CP and setting up their own version of the Canwest boilerplate operation.

Anonymous said...

You did a good job. Greenspon and Honderich were useless...basically marketing their own enterprises.

They shouldn't have been invited.

Anonymous said...

Honderich was crowing about the stability of home delivery sales but they have been stagnant despite the doubling of the population in the GTA during the past 35 years.
Toront Star's Monday to Friday circulation isn't much more than it was in 1975 and in those years, they weren't out thousands of copies at the local gas station and fast food restaurant.

Chris Mehrlein said...

"(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)."

There, in a nutshell, is why I decided against getting a journalism degree four years ago. I mean, why bother getting the training if you're going to have to wait more than a quarter century to use it?