Newspapers dying? Fist bumps all ’round

The Province pitches the new Maserati equally, to all.

Yesterday Sun Media announced it was closing 11 “papers” and laying off 360 staff across the country.  Unfortunately this doesn’t include 24Hrs here in Vancouver.  The announcement comes on the heels of a 60% reduction, year over year, in owner Quebecor’s first quarter profit.

Similarly, Torstar, the publisher of Metro and the Toronto Star reported a 70% drop in profits.

Six weeks ago, Postmedia – owners of the Sun and Province – led the bad news cycle with a dismal first quarter report showing their pay-wall strategy is a failure while print advertisers continue to flee Postmedia’s papers.

All these media conglomerates responded with cutback strategies, strategies that show no sign of working.  Meanwhile media commentators continue their hand-ringing, seeing no end to Canada’s newspaper crisis, while bemoaning the loss of our ‘national voice’.

So am I the only one with a smile on my face?

I think the rapid collapse of English Canada’s newspaper industry is one of the most important opportunities for progressives in years.

Here’s a question for anyone in the four bottom income quintiles: Since when do any of these ‘important public institutions’ actually represent your lives?

Today’s Globe advises us on the “best” way to grill lobster and scallops.  It makes a pleasant read while we think about the article on Canaccord’s gold stock advice.

Over at the Vancouver Sun we get the government’s apologia for a bribe in the ethnicgate scandal.  Global News has already made a mockery out of that story.

Then there are the pics of unaffordable real estate and also – surprise! – a recipe for lobster Cobb salad.  What the hell is it with lobster anyway?  Is the 4,000 mile, $4,000 diet the newest thing and how did I miss it?

I have a different view of the death of Canada’s newspaper industry.  I see it as the death of one of the ways Canada’s elite communicates with itself and sets the political, social and economic agenda for the rest of us.

That there is a death knell sounding can only be a good thing for those who have suffered from the agenda that Canada’s newspapers have pushed on behalf of the economic elites since Brian Mulroney – free trade, deregulation, deunionization, privatization, and on and on.

Taking advantage of the opportunity should be a priority for Canada’s progressives.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean buying a paper, or reproducing a version of a closed paper on-line.  Or a limited interest newsmagazine:  The Tyee isn’t the model.

And despite my friends losing their jobs, it’s also not about saving industry jobs.

It’s about understanding how ordinary people communicate today and coming up with a progressive model that works for them and generates a common understanding of the social and economic future they face.

Before the other side figures it out.  Because they will.

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20 Responses to Newspapers dying? Fist bumps all ’round

  1. Ellie Horgan says:

    We’re a very diversified couple. I love a newspaper; my husband gets all his news online. I get up, go on the computer to check my Facebook, then my husband gets up & displaces me, so I go get a paper & read the news, do the crossword etc. It works for us!

  2. George says:

    Brilliant as always Ian.. right on the money.. add radio/television news to this as well..

  3. Kim says:

    Thank you Ian, here’s to the death of the propaganda industry.

    Sadly, my cousin works for the TC, and her days at that job are numbered. The whole paywall idea was stupid from the start, why would anyone pay for drivel and infotizing when you can get breaking news directly from facebook or twitter?

    Blogs are a great way to take our pulse, but one has to be careful to trust the sources and do one’s own research. Too bad there’s no way to make that pay the bills.

    Very interesting post.

  4. Catherine Reid says:

    Mainstream ‘news’? Uhuh, don’t forget to close the door on the way out.

  5. Stuart says:

    Has Translink billed them for cleaning up the litter or told them to get their poor staff out of the way of passengers?

  6. Don F. says:

    I agree with George, radio and T.v. as well. It is getting harder to tell when the news end and entertainment tonight begins by the day. power and politics on cbc. is harken to the magic oil my mother in law used to push. Today’s episode had the new minister of transportation show up into these peoples devastation for a photo op.

  7. adrian chamberlain says:

    Aside from the sort of “hey, I saw this happen” comments, much the news on Facebook and Twitter is still coming from traditional media sources.

    Did anyone follow the coverage of the Senate and Rob Ford scandals? That was led by so-called mainstream media – mainly the Globe and the Toronto Star. A lot of good reporting by journalists who know what they’re doing .

    It’s become fashionable to mock the demise of traditional journalism – but it’s a bit short sighted. And the notion that newspapers represent only the elite is just plain silly.

  8. nonconfidencevote says:

    Excellent commentary.
    The Main Stream Media has “earned” their looming bankruptcies with their capitulation to the almighty dollar.
    The “status quo” isnt working for them anymore and no amount of layoffs, hand wringing, and blaming other for what basically boils down to one thing.

    Credibility.

    If the readers, listeners, viewers dont believe the message OR ( in the case of lobster recipies) find the pablum that is being shovelled their way to be completely irrelevant………
    The customer will go elsewhere.

    Perhaps if the media spent a bit more time actually investigating stories and grinding the “leaders” of govt and business for truthful answers we, the paying customers, would buy their products.

    When the last advertisers leaves, and the lights are turned off by the bailiff. Maybe then, the idiots in charge might realize that they were wrong…….

    But I doubt it.

  9. Ian says:

    Firat, I have intense admiration for those, including the Star team, who continue to develop investigative journalism. But that is increasingly not happening in newsrooms.

    And I do think the situation is different out west where Poatmedia dominates. By my reckoning the best investigative journalism in BC is being done by Bob Mackin, a freelancer. Worse, I believe a serious argument can be made that the dominant chains have impeded hard looks at government’s they favour.

    The other, maybe more important issue, is the rest of the paper. The coverage of our social, economic and even sporting lives bears little relation to the way people live and says nothing about the way changes in income distribution have changed that. Its obscurant and there has to be a better, more honest way of reporting the truth.

    Macluhan would have predicted the decline. Progressives should be in the forefront, providing an alternative. If anything I should have emphasized that the responsibility lies with progressives now.

  10. Merv Adey says:

    I’m sure I can’t celebrate the “demise” of newspapers, or TV news, whatever. My trouble with the MSM is frustration with its quality. On a day a bribery scandal develops, including an interview with the bribee confirming allegations against a Liberal MLA, the lead TV story on one station is about world championship lawn mower racing.

    The media is not one sided…there is great work being done, but I yearn for more. To Mr. Chamberlain above…thanks for contributing here, but despite admiration for some of the T-C staff (Shaw and Kines and Harnett are great), I decided that paper wasn’t worth the modest subscription price years ago. It can be worth it, but suspect the financial models no longer work.

    The ideal I grieve for is news without an agenda from either big business or progressives. ( A picture of Jimmy Stewart popped into my mind 🙂

  11. spartikus says:

    If developments south of the border are to provide insight then building online communities such as you see at DailyKos or FDL in which subjects are discussed and parsed might suggest a direction. That said, the typical DailyKos post is usually a dissection of a MSM media story. Some original reporting goes on but not nearly enough.

    They also tend towards being echo chambers, though not nearly as bad as their GOP counterparts.

  12. motorcycleguy says:

    This is a comment I have registered at the CRTC and the CBSC….back in 2011 I believe.

    “Re Canwest/Global group of companies……I would like them to be restricted from using the term “News”. Any communication company that donates to any political party, except those that donate equally to all parties, are not providing the general public with a balanced reporting of events or government policies. These are merely entertainment programs and should be labelled as such. Canwest appears to acknowledge this fact by slotting Entertainment Tonight immediately after their “news” program in our viewing area………the time slot from 5:00pm to 8:00pm becomes just one long entertainment program with “Local News”, “National News”, “Local News” again, “ET Tonite”, then “ET Canada”. “

  13. raven says:

    I’m with you Ian.

    Even our small town newspaper was “asleep” at the wheel while a larger-than-life local politician helped himself to taxpayer dollars to live the dolce vita.

    His good times were put to a stop by a mild-mannered citizen who got an foi re the politician’s free and easy, spending ways, and connection to a well-heeled developer.

    The same newspaper would not publish a letter to the editor from a group of citizens who wished to respond to yet another, controversial developer’s letter to the editor. The group was told they would have to pay for the letter to be printed elsewhere in the paper.

    The group capitulated and paid. A sad day for citizen initiatives.

    Seniors will probably feel the loss of newspaper the most, radio and t.v. are fast mediums, and it can be hard to hear and absorb everything.

    Perhaps progressive organizations could donate computers, and a provide internet classes to seniors at senior, or other community centers. Some, such as my elderly parent need help logging on, or searching the internet. However, we have lots of seniors who love to volunteer in our community, and once a few got up to speed on the computer, I have no doubt they would help others.

  14. raven says:

    ps I search bcpoli or twitter search to find stories on subjects I am interested in.

    I just found this story via bcpoli, Fred Muzin echoes some of what you have said about the NDP Ian:

    http://www.straight.com/news/402381/veteran-political-activist-fred-muzin-gives-bc-ndp-now

  15. G. Barry Stewart says:

    Media has really been taking a beating since the rise of the internet — and it’s been hard for them to figure out ad revenues and access pricing in the online world. As much as I want them to improve their news and political coverage, I’d rather have a common provincial newspaper that all can tie into, than none at all.

    No common news source would be like a community with no city centre where all can gather. Of course, if city centre has turned into Pigeon Park, few want to go there.

    I’m not talking Pravda here… but a privately-owned news source that has its readers in mind as much as its advertisers. Balance and fairness would be key. Hopefully, the Province and Sun merger won’t be named “The Spun,” LOL!

    The Province and Sun are offering readers a survey, where you can take about 20 minutes to give them your thoughts on a variety of aspects about print/online news.

    This is your chance to have some effect on the next steps they take. I have.

    (All the best to you, Ian. I hope today is one of your better ones!)

  16. nonconfidencevote says:

    Ian
    Your last statement in your 6:44am comment is bang on.
    “Progressives should be in the forefront, providing an alternative. If anything I should have emphasized that the responsibility lies with progressives now.”

    I believe YOU are one of those Progressives.
    Informing, educating, and debating on your blog .
    The newest way of communicating directly with an interested public starved for real journalism.

    We , as the readers, audience, listeners, can rarely express our views to the person informing us of the “news of the hour”
    But now we can…………..
    If the dinosaurs at the old style media forums cannot recognize this new type of media……. then their style of media will perish.
    Capitalism at its best/worst.

  17. Souza Cavalcanti says:

    It’s painfully obvious that the MSM (CTV, BCTV-Global, A-Channel, Check-TV, Vancouver Sun, The Province and the worst of them all the Times Colonist) are carrying out a campaign of misinformation, lies and general misdirection to such an extent that most people have “shut them off” and no longer even listen or care. By attacking the people of BC on multiple fronts they have pretty much gotten people to not only stop thinking for themselves but even to vote for the very same people that are out to hurt them.

  18. Arleigh Chase says:

    I disagree with Mr. Chamberlain’s comment concerning breaking news on Twitter and Facebook. I found most of the interesting updates in the Basi/Virk trial came from citizen journalists who actually attended the courtroom day in day out, unlike mainstream journalists who only seemed to attend when they were tipped that something “big” was about to happen. Frankly, if a tweet is ascribed to any of the mainstream media outlets I tend to discount it as almost completely irrelevant. The only point of interest usually is in seeing how they are attempting to massage a story so that it does as little damage as possible to the ruling Liberals.

    As far as Ian’s comment about the two major papers only speaking to the elite, I agree. With the high mortgages and high rents that most of us suffer with, who has the disposable income for the lifestyle they are attempting to sell us?

  19. N says:

    Another great read, Ian.

    I haven’t visited the Sun or Province website since the election. I figure I’m doing my part to speed up the demise of these two ‘news’ organizations.

    Pre-election, I visited their sites daily. Several times daily. If I (conservatively) average the clicks over a year to 4 visits per day, combined Sun and Prov, the numbers start to add up.

    Since May 14th, their websites have lost, at minimum, 252 clicks from me. Over a year it’s a loss of 1460 clicks. Not a huge number in the grand scheme but multiply this by even 20 additional disgruntled readers and the numbers become significant. ‘Clicks’, are what these organizations need to drum up advertising to remain viable on the web. I will not help them do that.

    Yes, I do miss reading the odd columnist but I can no longer bring myself to support news organizations that work so hard against the best interests of their readers. Added bonus—my blood pressure is lower, too : )

    I don’t want a left-wing echo chamber as my sole news source but, at the very least, I want balance. It’s clear we’re not getting that from the two dailies. There are enough decent local and national news outlets online that I can avoid anything Postmedia. Whenever I’m tempted to go back I remind myself who the papers endorsed in the last BC election and the desire to visit suddenly evaporates.

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