Saturday, August 13, 2016

Trouble With A Capital T

The newspaper business is dying -- slowly. Alan Freeman writes:

I spent most of my career in newspapers and I’m not particularly nostalgic for the print version. Like most people, I now consume most of my news online. But I am worried about how the death of newspapers is affecting newsgathering itself.

For generations, newspapers formed the core of non-partisan, fact-based coverage of what was going in our communities. After waves of cutbacks, reporting jobs are disappearing. In the U.S., there are 20,000 fewer positions in newspaper newsrooms than there were 20 years ago. And though it’s great to see the growth of online media, from Buzzfeed to iPolitics, so far it has not been able to make up the shortfall.

Every new idea seems to meet with disaster:

Torstar Corp., the publisher of The Toronto Star, announced this week that it was eviscerating the dedicated team set up for its tablet edition — after having spent something like $35 million to launch the product over the past two years. It’s laying off 52 employees, most of them attached to the tablet edition.

Just last year, John Cruickshank, The Star’s recently retired publisher, gushed that the tablet version of the paper, Star Touch, was going to be “the biggest change in storytelling in a century.”

And the concept which was going to revolutionize the business has fallen flat:

Before the tablet, there was “convergence.” Remember that? At the height of the dotcom bubble in 2000, somebody had the smart idea that the future would be about marrying telecommunications providers with content companies like newspapers and TV stations. So we got the mega-merger of Time-Warner with AOL in the U.S. and copycats in Canada — BCE’s purchase of CTV and The Globe and Mail and CanWest Global’s purchase of the old Southam newspaper chain from Conrad Black.

Leonard Asper of CanWest Global breathlessly called his deal “the ultimate convergence transaction.” By 2009, CanWest had collapsed. What emerged from the ashes is Postmedia, the zombie newspaper chain that has never made a dollar in profits for anybody except its executives and whose stock last traded at 2 cents a share. And with new leadership at BCE, that convergence miracle also collapsed and the Thomson family ended up back as the sole owner of The Globe and Mail.

Journalism is in trouble. And, when journalism is in trouble, democracy is in trouble.



Lorne said...

I become deeply worried when even a progressive paper like The Toronto Star, which I subscribe to, lays off large numbers of people, Owen. I have been noticing over the past several months a contraction in the size of the paper, which tries to conceal the fact by combining sections, etc. As this troubling trend continues, we all have to wonder about who will be looking after the public interest.

Owen Gray said...

The Star, for me, has always been Canada's newspaper of record, Lorne -- despite the claims of the Globe and Mail. If it's in trouble, we are facing a real crisis.

Steve said...

Total argument for a non political CBC. The one we have now is tainted with 8 years of Harper stink. The CBC should put all its resources into an online version. They could hire journalism students to do local segements but have a highly produced ivestigative core.

Owen Gray said...

The Harperites did great damage to the CBC, Steve. It remains to be seen whether Justin's government will repair the damage.

Toby said...

As I see it, the majority of people no longer trust traditional mass media, don't want to pay for it, hate ads and simply don't care about whatever doesn't affect them personally.

Owen Gray said...

Which is another way of saying people are trapped in their silos, Toby. Genuine debate may not matter that much anymore.

The Mound of Sound said...

We had the Davey Commission report in 1969, the Kent Report in 1981 and the Senate report of 2006. We know that a healthy electronic and print media is essential to our democracy. Without it you cannot have an adequately informed electorate and an uninformed electorate is incapable of giving informed consent to be governed at the ballot box.

First Davey, then Kent and most recently the Senate fingered the corporate media cartel as causing both concentration of ownership and undue cross ownership (where one entity controls newspapers, TV and radio outlets in a given market). The answer is as obvious today as it was to Keith Davey in 1969 - divestiture.

A properly constituted mass media plays an essential and irreplaceable role in maintaining a healthy democracy. It is an essential service to the public and to the state yet it must remain in private hands, as many private hands as possible, not just a few.

The government has a role to play in making a suitable mass media economically viable. Perhaps that can be done by inducements to small, diverse ownership and to those who advertise with them. Think of it as a two-tier system with assistance going to small independents and a higher tax on concentrated ownership. No more CanWests or Sun chains. No more Bell Globe Media. Break them up. More voices. More opinions. Repopulate abandoned newsrooms. Reinstate information as the stock in trade of the media instead of the messaging that has taken hold since the advent of the corporate media cartel. The Paul Godfreys of Canada have done great harm. We've had enough of their kind.

Owen Gray said...

The media followed the same mantra as the banks, Mound. If they were big, they couldn't fail. Obviously, that was a crock.

Steve said...

Publicly funded transparet institutions are the only way to keep humans from going monkey. All men want to be rich, rich men want to be king, and the king is never satisfied untill he rules everthing. In the words of Dr Phil, you gotta stop those behaviors.

Owen Gray said...

Even the best of us can lose our way, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the MSM is suffering from its success?
The consolidation of media that has occurred over the years has done nothing for the reader other than reduce the diversity of content.
Print or electronic media we have the same result; bigger companies , less content.
There are few media outlets printed or otherwise that can stand the test of impartiality or honesty.
That the MSM won't touch the scandal of BC Hydro and corrupt bookkeeping not to mention the old BC Rail affair is testament to my opinion.


Owen Gray said...

It's pretty clear that media conglomerates reduce diversity of opinion, Anon. Paul Godfrey's editorial position in the last election provides proof of that.