UPDATE: Because I’m an insensitive asshole, I neglected to mention and thank my co-blogger, the Northern Reporter, for his/her contributions since joining on. That was really idiotic of me. Anyways, NR brought some good insight and some additional momentum that kept the blog circling the drain a little longer than it would have otherwise. So kudos is deserved.
After circling the drain for several months, it’s finally time to take the plunge.
This blog is dead.
Mainly it’s because I’ve lost interest. The response from journalists has been great, but covering community journalism — if that’s what you can say this blog did — is both exhausting and dispiriting. It’s bad enough to have to work for companies that either don’t care about the journalism, or illustrate institutional stupidity. To write about it just gets boring. Sometimes it also seems needlessly risky, especially considering the lack of results, or possible results. (You don’t need me to tell you Glacier’s stab at Layar is doomed.) Writing about the good stuff just isn’t as fun. It requires time that right now I’d rather be allocating elsewhere.
The blog was useful and fun in many respects. I think it did function as a place where you could learn about the wacky new editor of the Nanaimo Daily News or how the local hockey team was playing hardball with the Kamloops Daily News. But the less work I put into it, the less it functioned that way. And unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to do so. I’ve found that reading — fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, whatever — is a hell of a lot more satisfying that writing about community newspapers. Sorry.
I was also lucky to have reached most newspapers and newsrooms. I know I’ve seen oblivious colleagues reading my work. That was gratifying. It also, unfortunately, meant that my ambition for the blog had been achieved. That’s great, but when you have nowhere to grow, and when you’re not going to “make a difference” in the teenage-idealist’s definition of the phrase, then motivation can flag.
I did learn a lot from this, though. First, I now know there are some community journalists out there like me who are ambitious but otherwise not inclined (I think) to wade into the daily newspaper world. I’m also more convinced than ever that there are strati of reporters and editors out there, some who are very good at their jobs, and some who aren’t, either because they haven’t been trained enough, because they lack the talent, or because they just don’t care anymore. All in all, I think that’s good. It means community journalism has a lot of room to grow, and it has good reporters and editors who can hopefully help spur their colleagues on to bigger and better things. If only their bosses will let them.
One more conclusion that I might as well get out now: the Internet is not going to be a big money-maker for community newspapers in the next decade. I hope they prove me wrong, but the readership of community newspapers still consists of people who didn’t grow up with computers in their schools. Unfortunately, the people who run newspaper chains don’t realize that most of their customers do not spend the day at their computer looking at news sites. And they also don’t realize that the type of news their newspapers specialize in is ideally suited for print, not the web. The web is great for covering quick-developing news stories, or issues of provincial or national relevance. But there isn’t really all that much need-to-know-now news that happens in your average community; it’s not in the mandate of community newspapers to cover non-local issues; and when something regional happens, people are more likely to head to the website of news organizations with more resources and a bigger name.
Local newspapers can seek page views all they want, but the internet is not going to bring home the bacon anytime soon. At best, it’s a place to play defence against competitiors. (So why, if Castanet, in Kelowna, can make a profit why can’t newspapers’ online divisions? Mainly because of investment of resources. Glacier Media and Black Press are never, ever, ever going to give, say, their newspapers in Langley or Port Alberni two more reporters devoted solely to creating content for their website. Ever. AND, even if they did it would still fail because Kelowna is probably the only community-newspaper city, because of its size, economy and distance from other major population centres, that could support such a business at this time. Even then, I think, it took the Kelowna wildfire to give Castanet the brand-name boost that it needed.)
So newsprint is dead. Long live newsprint.
Also similar reasons, this blog is over. So it goes. I’m gonna keep the Twitter account and, hopefully, use it more. Less characters, means less work, which will hopefully encourage me to re-engage with the purpose of this site, if not in this medium
In a letter to his readers, managing editor Neil Godbout of the Prince George Citizen apologized for an apparent case of plagiarism by one of the paper’s now-former staff.
The staff member was not identified in the letter but Godbout does say that person has been let go.
From Godbout’s letter:
While fact-checking an opinion piece written last week by this staff member, the similarity between the submitted work and a blog became apparent. The final paragraph of the submitted opinion piece was nearly verbatim to a similar paragraph in the middle portion of the blog. The staff writer did not credit the original writer or make any indication that the final paragraph of the opinion piece was written by someone else.
The full letter, found here, is very apologetic to the readers and I’d say great credit is due to the Citizen for being so upfront about the situation and dealing with it so quickly.
Every year the Nanaimo Daily News puts out its list of the city’s most powerful people.
This year’s list — the first published under the paper’s new managing editor Mark MacDonald — has anointed the News’ own publisher, Hugh Nicholson, as the paper’s second-most powerful person.
According to the story:
The Daily News publisher is also division manager of the Vancouver Island Newspaper Group, and is considered a go-to man within Glacier Media ranks. Nicholson plans to turn the Daily News into the flagship newspaper for the Glacier chain. His most recent project included the impressive re-launch of the Harbour City Star.
Nicholson is seven spots ahead of Nanaimo mayor John Ruttan, who topped last year’s list. He’s also 13 spots ahead of Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. As one commenter pointed out, 14 names are new and didn’t make the list last year. Nicholson is one of them, having only been appointed publisher last summer.
Of note, though, former NDN publisher Curt Duddy was ranked fifth both in 2010 and 2012. He wasn’t on the list in 2011 because “opted out to make room for someone else on the list.” (The publisher of the Nanaimo News Bulletin has not made the list in the last four years.)
Also of note, spots No. 4, 5 and 6 are occupied by car dealers — two of whom made the cut last year. Twelve of the list members are business owners. (I emphasize the number of businesspeople because building MacDonald emphasized bridges in his manifesto for turning around the newspaper industry.)
According to the paper:
Those who were on the list last year, but didn’t make the cut on this year’s list: businessman Hadi Abassi, publisher Curt Duddy, school district chairman Jamie Brennan, Snuneymuxw chief Doug White, VIHA president Howard Waldner, B.C. Ferries president and CEO Mike Corrigan, Nanaimo Port Authority president Bernie Dumas, MP Leonard Krog, Grace Elliot-Nielsen, Dawn Anderson, Paralympian Michelle Stilwell, Wendy Pratt, MP James Lunney.
A former Prince George Citizen reporter may have been the man who shot and killed two people in a Philippines courtroom this week before being shot himself.
Start of the Citizen’s story:
John Pope was facing charges of illegal possession of firearms when he was shot by police in Cebu City the Southeast Asian country. He was described in local reports as being a journalist.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs was unable to provide any personal details about Pope due to privacy concerns, but a man named John Pope was a Citizen staff reporter in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to former Citizen employees, Pope was living in the Philippines for the last 10 to 15 years.
The Citizen also received a package from John Pope in the fall originating from the Philippines addressed to a former staff member.
Former colleagues at the Citizen had starkly different memories of Pope – some said he was a good friend and very loyal, while others said he was troubled and unhappy.
A man who was wrongly identified online as a sex offender by the Bowen Island Undercurrent was awarded $35,100 by a Supreme Court justice in late December.
You should probably read the full decision.
In a nutshell, a Bowen Island man, Simon James Sr., was found guilty of sexually touching a minor.
The Undercurrent, though, mistakenly used a file photo of the man’s son, Simon James Jr.
Hence the libel.
On the bright side, the print run of the paper was halted and not distributed. And the web version was quickly taken down, with only about 500 people having viewed the online version.
Kelly McManus wrote the story, while Justin Beddall was the editor.
“In this case I have already decided that the publication was on a matter of public interest. However, in my opinion the publication of the plaintiff’s photograph was not an essential part of the report on the criminal proceeding in question. Publication of the Article without the photograph would have adequately informed the public of the matters addressed in the Article. In saying this, I should not be taken to be second guessing the editorial decision to publish a photograph. I do however think that this factor also called for a very high degree of diligence with respect to the accuracy of the photograph that was published.
“In this case the status of the source of the information was in one sense highly reliable. Mr. Beddall relied on information provided by Ms. McManus and Ms. Wait, both reliable sources. However, the principal difficulty I have is with the quality of the information that led to the publication. On the facts I have found no one ever identified Mr. James as the person who was convicted of the offence. The only person involved who had observed Simon James Sr., the person convicted, was Ms. McManus. However, Ms. McManus did not positively identify the plaintiff as that person. Her evidence went no farther than to say that the person in the photograph looked like the person convicted.
There was ample time for the defendants to confirm the true facts. Ms. Wait provided the photograph to Mr. Beddall some days before the Article was posted. It is of course obvious that if confirmation had been sought, Mr. James would have been able to provide the correct information.
“I am of the view that the conduct of Black Press prior to publication, while falling short of bad faith, is an aggravating factor. I have tried to avoid applying hindsight in assessing that conduct. However, I am satisfied that the way in which Mr. Beddall went about trying to verify that the photograph was in fact a photograph of the person convicted fell far short of the due diligence required in the circumstances. Despite this, the defendants denied liability and put the plaintiff to the expense of rebutting the defence of responsible communication.
“There is also no question that the plaintiff has been deeply emotionally affected by the publication of the libel. He removed the Raven Tales decals from his car, which was the one depicted in the photograph complained of this case. He has had difficulty in coping with his personal reaction to the publication.
“On the other hand there are also mitigating factors. The defendants moved very quickly to remove the libel from the Undercurrent web site once it was brought to their attention. Black Press ensured that the press run of the print version of the Undercurrent was held back until the Article could be altered to the satisfaction of the plaintiff’s counsel. The defendants made a timely offer to publish a retraction and apology that was not taken up by plaintiff’s counsel.
“I am also satisfied that Black Press took all reasonable steps to locate and remove cached versions of the Article from the World Wide Web. In this regard they cooperated with the plaintiff in diligently following up on all cached versions located and identified by his counsel.
“As a result it is clear that only a relatively small number of persons actually saw the libel and in all probability even fewer saw it without knowing that Mr. James’ picture had been posted in error. There was considerable evidence presented as to how often the site was viewed. I need not refer to it in detail. I am satisfied that less than 500 persons saw the offending material.
“Fortunately, there is no evidence that Mr. James’ career has been adversely affected by the publication. He has been invited to participate in community events involving children since the incident.
“I conclude that this is a case that calls for an award of significant damages, mitigated by the above factors.
“I have considered the cases on mistaken identity referred to by the defendants. In my view this is a more serious case than one of simple mistaken identity. In this case the Article and headline were intended to refer to Mr. James. They described him in some detail. The statements were made about him. In the cases referred to by the defendants, the error would have been obvious to anyone who knew the plaintiff. That would not be the case here because the captioned words do identify Mr. James.
“Taking all of the circumstances into account, I assess general damages in the amount of $35,000.
“I also award the plaintiff special damages of $100, being the cost of removing the Raven Tales decals from his car.
“The plaintiff is entitled to his costs of the action on scale B, but subject to the parties having liberty to apply with respect to costs.
One of the most interesting proposals made by new Nanaimo Daily News editor Mark MacDonald in his plan to rejuvenate the fortunes of his paper is the introduction of story quotas.
It’s an idea that deserves serious and sober thought. So, rather than talk about some of the more abstract proposals by MacDonald, I thought I’d concentrate on the quota idea.
Note that I’ll be writing generally about quotas as an idea, not specifically about what may or may not be implemented in Nanaimo. I may, though, use it as an example.
Before tearing the idea down, it’s probably best to build it up, thinking like a news manager, not a reporter. So, without further adieu…
Why quotas are a good idea for journalism:
- Because journalists are cultured to do just enough work as necessary. This sounds condescending, and it may be. But it’s also true. A veteran reporter isn’t likely to write five stories if he’s only expected to write four. He’s not going to write four, if he’s only expected to write three. And so on. If there are no expectations, or if the expectations that exist are only vague, then there is little consequence for not meeting them.
- Because the “news hole” is now limitless. The internet means that there is no limit amount of stories a news organization can publish. A paper can pump out five, 10, 20, 50 stories a day, if it has the ability to do so. And the more stories, the more reason to visit the site. Also, the more words, the more likely stories will show up in Google search results. More visitors mean more traffic means more advertising revenue. Or, if you implement a paywall, more wanna-be visitors means more subscribers.
- Because it lowers the bar on what constitutes a legitimate news story, and thus promotes the gathering of hyperlocal news. People want to read about what happens at the local elementary school. Reporters do not want to write about what happens at the school. Or they didn’t until they had a quota of stories to file and began digging towards the bottom of the barrel.
- Because the pursuit of lesser stories may turn up hidden gems. Often, journalists miss great stories because the people who know about them do not seek out publicity. Someone speaking to a reporter about a lame story may, incidentally, reveal a larger, better story that has so far remained unreported.
- Because more stories require making more contacts, and more contacts equal better stories. The more people a reporter knows and speaks regularly with in the community, the more likely he or she is to stumble up on a very good story—see above.
- Because more locally written stories mean less press releases/wire copy appearing in print. The Internet has substantially depreciated the desirability of wire copy in small papers. More locally written stories should be able to bump wire copy, press releases or press release rewrites. More content should mean that only the best stories, or most pressing local information gets published, thereby improving the quality of the paper product.
Why quotas are a good idea for newspaper owners (but bad for reporters):
- Because quotas could allow them to fire reporters. Newspapers are not suffering for content. With revenue either flat or declining, the main challenge is to cut costs. Cutting costs in newsrooms is difficult, however, without jeopardizing the content of a paper. Web advertising is basically worthless. Revenue still comes from the printed product. Papers are not getting bigger. Editors are not being asked to fill more space with the same amount of reporters. They’re being asked to fill the same amount (or less) of space with fewer reporters. But you still need enough reporters to fill a paper and enough editors to lay it out. How do you fill a paper with fewer reporters? You get the remaining reporters to write more. If you’re ruthless, you do this before you cut staff so you can see which reporters are unable to meet your higher demands.
Why quotas are very bad for journalism:
- Because quotas will force reporters to spend less time on a story than they would have otherwise done.
- Because reporters will speak to fewer sources. The one-source story will become a favourite, especially if it can spur a comment (and thus another story) from another source in the following paper. Instead of balance, you get he said, she said.
- Because reporters will stop asking questions sooner, rather than later. If I know I need to get a story done ASAP, I’m going to speak to an interview subject not for an hour, but 15 minutes. I can almost always get a decent-length story out of that quarter-hour. While I may have more questions, and while those questions may prompt better quotes or more thoughtful responses, interviews stop increasing story length after the 20-minute mark. At that point, the story stops growing and starts getting better. But if I’m judged on piecework, 20 minutes is good enough.
- Because ‘good enough’ will become not just a newsroom joke but a real mantra.
- Because reporters will be discouraged from leaving the newsroom. Fifteen minutes spent driving to an interview subject’s home and 15 minutes spent driving back, is a lot of time to spend not cranking out copy. Why not do the interview on the phone? Phone interviews, obviously, aren’t as good as in-person interviews. You can’t look your subject in the eye, or observe how they interact with your surroundings. For the same reason employers prefer to interview prospective employees in person, journalism is better conducted face-to-face. The travel time discourages this, as does the fact that in-person interviews are more likely to last longer than the 20-minute good enough limit.
- Because however fast a reporter writes, less time for a story means less time spent checking for factual errors, typos or leaps of logic. Less time spent checking means more time spent getting sued and apologizing. On the other hand, maybe corrections would count towards one’s quota.
- Because less time on a story means less time writing the lede. Most reporters can write a lede to any story they come across in 30-seconds. Writing a lede that is good and draws the reader in, however, often takes much, much longer. But what’s the point, when you’re being measured by quantity, rather than quality?
- Because there is such a thing as a slow news day. There just is.
- Because some reporters will get screwed. Some beats come ready made with ideas and topics to cover, although they often depend on the time of the year and the principals involved. Other beats require more time and more enterprise. Can you afford the genius assignment editor you will require?
- Because story quota will induce massive rates of burnout among journalists. One example: Gawker, a major online news site, suffered in its early years from rapid turnover because of the content-crazy way it encouraged and paid its workers to pump out copy. The act of turning one’s focus from one topic to another is naturally exhausting. Quotas would mandate it.
- Because features and investigations will be devalued. Presumably exceptions could be made for select stories that require more than two hours of work. But a quota-based newsroom is likely going to provide less time for such subjects. Even in a system that gives generous amounts of times for certain stories, quotas will encourage reporters to reduce or eliminate the time they spend on those smaller features that don’t quite qualify for a quota exemption. Good stories won’t get told because they take just a little too much time.
- Because the writing will suffer. Why make a sentence shine when a dull matte sheen is good enough?
- Because a quota-based newsroom sounds like a horrible place to work and is unlikely to attract good reporters. The quality of applicants for jobs that require reportas to meet quotas will suffer. And the turnover rate will be astronomical. Which may allow a paper to fill its ranks with cheap labour. But that inexperienced labour is going to turn out a cheap product.
- Because a newspaper that has to rely on reporter quotas to survive or prosper is not a newspaper I want to read or work for.
Disagree? Leave a comment. Please try to keep comments civil/not libellous. I had to put the kibosh on a couple on the last post that crossed the line.
Mark MacDonald, the new managing editor of the Nanaimo Daily News, has some interesting ideas about how to fix the daily news business.
Find below a three page document titled “Restoring Daily Newspapers to Prominence” in which MacDonald advocates his strategies for helping daily papers survive.
Please read the whole thing. I’ve pulled out some snippets of particular interest.
“The three most important words in the newspaper business are: Local, local, local.”
“There are many ways our papers can obtain news without increasing costs. As you can see by this list, these are not necessarily new ideas:”"Use advertising staff to bring in editorial leads. What better way to put their clients and prospective clients in the news and give them a reason to read? Simply pass on news to an editorial person who would compile a “People” column that ran regularly. People LOVE gossip – the daily needs that to some degree to make it a must read.”
“Sports organization leaders who want to share.”
“Increased yield from existing news staffers. If a lengthy interview takes an hour and it takes an hour to write, that’s four substantial length stories in a typical working day. And it’s a reasonable work place.”
“Having sat in a newsroom for many years, I know the culture well. More than once, we watched the next days’ [sic] front page story walk past our desks. I understand how a veteran news writer, faced with bundling up and going out to fight the elements i search of a meaty, story, could see the “relevance” of the one that just walked by his or her desk in a warm, dry office.”
“Either balance out all stories, or don’t balance them out at all and let the topic have its say. If you can’t have both side of an issue covered and represented respectfully, don’t have either.
“For example, if there is a new mine being considered for an area, the writers cover the topic, then contact someone opposed to ‘bring balance’ to the story. When an opponent is contacted, a proponent should be also, to give balance.”
“Existing union contracts can be onerous and unworkable and even though workers believe this gives them job security, it is in fact crippling the industry and making it unprofitable. The union needs to realize this and be willing to make alterations for their long-term profit.”
“Most papers lean to the left editorially, or at least are lukewarm to business interests. Typical journalists don’t understand business, how business operates successfully, or how their owners think. Newspaper owners must share part of the blame for the left leaning tendencies of typical media, in that they’ve abrogated responsibility for hiring news staff to editors, many of whom are sympathetic to the socialist cause. Of course there are some positive aspects of socialism, but they shouldn’t dominate the editorial flavor [sic] of the paper.
“Newspapers need not become “right wing rags”. That is counter-productive, and not indicative of a community building meeting place for citizens. It is not a fair representation of the community at large. But they do need ballance.”
While I will refrain from commenting, please feel free to weigh in below…
Note: If you’re having trouble viewing them, click on these three links and zoom in. You can do this on most browsers by pressing the CTRL and + buttons at the same time. I think on Macs it’s the apple button instead of the CTRL.