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.
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.
Nanaimo Daily News reporter Walter Cordery has died at the age of 54. Neither the news story or two columns in the paper about Cordery includes his cause of death, but while it was “unexpected,” Paul Walton wrote that the 23-year veteran of the paper had long battled health issues.
UPDATE: Walton wrote me over Thanksgiving weekend:
Thanks for your posting about Walter Cordery.
I just want to make sure the record is clear about his passing to remove any conjecture.
While his death was indeed unexpected and upsetting for all who knew him, information provided to me by the police and coroner indicate that Walter died of natural causes.
Beyond that, I can offer no further information.
Here’s the news story:
Family, friends and colleagues are mourning the unexpected death of longtime Daily News reporter and columnist Walter Cordery.
Cordery has been with the newspaper since he graduated from the journalism program at Vancouver’s Langara College in 1989. A back injury ended his previous career as a butcher.
He covered a wide range of issues in his 23 years with the paper, but his favourite topics revolved around politics and crime in Nanaimo. Cordery gave his own impressions of daily events in the city in his well-read column Wonderland.
Cordery’s ex-wife Heather, mother of his two daughters Elyse and Nadine, said his two passions in life were his children and journalism.
“Walter was a great dad who really loved his girls, and that was evident every time he was with them,” Heather said. “His other great love was journalism and he worked hard at his job.”
Interim editor Philip Wolf’s column:
I knew he was as sharp as a tack the minute I met him.
I Back in 1991, a baby-faced young lad (that would be me) showed up for his first official shift at the (then) Nanaimo Daily Free Press, sporting a rather impressive black eye.
I mumbled something about a stray elbow in a weekend football game, which seemed to placate my new colleagues.
Not Walter Cordery.
After everyone dispersed, he sidled up to me quietly and said: “OK, so what really happened?”
You could never put anything past Walter.
Today, I look around the newsroom and it just doesn’t feel right.
Directly behind me is the spot where Michael Rhode is supposed to be.
He’s not there.
One quadrant over is where Walter is supposed to be.
He’s not there either.
Walter passed away over the weekend.
He was just 54 years old.
My sense of sadness today is overwhelming.
And Paul Walton’s aforementioned column:
Nanaimo is for the worse today with the loss of our Daily News colleague Walter Cordery.
For some time Walter had been struggling with health issues that would test the bravest of us. And amidst the various tests, medications and consults, his commitment to the readers of this newspaper never wavered.
Walter was a newshound and a political junkie. He got into journalism in the 1980s after studying journalism at Langara College. We used to tease him that he started at the Daily Free Press when the earth was cooling and that he reported on the Crimean War for the Free Press.
Almost, but not quite. It was the depth of Walter’s knowledge that made him appear so long-lasting. If I had a question about provincial or municipal politics, Walter would usually know.
“Hey Walter,” was usually met with “Hey Paul.”
“When was the ALR created in B.C.?”
“Under the NDP and Dave Barrett in the early ’70s.”
“Who was mayor before Gary Korpan?”
I’ve probably missed a lot of these types of announcements in recent months, but I’ll at least take a swing at acknowledging a few recent comings and goings, including two biggies.
First, today is Mel Rothenburger‘s last day as editor of the Kamloops Daily News. He’s retiring and associate editor Robert Koopmans will take the reigns after a long apprenticeship in the newsroom (and six Webster nominations). I’ll try to link to Mel’s goodbye column when it’s posted.
Meanwhile, on Vancouver Island, Cale Cowan is no longer the editor of the Nanaimo Daily News. He’s heading down the road to be the news editor at the Victoria Times-Colonist. (Dave Obee is the new head honcho there). Meanwhile, NDN deputy editor Philip Wolf has been named interim editor. Details on how to get Cale’s old job here. Also, here’s Cale’s goodbye column, in which he recounts a letter from a reader “who, on one short hand-scrawled note, questioned my intelligence, commented disparagingly on my physique and likened my character to a very specific part of the human anatomy.”
The other paper in town, the Nanaimo News Bulletin, already has a new editor, with the promotion in August of former arts editor Melissa Fryer. Read her first column as editor here. Here’s the goodbye column by outgoing editor Mitch Wright, who has taken a communications gig with the University of Victoria.
Parksville Qualicum Beach News editor Steve Heywood will become the Peninsula News Review third editor in less than a year. He takes over for Erin Cardone, who is moving overseas.
And the Fernie Free Press‘s newest reporter Nicole Liebermann introduces herself to readers.
If you need a job, today’s the last day to apply to be the Nanaimo News Bulletin‘s newest reporter or the Goldstream News Gazette‘s new editor.
Finally, North Shore News sales and marketing director Dee Dhaliwal has been named the new publisher of the Vancouver Courier. Reading the story announcing her appointment was the first time, really, that I noticed just how few non-white publishers, editors and reporters there are at community papers in B.C. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s a little disturbing, now that I’m aware of it.
The finalists 2012 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards have been announced. There’s so bloody many of them, and it’s such a nightmare to format, that I’ll just direct you here to check out each and every category.
A couple categories haven’t been announced yet, most notably two general excellence categories.
But some early observations:
British Columbia papers and journalists earned a total of 107 finalist nods out of a total of 282 (!). Ontario had 62, while Alberta had 53. Speaks to the vast strength of the B.C. community newspaper industry compared to that in other provinces. Contemplating why community newspapers are so dominant here is worthy of a separate post.
Again, we still don’t have results from a couple of categories, but at this point the Nanaimo Daily News (let’s face it, punching below their weight in the 4,000 to 6,499 category), leads the way among B.C. papers with six nominations. An independent paper from Valemount is right behind with five nominations; The Valley Sentinel is nominated in each of the general excellence categories in its tiny class and Astrid Tevely also picked up a photo nomination. Several newspapers garnered four nominations: the Alberni Valley News [Corrected], the Chilliwack Times, the Cowichan Valley Citizen, the Gulf Islands Driftwood, and The Interior News,
The Hinton Voice leads all papers with eight finalist nods.