I’ve been asked a lot of things in my time as a community newspaper reporter. But the one thing I’ve never been asked is what I think my newspaper chain can do better. I’ve thus also never been asked how it might make more money, or produce better content, or alienate fewer readers, or piss off fewer employees. (Which is, of course, one of the reasons I started this blog.)
Every now and then you’ll read a story about an innovative company that is great to work for. What sets these companies apart isn’t usually what they produce, but how they produce it. Google allows workers to set aside something like 20 per cent of their time for their own personal projects. Toyota asks front-line workers to suggest improvements to allow it to run more efficiently. Other companies ask their employees what they can do better. Not newspaper companies. At Postmedia, which has blessedly sold off its community papers, Paul Godfrey set aside time a couple times a year to answer employee questions. Which is a nice gesture, I guess, but also condescending and ridiculous and symptomatic of all that’s wrong with the industry.
Or you have the old executive visit. This happens at most every paper: you’re working a pumping out another edition when the publisher or editor brings some guy in a suit around to your desk. Your boss states your name and position, makes small talk and facilitates a handshake. It’s an utter waste of time and demeaning for all concerned, the equivalent of dogs sniffing each others’ asses. Except at least the dogs might find something interesting. The reporter and editor goes through the charade because they have to, obviously. The boss does it to plant the company’s flag and show his face and, if he’s an idiot, because he (it’s always a he) thinks it’s good for morale.
If the guy really cared, of course, he wouldn’t ask about the news of the day or how the family is doing, but rather if there’s anything he and the other folks at head office should know that would make the paper run better. To pull this off requires skill and the allocation of actual time and effort on the part of the suit. The workers need to know he’s coming (so they can prepare their pitch) and be promised that any suggestions they make won’t come back to bite them in the ass. But it’s not that hard. And it shouldn’t take that much time: most employees will be too shy, or too apathetic, to offer suggestions. Some might, though. Maybe it’ll help. Maybe processes can be streamlined. Maybe new markets can be found. Maybe smart new employees will reveal themselves. And maybe somebody will show that even non-executives can have good ideas, or at least the same old bad ones.*
Maybe the suits will ignore all the suggestions. But at least they’d be pretending to fucking care.
*One of the problems with newspaper chains is that innovation (if you can call it that) tends to only happen from the top. All the websites (save that of the Powell River Peak) look the same, and all changes can only be implemented on a chain-wide basis by somebody working at some head office or location set apart from the individual papers. There is no room for experimentation. An idea is conceived and implemented across dozens of websites. This takes substantial time and money. If it fails…scratch that….nobody’s allowed to admit failure because doing so requires someone to admit that all that effort was wasted. And because the chains discourage failure, they inevitably discourage innovation and promote imitation. Imitation, of course, is safe and comfortable and allows the suits to keep collecting their salaries while they cut from the bottom.**
**Maybe that’s why chains don’t want to hear from us.
Black Press has followed an increasing number of newspaper publishers around North America and instituted a pay wall to access online content for those of its papers that aren’t free.
The pay wall hasn’t descended on every one of its subscription papers (Salmon Arm Observer and Trail Daily Times content, for two is still free.)
But other papers, like the Ladysmith Chronicle, are already behind the wall. Click on some of the Chronicle’s stories and you get redirected to a screen that says:
Welcome to ladysmithchronicle.com
If you are already a print subscriber, this online access is part of your subscription. Just click on Register and then Activate Digital Add On on the next two screens to activate the online portion of your subscription.
If you are not a current subscriber, you can create an account and purchase a Print and Digital Subscription or Digital Only Subscription on the next page.
Click Help for further assistance.
Black Press has posted a FAQ about its paywall. Here are the three most interesting Qs and As:
Q: Why has the paper chosen to make some of its content “Premium Content?”
A: Like any business, we need to price our product in such a way that we can continue to provide the level of quality to which our customers have grown accustomed. Maintaining our staff of talented local journalists, sales people and designers would not be possible without subscription fees. This also corrects an anomaly that’s existed for years – where our print subscribers paid to read our stories, which were available online free. This properly recognizes the value all our subscribers place on our content.
Q: Will the entire site require a subscription?
A: No, much of the content on our site will still be free, including: breaking news, calendar, and all facets of provincial coverage. Subscriptions are required to access our in-depth local news, sports, opinions and features.
Q: Can I buy a subscription on the website?
A: Yes. You can pay for delivery of our print edition plus online access, or just the online access quickly and easily through our site.
This strikes me as a good, easy move that should have been made long ago. While there is an argument to be made for a paid paper in a large city to offer its content for online for free (particularly if it has free competitors), it seems stupid to do so in a small community where you already charge for your paper and where you have no free competition. This will again reinforce the need for Salmon Arm and Trail residents to go out and buy their local paper. While I guess it could hurt online advertising, that’s still a small slice of revenues compared to the money made from ads in the print editions of those not-free papers. In a community like Ladysmith, nobody is going to be able to make money running a free online news site—at least not for many years.
Now will Glacier follow suit with some of its papers? The Prince George Citizen seems to hold back much from its paper editions, but some of the smaller subscription papers still post much, if not all, of their content online.
P.S. If anybody at those papers has an opinion, please weigh in. Also, if, in a couple months, somebody could forward me pre-paywall and post-paywall subscription numbers, or email me about how a paywall affects their subscriptions, it would be much appreciated.
Good idea? Bad idea? Leave a comment.
News flash: The Castlegar News is on the Internet. Who would’ve thunk it — a newspaper, in 2011 no less, accessible by the Internet.
Below you will find two examples of news stories — with bylines featuring the names of real journalists — the sole purpose of which is to alert reader’s to the Black Press-owned paper’s website.
First thing: my amusement here is focused solely on whoever decided these stories should run in such a format. (Presumably, and I can only presume, the blame lies with the publisher.)
That out of the way, there’s no way in hell that these stories should ever have bylines attached to them. A byline is all a writer has. Don’t waste it.
I have seen small brief-y stories in the editorial section that are ostensibly advertising for something that has to do with the paper. I don’t really see much of a problem with that, so long as they’re shilling an editorial, or even an editorialish product. The website is such a thing. But don’t just announce, in 2011, that you have a website when 1) you have operated the same website for years; 2) it’s 2011; and 3) there’s nothing groundbreaking or new about it. Sure, if you replace your shitty old website with a beautiful new one, let your readers know about it. But the article should NOT bear a reporter’s byline. Never. Ever.
It just looks, frankly, ridiculous.
Leave a comment.
Today, Black Press announced that it was changing its online comments policy and will henceforth only allow readers to comment after signing in with their Facebook identity.
Rob DeMone explained the move thusly:
The policy has led to some unpleasant and mean-spirited postings. It’s also raised an inconsistency in our Black Press brand. Our community newspapers don’t print anonymous letters, yet we’ve allowed our websites to become a place where people can hide their identity while occasionally taking shots at one another.
DeMone notes that the move is of a kind with those made by other media companies which have introduced similar policies. He says it has resulted in good discussion with less sniping and assholery.
The downside is obvious: no Facebook profile, no comments. Indeed, it has already drawn the ire of commenters for that reason.
But DeMone has responded by noting that those people can always send a letter to the editor. Which seems like a good comeback.
My take is that, all things considered, only a tiny fraction of those who read Black Press papers end up commenting online. So even if you drive all of them away, it’s probably not going to hurt the paper. But by putting a name to a comment, the policy should encourage the less-crazy-but-still-opinionated slice of society to take part. It may also (although I’m unsure of the law surrounding comments) insulate the chain from the legal risk posed by anonymous comments. It sure can’t hurt.
Of course, you can still leave a comment on this blog, anonymously or not. I continue to allow anonymous comments because sometimes, when discussing one’s employer, it’s necessary to avoid using one’s name. On other topics, it’s less desired. I would block a comment that uses anonymity to attack another journalist, but fortunately the blog’s readership is such that I’ve never had to do so.
Leave a comment below.
I was going to do a roundup, but then I ran into three very interesting things about which I’d like to write in detail. Coincidentally or not, they all revolve around Glacier Media properties. (Given my enthusiasm for the three, and given the conspiracy-mindedness of some people, it bears mentioning that I don’t work for Glacier). I’m going to spread them out over the next three days so I don’t have to write anything else for those days.
This first one is absolutely huge.
The Powell River Peak has launched its own iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch app. To download it, go to the iTunes store and search “Powell River Peak.”
I don’t have one of the above devices, so I can’t properly review it, but I’ve raved before about the wonders of the PR Peak website, and I’ve no reason to believe the app will be any worse.
Here’s a screen shot from iTunes.
I’m going to try to do something more on this in the coming days, but in the meantime, a couple early notes:
1. The app is free and advertising supported. While that’s consistent with the newspaper’s business platform, I wonder if the Peak isn’t missing out on revenue, given that people have actually shown a willingness to pay for apps, including news apps, and given the fact that right now the Peak doesn’t have any local competitors in the Powell River news app field. Then again, in a small community like Powell River, where many people don’t own iPhones, you’re going to want everyone who does have an Apple device to download your app.
2. This leads one to wonder how long it will take for other community papers to follow suit. It seems likely that other Glacier papers — most likely the dailies — will be the next to adopt the technology, once any kinks are worked out of the Powell River app and if it proves popular-ish. But then again, they haven’t adopted the overall wonderfulness of the Peak’s website, so who knows.
Since the Vancouver Sun and the Province have apps, PostMedia seems like it should have all the tools to allow its community newspapers to have their own apps. But the PostMedia community newspaper web effort has been pretty dismal to this point and there’s no indication that that will change anytime soon.
I’m going to guess that Black Press has something in the incubator, but given the fact that the chain is still unreasonably obsessed with video, one can’t be sure.
Lotsa stuff from around the Lower Mainland last week. (Two more posts coming later today).
Superb story, in the Burnaby Now, by Jennifer Moreau on an autistic pinball genius and aspiring poker king.
Robert’s latest passion is poker. For the past three or four months, he’s been teaching himself how to play by watching YouTube videos and has already ranked No. 11 in one of B.C.’s amateur leagues. With his natural ability to handle numbers, statistics and probabilities, Robert seems cut out for the game.
“If you ask him, ‘What are the chances of getting royal flush?’ He’ll probably say, ‘One in 650,000,’ ” Maurizio says. “He tells me this stuff, and it goes over my head.”
The poker thing blows me away because it’s generally assumed that a large part of that game is the ability to read competitors’ intentions. And yet, a major symptom of autism is the inability to pick up such social cues.
Also in the Burnaby Now, Janaya Fuller-Evans reports on allegations of bullying, infighting and other alleged misdeeds that one normally expects to see in the arts community, rather than among animal lovers.
Arnold noted many instances of harassment, from board members directly confronting her over issues to moments where she felt threatened, including when her truck was vandalized while parked at the association’s barns.
The new Black Press front pages are improved, but the stories themselves badly need paragraph breaks. I imagine someone’s working on that. Meanwhile the WordPress Theme for Black Press blogs is truly horrible and gloomy and makes me not want to read on even when the content is quite good. Please change it.
The phrase “board of education” sounds stupid. They’re school boards, they should be called as such.
I just noticed the sleazy weekly editorials in the Delta Optimist. How do you get your editorial percentage when the copy is so obviously an advertisement? The Optimist is the only Postmedia paper with a business column down the right hand side of its news page. Why? Why? Why?
A crazy crime spree in the Chilliwack area included, as Robert Freeman of the Chilliwack Progress puts it, “one woman’s emergency 911 call, one vehicle burning under the Agassiz/Rosedale bridge, one dust-up with a Chilliwack car dealer, one startled shopper in the Chilliwack Safeway parking lot – and one alligator.” Oh, yeah, and there was a marijuana grow-op involved (although I guess the presence of drugs isn’t all that surprising).
In a similar vein comes this beauty of a headline from the North Shore Outlook: “Stinky thieves steal laundry loot.” And yes, the thieves were actually smelly.
Two stories — one in the Richmond News, the other in the Coquitlam Now — about stutterers are hooked on last night’s Oscars and The King’s Speech. I think a smart PR person is probably behind each, given that they both mention Columbia Speech and Language Services, but that’s OK; the stories are good.
The Richmond Review has published its 30 under 30 section. These features about all these high-flying young achievers always depress the hell out of me, but are fun to read anyways.
Your webinar of the day:
Be like Delta Leader photog Evan Seal and turn your camera on an angle.
This Tri-City News file photo of an ambulance at a hospital is awesome. File photos don’t have to be boring.
And for some reason community newspapers forget that the simple Q and A format can make for great reading and very easy writing. Marisa Babic of the Surrey Now puts questions to under-fire Vanoc head John Furlong.
(One thing, though: we Canadians don’t have a timid sense of patriotism. We just like to pretend we do. If we weren’t patriotic Molson’s I Am Canadian commercials wouldn’t be so successful. Hopefully the Olympics ends the charade.)
Nice story (and lede) by the Vancouver Courier’s Naoibh O’Connor on a First Nations school that has rebranded itself as an “Earth School.”
Rainwater drips like a broken tap off the corner of the First Nation long house roof into a concrete barrel. Droplets barely ripple the surface of six-inch deep water pooled above a bed of rocks, sand and debris. Fidgety Grade 2 and 3 students gather around Brent Mansfield on this cool late-January morning at Grandview/¿uuqinak’uuh elementary. Mansfield, the school’s garden project coordinator, hoped for more of a downpour for today’s lesson, but a drizzle will do.
Finally, in case you missed the Black Press shuffle, the North Shore Outlook and WestEnder have got new editors.
That was a pretty good post, eh? Or not? Either way keep them coming by helping me out. It’s easy, quick and the pay is shite. E-mail bclocalreporter (at) gmail (dot) com.
Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll shamefully update the post.
We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!