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Prince George Free Press adds digital offering

December 4, 2012 1 comment

The Prince George Free Press, a twice-weekly community paper in B.C.’s northern capital, has embarked on a new experiment: a daily, digital edition.

As reported here, the paper says it has launched a new, non-traditional daily product. Indeed, separate from its own website, which uses Black Press’ standard template (it’s no longer under Black Press ownership, although they do remain affiliated in some ways), this product is delivered right to your e-mail and readers scroll through it like an actual paper.

From the announcement:

“The Free Press Daily is markedly different than a website in a couple of ways,” said Bill Phillips, Free Press managing editor. “We haven’t loaded it up with web enhancements that have nothing to do with delivering the news of the day, and we actually deliver it to you. Rather than having to go a website to get your news, it comes to you … just like the paper version does.”

I also couldn’t help but notice a slight, light-hearted jab to their main competitor, the Prince George Citizen, a subscription-based daily paper. That came from a comment from the Free Press’ sales director:

“Why should you pay to get your daily news?” said Roy Spooner, Free Press sales and marketing director.

It’s definitely a neat idea. I’ll be curious to see if it sparks any other projects like that from other papers in the area.

– Northern Reporter

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Northern Reporter: How a bout that

August 2, 2012 Comments off

Well I did say I had no free time, didn’t I?

A single post about time management early in the summer and I disappear like, uh, like a shadow from a light bulb. Is that clever? Who knows, I’m tired.

Anyway, as I wrestled with someting to write about during a sudden moment of freedom, I recalled an early career story that I can’t believe I haven’t told yet.

So the year was 2007. Fresh at my first paper, I was assigned to report on the local boxing club which was hosting a competition over the weekend.

My extensive knowledge of boxing at that moment in time was as follows:

 

Yes, that much. However I watched the matches with enthusiasm, taking as many non-flash photos as I could, after the referee stopped a match and asked that I not use the flash after I made the flub. In a dark boxing arena that was terrible news for a reporter.

I carried on, however, and did what I could.

Back at the office later, the protocol was I laid out the sports page myself once I received the dummy, and my editor would take a peek at it before I marked it done.

This week, falling behind on his own work, the editor simply said he trusted me this time and to just send it when I thought it was ready.

Extra responsibility. Oh yeah!

Except my sorely lacking background in sports would have been obvious to my editor when I wrote passages referring to a “game” of boxing. There was something else I did repeatedly. Perhaps said exhibit match instead of exhibition. Who knows. All I know is that I butchered the terminology of the game.

Now, I argue to this day that boxing should be considered a game. Two people compete for a prize. Sounds like a game to me, just with more punching. I can’t really argue the other mess-up in the terminology, but hey, live and learn.

The boxing coach himself, a very nice, large, intimidating man, calmly filled me in on what I got wrong at a later match. I admire a person who strives to educate rather than belittle.

The random, anonymous e-mail from somewhere in Victoria, BC wasn’t so nice. A reader who keeps up with us online read the story and sent  a terse message basically insinuating I lacked mental capacity and questioned whether I even care about what I write.

I do care, for the record.

Ignorance isn’t always bliss, especially in the public record. Without knowing I didn’t know, I wrote up a boxing story with the wording all wrong.

I later purchased a copy of the New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, specifically in response to my flub. It’s a massive book, but if it told me my bouts from my games or my rinks from my teams, it’d be money well spent.

And just so you know, boaters are also not to be messed with. My editor once told me about the readers who phoned him after he mistakenly called a larger tanker-like vessel a “boat”. It’s a vessel, dontchaknow?

FOI files: benevolent feds charge just $10/hr, 20 cents a page

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Last week, I directed readers’ attention to an article by Dan Ferguson in the Langley Times, in which he notes that the Langley school district wanted to charge him $450 an hour for staff time to process a freedom of information request. They also wanted to charge $10 a page. Obviously this is ridiculous. Some might call it a fucking outrage. But context is always important. Which is why I was particularly interested to get a letter from a federal agency today acknowledging the receipt of my own access to information request.

Now, if this agency suggested charging me a similarly high fee, it would, perhaps, illustrate that there were some hidden costs I was somehow missing. (Although it would more likely reflect a widespread abuse of FOI chilling fees).

But fortunately, for me anyways, this beautiful federal agency notified me that, if staff were required to work for more than five yours on my request, I would be billed at the cost of….. 10 dollars an hour. Photocopies would cost 20 cents a page.

Christ, I paid more for photocopies at university. And soon, $10 an hour will be minimum wage.

It goes to show two things: not all public entities are staffed by assholes full-time. And the Langley school district really has some cojones if it wants to stand behind its $450/hr rate.

Will Patch save our souls, or send us to hell? (also, what the heck is Patch?)

December 16, 2010 2 comments

So yesterday I’m browsing my Twitter feed and I come across the headline “Will Patch Destroy Local Papers?

Naturally, my first instinct is to panic.

My second is to figure out what the hell this Patch thing is.

So here’s the rundown.

Patch is an AOL-owned American network of websites with the goal of bringing “hyperlocal” news to communities of between 20,000 and 50,000 people. Here’s the site for Mercer Island, in Northern Washington. Each site boasts a full-time editor and some freelancers. The idea, essentially, is to make money by selling local ads online and drawing viewers with a mix of PSA what’s-going-on notices and mildly interesting police and fire scanner stuff.

This is hardly a new idea, of course, even in B.C. Check out Abbotsford Today. Think a smaller, more cautious version of the once-wonderful, now essentially defunct Kelowna.com. Also, think the Nelson Post/News in the Koots or Castanet.

The Editors Weblog has been all over the subject:

Currently, more than 400 sites are live, and the company aims to have 500 by the end of the year, which currently means hiring 30 people a week. Having started in New Jersey in February 2009, the sites have now spread all over the US.  Each covers a community of between 20,000 and 50,000 people, and each has a dedicated full time editor.

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The interesting and controversial thing about Patch, however, is the millions of dollars (more than $50 million) that AOL is pouring into the venture, and the very real journalists that they’re hiring. That’s spurred a lot of animosity who fear that AOL entering the local web journalism market is like WalMart setting up shop on the outskirts of your little town.

Editors Weblog asks: “Will local competitors be able to withstand this huge corporation’s invasion or will they fold?  Or, is it possible for Patch and local papers to coexist and complement each other?”

Several opine that there are signs that Patch will provide much needed competition on the web and should make for a better experience for audiences and advertisers.

There are, as of yet, no signs that Patch would expand north of the border. I’m not sure if there are any rules that would stop it from doing so. But the prospect of a competitor like Patch—even a smaller Canadian version—is the very reason that community newspaper chains have been emphasizing the whole “Digital First” thing.

Of the aforementioned competitors, Nelson Post/News in the Koots comes closest to matching what Patch is promising. You’ve got very low overhead and a lot of room to grow. The main thing is building a very local audience. Kelowna.com started too big and the steep overhead costs meant it didn’t have enough time to build a readership, despite its quality. Castanet started, and remains, smaller and that’s why it’s still alive. (OK, that and the mighty Kelowna fire of 2005). Also to note: Kelowna is bigger than the communities that Patch is targeting.

To make something like Patch work, you’ve got to fill a need. Black Press and company would like to think that they have left no gap in the market. Black would like there to be nothing that, say, Patch Vernon could provide that the Vernon Morning Star—with its established brand and large newsroom—could not.

And they’re probably right; there is no reason to believe that the Patch model will work. I strongly suspect that small towns simply aren’t digitally connected as strongly as some might suspect. Maybe it will be strong in 30 years, when seniors will have grown up with the internet. But today, not enough people can find such sites on their own. And there’s simply not enough going on in a small town to be able to post 10 or 11 items a day.

I also doubt that there is an audience for live blogs of city hall meetings, even if the idea is marvelous and inspiring (by all means, live blog if you’re going to take notes on your computer anyways, but it’s not going to add much traffic.)

But having just spent three paragraphs saying Patch is not a threat, I’ll add a caveat: I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time, and if I’m wrong, community newspapers are pretty much defenseless against the coming web onslaught.

Every community newspaper relies on the same formula: write stories; publish in paper; post links on web; allow comments, maybe. Patch and the best websites have a different flow: write short story about something that happened, or will happen, today; publish now on web; solicit/beg for comments;  update story; publish on web; solicit comments.

The former is a “good enough” approach to the web. The latter is an “as good as possible” approach.

Until Black Press and company decentralize their websites and give online training and capabilities to editorial staff, there will be a gigantic gap in the defenses of every community newspaper; and a good reason for journalists to consider jumping to online startups before it’s too late.

Langley Advance named most reputable newspaper by ironically sketchy website

December 12, 2010 Comments off

This just in (a few days ago) from Bob Groeneveld’s blog: the Langley Advance has been named Canada’s most reputable newspaper:

Holy ol’ smokes! We’re number one!

According to the Committee for Newspaper Integrity, the Langley Advance is the world’s most reputable newspaper.

We had languished in third place for some time, but I hadn’t checked the site for several months – and we’ve leap-frogged our most stalwart competition, a fine publication from Brampton, Ontario (which incidentally means that the two most reputable papers in the world are Canadian)..

Our sister paper next door, the Surrey Now, comes in at Number 8 in Canada.

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So congrats to Groeneveld and company. Of course the early-90s-state of the website for The Committee for Newspaper Integrity, which puts out these rankings, doesn’t exactly strike confidence in their own reputability, a fact that Groeneveld acknowledges in his blog posting:

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t really know who these guys are, except they claim to be monitoring more than 2,000 newspapers around the world.

And I don’t normally pay much attention to web-based polling as a model of scientific certainty… but hey! when they rank the Langley Advance No. 1 in the entire world… well, then they must be pretty accurate, I suppose – at least, who am I to be a Doubting Thomas, eh?

Well I decided to probe — or at least prod — the site a little deeper.

For a solid starting point, here’s their list of the best and worst of Canadian papers:

Find the table here

And here’s what the Committee for Newspaper Integrity has to say about itself:

It is clear that contemporary news media is being distorted to serve special interests, whether they be political, economic or ideological.

Using the latest statistical tools to map consumer opinions, the project quantifies the rate and scope of this distortion.

You can contribute to this project by rating newspapers and writing commentaries. Just click on a newspaper listed below or search for one.

The Committee for Newspaper and Media Integrity was founded to give consumers an avenue to state their opinions on the objectivity, integrity and quality of newspapers and other media outlets. The Committee uses the latest statistical tools to map consumer opinions and intends to report to the public and to the industry on the findings of this project.

The Committee is headed by two scholars, Aron Ping D’Souza, editor of The Journal Jurisprudence, and H. Trent Moore, editor of the Journal of Applied Economy.

It should also be noted that “the Committee” ranks 2,000 papers around the world (as Groeneveld notes, his paper leads those rankings as well).

Now although I’m not going to quibble with any individual ranking, I can personally think of many tiny newspapers scattered around the country with un- or barely-trained journalists that are probably less reputable than, say, the Winnipeg Free Press. It should also be noted that the No. 4 paper in the world is based in Saudi Arabia — which is not exactly a bastion of free speech.

Fortunately, there is a “Frequently Asked Question” [sic](!) section of the site, which notes that the site only tracks some 2,000 papers around the world, but not every newspaper. It also declares a shocking margin of error of just above 14 per cent (!).

The data was collected in two ways. Before the site’s launch in April of 2010, it used an algorithm to troll the internet for positive and negative comments about various newspapers. It also relies on three-star rankings submitted by the site’s visitors. That means that the same people who post internet comments are the one’s determining how reputable a paper is. Joy.

The site admits that the data is not perfect (a tad of an understatement):

We recognise that the data as presented is not 100% accurate. We are attempting to bring science to an art, and the data will never be 100% accurate, but we are trying our very best and constantly trying to perfect the methodology.”

There is also a contact e-mail, although the authors report that they get a lot of mail so may not be able to answer quickly. If anybody takes these folks seriously, I’m worried. Groeneveld doesn’t and neither should anyone else. If that isn’t obvious at this point you may need to take a refresher course in statistics to re-learn just how huge a 14 per cent margin of error is.

Leave a comment, dammit.

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Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll duly update the post.

Seen something else I should know about? Want to write a post? Have better photos than the Creative Commons Flickr pool ones I use? E-mail bclocalreporter(at)gmail.com.

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!

Postmedia lowers the bar with shameful “Swarmjam” pieces

December 3, 2010 2 comments

If you thought Black Press’s sleazy story about its “BC Daily Deals” group-buying site was bad, Postmedia thinks you’re a prude. PM has its own group-buying site, a bee-themed outfit called SwarmJam, about which you may have noticed rapturous “stories” in the province’s two largest daily newspapers.

The bylined (!) story begins:

Today marks the launch of Swarm-Jam.com, a new group-buying site that is creating a buzz across the country. SwarmJam channels the power of online word-of-mouth and consumer purchasing power into special deals on select goods and services from local retailers. The more people sign up for the “DailyJams,” the lower the price goes.

“It’s a fabulous way for consumers and readers to save money, and also a fabulous way for local businesses to attract new customers,” said Alvin Brouwer, president of business ventures, Postmedia Network.

Unique DailyJams will be available in major cities across the country, as well as in cities and towns across mainland B.C. and Vancouver Island. The advertising reach of the Postmedia Network, publisher of The Vancouver Sun, provides promotional opportunities not available to competitors, Brouwer explained.

more of this horrendous drivel…

This is in the Vancouver freaking Sun, for crying out loud. And you’ve got to know if this is appearing in the Sun, you’ll soon be seeing it in the small Postmedia community papers.

At least Marco Morelli, the Black Press web staffer who wrote their story, nobly buried the Black Press angle at the bottom of his story. The Postmedia story is shameless. It appeared on the second page of the Sun’s business section and on page A8 of The Province.

Even more concerning, it appears that it marks the end of the principled editorial/advertising policy of ol’ CanWest Publications (from which Postmedia is a direct and recent descendent).

That policy has four guidelines:

1) Commercial placement will not be used as an integral part of editorial content. (Example:Logos dropped in an editorial environment.

2) Editorial must never appear to be endorsing an advertising message.

3) Editorial content must never appear within the body of an advertising message. (Example: Column of opinion within an advertisement).

4) Advertising must never be placed adjacent to editorial content in such a way as to imply endorsement of the advertising.

For point 1, note the big-ass bee on the web edition of the Sun story. Point 2 has obviously been violated so badly that editorial isn’t endorsing and advertising message, it is an advertising message, which in turn means point 3 has also been breached. And while I can’t scan the published version of every Postmedia paper, but I can pretty much guarantee someone somewhere will breach this point.

On Dec. 7, Postmedia headmaster Paul Godfrey will address workers in a companywide webcast. I implore journalists to join me in asking Godfrey whether the CanWest editorial/advertising policy has been turfed and, how the company rationalizes these horrible advertorials. I have sent the following e-mail to pvgmessages@postmedia.com.

Dear Mr. Godfrey

In recent days news articles have appeared in various Postmedia newspapers that prominently tout a new Postmedia product called SwarmJam. There appears to be little editorial value to these articles; they mention no other sites and no proof nor even anecdotal evidence that SwarmJam is, indeed, “creating a buzz across the country.” It is a transparent attempt to promote a product. In other words, it seems like a mix of advertising and editorial.

The old CanWest Editorial/Advertising Policy directly states “Editorial must never appear to be endorsing an advertising message” and “Editorial content must never appear within the body of an advertising message.”

The policy also states “It is in the interest of the entire CanWest community that we maintain the principles and practices which have been demonstrated to support and enhance public trust in all of our media assets.”

CanWest, obviously, no longer exists. I am wondering if Postmedia has abandoned that Editorial/Advertising Policy or, if the old policy is still in place, how you excuse the placement of those advertisements—and let’s be honest, you and I both know that’s what they are.

With great concern,

A very worried community newspaper journalist (Yes, I’d like to use my own name, but hopefully you know how it is when it comes to criticizing one of the only two possible employers in your industry when jobs are so hard to come by.)

Please leave comments of outrage in the thread below.

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Seen something else I should know about? Want to write a post? Have better photos than the Creative Commons Flickr pool ones I use? E-mail bclocalreporter(at)gmail.com.

Help complete a census of B.C. community newspapers by filling in the blanks of the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. 

Photo by Joshua Ganderson via Flickr.

Burnaby Now editor calls for Mid-east peace (sort of)

November 29, 2010 Comments off

When you write about Israel, Palestine and Anti-semitism, you’re gonna get letters.

If she didn’t know that already (and one suspects she did), Burnaby Now editor Pat Tracy knows now.

The newspaper ran an editorial about the issue on Nov. 13 and has since been bombarded by letters. Now Tracy writes “I may not be able to call a truce in the Middle East, but I can call a truce in our letters to the editor section.

The original editorial stated that Israel has killed civilians, which is objectively true. But that comment sparked a firestarm and, eventually, the column by Tracy.

These are emotional issues. And my experience is that when you venture into areas of politics, religion and oppression, it is always a minefield.

I don’t regret that we ran the editorial. I do, however, believe that the editorial’s ending was clumsy. We mentioned that Israel has killed civilians. Without putting that statement into some sort of larger context, we ignited emotions unnecessarily. That I regret.

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Tracy writes that she believes that violence is never the solution to the problem and that is what the editorial was trying to express. But she notes that under-attack Israelis may feel differently.

The Jewish people have, and continue to be, targeted. Anti-Semitism is, like any oppression, dehumanizing and vicious. And when anyone witnesses an act of anti-Semitism they should rightly call it out.

I appreciate that many letter writers felt obligated to call our editorial anti-Semitic.

I don’t agree with that assessment.

But, frankly, I would rather have allies of Jews erring on the side of speaking out against what they viewed as an anti-Semitic statement, than not speaking out or writing.

Whatever you may agree with or disagree with, it is, in my opinion, better to share your thoughts. That is, after all, what the editorial was all about: freedom to speak and criticize and, hopefully, do so without fear of prosecution or persecution.

Given the crazy response I’ve seen to some mild stories and opinions, I can only imagine what the Burnaby Now letters file looks like. I guess this also shows that at least some people do read editorials; I’ve often found that even the most provocative opinion can get ignored if there’s no head or byline attached to it..

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