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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Too many newspapers are giving up on themselves, and as such, are ignoring what is by far their biggest moneymaker: the printed medium.

Revenue is down. Classifieds are nearly gone. Circulation is declining every year. Staffs are shrinking seemingly daily. A small two-inch piece on page 2 of this morning business section reported that Quebecor is planning to lay off 400 employees.

Defeatism is rampant among reporters working in the industry. Publishers are desperate to find digital sales gurus to save their operations.

In the meantime, the presses continue to roll, against the daily crush of negativism. Not surprising, then, that the products coming off them are showing all the imagination and panache of, well, yesterday’s news.

They’ve stopped innovating at the print level. Innovation has been devoted to the digital product, even as the online platform brings in just 10 to 15 per cent of total revenue. The rest comes from print.

And what’s worse, it will, if anything, contribute more  to the self-prophesied demise of paper content than any nerd’s predictions will.

Google Kevin Slimp. This is a guy who is pretty much singlehandedly trying to stop the sheep from rushing to the slaughter house, frantically waving at the herd and yelling “Go this way! There’s another field to graze!”

Kevin is a newspaper consultant who is declaring without embarrassment that the newspaper model is not going the way of the dodo bird. And won’t unless the industry hastens its own demise, as it appears to be doing. He recently won a standing ovation at a recent newspaper conference when he told the crowd: “Newspapers have been telling their readers and advertisers for a while now that newspapers are dieing. Well, the readers and advertisers are starting to believe them.”

Far from hunkering down, newspapers need to hype the “Newspaper Experience.” I can see an ad featuring a guy or gal in their 40s or 50s — you know, the ones with the money — holding a tablet computer and scrinching their eyes. Panel two shows them with a coffee in a Lazyboy. Above each photo, are these captions:

“Eye Strain vs. Eye Gain.”

Hyping the dizzying and noisey world of online medium is what newspapers need to do, and attack with the kind of vigour that led the Globe and Mail to a brave new design a few years ago. Whether you liked the redesign or not, the Globe was refusing to give up on print, and sought to market that “Eye Gain” that so many believe is futile.

Even newspaper associations have dropped their conference emphasis on the improvement of the print product. I get daily invitations to participate in another one-hour webinar on social media or website coding. And though I just gave one myself on the benefits of Facebook for small town reporters, I made it clear to my participants that all and any activity should have one purpose: to build and enhance the quality of their newspaper.

But that’s just me. There are many bigger brains than mine out there burning up neurons preaching the New Language. And they have many converts.

Maybe they’re right, but I bet they aren’t. People aren’t machines, and most of them are showing persistence at sticking with what they like, against a digital wasteland. That’s why movie theatres, bowling alleys and pool rooms are still around. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, knows that. Newspaper CEOs, publishers and investors should too.

 

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This is a pasted discussion I participated in on a LinkedIn forum. The question isn’t mine, but I weighed in on the discussion at the end. It continues. 

“My research sources for magazine articles sometimes ask if they can read the article before I submit it. How do you handle this request? I understand why they ask, but it feels a little invasive. “

Harriet Cooper • I had to interview someone suggested by the magazine I was writing for. I sent the interviewee excerpts of the paragraphs that concerned him and his quotes. He asked if I would highlight something, gave me a little more info, and since it made sense in terms of the article, I did. I did not send him the final draft. I also explained that some of the information he gave me would simply be background info for the article and not quoted.
In the months between the writing and the publishing, he started to worry about the article and wanted to see the entire article. I spoke to the editor who came back with a resounding no. I explained the policy to him and said that the final article would read very closely to what he had already seen. After a couple of emails, he was satisfied.

When the article came out, he wrote to say he was very happy with it.

Lubna Kably • When I was a journalist and covered tax technical subjects, even as I was qualified to write on tax, I generally did get quotes rechecked if the matter was sensitive/complex. If required, I also had certain paragraphs checked for accuracy by reading out the same to the contact.
It will all depend on the situation, but it is wise never to share the draft article, as you would also have quoted competing sources and this can spark off an unwarranted scene, of you made Mr XYZ look better than me, etc etc.
Further, check out if your magazine has a policy against non sharing of the draft article. Most publications do. This will enable you to cite an official reason for not sharing the draft article.

Ian Graham • I know most journalists and editors are against doing this, but I’ve never really understood why. I suppose a refusal makes sense if your aim was to trip up a politician, celeb or other professional talker. But if you’re trying to write a factual piece, especially on a subject of which you have rather limited knowledge, why not let the interviewee check it before publication? It may improve the product, and it will certainly provide you with a cast-iron defence if ever the piece turns out to be factually wrong. Also, specialists are not necessarily good communicators. If you have to polish the quotes a little, it does no harm to let them know in advance what you decided that they meant! Finally, if you want to build a relationship of trust with a source, it’s a good idea to work with them on a piece, if they want to, rather than telling them that what they are going to say in print is none of their business. Otherwise, they are less likely to be available for interview next time around. And they are certainly less likely to provide you with background documents, tip-offs and so on.
The main risks are that someone will want to add extra wordage and that the job will take you longer to finish than would otherwise have been the case. If somebody asks to read a piece, I make it quite clear that it has been written to length – i.e. if they want anything put in, something else will have to come out. That in itself discourages any time-wasters. I also point out that I have a strict deadline to meet. I insist that, if they have any suggestions, they should not change the text but should phone me by a precise time. If I do not hear from them by then, I will assume that everything is correct. If they do phone back with substantive comments, I will try to take all or some of them into account, but I reserve the right to craft the final text as I see fit.
In practice, the great majority of interviewees don’t want to see a piece before publication. Of those who do, most either never get back or send a short, often complimentary, OK. The few who do phone back almost always say something that is worth listening to.

Eva Schweitzer • I sometimes send single quotes to a source to make sure that numbers and other factual stuff is correct (or read them over the phone to them), but not the whole article. But that applies only to actual experts, not to politicians or celebrities.
I did have some odd experiences, though. I once did a story about a movie studio and I asked their press department for a statement. They demanded to read beforehand how they would be represented in the story, and I said no. So they “threatened” to retract their statement. So, you have to ask PR people for a statement to cover your behind, but you are not obliged to roll out a red carpet for them. Either they deliver it in a timely and uncomplicated matter, or they are out of luck.

Bendix Anderson • Ian Graham wrote: “I know most journalists and editors are against doing this, but I’ve never really understood why.”
I had some bad experiences: A finance company found lots of what they called “inaccuracies” in one story. For example, they wanted to be referred to as “the fastest in the business.”
Another called me up to say she was sorry but she, the PR person, had to kill my story. The one I’d already written. Because I focused on one regional vice president and the other regional vice presidents were jealous.This company was an important source and I didn’t want to poison the relationship. But the request was totally unacceptable. Better to avoid these kinds of problems…

Eva Schweitzer • Bendix, what are you doing? If a company wants to be referred to as “the fastest in the business” they should place an ad. This is not what newspaper stories are for.
Also, a PR person cannot “kill a story”. Only editors can kill stories. Tell her she is out of line, and then go ahead publish the story. She can only sue you for libel, and that is very difficult and rarely happens. No offense, but you don’t sound like a reporter to begin with.

Randy B. Hecht • There can be times when you serve the story by running quotes–or in rare cases the entire article–past the source pre-publication.
For example, I once wrote an article about steps that unmarried couples can take to protect themselves with regard to end-of-life and estate planning. I interviewed two lawyers for the piece, and at the end of the interview they asked me to send the finished article to them for factual review. They are members of the bar in a handful of US states and knew the information they’d provided was accurate in those states, but they wanted to circulate the article within their firm in case the law differed significantly in other states. They agreed, on tape, not to ask for editorial revisions of the article. They just wanted to be sure they were providing our readers with consistently sound legal counsel.
That’s a valid reason to review the article with the source. It serves the interests of the magazine and its readers, not the publicity aims of the source.
But absent a compelling reason like that, it’s poor practice and opens writers up to the kind of abuse Bendix describes above, where the writer allows himself to be manipulated by or put in the service of the source.
I’d have had a field day with the PR person who called to kill my story. I’d have congratulated her on her purchase of the magazine, reminded her of the 100% kill fee clause in my contract, and asked her how soon I could expect her check. Then I’d have run my article as it was written. Once you’ve agreed to be interviewed and I’ve gotten you on tape, you’re in unless I decide you’re not in anymore. That’s the way it works.

Joe Banks • We’ve got to get past this idea that we hide everything before publication of a story, no matter the circumstances. The exception is when we’re trying to scoop a competitor. We are now well ensconced in a time when daily reporters are expected to tweet their facts throughout the day, building up to a story that will appear on the late version of the website, then in the next morning’s print edition. And I’ve come to see that is is okay to email ONLY the portion of the story that includes the source making the inquiry. Very occassionally, the source requests a change in what they said, and if I agree, I make the change. I only do this if the story is non-controversial. If it is, I won’t send it ahead of time.

The Ottawa Sun routinely jams sharp sticks in the eyes of public sector unions so when I saw them do it again through an ill-researched editorial, I was tempted to let it go.

I waited a day and changed my mind. So I wrote a short letter to the editor. I am a member of OPSEU but have never been its apologist, and am often healthily skeptical of its claims, having sat on the opposite side of the bargaining table during my publisher days. But the Sun’s far-right agenda was too lazy to ignore.

Interestingly, SunMedia is a unionized company, whose editorial and support staff are represented by the CEP, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union of Canada (the same union I tangled with in the 90s). Their members got 2 % raises in each of the years between 2007 and 2010 according to the collective agreement listed at http://www.song.on.ca/files/OttawaSunJan12007-Dec312010.pdf . In the next agreement, which expires in September 2012, they bargained to no increase in the first year, one per cent in the second and 1.5 in the third. Members receive $250 in lieu of the second-year increase being retroactive.

But back to my letter. They didn’t print it, so here it is below. Self-explanatory I think.

It’s a rare day when your Toronto-based editorial writer does
not, with predictable tedium, put a crusading boot to public sector unionized
workers, and he did it again in the Oct. 16 issue. He writes both the NDP and
Conservatives “risk becoming McGuinty’s rubber stamp whenever he wants to throw more of our money at public sector unionized workers.”

This is a tired theme and worse, it’s wrong.  Across the province, the average overall increase in public sector wages July, the last reported tally, was 1.2 per cent compared to 1.3 per cent in the private sector. The month before, public employees got 1.3 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent in the same month by private sector. These numbers are easily obtained at the website http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/lr/pdf/cbh2011-07.pdf
and your editorial writer should know that.

I hope SunMedia’s unionized employees take note.

Joe Banks,

Osgoode, Ontario. K0A-2W0

613-826-1868

With the October 2011 purchase of the EMC group of community newspapers in the Ottawa area by Metroland Ottawa, a subsidiary of Metroland Media Group owned by the Toronto Star, the circle of media competition in the capital city just shrank. Big time.

And nobody is talking about it.

Too bad, because we’re about to see a lot fewer stories about our communities in print and online, and advertisers can expect to see increased flyer prices because there will be reduced competition.

And since Metroland and EMC compete in identical suburban and rural markets in Ottawa, there will be layoffs of reporters, editors, advertising, office and circulation staff. From the boardroom perspective, it only makes sense. Once the layoffs are announced, watch Metroland’s share prices jump.

What we’ll see, however, is fewer stories, fewer eyes on the streets of the small communities watching the community and the political scene.

Flyer business is a vital staple in the print industry as standard display advertising and circulation base decline at all newspapers. Without flyers, there would be a whole lot fewer community newspapers in Ontario and in particular suburban areas.

This is where GoJournalism.ca comes in. It’s a non-profit venture launched by myself, Adam Jarvis, an interactive multimedia developer professor at Algonquin College. It is, in fact, owned by Algonquin College, and we started it with the help of applied research grants to help freelance journalists in the Ottawa area be paid to do stories that are of interest and that are important to communities.

To see how it works, go to http://vimeo.com/13180915 and watch the one minute explanation of what we’re trying to do. If you feel this is something you can get behind, either as someone who wants to pitch a story, write a story or make a donation toward getting a story published, please register as a GoJournalism supporter at www.gojournalism.ca and join the 130-plus backers of our cause.

Journalism’s voice has been shrinking in the national capital at both the daily and community level for five years, and it’s about to get smaller still. Helping GoJournalism’s mission could be one piece of a puzzle in ensuring that doesn’t continue.

As another incentive to subscribe to this embryonic blog site, I will be posting journalism job opportunities I think are of particular interest to Algonquin College journalism students and graduates. Check in regularly or subscribe to feeds to stay on top of the latest career opportunity!

Here’s a couple to start things off:

PAID REPORTING INTERNSHIP, OTTAWA CITIZEN

The Ottawa Citizen requires a one-year reporting intern, to be paid at the Guild contract rate.

The Citizen’s year-long internships are intended for journalists or recent graduates who are just beginning their careers. Understanding and embracing emerging technologies, including social media, reporting skills and fluency in other languages, especially French, are definite assets. A driver’s license is mandatory. Shift work and weekend work are involved.

The Citizen gives its interns an opportunity to learn from experienced reporters and editors in an environment that is encouraging but challenging. Some previous interns have won national and international awards for their work.

IN ORDER TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE POSITION, RESUMES — WITH UP TO 5 SAMPLES OF PUBLISHED WRITING — MUST BE RECEIVED BY THE HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT, QUOTING JOB #11-034, BY 4 P.M ON FRIDAY, NOV. 11 at The Ottawa Citizen, Human Resources Department, 1101 Baxter Road, Ottawa, Ontario. K2C-3M4. email: hr@ottawacitizen.com

Applications received without the job number quoted will not be considered, and it is the applicant’s responsbility to ensure that all relevant experience and/or skills are identified on their application. Only information provided on the application/resume re knowledge, skills and ability will be considered. Only those applicants considered for the position will be contacted.

ONLINE EDITOR:
BUSINESS IN VANCOUVER

Business in
Vancouver
, Vancouver’s leading weekly business journal, seeks an Online Editor with a new media mindset and a high energy level. This position requires someone who is
detail-oriented and resourceful, and who can find creative solutions to
challenging problems on tight deadlines.

The Online Editor will play a critical role in the growth and evolution of our web presence by leading the execution of key editorial initiatives that will engage the audience and enhance the user experience, helping to further Business in Vancouver as the leading provider of business news and information in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

The role will report to the Publisher of Business in Vancouver.

Responsibilities:

The Online Editor will be an integral part of our news operation and will collaborate with reporters and editors on production of the website and related products.

Daily responsibilities will include:

  • Publishing and managing all editorial content on biv.com throughout
    the day
  • Creation of web-friendly content
  • Writing engaging, search-friendly headlines, stories and news
    summaries
  • Tagging and organizing content
  • Monitoring and moderating user comments
  • Helping develop online audience, user engagement and user loyalty
  • Act as the chief “evangelist” for biv.com in the local business
    community

Qualifications of the Ideal Candidate:

  • 5+ years journalism experience in both print and digital news media
  • Strong interest in business news, trends and issues
  • Strong writing and editing skills
  • Experience working to deadline
  • Experience with website content management systems