Monday, April 29, 2013

Saviours of the News Business

   I’m sitting in the banquet room, enjoying my coffee and waiting for the Ontario Newspaper Awards ceremony to start when I gaze around the room and say to myself: “So these are the people who are killing the newspaper business?”
   That is what some desperate publishers of dying newspapers believe. They are hacking and slashing the people who produce their news because they cost money and apparently possess skills not needed anymore.
   Toronto’s Globe and Mail is hoping to drop 60 of its 770 staff through buyouts but it’s a good guess that there will be layoffs. The Toronto Star also is hoping to cut 55 jobs, many in editorial. The Vancouver Sun and the Province cite unprecedented revenue declines as the reason for staff buyouts that almost certainly will be followed by layoffs.
   It has been roughly two decades since newspapers began their steepest decline in profitability, power and influence. Newspaper owners and publishers have had all those years to invent ways of saving their businesses but have failed miserably. Their response to newspapers in crisis always has been to cut the staff that produces the news that customers value. 
   Corporatization of the newspaper world brought in many run-of-the-mill executive ‘geniuses’ who have come and gone, leaving behind much wreckage and broken dreams. None of them left poor.
   Most remarkable in the decline-of newspapers story is how the journalists have adapted to trying to produce, under increasingly miserable conditions, the only thing that matters in newspapering: news that explains who we are and how we live our lives.
   You can’t help but admire these people as you watch them walk to the front of the room to collect their awards, now sponsored mainly by organizations not part of the newspaper business. Many of the recipients are young and here on their own dollars because some newspaper operators won’t even pay the tiny awards entry fee, let alone the costs of getting to the awards ceremony.
   These are the people who will achieve what the millionaire owners and operators failed to do: restore the news business as a vital part of society, in whatever new forms or formats that replace the traditional newspaper.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On the Trail of Stupid People

   The splitting ax is feeling heavy, so I set it down and decide to stroll out to the highway. It is still chilly for this late into April but the sun is bright and I might get to see the first signs of new life poking through soil just freed of the winter snows.
   At the highway, a glint catches my eye. It’s a juice bottle tossed from a car window. Then another glint. This one a beer can similarly pitched from a vehicle travelling Ontario Highway 35. There are more, lots more, bottles, cans and cartons.
   In 696 steps along one side of the highway I record 37 items thrown from passing vehicles. That’s one piece of garbage for every 18.8 steps. The tally breakdown: 17 pop or juice bottles, 7 paper coffee cups, 6 plastic water bottles, 4 beer cans, and 3 cigarette packages. That does not include other garbage such as pieces of paper, plastic bags, miscellaneous pieces of plastic and metal and other garbage.
   696 steps, roughly  one-quarter of a mile. Imagine the tons of thoughtlessly discarded items along the hundreds of thousands of miles of North America’s highways.
   Littering is against the law in most jurisdictions. However, the cans and bottles along those 696 steps are more proof that you can’t legislate a stop to stupidity. Stupid people stop doing stupid things only when the rest of us work to make doing stupid things socially unacceptable.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The World around a Campfire

   This is official publication week for Bears in the Birdfeeders, my new book of recollections and reflections of the huge joys and little agonies of cottaging.
   I signed copies of the new work for interested folks attending the Cottage Life Show last weekend. It was enlightening to hear what time at the cottage means to them, their friends and their families. Everyone I spoke with agreed that cottages, whether owned, rented, or visited, are places where we just might find the keys to making the world a better place.
   It’s hard to imagine North Korea’s Kim Jong-un spending an evening around a cottage campfire with other world leaders and still wanting to unleash his nuclear missiles.
   Also it’s hard to imagine sitting by a forested lake for a few days, then returning to the city to vote in favour of filling in part of Lake Ontario to accommodate more air traffic along Toronto’s downtown waterfront.   Cottage country is a vital component of the Canadian psyche. Bears in the Birdfeeders is an attempt to share an understanding of that psyche.   Cottage Life Magazine and its related enterprises has been sharing that understanding with the rest of us for many years. Thanks to them for that, and for being so accommodating to me during the show.

   For more details on the new book, click the Bears in the Birdfeeders tab at the top of this blog.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Tragedy of Stereotyping

   I get challenged occasionally for the view, expressed in my book Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America’s Tobacco Industry, that society continues to stereotype Native people. My defence is that although outright racism is not much seen anymore among intelligent people, stereotyping is still around, subtle but rampant.
   How stereotyping hurts is powerfully put forth in the novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. It’s fiction, but remember the words of journalist-author Albert Camus: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
   Indian Horse paints the tragedy of an Ojibway boy whose love for the game of hockey is destroyed by stereotyping. The type of stereotyping we’ve all witnessed in hockey arenas and elsewhere.
   It is a beautifully crafted and brilliantly written novel by Wagamese, an Ojibway from Northwestern Ontario who became a noted columnist for the Calgary Herald.
   Indian Horse is fiction that reveals truth and flows with important life messages.
   However, you don’t have to read Wagamese’s books to view the power of his writing and its messages. The opening lines of his web page these:
   “All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story.”
   I wish I could have written that.