Sunday, September 1, 2013

No Money, No News, No Revolutionary Change

    Some Canadian newspapers decided not to publish on Labour Day because projected ad revenue was insufficient to cover that day’s production and delivery costs. Most prominent of the Labour Day dropouts is Toronto’s Globe and Mail whose publisher, Phillip Crawley, was quoted by as saying “That’s the truth of the situation, so let’s not pretend it’s any other.”
   Cancellation of Labour Day newspapers reconfirms two regretful truths: Newspapers are published today to make a profit, not to perform public service. Secondly, the cancer that began eating away at traditional newspapers 30 years ago is in its final stages.

   Two statistics support that: nearly one-third of people questioned say they have abandoned a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to (Pew Research Centre Annual Report on Journalism) And, newspaper newsroom staff levels in the U.S. were down 30 per cent in 2012 compared with 2000. 
   The newspaper industry’s primary problem is not its death, however. It is its inability to discover a path to rebirth. Newspaper people traditionally have devoted their focus to today, to the exclusion of how they will operate in the future.
   The path to rebirth has existed for some time. The folks running the business now, and over the past couple of decades, have been too busy, or too myopic, to see it. The newspaper industry requires revolutionary change in attitude and thinking. Many of the attitudes and much of the thinking that existed in newsrooms 50 years ago are still there and obviously out of step in today’s world.
   The role of editors needs redefining and strengthening. Editors should be the CEOs of the newspapers, not in title or actual job description, but in providing the tone, thinking, bold direction, and spirit of the news enterprise. Other folks, whatever you choose to call them, can provide the important mechanics of the operation. Too many modern-day editors spend their time fiddling with newspaper design, human resources challenges and being sycophants for panic-driven, save-your-ass ideas put forth by bosses whose chief interest is the bottom line.
   It’s been said tens of thousands of times that consumers of news want content that goes beyond the trivial. Content that tells them how people in their towns, their provinces, their country and the countries affecting them live their lives. Not how to make a perfect ice cream cone. Not simply the he said, she said stuff of governments. Newspapers offer too much thin, trivial content that is easy and cheap to get, while saying that’s what people want.
   What some people want and all people need is news and information that is specific, impeccably researched and sourced and fact checked. News with perspective and context.
   News outlets point to deadlines as excuses for generalization, inaccuracies and lack of stories placed in full perspective. The “rush” to get the news out is an anachronism based on a musty and egotistical idea that being first and exclusive is important. Being complete and in context is what counts now, even if it means missing a deadline and not having a ‘scoop.’
   Somewhere out there is a generation of journalists with fresh ideas for reviving the news business so it becomes a compelling part of each person's day. 

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