— wordbanks

October, 2011 Monthly archive

Movie theatres. Books and music stores. Local televison and radio. Magazines and newspapers. Sale flyers. Board games.

Dumbphones. Halloween.

All are examples of chunks of our pre-modern culture that remain with us still,  stubbornly so, even as technologies have warp-nined past them, creating an illusion that nobody wants these pesky old leftovers of the new way of doing things.

Steve Jobs helped perpetuate that illusion to his great profit and our apparent salvation. His driving passion to create the future made the persisting promise that old was bad and new was good, and that those who didn’t keep up would be left in the dust, deemed irrelevant forever.

He made mega-billions because he successfully cracked that old chestnut MBA students learn in basic economics: you make money by meeting or creating nothing more than a need. A product that can do both will succeed beyond imagination.

But what Jobs never got was the great swath of society who lived in the in-between the now and the future, the people who LIKED keeping a foot in the past, one in the future present, and a third, if they had one, dangling somewhere in the middle.

These people are causing great confoundment among board room types and caffeinated nerds for whom one innovation must lead automatically to the next, that change is inevitable and necessary for the great benefit of the human race.

It is why we see the stubborn resistance of the consumer to refrain from eschewing what they know works, what they know gives them comfort and pleasure, what they know sparks a warm ember to their past.

It’s why we’ve seen grasps at restoring vinyl records, why collectibles are so, well collectible, why small businesses whose niches are those products that warm hearts.

Those people — and it is people, not an inflated and imagined marketplace — rule the world. They command the dollars that will eventually see any corporation rise or fall.

Right now, they are deciding life is not to be lived wholey in front of a screen or applied with a handheld device. Maybe someday they will, but the bits of our likeable past and present won’t leave quickly, no matter what our high priests of technology proclaim.

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For all the talk of the demise of the good old newspaper, Canadians told NadBANK (Newspaper Audience Databank), they love them; nearly 8 in 10 Canadians read a daily newspaper each week. And readership for the 6 largest markets grew slightly over the past six months both for print and Web site products.

That goes completely against what Del thinks. I curled against Del yesterday at the rink and during a pause in the action, and inquiring about my background, the Manotick senior blithely said, “Well the internet is killing newspapers isn’t it?”

Nope, I said to Del. But it’s a common misperception. The paper circulation of newspapers is certainly stagnant. But they have altered their way of distributing what they do.

I know what you’re thinking.

But what about demongraphic separation?

Check this out:

“On both a daily and weekly basis it is the 25- to 49-year-olds who are most likely  to read at the newspaper’s Web site whereas those 65 years and older rely most heavily on their printed editions. These young adult readers are essential for maintaining and building newspaper audiences in the future. When outsiders look at newspaper readership and see flat or declining readership of the print product, they are ignoring the changes in how newspapers are consumed today. Digital readers are rarely “Web site only” readers; they migrate between platforms and most view the printed product as the primary channel for their newspaper.”

Read more: http://www.inma.org/blogs/value-content/post.cfm/readership-is-ldquo-business-as-usual-rdquo-in-canada#ixzz1c6geSIXk

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In the course of my self-education, I’ve come to see that the frequency, number and type of innovations and apps overwhelmingly outstrips society’s ability to grasp, understand and use them.

By a massive margin.

That gap continues to grow, between what innovators can and are creating, and the masses’ desires or abilities to use them. I don’t see this as necessarily a good or bad thing, except that it creates a false idea of today’s mantra: “If you don’t keep up, you’re standing still.”

For example, if you begin to tally up the number of free applications (apps) available to, say, the iPhone user (530,000, most of which are free), it provides a neat little micro-example of that theory.

I’ve just today acquired the new iPhone 4S, mostly to see if it’s true the device is, as one colleague put it, “the Swiss Army knife” of the journalism toolbox.  If that’s the case, I will expect this device to record and transcribe notes, take excellent quality photos and video, check my email, research on the fly and allow me to write and file stories. Oh, and to make phone calls!

Now there was nothing wrong with my old cell phone, except that I never had a data plan with it. Never needed one: email and the web could always wait until I got home or to work.

But if I’m going to upgrade our journalism curriculum, and as I see reporters using smartphones, it has become clear I’ve got to walk the talk, and see for myself what all of the fuss has been all about.

The big one is to record interviews in either person or by phone, and to watch the voice recordings turn into text before my eyes. If this device has the power to do that, it will spell the end of the notepad and pen, to which generations of reporters have been enslaved since the beginning, and singlehandedly increase accuracy exponentially. This alone will be worth the price of the device and my time to learn it.

But beyond those things, what more would I possibly need or want from a smart phone? There are over half a million apps out there, not to mention those I can get for my laptop and desktop computers. Will any of them do my laundry? Vaccum our house? Cook me a meal?

Maybe some day, but for now I hope I don’t get too dazzled with cool apps I may use once or twice, then forget about, because that’s just more noise in my brain; the mental ability to accept enough change to feel comfortable, yet more efficient.

By the time I return to my teaching gig at Algonquin, I would like to be satisfied that I will have used and practised what is useful, and advise my students to ignore what is not. Is there an app for that?

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From http://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/tablet

“Eighteen months after the introduction of the iPad, 11% of
U.S. adults now own a tablet computer of some kind. About half (53%) get news on
their tablet every day, and they read long articles as well as get headlines.
But a majority says they would not be willing to pay for news content on these
devices, according to the most detailed study to date of tablet users and how
they interact with this new technology.

The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in
Journalism in collaboration with The Economist Group, finds that the vast
majority of tablet owners-fully 77%-use their tablet every day. They spend an
average of about 90 minutes on them.

Consuming news (everything from the latest headlines to in-depth articles and
commentary) ranks as one of the most popular activities on the tablet, about as
popular as sending and receiving email (54% email daily on their tablet), and
more popular than social networking (39%), gaming (30%), reading books (17%) or
watching movies and videos (13%). The only activity that people said they were
more likely to do on their tablet computer daily is browse the web generally

Whether people will pay for content, though, still appears to be a challenge,
even on the tablet. Just 14% of these tablet news users have paid directly for
news content on their tablets. Another 23%, though, have a subscription to a
print newspaper or magazine that they say includes digital access. Thus, the
percent of these early tablet news users who have paid either directly or
indirectly for news on their tablet may be closer to a third. That is a much
higher number than previous research has found more broadly of people paying for
digital content.

Still, a large majority of those who have not paid directly for news on their
tablet remains reluctant to do so, even if that was the only way to get news
from their favorite sources.”

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During a Facebook exchange the other day, my nephew Andy made the following observation:

“It’s funny, a lot of times lately when I hear about the Internet killing print journalism, you pop into my head.  You (or at least people you know) must be feeling the impact in some way.”

Damn straight my boy. The Ottawa Citizen, this city’s paper-of-record, is a shadow of its former self, has dropped dozens of editorial positions and reduced its freelance budget. The Ottawa Sun is dominated by Toronto-centric writers, made even worse by the recent death of veteran Earl McRae.

Both papers are slimmer every week. If it it weren’t for car manufacturers and travel ads, we could read either on a single sheet.

I exaggerate, but everywhere I look, and I mean everywhere, newspapers are slimming down and cutting staff. And it’s not limited to here.

In England, The Times and Sunday Times are to cut at least 150 editorial posts, out of their combined full- and part-time workforce of approaching 1,000, as the newspapers aim to slash editorial costs by 15% and 12% respectively.

John Witherow, the Sunday Times editor, told journalists at his paper that 20 editorial staff would be asked to leave, while part-time casual staff would be reduced by 30%. Between 50 and 100 positions will be eliminated in total.

In the U.S., the  nation’s largest newspaper publishers all reported continuing declines  in advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2011,  bringing a barrage of bad news from Gannett Co., The New York Times Co.,  and McClatchy Co. What’s more, digital ad revenue continues to grow at a  lackluster pace — if at all.

The  latest round of results from McClatchy Co. showed total revenues  declining 8.4% from $327.7 million in the third quarter of 2010 to  $300.2 million in the same period this year. Total advertising revenues  declined 10% from $249.1 million to $224.2 million, with losses spread  across all the major categories: National advertising fell 21% to $17.2  million, retail 10.3% to $114.6 million, and classifieds 12.2% to $62.3  million.

Within the classifieds category, automotive fell 4.9%, real  estate 20.7%, and employment 8.9%.

This all follows a continuing string of bleak news in the daily newspaper business worldwide except in developing countries, where increasing literacy is leading to growing demand for anything with print on it.

India is a good example where that is happening. During a visit there in 2007, I was impressed that circulation of papers like the Times of India and the Hindustan Times ran well into the millions. As such, these papers were filled with very broad stories, Bollywood celebrity news and cricket stories and stats. And yet, there was no presence of smaller or community newspapers, which would be far more accessible and relevant to the average Indian.

In fact, contrary to all of the bad news begetting dailies everywhere, community or weekly newspapers, free and paid, are not showing the same symptoms.

The only community paper I had heard of closing in the past year was the 116-year-old Cobden Sun. And a week after former owner Gerald Tracey closed it, it was bought by a Cobden native who’d moved to the U.S. years ago, re-opened and is now thriving under new ownership. We received this email from editor Debbie Robinson just a few days ago, as she is looking for help covering the community:

We have more than doubled our subscriber base in the
past eight months and grown from 12 to 20 pages – too much for one person to
Ideally, I need a part-time reporter/photographer to
work between 20 to 25 hours per week. There is every reason to expect the
position to become full time, possibly by next summer. Alternatively, I would
consider hiring someone who is interested in just weekend work, or covering
municipal council on a bi-weekly basis.”

Many of my past students did not appreciate my promotion of the community newspaper industry, and its excellent role as a training groud for graduates. A few of them wanted us to teach travel and conflict journalism and exotic-sounding beats that our dailies just don’t need any more. But community or local journalism is where I continue to see the bulk of jobs being created and maintained in Canada in the future. Indeed, the term “hyperlocal” has become the latest buzz word among journalism think-tanks in the U.S. as a way of encouraging major dailies to get more local and cede world news to others.

Maybe the meek really will inherit the earth.

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The Canadian Journalism Foundation today ran this release about Canadian perception of our media. It speaks for itself.

Toronto, ON – In light of the recent media scandal in England involving a number of newspapers under the control of Rupert Murdoch, four in ten (40%) Canadians believe that things like phone hacking and paying for tips are happening here amongst the Canadian media, according to a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of the Canadian Journalism Foundation. Two in ten (16%) believe they’re ‘not going on here in Canada’, while four in ten (44%) are unsure as to whether or not they are.

Prior to asking Canadians about whether they believe these types of activities are taking place in Canada, respondents were asked whether or not they believe Canadian journalists ought to receive accreditation before working in the news media. A majority (56%) believes that ‘in order to be a Canadian journalist who works for a newspaper, television or radio outlet, the journalist should be accredited by some form of industry-wide standards body – something they should have before they are allowed to be hired’. Conversely, a minority (44%) says that ‘a Canadian journalist who works for a newspaper, television or radio outlet has an employer who has evaluated their skill set and talent, knows what’s best for their kind of media and can fire them if they are bad at their job’, and so there’s ‘no reason for any formal kind of accreditation for who can or can’t be a journalist’.

In England earlier this year, it was learned that a number of newspapers under the control of Rupert Murdoch admitted that they had hired private investigators who tapped into or hacked phone systems of celebrities, politicians and even victims of crime and recorded private conversations or messages. These conversations were then transcribed and then used as part of stories that were published. It was also learned that the newspaper management authorized payments to members of the local police force to obtain tips or information on things that shouldn’t have been disclosed, like the schedule of the Royal Family.

Among the four in ten (40%) who believe these types of activities are happening in Canada, seven in ten (71%) believe that both phone hacking/recording and payment for tips are taking place, while one quarter (23%) believe only payments are taking place, and 4% believe only phone hacking/recording is taking place.

Thinking specifically about phone hacking and recordings, four in ten (38%) who think these things are happening think they happen ‘all the time’, while a majority (53%) thinks it only happens ‘some of the time’. Just 9% think it happens only ‘rarely’. Regarding the exchange of payments for tips, among those who think it’s going on here in Canada, nearly half (46%) believe it happens ‘all the time’, while half (51%) believe it happens only ‘some of the time’. Just 3% think it rarely happens.

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted between October 6 to 10, 2011, on behalf of the Canadian Journalism Foundation. For this survey, a sample of 1,014 adults from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and political composition to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of adults in Canada been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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The Ottawa Sun published a multi-page tribute to Earl McRae in this morning’s paper, and the many tributes in print and online rightly recognize his contributions to the Canadian journalism scene. It might seem a bit over-the-top, insider praise for someone who, by his own admission, had the standard list of human flaws and who, after all, was just trying to make a living like the rest of us in a sometimes unforgiving business.

But it was just that, his knowledge of the ups and downs of the human condition, and a deep empathy for the failings and triumphs of himself and others, that made him so endearing and motivational. It also made him unpretentious and remarkably approachable.

Earl had spoken to many generations of journalism students at Algonquin College and seemed always to enjoy the presence of young minds, and thrived on their willingness to hear him describe the agonizing minutes before filing a column. But one visit to our classroom was particularly memorable to me personally.

Earl was waiting for class to begin, standing in my office and scanning the various pictures on the walls. His eyes settled on a framed photo of the general store my parents used to own in Haliburton, Ontario and wanted to know why an otherwise nondescript photo was hanging there.

“Look closely Earl. See the man in the window? That’s my father.” Earl turned and looked at me, an expression of interest on his face, wanting to know more. Did I grow up there? Do my parents still own the store?

“No,” I answered. “And coincidentally my father died the very next day after that photo was taken.”

The ghost story took him aback for about two seconds, he expressed sympathy and began asking questions about Dad. No one, not a single person, had ever noticed that photo, asked about it, or wanted to know about my deceased father. Earl did.

That moment galvanized my belief that this was not only an accomplished journalist, but he was a caring humanist. Such people are rare these days, people who care beyond the obligatory gestures.

Of course, I’d known Earl’s writings and reputation over the years and had read his work everywhere he’d gone, including when he was at Canadian Magazine. We studied his piece he wrote describing a tortured Bobby Orr taping up his knee prior to a game in his final days in a Chicago Blackhawks uniform. Our instructor Bill Swan used it as an example of oustanding narrative long-form journalism.

Earl was delighted when I told him that, knowing that I had been influenced by a piece he wrote in 1977, just as he was preparing to influence my own students with his talk.

His long body of work and our connection led me to nominate him to the Algonquin College School of Media and Design Hall of Fame, which he won and received at a reception last winter. He told me it meant more to him than any other award he’d ever won, that an educational institution with an excellent journalism program (his words, not mine!) would believe his work was honour-worthy.

That’s the kind of man Earl was. It’s the kind of man we should strive to be.





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In the process of sifting through the noise out there, searching, in spite of Google, for “best practices” in the j-world, the phrase “social media” comes up often. That’s odd, because the current practice of journalism has not shown improvement from what I can see, and in too many cases, are backsliding into a reliance on dry government, crime and punishment stories to fill their ever-diminishing news holes.

The only depth reporting I see is done by a very few number of veteran beat reporters (David Pugliese, Ian MacLeod at the Citizen and nobody at the Sun) who, they’ll tell you, could quite comfortably work stories just as easily and efficiently without the ever-growing mounds of SM and gadgetry they feel they must accumulate to do the job properly in 2011 and beyond.

I have yet to hear from anyone who has exposed a scandal or changed a public policy because of a Tweet or a blog.

On the other hand, I definitely have heard of wrong information being tweeted by respected journalists,  leading to grossly inaccurate stories. Think Gordon Lightfoot and Pat Burns premature deaths to name just two Canadian examples. More broadly, there isn’t a day that goes by when a piece about somebody floating a hoax that results in a headline over a story proven to be false by the time the paper hits the street.

SunMedia’s David Akin lives and dies by Tweeting and blogging. There’s lots of reasons for that, but he regards his frantic activity as a job security exercise, or did when I heard him speak at the CAJ in Montreal last May. It had less to do with filing stories in the public interest. He wanted to be seen as being on top and ahead of any technological wave that his employers are trying desperately to monetize.

It worked. He’s a prominent commentator on Sun TV now and is doing very well for himself. Nothing wrong with that.

But has David’s dedication to SM resulted in his being a better reporter? I don’t think so, and I doubt if he thinks so. But if his journalism hasn’t improved, his career has prospered. He has impressed the suits.

During a new media panel we hosted in 2010 at Algonquin College, I was surprised to learn that Julie, Tom and Peter VanDusen do not use social media at all. It was a waste of their time, they agreed, and time is a commodity few have in sufficient supply to expend.

Not many journalists, fearing for their jobs, have the courage to say that. Fewer still admit their frustration at the “new normal” workflow of tweeting three or four times a day on an update of their story.

Up to now, I, and I suspect many journalists, have been working hard, almost obsessively, in staying on top of all of these trends, fearing to be labelled a Luddite. But someone needs to state the obvious: The energy expended in finding magic bullets to solve the news business’ ailments has not provided a return on investment.

And so, in spite of hours in front of a screen, I am losing interest in the big labs in the States like Nieman and Poynter who are playing in very expensive sandboxes with some cool tools, because little of it is sticking, and paying.

I’m more interested in finding what is working in the here and now, and if there are largely easily-applied tools to enhance that, let’s do it. I’m interested in having a square understanding of what is working for all concerned, from publisher to ad director to editor to reporter to circulation manager and web designer. And then relay it to anyone who is interested.

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Greetings all. This is my blogging debut, and while I’ve been writing a column since 1981, it’s my first toe in this pool of water (yes, I tend to use galloping metaphors so beware!).

Now, can I call myself a blogger?

And if not, why not? There doesn’t seem to be any professional job description that goes along with blogging. You, your mother, your child…me…we can all be bloggers. I’ve noticed some big universities in the States are trying to contain blogging standards but it won’t work. The Internet resists standard, which is incredibly liberating and frustrating all at the same time.

It’s taken me this long to start this up because I’ve been spending the time I would normally use to write, to understand what blogs are and how they are used. I’ve been trying to understand before being understood.

And I have had a crusty aversion to writing for nothing. I’ve always been paid for putting words like these together. But even my old steady client, the Ottawa Citizen, who I’ve written a column for for 10 years, isn’t buying what they used to. There’s lots of buyers on the Net, but they are asking for contributions for free, or at the most, attempting to pay writers pennies according to the hits they get.

But there’s no point railing against this. It is what it is, and like Bobby Dillon sang, you gotta serve somebody.

So I can’t ignore them any longer, especially since the Ottawa Citizen’s publisher Gerry Nott told me his salespeople can sell ads around his reporters’ blogs. Have a look at Rod Eade’s blog at http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2011/10/08/pop-up-picnic-in-ottawa-this-saturday-video/ and see how his blog connects with the ads next to it.

Gerry believes journalists need to bring this entrepreneurial spirit to their craft. Got to, because without new ways to make money…well, you know the rest.

Monetizing the web has been a decade-long pursuit for newspapers, and reporters who label themselves as a “brand” under the Citizen’s umbrella, seem to have the cache to help the news product make money.

After all, making money is the only way forward for the contemporary writer, whether they make it for themselves, or for someone else who is paying them a salary. As far as I can see, everybody still has to make a living. The “living free” model doesn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast.

Which brings me back to this free blog.

From a reporter’s perspective, I believe I’ve learned these things so far:

  • ‘Tis more blessed to read blogs than to write one. That’s because I’m getting story ideas from them, rather than blathering on about something nobody but myself is particularly interested in;
  • Blogs defy definition;
  • The most read blogs inject humour to keep their audience laughing, especially sports ones. Laughter works.

I’m sure there’s more lessons to come, and I’ll post them here if you’re interested.

Beyond that, let’s go ahead together, as perhaps Dalton McGuinty may say.

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