It’s been said that losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth, and over the years I’ve found that to be true more than a few times.
On my journey from blogger, to Huffington Post featured political blogger, to Duel debate columnist at 24 Hours Vancouver and then moving onto become the new City Hall columnist, I’ve gained thousands of wonderful readers, critical experience and wisdom. And it’s been an incredible experience.
But I’ve also lost some admittedly youthful naiveté and more than a handful of illusions about democracy and journalism. I’ve changed and grown and so have my views. In a world that’s recreating itself faster than the human mind can sometimes process, the ability to adapt and move forward into new, progressive ways of thinking and dealing with challenges is essential. And that was why I left the Duel even though I had developed an incredible relationship with our readers. I knew by perpetuating and contributing to the polarization of political left and right,I was part of the problem – and I wanted to be part of the solution.
Starting on the City Hall beat was an eye-opener even for someone as politically engaged as myself. If you think the antics of provincial or federal politics is contributing to voter malaise and cynicism, you’d give up entirely if you saw what goes on, largely without examination, at the civic level.The manner in which some city halls conduct their business is definitely worthy of a municipal auditor’s office and I’m not just limiting that to Metro Vancouver.
But I digress. Back to that lost illusion, one that lead to my handing in my resignation at 24Hours Vancouver several weeks ago.
Over the last year in particular, never ending cuts to newsrooms of papers big and small across the country, have taken a toll. It’s not just Postmedia- all corporate media outlets are feeling the pinch-but Postmedia cuts have been extensive.
Some senior members have been offered buyouts, some have just been laid off. With the availability and preference of many to get their news for free through a variety of means online, newspapers are slowing dying a rather painful and visible death. And that isn’t a good thing for anyone, least of all you, the reader.
Why? Because these cuts and closures combined with a concentration of media ownership means you, the reader, are going to lose out in the end. Postmedia competes largely with itself now. Fewer reporters and feature writers mean fewer expose’s and features, and more assignments for those left. It’s watered down,syndicated content that is beginning to look the same no matter where you go or which paper you pick up.
And the upper management? While they are actively trying to re-work an unworkable business model thanks to the internet, they continue a downward spiral. It’s frustrating to watch talented local writers and reporters that subscribers and buyers will actually make the effort to read,have to make the choice to leave. Uniquely talented journalists like Chad Skelton, for one.
It doesn’t end there either. As more reporters, pundits, and columnists see full well the insecurity of their profession,they are leaving to pursue greener, more secure pastures. Not because they don’t love what they do – each of them will tell you how hard it is to make that step given the chance-but because the writing is on the wall.
For some strange reason the suits back east just don’t seem to see that they are contributing to demise and continue backing themselves into a corner. The value of the paper is inherently found in the people at ground level,working day and night to get the news out every day. Cut the content, and you cut your own throat.
For me, something just went ‘Ding!’ when the National Post/Margaret Atwood kerfuffle occurred. Which is kind of ironic because although I greatly respect the body of work Atwood has created,I’m not a huge fan personally. If you missed it, here’s an overview:
The National Post has reposted a column written by famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood criticizing Stephen Harper after accusations of censorship.
“Um, did I just get censored?” Atwood asked on Twitter Friday evening after her column disappeared from the Post’s website, several hours after it had been posted. “For my flighty little caper on Hair?”
The celebrated Toronto author’s column, which remained available in a cached versiononline, used Stephen Harper’s repeated attacks on rival Justin Trudeau’s hair as a lead-in to pointed criticism of the prime minister himself.
“The column was taken down because the necessary fact checking had not been completed,” said the Post’s senior vice-president Gerry Nott in an email. “Senior editorial leadership at Postmedia also had not concluded whether the column was aligned with the values of the National Post and its readers.”
The vanished Post column, minus three sentences, was posted later Friday night on the website of The Walrus magazine. Soon after the lightly trimmed Walrus version appeared on the Post website as well.
Atwood, 75, questioned the original decision to remove the column.
“I am still puzzled,” she told the Star by email after the column has been reposted, adding editors had her piece for nine days before it was posted.
She also questioned the “values” being considered by the Post before it went back online.
Now,it’s not unusual for columns to get fact-checked although in my experience if that happens it does so prior to publication for obvious reasons.
The kicker for me was Gerry Nott’s emailed statement: “Senior editorial leadership at Postmedia also had not concluded whether the column was aligned with the values of the National Post and its readers.”
The values of the paper and it’s readers?
In just that one statement Nott revealed one big issue that in my opinion, is contributing to the fast demise of these chain publications. The only value a paper worth reading should place in high regard, is that of bringing forth content that encourages balanced and fair comment, without having a bias of one direction or another.
They need to bring forth comprehensive news of local and world events that are relevant to society as a whole. That is what readers expect. They want local content. They want diverse commentary. They don’t want a political agenda or content designed and or cherry-picked for a specific audience target.They don’t want to be told what to think either. Let them make up their own minds.
Postmedia executives can run their business any darn way they like, even when it doesn’t work.
National Post senior Vice President Gerry Nott and senior editorial leadership at the Post most certainly have the right to pull a column while they discuss if it aligns with their values or not.
And I have the right to say I don’t want to be a part of that anymore. That my values do not align with that mindset.
It’s bad when personal relationships with politicians and government contacts impact news coverage- we see that here in BC press often.
I am all about progressive values, about creating and building new ways to move forward in business, in communities and in news. I write often and interact daily with my readers to try and engage them and get them back into the process, into realizing why it is so important. This is where newspapers can wield tremendous influence.
If I could see any indication those executives in towers far removed from you and I and every other reader out there had any inkling that they are largely the masters of their own demise, perhaps I would feel differently, but I don’t see that.I know they value the bottom line, but do they value the people who help them do that? To them, newsroom staff are simply numbers on a budget line.
I let my publisher know, and she asked me to think about it for a bit- and I did. But she and my editor respected where I was coming from and my decision.
Ironically,just two days after I handed in my resignation,we had an unannounced lay-off in our office that only served to reinforce my decision that PostMedia is headed in the wrong direction.
Perhaps not surprisingly, even ‘good old Conrad Black’ *written with serious sarcasm there* has taken issue with the direction Postmedia has taken,catching everyone off guard when he called into a Postmedia financial results conference call and tell CEO Paul Godfrey he felt the standard of some of the papers have slipped.
Former media baron Conrad Black expressed his dissatisfaction Thursday with Postmedia’s turnaround effort as Canada’s largest newspaper chain reported another punishing quarter that left it swimming in deeper losses.
Black made an unexpected appearance on the Postmedia’s financial results conference call to tell CEO Paul Godfrey that he felt standards at some of the company’s papers have slipped.
“Please build the quality, otherwise you’re going to retreat right into your own end zone, if you’ll pardon the sports metaphor,” Black said.
“I care very much about these assets. I have nothing but high regard for you and your colleagues, but I’m very concerned we’ve got our feet stuck in cement here,” he added later.
Now Conrad Black wrote the book on meddling with papers,but now that the decline is impacting his shares,he whines. But the point remains – he is right, as late to the plate as he is in stating so. Readers tell me all the time they don’t want re-hashed national content in their local paper that they can see for free online elsewhere and most people have figured out how to get beyond any paywalls. They want to see their local longtime favourite writers and reporters bringing the content they are used to.
(And if you end up reading this Mr. Godfrey, that might be something you can talk about at your next meeting while you huddle in the end zone playing defense with a quarter of the players you used to have…try cutting some suits in management instead of cutting the very people you need to supply your content. The irony of not accepting a political bias in stories reported,yet maintaining one as a corporate value eludes no one.)
I have nothing but high regard for my soon to be former colleagues at 24Hours. It’s a solid team that works well together and always has – I urge you to continue to enjoy the paper as I will. Our team is why reader numbers grew significantly under our local publisher and editorial leadership, and we celebrated last April that we were the 2nd most read print publication in Western Canada, right behind The Province and ahead of The Vancouver Sun.
What’s next for me? Right now, I’m not sure. I’ve had some interest expressed elsewhere and I am always open to explore opportunities, but I won’t be jumping into anything quickly. I have an unquenchable desire to see change happen in the political process, and in engaging people to understand why they play a critical role in how our communities and nation moves forward and is shaped.
There are so many stories out there waiting to be told and I’ll bring them to you here for now. There is much discussion that needs to be had on policy making in this province and in this country. I’ll also continue to hold politicians feet to the fire they way they need to be, and is happening less and less as those cuts continue to happen elsewhere.
We need to raise the bar and depth of discussion on all these issues and more. And I will continue to write stories that might make some change happen here in there, because that’s what I love best. With the same dedication I brought to 24 Hours Vancouver.
Thank you, all of you, for making this such an incredible experience. You’ve shared your stories with me,your outrage and your inspiration,your disagreements and debates! And I value that,more than I can say.
So welcome home, pull a chair up and grab a cuppa. We’ve got some work to do here. Check back Monday when I have a new post for you I am working on now!