WHEN NEWS IS ALREADY HISTORY “It’s the hottest item. It’s in over 500 papers…Yesterday’s weather reports for people who were drunk and slept all day!”
In the 1976 movie All The President’s Men, Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee laughed at an attempt to sell those reports to his newspaper.
But it’s no laughing matter when, 38-years later, Canadian dailies are publishing their own version what should be a punch line: yesterday’s news reports for people who don’t have an Internet connection.
For example, on July 23, the Calgary Herald fronted the following headline, above-the-fold: “Not tonight, ‘I feel gross’ Frustrated hubby details wife’s rebuffs in sex spreadsheet, she posts it online.”
That post had appeared five-days earlier on Reddit. Gawker Media LLC-owned Website Deadspin published its take on that story shortly after it appeared.
Other outlets followed that lead. And, by the time Herald staff stuck it on their front page, everyone from the Huffington Post to the Guardian had already taken a stab at the story.
As a result, the Calgary newspaper might as well have published an advertisement telling readers and potential readers — especially younger ones — that it is behind the news cycle not ahead of it.
That’s bad. But what’s worse is that a reporter, working at another Postmedia Network Inc.-owned paper, actually wrote that story in the first place.
Telling the public something they already know is not a sustainable business model, especially as advertising revenues decline and newspapers become more reliant on subscribers to make money.
And don’t take my word for it.
Two years ago, USA Today president Larry Kramer proclaimed: “We really can’t survive if all we do is commodity journalism.”
Instead, according to Kramer, the media has to “say things differently” and “help people understand things.”
“Investigative reporting is going to be a huge part of what we do on an ongoing basis, not less but more. But also explanatory journalism, the things that people need.”
Nevertheless, media outlets continue to churn out this kind of “commodity journalism,” presumably, in part, because it’s easy to produce at a time when they have fewer reporters to feed their Websites, publications and broadcasts.
Postmedia’s coverage of the sex spreadsheet story is just an egregious example of the kind of warmed-over, leftovers it needs to stop serving up to the public.
After all, just think of what the reporter who bylined that story could have been doing with the time it took to type it out?
Even 15 minutes is enough time to check a lobbyists registry, file a freedom of information request or phone a source.
In other words, it’s enough time to find a potential story idea the public doesn’t already know about.
It’s enough time to find a potential story idea that hasn’t already been blasted out on social media, in a news release or by another news outlet.
So what, you may say. It’s just 15 minutes.
But writing something that has already been written is not journalism, I say.
And when you have reporters across the country producing “commodity journalism” over and over again, that time adds up.
Yet, sadly, it ultimately will equal nothing…except a punch line that is hurting the news media’s bottom line.
CANADA WON’T BE AN OPEN GOVERNMENT LEADER Critics have repeatedly described the Harper administration as being both dictatorial and secretive — qualities that are inconsistent with the principles of open government.
So it comes as no surprise that the Canadian government, as reported by FreedomInfo.org, “has withdrawn its candidacy to join the Open Government Partnership steering committee.
That committee runs the partnership, a group that is committed to government that is “more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens” and includes 64 participating countries.
A statement provided by the Treasury Board Secretariat to FreedomInfo.org explained Canada’s withdraw this way:
There are many countries looking to participate in the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee. Canada believes this leadership opportunity should be given to countries that will bring new perspectives to the discussion of Open Government, and allow the OGP to strengthen in other parts of the world.
The Government of Canada is confident that the OGP will be very well served by the other candidates to be elected to the Steering Committee through the current process.
BLASTING THE PAST The British Columbia government is condemning its citizens to repeat the past by reducing the chances of them knowing about the past. This week, the province’s information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the Canadian Press she was “shocked to learn that no government records had been transferred or preserved in the BC Archives for the last 10 years.”
The reason for that negligence: “Government transferred the BC Archives from the province to the Royal British Columbia Museum in 2003. Unfortunately, no money went with the transfer of responsibility and the museum said it could only afford to maintain the existing archives. It put in place a fee of $454 per box to archive new material — a fee no ministry was interested in paying.”
The controversy follows a similar one in Ottawa where, according to Postmedia News, “Canada’s Privy Council Office has stopped releasing 30-year-old federal cabinet records on an annual basis, resulting in a seven-year backlog of archival government material.”
Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.
I am currently reading a book titled “Necessary Illusions” by Noam Chomsky. It was published in1989. Its subtitle is “Thought Control in Democratic Societies.” Here is a paragraph from page 10.
“Case by case, we find that conformity is the easy way, and the path to privilege and prestige; dissidence carries personal costs that may be severe, even in a society that lacks such means of control as death squads, psychiatric prisons, or extermination camps. The very structure of the media is designed to induce conformity to established doctrine. In a 3 minute stretch between commercials, or in 700 words, it is impossible to present unfamiliar thoughts or surprising conclusions with the argument and evidence required to afford them some credibility. Regurgitation of welcome pieties faces no such problem.”