The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

March 24, 2009



And me now, as layoffs abound, advertising plummets, news-gathering resources shrink, people are slinking around wondering whether they're next in line for the scrap heap.

There have been countless stories, blogs, magazine articles, documentaries and the like on why newspapers are heading the way of the dinosaur, and I don't intend this to be an explanation of that inevitable process of evolution.

What I DO intend it to be is a first-hand, inside-the-locker-room lament of what it's like to see this happening all around me -- its effects on me and news-gathering but also on the community, I fear, as a whole.

I have been stuck on this process for a while. We went on strike in the fall as the company that owns us painted a sky is falling scenario based on what was going on in the U.S. and Eastern Canada.

Newspapers folding because of the internet and a young demographic that just doesn't read the paper any more. Losses in the millions. As a recession reared its ugly head, a monumental drop-off in ad revenue.

We believed, and I STILL believe, that because we are in an insulated market we dominate as the largest newspaper in a province of more than 1 million people, this was overstated.

We still are profitable, although our profit margin has been severely hit. In the wake of the strike, layoffs came, and early retirement packages, and forced buyouts. We lost several reporters from an already very lean editorial team.

Managers who have been here for decades -- some superfluous and very expendable, some not -- have been turfed, including our own editor, who accepted a buyout when they offered him enough to do so.

Entertainment editor, gone. Sports editor, gone. Two day editors, history. At least three young and energetic reporters, from the courts, city hall and general assignment, laid off.

Many more from other departments.

Our space to do what we do -- report news and bring people the larger story, in context, that they can't get on the TV news or on blogs that can only report opinion -- cut back to slash costs.

It's grim, walking around our place. Peoples' jobs have changed. When your staff is compressed, what does that mean? You have to do more. What does that mean?

When fewer people have to do more, the product itself becomes less. Less time is spent on more things.

And this is in the context of trying to adapt to the new internet journalism while at the same time trying to still give the Baby Boomers -- the last remaining vestige of the old newspaper product, 7-day-a-week home deliveries -- what they want.

We're trying to integrate twittering and live web news reporting and a new concept called CoverItLive into how we handle football, hockey and other games, or political conventions, to provide instant news to those that crave it on the Web.

At the same time, we're trying to be what newspapers always have been and what they should be -- to provide more indepth, local news on issues or events or people that any community should care about.

And we're trying to do all that without yet having the skills to do that and without having the staff to do that because of decisions based on the bottom line.

I am now writing less and assigning and supervising more and trying as part of a team to make all this happen, and it's just the early stages, and it's all in a complete state of turmoil and chaos.

It's a bit of a self-preservation mode, but there's a pride involved too and a wonder at how we can keep ourselves relevant to what news consumers need and want at a time when it seems they don't want depth, they want just the facts.

I do lament and, in some ways, resent what the internet and technology has done to our culture and our brains.

My whole professional life as a journalist, every thought I've ever had on the job, has been providing the context and meaning for what people couldn't get just from a 30-second sound byte or a 45-second TV clip.
I've always considered my job, and any newspaper journalist's task, to bring the reader inside the dressing room to talk to Wayne Gretzky after he broke Gordie Howe's scoring record or Mario Lemieux when he retired or the Gimli Glider incident north of Winnipeg.
You just can't get that stuff anywhere else but in what has been a traditional newspaper, and I don't mind saying that of course, I'm biased.

You can't get writers who regularly spend time with such people or covering such events to tell you what it means in a contextual way, or how those people feel. Five hundred words will tell you more than a 45-second clip ever will.

What, we only have 45 seconds of our lives to give to something we're interested in?

Anyhow, not trying to lecture. I'm just saying.

Maybe our culture has lost its need for understanding and depth and meaning to things, to learned analysis of what this or that development means in sports or politics or taxation or personalities or whatever.

Maybe all people need is to watch Entertainment Tonight or American Idol or ESPN or TSN Sportsdesks to know all they need to know, or to follow a particular blogger who sits there all day reading what newspapers produce, and then opines.

Hopefully, newspapers and the journalists who work at them -- and I can't begin to tell you how much they care about what they do and are the true pursuers of the news, far beyond the sound bytes and TV clips you hear and read -- can find a way.
Remember what Marshall McLuhan said: the media is the message. The question is, can newspapers evolve into delivering a message that people will want to hear, read and consume.


  1. I, for one, believe that newspapers will always be around, so long as people read. Movies and video haven't replaced books. And while the internet may provide a quick way to see the news or get information, it doesn't have the weight, hasn't quite earned the credibility of the printed word.

    I do believe that newspapers provide an in depth exploration of the issues. And I like that fact that my eyes don't hurt trying to catch the scrolling news items below the fast talking news anchor!

    I think for the very reason that people can reread the newspaper at any time of the day, rather than wait for the news item to be repeated is one advantage of the newspaper. There's something about being able to touch a newspaper that makes it more valuable, more real than watching a newscast.

    You'll always have the edge in local events (including sports and the social pages as well as gov't decisions that affect local life). Your readers know that the issues that matter, the important things are covered in depth in the local paper. There's a connection there that cannot be replicated by any other media.

    I admire your adventurous and gutsy spirit in a time of turmoil and uncertainty. You are turning a potential problem into a spectacular opportunity.

  2. Anonymous8:59 p.m.

    Yes,it's a tough one, but, like eroswings, I do think that some vestiges, albeit slim and barely recognisable, of paper-reporting will live on. Perhaps as mere curiosities.
    I wish I could feel as confident about the futures of the people who write the stories.(It's OK for me - I've been out of the game for years, but today's hacks need a TV personality)
    Hope you can hang in there til pension day, Chris!

  3. Eroswings:

    Did I say what a spectacular human being you are?

    Thanks. This brought a genuine smile to my face.

    You are a soul and being of true depth and magnitude, even beyond your apparent ability to attract the opposite sex, and I mean that.

    Although of course we all need to be free spirits and have fun and not take life so seriously.

    I'm sure there are shitloads of people who are far more affected than I am by the economic downturn, and I wish my blessings upon them in time of total upheaval.

    But your words have made me warm. It's called depth and feeling beyond you, and I really appreciate it.

  4. You provide a very touching look at the inner life of newspapers; a view that not too many people get a chance to see.

    I can really only speak from my own viewpoint, obviously, so for what it's worth here it is... I don't buy any newspaper. I never have. I always read my news online - but on the newspapers' websites. However, I do, almost on a daily basis, flip through the newspaper in the tearoom at work. Not every single story is put onto the website, and there is much in the physical copy I still want to read. The physical copy is also easier for browsing classifieds or personals, should I feel the need... I don't read sport. At all. Sorry. :) But anyway, I think there will always be a demand for the real deal, although it will reduce significantly. I don't know if your newspaper already has a website; if not perhaps it should be considered. Advertisers are more likely to continue advertising if they feel their ad will be seen by more people - ie, browsers rather than buyers!

  5. Nicely written. It should be front page news.

  6. It is sad that there's been such a decline WW...

  7. Stace:

    Thanks for this.

    Oh yeah, we've got a website, have had for a couple of years, and it's all the rage as we try to institute a new culture at our paper.

    But it's all about getting the readers and the advertisers to buy into it on the levels they are with the traditional paper.

    And so far they're not buying in to that extent.

    The website, of course, is free, as are virtually all newspaper websites. The question is, how to make money providing a free service like that.

    It's like a slow suicide at the moment, it seems to me. Once the traditional subscribers die off, we'll have to start charging for the website, somehow, or making it profitable.

    Otherwise, adios.


    Ha! You think? But the point is, no one reads the front page any more. It's the forest for the trees thing.


    Sad, yes. But as George Harrison said, All Things Must Pass. :-)

  8. We will always need newspapers, how else will we get the paper to stuff our guy fawkes come bonfire night in November ;)

    hugs to you.....


  9. Toasty Warm:

    HA HA HA HA!!!

    Great point! I think we might be able to design a worldwide ad campaign around that thought!

    Would you appear in it, stuffing your local newspaper into your fireplace, then?


  10. Whenever I see a newspaper I think of my mom. She WAS our County newspaper for over a decade, doing everything, including writing, editing, stenciling (that was awhile ago), printing and folding it for delivery.

    In her later years, one of her biggest joys in life was reading the Billings Gazette from front to back, then doing the crossword puzzle and word jumble. She could do the Sunday puzzle in an hour.

    There's no real point to this comment, other than to say that I sincerely hope that your fears are unfounded.

    Big hugs, Chris, you are a hell of a writer.


  11. Well, Laurie, you have stroked my lament some more in beautiful ways, among other things.

    I grew up delivering the newspaper and living for it, reading the sports section every day, loving it, cherishing it, holding it.

    In high school, I took in a career day thing by our local sports editor, and I was hooked.

    This is what I wanted to be.

    And strangely enough, that is what I ended up doing, and I love the story of your mom.

    I've been in sports, news, entertainment, you name it, ever since, wanting to tell people about the 101-year-old guy who wants to break the world record at the World Masters Senior Games, the 14-year-old who won a gold medal at an international judo competition, and millions of things in between.

    And now we're doing Twitter with a 100-word or 100-character limit.

    What happened to our need for meaning and life? It's so much about info nano-seconds now. What's that going to do to our brains and our depth perception?

    What's going to serve to bring people back to the real world and what all this shit means?

    Unfortunately, L, my fears not unfounded. Just like the internet, we're becoming an instaneous society that feels it has no time for depth or meaning or feel-good or feel-bad stories.

    We don't want to feel our feelings or think our thoughts any more. We want it now, we want it simple and we want it short.

    Sigh. I listen to CBC on the radio and watch it on TV now (our government-funded radio-TV service enduring huge cuts), PBS and anything not private business in the media, including CNN.

    I am looking to get out of this business, if I can, I think. It's become so much about business and profit and feeding the frenzy rather than telling feel-good stories about who we are.

    Sigh. Sorry. We're becoming so shallow and opaque, the larger society. Gawd.

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