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.