Last week U.S. journalist and radio host of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman was stopped at the Canadian border, detained for 90 minutes and was asked whether she intended to speak about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. When I read this, I was shocked. Was this an act of paranoia? What could Goodman possibly say to motivate B.C.'s border guards to question her and then return her passport with a document requiring her to leave Canada within 48 hours.

This recent example is just one of a number of tactics being employed to handle potential critics of the upcoming Olympics. Designated police-controlled protest zones are already being prepared for when the games begin and earlier this month Vancouver supported a sign law that restricted signage that was unsupportive of the Olympics from appearing in homes or businesses. What does this say about free speech in Canada? It's certainly not reflecting well in my books. It's a controlled sort of free speech, perhaps a preview of what's to come, and similar to what happened in Beijing during the Summer Olympics.

Posted on November 30, 2009

Canadian freelancer Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan are now on their way home, released after 15 months—459 days—of captivity after being taken by gunmen in Mogadishu, Somalia.

It's difficult to discuss this story in typical journalistic fashion. For starters, there is precious little information as far as exactly how and under what terms the two were released, and who was involved. An anonymous police source noted a $700,000 ransom, but currently this cannot be independently verified. Daniel Clayton, CEO of a Calgary-based security firm, confirmed its involvement in the case, but naturally he's mum on the details.

Beyond that, though, thinking about the chances journalists take in order to tell the stories of the world is an exercise in sobriety. Some don't make it back. Some know they won't be coming back at the outset. When Lindhout and Brennan eventually return home, it would do the rest of us some good to take a moment and step back to reflect on the myriad situations our profession can land us in, and to remember that the best of us display a powerful combination of courage and dedication to our craft.

Posted on November 28, 2009

Tired of the same old news? Canadian news watchers won't have to wait much longer to get a more diverse international news presence emanating from their television sets: It was announced earlier today that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has granted permission for Ethnic Channels Group Ltd., a Toronto-based satellite service, to carry Al-Jazeera English, according CBC News.

AJE, the English-language news service of the larger broadcaster, Al-Jazeera, was launched in 2006 and now has become a "world leader in the coverage of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas," according to CNW Group. This could be great for Canadians who are tired of the same old Westernized news coverage, especially since the recent economic crisis has caused many news outfits to scale back their foreign coverage.

In addition to potentially filling in a gaping hole in the broadcast news available to Canadians, AJE may also offer a leg-up to a few out-of-work reporters. AJE plans to open a Canada bureau soon, making it the only international news channel with a bureau in Canada.

Sounds like a double-win to me.

Posted on November 27, 2009

Good news, everyone! The Washington Post, home of arguably the worst opinion section in America, has taken to heart the criticisms levelled against it and addressed these inadequacies by closing its remaining United States bureaus. Finally!

The decision was nothing if not pragmatic. As executive editor and mental gymnast Marcus Brauchli explains, "We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience. Nor are we a wire service or cable channel." Not only that, but "We can effectively cover the rest of the country from Washington." Other than the fact that its own ombudsman feels comfortable printing—without argument—letters claiming the Post actually is a newspaper of record and the general hilariousness of the idea that occasionally sending reporters to insignificant burgs like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles is just as good as having full-time writers in those cities, this is perfectly sensible.

For those dismayed by the announcement, though, rest assured the Post will continue to give money to crypto-fascist shit-demon William Kristol and actual dinosaur Richard Cohen, which is in many ways even better than paying reporters to gather real news.

Posted on November 26, 2009

It's a day of mourning for journalists. Twelve journalists were among 46 murdered Monday in the Philippines. It's not yet known what the motive for the attack was or if the journalists were the targets. But that's 12 fewer of us in the world (and, it must also be said, 34 fewer innocent non-journalists as well).

You know, most days I get up and shake my head at this crazy thing I do. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be a journalist, to make a living telling people's stories. Doubly lucky, in fact, because I get to do this weird thing in a country where journalists can live and work without fear of reprisal. Every once in a while it's good to remind ourselves of the troubles journalists face abroad and how lucky we have it in Canada.

In a recent Q&A with CBC, Russian journalist Elena Milashina spoke of the difficulty working in a country where journalists are frequently murdered. Milashina told the interviewer if she'd known of the risks beforehand, she wouldn't have become a journalist. But now she's compelled. "I do what I have to do," she said. "Whatever happens, will happen. It's not that I expect something back from my job, changes or even thanks. It's my job. It's what I have to do."

Posted on November 25, 2009

It's always exciting when magazines find new ways to incorporate content into their websites. Times are a-changin' and at this point in the game, jumping on the bandwagon doesn't seem so bad.

Last week, Canadian Geographic started using video to augment and extend its print stories. The re-establishment of the black-footed ferret, which has been believed to be extinct until now, is the first story to receive this treatment. The video of the ferret's release to Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park was captured after the print deadline.

I don't know about you, but my day has been made better knowing that both a magazine's and a rodent species' futures just became a little brighter. I mean, come on, cute little black paws! (The rodent's, that is...)

These days, it's extremely important for any publication to have a solid web base. Whether it's full of exclusive content, links and more, or has an eye-catching design, how each publication chooses to use these formats will ultimately make or break its wagon. Being able to both watch and read about Canadian nature will appeal to the magazine's audience, especially if the audience doesn't have access to the Discovery Channel.

Posted on November 24, 2009

It's all about the brand, any publisher today will tell you. Cosmopolitan and Playboy are the epitomes of brand extension. And with Oprah Winfrey exiting the stage to start up her own television network, has everyone got brand on the brain? The latest culprit is HGTV superstar Mike Holmes with his new publication Holmes:The Magazine To Make It Right launching today.

Moving past his HGTV shows Holmes on Homes and Holmes Inspection, he is literally extending his star-studded status through the confines of the television screen right into our laps. But as someone who watches HGTV regularly, I'm a little sick of Holmes. If he says, "I'm going to make it right" one more time...

Frankly, I'm sick of all these brands. The problem with brands is that they saturate audiences, watering them down to the point where they don't want to be your audience anymore. Oprah, God love her, is everywhere. The Cosmopolitan network is suffocating, featuring dorky trivia questions between every commercial, constant replays of Sex and the City and irritating chick flicks every night. Ironically, with a name like Cosmopolitan, it seems to have a pretty one-dimensional view of who its audience is.

Posted on November 23, 2009

Here's an unlikely story: Detroit is getting a third daily newspaper to serve its ever-dwindling population.

The Detroit Daily Press will begin publishing November 23 in one of the most violent, run-down, economically devastated major cities in the U.S., where the other two major papers, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, have been struggling to survive, even to the point of reducing home delivery service.

In fact, that's what prompted publishers Mark and Gary Stern to start the Daily Press. They say they hope to start other newspapers in cities where papers have closed or reduced service. The Daily Press will be a real paper too—a broadsheet with a staff of 60 and a daily print run of 200,000 copies—not some pity case. It will retail for 50 cents a copy Monday through Saturday—half the price of its competitors. The Sunday edition will be $1.

The brothers are obviously big believers in the continued relevance of newspapers—they came out of retirement to start the Daily Press, and have been in the news business since the 1960s, publishing strike papers in Detroit, New York and Minneapolis. So you might call them newspaper philanthropists. Or brave. Or deluded. Either way, this will be an interesting one to follow.

Posted on November 19, 2009

Wednesday on CBC Radio's Q, Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Chris Atkins, creator of the film Starsuckers. Through a series of media hoaxes, Atkins' documentary depicts the celebrity-hungry culture that dominates certain British news organizations. "Atkins and his team called up British tabloids with made-up frivolous celebrity stories, and they 'just printed anything,'" states British news site journalism.co.uk. "He was flabbergasted by the speed with which completely fabricated stories flew around the world."

In Atkins' most memorable stunt, which he's dubbed "Amy's Hair," his team called a newspaper's tip line and told them Amy Winehouse had been jamming with friends at her place when they blew a fuse. When Winehouse tried to turn the power back on, she got an electric shock that set her hair on fire. The story was picked up by a slew of British and foreign newspapers including the Times of India, the world's most widely read English newspaper.

Atkins was trying to kick-start discussion about western celebrity-obsessed culture, which has been built up through the media. With old-fashioned media in the tanks, newspapers are trying to ensure some sort of survival, which is why we've seen so much entertainment news creep into the pages of serious newspapers over the past few years. Apparently, journalists are now so worried about scooping rival publications that they print rumours without verifying information. A necessary evil or just unacceptable?

Posted on November 18, 2009

With the "woe is me" attitude we all have toward the current state of flux journalism finds itself in, it's no wonder all we want to talk about is our own profession. Journalists have been criticized lately for writing too much about journalism, but I say if it's news, it should be covered. (Although my bias must be noted, considering I write for the Ryerson Review of Journalism.)

That being said, just because we write about it doesn't mean we need to conference about it as often as we do. As Craig Fehrman points out in an article for the New Haven Advocate, a two-day conference held at Yale to discuss the future of journalism was almost the mirror image of a conference held at Harvard just two weeks before. And Harvard wasn't original either—its conference was strangely similar to one held at the University of California, Berkeley the previous month.

We might have issues to consider and ideas to tinker with, but listening to panellists in Ivy League schools won't save us from becoming obsolete. If we want to keep our jobs intact and our industry afloat, we need to listen to the people we work with. They might not all be from The New York Times, but they know what our readers want.

Note: the headline is a quote from Salon CEO Richard Gingras.

Posted on November 17, 2009

As industry vet D.B. Scott recently blogged, magazine advertisers have long eclipsed readers when it comes to influence over magazines.

A new report by management consulting firm A. T. Kearney suggests that magazines shift their focus from courting advertisers to securing lifetime subscriptions. It's an interesting perspective.

Yet in the campaign for "a focus beyond circulation management to multifaceted revenue and profit management," the authors of the report appear to believe that publishers don't take alternate sources of revenue into account. Scott, however, points out that they do, in addition to, "multiplatform selling and linking print and web publishing and deriving income from both."

Regardless, given the industry's state, suggesting an overhaul of the standard magazine publishing model is expected; suggesting an overhaul where the readers take the bulk of funding responsibility is audacious. A switch between dependence on advertising and relying on the "lifetime value" of subscriptions would revolutionize the voice and content of magazines, but would it change the precariousness of the magazine industry? I don't think we'll find out. There's not enough cash floating around to experiment with the lifeblood of a struggling publishing industry. Still, this may be the only shot we'll have.

Posted on November 16, 2009

Looks like the dailies' kid sisters are getting kicked in the mouth again. Funny ... we barely have any teeth left.

The Ontario government announced Thursday that newspaper subscriptions would be exempt from the new 13 percent harmonized sales tax. That means by June 2010, magazines will stand alone with an eight percent taxation increase.

"I'm quite certain that we will lose magazines," said Mark Jamison, chief executive officer of Magazines Canada. "This came as a total shock because we made the same economic and cultural arguments ... as newspapers."

Toronto Star reporter Robert Benzie cited fears of "overtaxing a cherished morning ritual"—that is, of drinking coffee and reading newspapers—as a reason why the Liberals granted the HST break.

Some have suggested that magazine publishers should get on the phone to protest the unfair tax break. I think the solution is much simpler. The magazine industry just needs to create its own cherished daily ritual.

Like winding down at the end of the day with your favourite album, while flipping through the pages of Chart? Or relaxing on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and issue of TV Guide, ready to watch the night away? What about getting your mind going over eggs in the morning with the latest issue of Saturday Night?

Ugh. Just call your MPP.

Posted on November 14, 2009

Last month, The New York Times announced cutbacks, buyouts and possible layoffs, proving that even it isn't immune to the collapse of journalism as we know it. Most shocking was the reader outcry after executive editor Bill Keller broke the news. "There is a solution to layoffs - start charging for on-line content, I'd pay...seriously. Why not?" posted one reader. Another wrote: "I want to pay for my online use of The New York Times...Figure it out now! I have my credit card ready."

While not all of the nearly 600 comments were as encouraging, there was a flurry of remarks from Times fans insisting on paying for online material. And why shouldn't they? Quality content shouldn't be free. Let's hope Times execs are paying attention, because they've been flirting with the idea of re-erecting a pay wall.

Apparently, Canadian readers are less generous. Audiences praised The Globe and Mail when the paper removed its pay wall last year. According to communities editor Mathew Ingram's blog, one wrote: "Thank God you finally saw the light." So if readers are ready, cash in hand, what is the Times waiting for? If it can charge for online content then perhaps Canadian papers could too, even though Katie Hewitt doesn't think so .

Posted on November 11, 2009

slip party 

 

You've probably heard these words one too many times in recent past: layoffs, recession, collapse, destruction and maybe even apocalypse. Unfortunately, these are commonly used terms among folks in the journalism industry lately. While we're conscious of how serious and troubling the times have become, there's a part of us that can't help but take a jab at our own dire situations. That's why the Ryerson Review of Journalism is hosting The Pink Slip Party, a fundraiser for our spring issue where you can drown your sorrows with some good beer, dancing, music and fantastic prizes. All proceeds go to supporting the upcoming spring issue of the Review.

On Thursday November 26 at 9 p.m., be sure to join us at Supermarket (268 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market) for some much-needed fun. Advanced tickets can be purchased now for $8 at the Rogers Communications Centre (80 Gould St. in the Atrium). Tickets are $10 at the door. Despite our cheeky theme, we promise no talk of job cuts or money woes, just some good, recession-era times. We look forward to seeing you all.

For more information, visit our Facebook event.

Posted on November 11, 2009

So this is where all those jobless journalists go at night! Street artists Jason Eppink and Posterchild are throwing the print after-party, setting up abandoned newspaper boxes with disco balls, LED lights, handheld radios and cut-out silhouettes. As Eppink wrote, "When the last vestiges of a collapsed empire litter the landscape, there's only one thing to do: throw a bumpin' party and dance on the ruins."

(Warning: loud music and flashing lights.)

Don't forget our own recession-themed rave, next Thursday at the Supermarket in Kensington. And you'll be able to squeeze into this one. We promise.

Posted on November 11, 2009

Given the state of the news industry, what with print on the brink of death and all, we should probably figure out how to make money online. An article appeared on poynter.org last Friday, saying that between five and 15 publishers will soon start restricting website access to customers, integrating Journalism Online's paid content model. They're hoping no one will notice. Steven Brill, co-founder of Journalism Online, told Poynter that users wouldn't experience a perceptible change, so the audience (and advertisers) won't be scared away with a seismic shift toward the paid model. All of the publishers are integrating free and paid content.

The paid content is like shopping by catalogue: you don't get more than a brief teaser till you purchase. One system charges for some articles and not others, effectively ranking the news that's fit to buy. You can even return items, should you experience news buyer's remorse.

Chances are, this model isn't going to work. Why would customers—er, readers—respond to a slow development toward paying for piecemeal news online, while there's an entire universe of free content out there? For that matter, there are existing, portable, pre-assembled content packages ready for purchase. They're called newspapers.

If I'm going to pay for the news, I want to get ink on my fingers.

Posted on November 10, 2009

Denver television station KBDI is launching a non-profit investigative news unit due to the reduction of significant investigative journalism. The operation, called Colorado Public News, will launch online (a beta version is already up) and later expand to a weekly half-hour program. KBDI hasn't set a target launch date, but it hopes to raise $400,000 to support a staff of six for six months before launching. The new unit promises to deliver in-depth investigative pieces using multi-media tools like online videos, slideshows and podcasts. It also plans to include blogs and mobile applications.

However, one of the reasons for the decrease of investigative journalism is because it costs too much money. The threat of La Presse's potential close down is a perfect example. Despite being applauded as one of the best papers for investigative journalism, the Montreal daily has been facing huge challenges from its high-cost structure and declining ad revenues. It faces a predicted $215-million deficit by 2013. Publication will cease on December 1 if the paper doesn't reach an agreement with its union workers to cut costs.

So while I congratulate KBDI's effort to resurrect the somewhat dying field of investigative journalism, you'll pardon my skepticism.

Posted on November 09, 2009

Children have been used in war before. But last week Sesame Street took the fight to Fox to a new level, though the episode has aired a few times in the past two years. First the White House, and now a venerable kids show? Fox just can't get any slack.

Posted on November 06, 2009

An RCMP officer's libel lawsuit against CBC is just one of the unfortunate consequences that come with running a breaking story.

Const. Kwesi Millington, the officer whose Taser use led to Robert Dziekanski's death, claims CBC "defamed him" and caused him "serious embarrassment and distress" with its coverage of the event, according to a story by The Canadian Press.

The possibility of lawsuits when news breaks is old hat for media organizations. In Dziekanski's death, which was inarguably one of the biggest stories of 2007, CBC had no option but to cover the story. Out of the story and subsequent public inquiry have come serious questions about use of force by police officers and the safety hazards of Taser use.

It's Millington's right to sue, but sticking media for libel in this case is redundant; no journalist worth a damn in Canada would have ignored that story. The irony is Millington suing the public broadcaster which has a mandate to jump on stories of this nature. If CBC didn't run with the story, they wouldn't be doing the job we pay them to do.

Posted on November 06, 2009

The Toronto Star has more than layoff issues these days. This morning an unknown Star editor sent Torontoist a copy edited version of publisher John Cruickshank's memo, headlined, "Why the Star needs its own editors." The red pen is merciless, but that the memo fails to follow the Star's own style guide—well, maybe the paper should hold off on that outsourcing for a little longer.

Note: It is unknown whether this is the work of a verified Star editor. According to Torontoist, the memo was sent "by a self-described 'intermediary who was asked to send this for a friend who works at the Star' this morning; it's, allegedly, 'the work of a Star editor.'"

Posted on November 06, 2009

In September, a coalition of writers' groups started a boycott of Transcontinental Media in response to Transcon's release of a new "Author Master Agreement," a lifetime contract that strips writers of almost all conceivable rights with little or no increase in pay.

The coalition's been pretty quiet since then, but now they've launched a website, Bad Writing Contracts , to keep supporters updated on their efforts.

Bad Writing Contracts describes the Author Master Agreement this way: "Transcontinental is taking the right to, in effect, do whatever it wants with the writer's work."

Back in July, coalition representative Derek Finkle of the Canadian Writers Group and David Johnston, then executive director of the Professional Writer's Association of Canada (PWAC) met with Transcontinental in hopes of negotiating a contract that would be fair to both writers and the company. They were met with nothing but resistance.

The coalition is, among other things, urging writers to quit pitching stories to Transcon and readers to cancel their subscriptions. The fight against Transcon has gotten very loud and it's only a matter of time before advertisers catch wind. With many of Canada's star writers showing their support for the coalition, can Transcon really afford to treat its writers so badly?

For more information, you can follow the group on Twitter.

Posted on November 05, 2009

Leave now or be fired later—this is the decision facing Toronto Star employees. The Star is gearing up for what publisher John Cruickshank says will be "the biggest restructuring of the Star's workforce in history." Employees of the paper can take voluntary severance packages or risk being laid off later. The voluntary separation package comes as part of the paper's plans to outsource part or all of its pre-publishing and editorial divisions.

It's no secret Canadian newspapers are struggling to stay afloat. Just last week there were rumours rumbling that the National Post would soon be resting in peace. Newspapers and other print media are struggling to keep their heads above water. But is outsourcing the way to go? A news team is like a well-oiled machine. From the lowliest intern to the publisher, every contribution assures a final product that stays true to the mandate and culture of a publication.

But it seems anything goes in the fight to save print culture, including getting rid of vital editing and pre-production positions, such as pagination. A little oxymoronic, don't you think?

Posted on November 05, 2009

What are you doing when you graduate? Taking some time to see the world? Perhaps a few months teaching English in China or Guatemala? NGO work? Communications? How many of you will be hitting the pavement, dropping off CVs and practicing your interview skills? Or at least calling the guys you interned for last summer?

For the past month I've spent my time interviewing different professionals in the media—editors, senior reporters, scholars—about the challenges facing journalists in exile living in Canada. "Why does nobody hire them?" I ask. "I know some have thick accents but you can barely notice them after a few weeks?" Their response is invariably the same: "They don't get hired for the same reason nobody is getting hired these days. There are no jobs."

The first few times you hear it you brush it off. No jobs. That's nonsense, you think. With some hard work and good recommendations there must be something out there for me. But then you hear it again and again and you start to believe it. What if it's true? What would I do? What will we all do?

Maybe we'll all have to become journalists in exile taking whatever positions we can find whether it be as the Vatican reporter for the Sunrise World News in Italy or the metro editor at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. At least I know they're hiring.

Posted on November 04, 2009

The National Post printed a virile editorial this weekend, addressing the various media outlets and news reports speculating its death last week. Characterizing the reports as a collective "barrage," "firestorm," and "frenzy" of celebrations on their supposed death, the editorial attempts to set the record straight, or at least provide the necessary contexts to the swathe of reports that did indeed predict the paper's demise prematurely.

Praising its own "small-c conservative voice," and its "irreverence," the article tries to claim some victory in reducing its annual losses from $65 million in fiscal 2001 to $12.7 million in fiscal 2008. Meanwhile it throws around buzzword infested, masturbatory phrases such as the paper's transfer "ensuring [its] long-term existence and stability," or that "The publishing group...understands the contribution the Post can make to the entire operation, and has put a dollar value on it."

The Post's editorial board members seemed to lean back smugly into their Aero chairs, basking in their phoenix-like rebirth as part of Canwest's publishing chain. However, they must have forgotten that the actual phoenix's revival is a majestic spectacle, requiring no words. The Post, by comparison, apparently felt the need to blow its own horn in a manner not unlike its less eloquent critics.

By the way, whose decision was it to use such an over-blown, over-used quote for its headline? Mark Twain's grave-rolling must resemble a Swiss Chalet rotisserie by now. The last time I saw that quote in a newspaper was in a review of a Rise Against album.

Posted on November 03, 2009
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