I wish my profs had taught me how to simulate back in intro to broadcast.

View the entire clip here.

Have a happy holidays, folks.

Posted on December 18, 2009

Just two weeks after Review writer, Matthew Halliday, wrote a blog entry about the Detroit Daily Press, the paper announced that it has temporarily suspended publication. It had only been up and running for 11 days.

On December 3, a staff member posted a message to the newspaper's Facebook wall breaking the news to readers. The paper had run into printing problems, couldn't get enough advertisers and had a lack of distribution and sales. The message read: "Once we can fix these things, we plan to be back stronger and more organized when we return. This is just a bump in the road and not the end of the Detroit Daily Press."

It's hard to believe this isn't the end. Starting a newspaper (when the news industry is transitioning online) in a shrinking city during a recession might not have been the best business decision publishers and brothers Mark and Gary Stern ever made. The Huffington Post reported today that, according to "media industry watcher" News Cycle, over 15,000 newspaper employees lost their jobs in 2009.

Maybe the Stern brothers will start printing their paper again in the new year but (to be fatalistic) in times like these it seems the odds are stacked against them.

Posted on December 17, 2009

The Yes Men are at it again. This time Canada's climate record is its target, and ammunition came in the form of false press releases announcing coffee-spewing carbon emission reduction goals, staged press conferences and even responses attacking the first false release. That's an impressive lasagna of meta-layers.

Last night on Connect with Mark Kelley, Yes Men members Whitney Black and Andy Bichlbaum (if those are your real names) appeared via grainy webcam feed.

"Canada...should be considered complicit in genocide," said Bichlbaum, linking the Alberta tar sands to deaths in the developing world said by some to be caused directly by global warming.

But the fun really began when Kelley proposed that the Yes Men's pranks and subterfuge could not work without the resulting media coverage, whether outing the prank or falling for it.

"You collaborate with us and we collaborate with you...journalists like you who want to carry the news about Canada's criminality," said Bichlbaum, his expression dripping with snark. "...You're definitely helping us out and we thank you...and many people in the media of course are accomplices—knowingly or not."

Bichlbaum and Black must be trained in theatre improvisation, since earlier in the interview Bichlbaum said (twice) that their message was "not about the media." I'm not sure if they were trying to convince viewers or themselves, but I will suggest that coverage of their pranks is not indicative of widespread or active collaboration with their cause. If so, that would imply that we all love Nickelback.

Posted on December 16, 2009

I heart 

 

Thoughtful gifts are always best. Forget the rotating tie racks and odorous candles this year; why not get your loved ones something that is distinctively you? I came across a site earlier that offers 15 different "journalism" themed T-shirts.

"Can I quote you on that?" "Everyone loves a journalist," and "I [heart] Reporters" are among the captions. I can't wait to wear my "Journalists make better lovers" tee to my next Queen's Park scrum.

The designs are inoffensively cheeky, but clearly created by someone outside the biz. I say we can do better. Take, for example:

"Active voice is my only exercise."

"Confidential sources give me headlines." (Read: wrinkles. Eh? Eh?)

"I'm sick with libel chill"

"At my wit's -30-"

"Need for Lede: Underground II"

Posted on December 15, 2009

Men's health 

What a rip off. Men's Health rehashed seven of its cover lines from a 2007 issue and dropped them onto its current cover, adorned by new boy-toy Taylor Lautner. The cover lines are copied verbatim, even positioned in the exact same locations. The colours of the text are changed here and there, you know, just in case readers cry foul and claim the magazine is unoriginal.

This is downright lowly, but it got me thinking. What does it really matter? Many service-oriented magazines rework the same stories into every other issue. "34 ways to make a good impression." "Get your best butt." "Are you pleasuring him enough?" Let's face it: many pieces get played up over and over again. At least Men's Health had the balls (no pun intended) to blatantly copy and paste its secondhand cover lines. But the good news? Readers are suckers for that stuff. They'll continue buying those generic hand-me-downs. And thank goodness for that.

Posted on December 12, 2009

Indigo Books and Music Inc. is becoming more transparent about its green standards; the largest book retailer in Canada will provide information online and at in-store kiosks about the eco-friendliness of its books, according to their environmental affiliate Canopy. If magazine buyers also have the opportunity to know whether their glossy volumes are printed with recycled paper or Forest Stewardship Council fibre, it makes for more informed purchases and a cleaner conscience.

But some magazines have already caught onto this: three of Canada's magazine conglomerates, Rogers Publishing, Transcontinental Inc. and St. Joseph Communications have developed policies that favour recycled and FSC-certified fiber paper. Explore, Cottage Life, Unlimited and The Walrus print on ancient forest friendly paper.

And many titles like Canadian Geographic, Canadian Art, Maclean's, and Chatelaine are making an effort with 10 to 50 percent recycled material. Recycled stocks can range from 8 to 30 percent more expensive to print than non-recycled ones, so affordable options are out there for mags that want to switch over.

Keeping subscribers and newsstand purchasers abreast of the eco-friendliness of their favourite magazines can ensure that reader loyalty grows if enough trees are spared. And if providing the eco-status of books proves to pay off for green publishers, then it would be wise for more magazines to take a big leaf out of Indigo's book.

Posted on December 12, 2009

I know you know.

It seems like we've been straining to hear the death knell of the newspaper for a lifetime. But this past Thursday morning, I think I heard something.

Media giant The Nielsen Company announced it would fold the 108-year-old newspaper authority Editor & Publisher magazine. The axe affects both print and online forms.

Speculation and writing on bathroom walls aren't the strongest signals, but the death of "America's Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry" should provide enough voltage to turn the staunchest broadsheet optimist.

In an internal memo, Nielsen Business Media president Greg Farrar said the decision was made "to strengthen investment in our core businesses--those parts of our portfolio that have the greatest potential for growth." He might as well have said, "Newspapers are dead."

When someone in a "The End Is Near" T-shirt claims it, I doubt. When the pillars of a venerable industry establishment crumble, I believe.

Excuse me. I'm off to buy a Kindle.

Posted on December 12, 2009

A cricket field doesn't seem like an obvious venue for freedom of the press initiatives. Nor does a locker room, unless you're the Toronto Star. Like the rest of Canada's newspapers, it's part of the boycott instituted by the Associated Press against Cricket Australia. According to the Star, the sports league wanted rights to deny photos to certain papers and to restrict the use of media on newspaper websites.

Sports leagues playing unfairly is not news to the Review, which featured an article last summer about newspaper reporters banned from touting cameras into the Toronto Maple Leafs' locker room—where broadcasters with precious rights to the team were still welcome. At issue here is restricted access at the hands of private corporations, which, like overbearing stage mothers, want to profit exclusively from the talent. Scores and stats are the type of real-time updates that the internet could turn into public property, and Cricket Australia is protective.

In an ideal agreement, the press provides publicity for the team, and the newspaper gets its sports coverage. Even with a rudimentary knowledge of sports metaphors, it's apparent this is a no-win situation.

Posted on December 11, 2009

This week, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that freelance writers, editors and photojournalists currently make up 45 percent of all journalists jailed worldwide. The statistic is unnerving, but not all that surprising considering how few resources freelancers have to protect themselves.

Joel Simon of Slate.com points out that most of the prisoners are online journalists. This highlights the contradictory power of the internet: freelancers can showcase their work more easily, but it also provides a new realm for repressive governments to crackdown on press freedom. In countries like Burma, China, Cuba and Egypt (dubbed "internet enemies" by Reporters Without Borders), power-hungry and paranoid governments have found new ways to control information online.

So what to do? Journalists in media-unfriendly countries can apply pressure from the ground-up to hold tyrannical regimes accountable. But I propose this with trepidation since it could mean more jailed journalists (the number has already gone up since 2008). In countries with relative press freedom, reporters need to expose the unjust imprisonment of journalists, playing the watchdog role from afar. After all, there must be some power in what we report. Otherwise, governments in Iran, China, Cuba and Eritrea wouldn't be tossing reporters in jail.

Check profiles of the jailed journalist here.

Posted on December 09, 2009

Yesterday, 56 newspapers in 45 countries published the same editorial. Although appearing in 20 different languages, the sentiments of the piece remained the same from India to China to Dubai to Canada's Toronto Star. The papers aimed to urge the 192 countries represented at the United Nations' climate treaty talks in Copenhagen to come to an agreement on the international issue of climate change. Spearheaded by the Guardian in the U.K., a common editorial raises questions about how much impact newspapers' editorial stances have. It remains to be seen if anyone will listen. The piece says if the list of 56 newspapers (which is notably lacking any U.S. presence, save for the Miami Herald) can agree on action, the summit should also be able to produce results. But the editorial is short on specifics, no doubt because it needed to include values each newspaper could get behind.

The Columbia Journalism Review writes, "Editorial bandwagoning is not what readers need right now, however. They need aggressive reporting over the next two weeks that avoids wild mood swings between 'new hope' and 'no hope.'"

In theory, the idea is a thought-provoking (and logistically challenging) one. In practice, I'm not sure it's the best use of space and resources. As a reader, what does this editorial tell me? That climate change is a problem and 56 newspapers are going to hold hands in solidarity? The presentation on the front page of the Toronto Star didn't help—on first glance, I mistook it for an ad. The editorial sends a message of unity, but is short on specifics—the same vague hope, it's feared, that will come out of Copenhagen.

Posted on December 08, 2009

No one wants to hear about Tiger Woods anymore, but I have to bring him up. Taiwan's Apple Daily published a video animation of what happened the night of Woods's car accident. It was based on information found on the web and from other news sources (part of a new world Noam Cohen of The New York Times calls "Maybe Journalism").

What scared me were links on Twitter to the video, without mention of its lack of credibility. The animation may not be more accurate than original reports by other news outlets, but that doesn't mean it should be condoned.

Reconstructed scenes should be put together after thorough research. CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices says simulations "must coincide as closely as possible with the event that it purports to portray." In November, CBC's the fifth estate aired a documentary explaining what happened when Vince Li beheaded Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus travelling across Canada in July 2008. Scenes from the bus were reconstructed based on witness accounts. An interview of Li by a psychiatrist was also dramatized with actors, using lines from the original transcript. The word "re-creation" was flashed on screen at one point, too.

News outlets need to be transparent and must explain what reenactments are based upon. Otherwise, the naive will trust the information as accurate. Simulations should be used to help a story be correctly told, not to perpetuate rumours.

Posted on December 07, 2009

December 1 has passed and employees of Montreal's La Presse can finally relax. Last Thursday, the 125-year-old daily finally reached an agreement with its 700 workers, who are represented by several different unions. The bulk of employees (93 percent) approved the five-year concession-laden package, valued at $13 million.

They agreed to boost their current 32-hour, four-day week to a 35-hour, five-day week instead. They also gave up dental insurance and agreed to pay 10 percent more for medical insurance. Although salaries will remain the same, changes will be made to insurance benefits, retirement plan and holiday schedules. For example, employees will have to work up to nine years to qualify for a five-week paid vacation.

Earlier in the year, La Presse threatened to close its doors at the beginning of this month if it didn't reach an agreement with the unions. Last June, the newspaper axed their Sunday edition to reduce production costs. At the time, publisher Guy Crevier said he hoped to cut $26 million to keep North America's biggest French daily running.

La Presse is frequently praised for its in-depth coverage of international issues and municipal politics, and its survival offers Canadian journalists a glimmer of hope. Just tighten our belts a bit, guys, we will pull through.

Posted on December 04, 2009

What do you get when you take one of the most beloved Christmas characters and mix it with Barney from How I Met Your Mother? Frosty with a porn collection, apparently. In a promo for the holiday classic airing on December 18, CBS has mashed up scenes from Frosty the Snowman and dubbed over them with lewd soundbites by Barney Stinson, a character on another CBS show. The result is hilarious for adults and downright terrifying for children.

Oh, Christmas will never be the same!

Posted on December 04, 2009
Lynn Cunningham?iframe=true&width=400&height=400" rel="lightbox" class="authorinfo">Lynn Cunningham

I've developed an aversion to checking D.B. Scott's Canadian Magazines blog. Not because the items aren't timely, relevant, sometimes even charmingly quirky (like the link to the Cheese or Font? game that appeared a few months ago). It's just that these days scanning the site is what it must have been like to read the daily reports of dead and wounded the papers ran during world wars.

The latter-day version is news like 900 layoffs at Rogers, a major shakeup at Transcontinental or—the one that really hit me this week—the whacking of the most recent Chatelaine editor, Maryam Sanati, after a year and a half in the top spot. She was the third person to cycle through the role since Rona Maynard's departure in late 2004, and the longest survivor: Kim Pittaway lasted nine months, Sara Angel, 13. Bets are now being placed on the longevity of Sanati's successor, Jane Francisco, late of Style at Home (although not that late—she only arrived in June).

Chatelaine isn't the only book churning through editors, but it's currently the most extreme example in the big-circ consumer category. Each time this happens, there's a ripple effect: less-senior editors are canned, the art department shaken up, loyal freelancers replaced by "fresh voices." It makes me glad I opted for teaching over the mag trade during the early '90s recession. It's too brutal out there.

Posted on December 03, 2009

Time Inc. has released information on its new tablet software in some videos demonstrating its use with Sports Illustrated. The program is being developed in tandem with Wonderfactory, and works in Adobe AIR—suggesting cross-platform compatibility. That means readers will probably be able to use this on any tablet computer, like a Thinkpad X Series, an HP Touchsmart desktop computer or even the mythic Apple iTablets people seem to love speculating about.

The features shown are impressive—perhaps even inspirational. TechCrunch writer Erick Schonfield and SI editor Terry McDonell swipe through feature stories, summon tools to send pieces to a Facebook or Twitter feed and slide through photo galleries inside the space that a single photo would typically appear on a physical page spread. This is really confusing. A hard-hitting football clip settles neatly into the cover image for the issue.

McDonell seems convinced readers will pay a sum for the digital format similar to traditional print rates. The features showcased so far are certainly promising. However, I can't shake the terror instilled by the stiff clip-art hands that hover over the demo video shown below. It's particularly distressing to watch it hover over the models in the Swimsuit Issue section.

Posted on December 03, 2009

As journalists, we like to separate ourselves from the gossip rags and tabloids, holding up words like "verification" and "journalistic standards" to differentiate ourselves.

Then something simple happens, like Tiger Woods crashing his car into a tree, and suddenly, the line's not so clear.

Some outlets—The New York Times, for example—tried to play it safe in their reporting. The Times reported the crash and made reference to the rumours, but didn't speculate on the cause of it. The paper didn't add fuel to the rumours by repeating them, either.

Others haven't been so disciplined.

The Associated Press, for example, cites a National Enquirer article in its story. Others, like the L.A. Times' reporting of the crash, link to TMZ for additional info.

And my personal favourite, CP24, freely reported rumours from both gossip rags, plus stationed a news reporter in a Toronto bar for several hours, asking bar patrons what they thought. Because someone sitting in a bar at 10 a.m. (on a weekday) is usually a good person to go to for right and wrong.

The best part? Throughout all of this the broadcaster ran a viewer poll: "Do you think media should butt out of the private lives of celebrities?"

Posted on December 01, 2009
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