Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dear Newspapers, Be Better Please

I still buy the newspaper. On Saturday. What can I say, I like the idea of the Weekend Review section, I get excited by the heading Issues & Ideas, I look forward to the book reviews. I like the readers' letters, which, unlike readers' comments on newspaper websites, are generally worth a damn, even if they're often just as bogglingly boneheaded.
Which is not to say that newspapers never let me down. They do. Frequently. Yesterday's featured Issues & Ideas essay was from lifestyles columnist Shelley Fralic, sort of the Bob Hughes of the Lower Mainland, and warned us that we'll miss newspapers when they're gone.

Where, for instance, will Canucks fans find in-depth daily coverage of their beloved team -- the locker room perspective, the game analysis, the stats upon which hockey pools are won and lost?
It won't be from radio, which can air a game, but already rips and reads much of its content from newspapers.
It won't be from television, which can broadcast a game, but can offer little
beyond 30-second news clips.
And if you think that bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers and fan sites will provide the quality of sports reporting you now get from this newspaper, coverage you've enjoyed these past 40 years in hockey-mad Vancouver, you're dreaming.

Really? Is that the best you've got? Cuz the broadcast media and the Internet have been kicking newspaper ass in sports coverage for years. The Internet might as well have been invented for fantasy sports leagues (the jock version of D&D) and hockey pools. It will even do the hard math for you! When was the last time a newspaper did your math? Also, the Sun's sister paper, the Province, is generally regarded as most sports-friendly.
Fralic goes on to blame newspapers' woes on free online content, rather than, y'know, 30 years of corporate greed, convergence, monopolies and mismanagement. Newspapers have survived and even prospered in the face of far more radical societal changes brought on by radio and television. It's not the Internet that's killing newspapers, it's newspapers.
The last few decades have seen newsroom staffs cut in half several times over, inevitably leading to reduced coverage of local issues. In its place, we got more wire copy, more celebrity gossip, more rewritten press releases, more of what one of my former newspaper colleagues sneeringly calls bumf, short for bum fodder.
Sadly, newspapers either don't have the will or the capital to put up a decent struggle anymore. I love the newspapers, and I hope to see them back on their feet someday. In the meantime, wouldn't it be great if they decided to go out with their heads held high? With a little class? If they decided to be truly papers of news. Be papers of depth. Be papers of investigation. Papers of questions and answers. Papers of consequence. Papers of integrity. Papers worthy of our esteem. Be good, be better.
Speaking of good and better, I saw my dissimilar doppelganger again the other day. Lee Henderson was at my favourite coffee/book shop Friday afternoon. As was I. Once again, I didn't introduce myself, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, because I have to to finish reading his novel, The Man Game. I was about two-thirds through it when my new roommate showed up and completely disrupted my habits. I want to finish the book before I speak to him. I think that's really the decent thing to do. Also, I probably suffer all kinds of social anxieties that make me a terrible person to know. I only even brought it up because yesterday Henderson was announced as the winner of the Ethel Wilson Prize at the BC Book Awards. The prize money will buy him, if he so desires, 1,000 Americanos at the coffee/book shop. Congratulations.

mp3: "Don't Talk In Your Sleep" by Magik Markers

1 comment:

Tanis said...

Yes. The local content thing. That is what will save newspapers. Sports? People obsess over sports and if newspapers weren't showing up at games to ask players and coaches questions, I'd assume some enterprizing blogger would. Cuz sports is fun. What isn't fun is court and city hall. Very few bloggers will show up for that shit with any regularity. If you cover the hell out of local issues and then put it online and say it's only available to subscribers or those who pay a fee, you will make money. Will you make enough money? No. But you'll be, you know, committing an act of journalism. And you'll be making more money than if you gave it away for free, which is what papers are doing now. They don't seem to get that zero from zero is zero. I blame shareholders and executives.