Sunday, August 16, 2009

Freep vs. OB smackdown: the media will eat itself

The Free Press' Margo Goodhand slammed OB in Saturday's editorial.
(Photo credit: CNW Group).

Nothing like a local media smackdown to cure the summertime blues.

The Winnipeg Free Press' Margo Goodhand had some harsh words for CJOB radio in Saturday's editorial page. This seems to be going around: CJOB had some harsh words of its own for CTV Winnipeg on its website a couple of months ago.

In case you missed it, Goodhand's thesis is that the Free Press does the original reporting and OB rips it off. This may be true, but it's certainly not new, nor is it limited to just CJOB.

What is new is that these intra-media grievances, which have traditionally only mattered if you worked at a media outlet, are now trotted out in public as each media outlet attempts to get its audience to consume, defend, and support it at the expense of the others. At stake is the audience and an ever-shrinking pool of local ad revenue.

(PolicyFrog has a good discussion about this issue here. ChrisD here.)

Let ye among us without sin be the first to condemn - la vie boheme!

Frankly, I was surprised that this is news outside of the Free Press newsroom. Isn't all media - the Free Press included - guilty of poaching stories from the others?

As PolicyFrog says, "Don’t tell me the Free Press has never chased down a story that had its origin in a local blog and not given any credit for it."

And has a Free Press reporter never tweeted "breaking news" that first appeared in yesterday's edition of the Winnipeg Sun without giving credit?

Why can I tell you what some of the items will be on tonight's NBC Nightly News? Because I've read yesterday's New York Times. That's what makes the Times an agenda-setting newspaper. In a way, it's a compliment! What is the Times going to do: call a cop?

Nonetheless, Goodhand says that the Free Press has launched an ad campaign "trying to explain the situation to our readers and others. We want you to know where your news is coming from."

And then what's supposed to happen?

I'm not being snarky, I actually want to know the answer, because "where my news comes from" probably doesn't matter to an audience that is used to getting it from lots of media outlets, especially younger people, who media outlets desperately need in order to have a future.

I'm in a classroom with young people every day, which means that I witness the death of traditional media every day; each year, new students have more trouble naming even a single on-air news anchor or newspaper columnist. A majority can't differentiate between Brian Williams, the anchor of the NBC Nightly News, and Brian Williams, the Canadian sportscaster, because they've never heard of either (one of my classic first-day quiz questions!).

When Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford recently came to Red River College to speak to first-year students, I was surprised when some students opened their questions with, "I'm not at all familiar with your work, but..."

It's worth noting that I teach in a communications program.

Cooperation, not competition
"When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work." - Clay Shirky
If we've learned one thing from the Internet, it's that information is not proprietary anymore, it's part of a worldwide knowledge buffet. This means that the glory of being the one media outlet in town to get "the scoop" only lasts as long as it takes to replace it with another story. As we see on CNN every day: every news story is now a breaking news story.

So, how does a local media outlet survive? By having an online presence and network, and by being interactive and everywhere your audience needs you. I can download Globe and Mail and New York Times apps on my iPhone, but not a Free Press app. So guess which newspapers I will be reading on the bus this fall?

I think that PolicyFrog also has the right idea when he calls for a partnership between OB and the Free Press; hey, content sharing, wire services, and sponsorships are nothing new.

It wouldn't seem out of place to hear CJOB reporting on "What the Free Press is working on for tomorrow" or even having "Winnipeg Free Press breaking news." The Freep reporters could call in to CJOB to discuss the news on air, and the CJOB personalities could write editorials for the Freep, even if they're written in short sentences with typos (as radio personalities are wont to produce).

You could make the argument that what CJOB does isn't "stealing" news from the Free Press, but creating a greater appetite for local news by reporting today's headlines; if something is interesting to its listeners, they can get depth by picking up the Winnipeg Free Press. It's the natural role for both mediums.

As any restaurateur knows, the way to increase traffic to your restaurant is to be friends with the owners of all the other restaurants and work together to get people to come to your neighborhood. The worst thing you can do is put up a sign saying, "The restaurant across the street stole our recipes."

Guess what: the clientele doesn't care about your personal antagonisms, as long as the food is good. If you have a beef, talk to that person directly. If that goes nowhere, hire a lawyer. But, I'm sad to say, don't look to your audience to fight your battles for you. It won't happen.

As Clay Shirky said in this column: "society doesn't need newspapers (or radio), it needs journalism."

Something on which all media outlets can agree.


  1. Yes, Kenton.

    No doubt the papers watch the nightly newscasts and scour the pages of other newspapers.

    TV and Radio stations in turn also watch/listen to other newscasts and read the papers.


    There's a BIG difference between matching a story you don't have by doing original reporting, and ripping and reading straight from a competition's news report when you have not done the leg work necessary to verify the report's claims yourself.

  2. Having worked in the CJOB newsroom, I can confirm that this is the case. They do check out other news media's websites to look for stories, BUT Goodhand says:

    "But ripping and reading, pretending it's your own work? Stealing quotes from our reporters' Twitters and inserting them into plagiarized stories as though they were at the scene?"

    This does NOT happen. All they do is confirm that the event happened and re-write the story for radio. It's the same as monitoring the police scanner for breaking news. The do not plagarize, or claim that the story is their own, or use any quotes unless it was gathered themselves.

    I think the Freep is a little full of itself. It's not about where the story comes from, but about how we like to get my information. I prefer to listen to the news on the radio as I drive to work, because I don't have time to read the newspaper in the morning. Plus, more often than not, I've already heard the stories in the newspaper the night before on CTV news or on CJOB at night.

    I don't care who gets the scoop first. I used to, when I worked at OB. I took pride in getting information on a story and reporting on it before anyone else has. Now, I just want to know the news.

    Oh, and we would also get Free Press stories sent to us through the Canadian Press wire service, which is perfectly fine. As subcrribers to CP, both CJOB and the Freep have their stories culled and re-transmitted throughout the country, for any media outlet to use!

    Oh, and that partnership between the Freep and OB you were talking about? Mike McIntyre has his own show on OB (which they can use for news stories) as well, Gary Lawless has a daily sports show, on which he features the entire Free Press sports department on a regular basis. So the partnership already exists to some extent.

    If Ms. Goodhand doesn't watch out, it may not exist for much longer.

  3. You're right, Dan. The existing partnership is already there - which makes it even weirder that Mike McIntyre is the poster boy for the campaign. Er...he's on OB!

  4. You raise two good points, Kenton.

    First, its in the best interest of both parties to cooperate. The Free Press needs to come to terms with the fact that print is a dying medium, and no amount of bitching and finger pointing will change that. Accept it and move on to figuring out how to remain viable in the ever increasing online world of news.

    Second, in today's online world, the idea of proprietary information is dead. Everyone is sharing information, voluntarily or not. Just look at your blog, my blog, Dan's blog and all the other blogs out there. We pull information from all kinds of sources, link to it, reference it, then use it as a jumping off point for our own personal views of the situation and the world around us. As much as some parties might try to stop this behavior or profit from it, they can't. More than any other technological advancement, the internet has truly put endless information and power into the hands of the people. Right now represents a time of evolution in the media and it will be the strongest and the smartest that survive.

  5. It's an interesting debate. I agree with all the comments above about the general public really not caring where their news comes from or who got it first. I think the Free Press will get little public sympathy here.

    Is giving credit to other news sources when appropriate so out of line though? That's certainly become part of the social media culture. If in a blog post you use another blogger's info, you link to it. On Twitter you retweet and mention the source's Twitter name. Then you add your own thoughts or knowledge about the subject.

    Perhaps that's how the traditional media should operate? Maybe what we're seeking here is transparency, not less sharing.

  6. I think you're right, Deborah. It might be more about transparency than anything else. As I noted in my previous comment, bloggers use clips, stories, etc... all the time as a jumping off point, yet very few would ever proclaim it as their own. We give credit either through stating where it came from or linking directly to the source of the piece.

    There's very little news out there that is exclusive to one media channel- specific interviews or themes may be, but the overall story is open to anyone who wants to cover it.

    The Free Press is trying to protect their turf in the weakest way possible. I can't see this indignant victim routine getting them anywhere.


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