Monday, November 23, 2009

Breaking news: fun flaps with apps!

It's a great day for advertising in your hometown when the "front page" of both newspapers features the massive news that...MTS has "lots and lots of apps."

However, it's probably not as great a day for journalism.

It may be an even a worse news day when the real front page is about someone getting stabbed to death. But that would be underneath the fun flap with apps.

It was just last week that I received an email from a reader who wondered whether my anti-print comments weren't actually anti-traditional journalism.

I opened my response with this:
"I don't disdain traditional journalism; in fact, I love it and consume it with fervor everyday. I hope that journalism - especially local journalism - cannot only live, but thrive in a new-media environment.

"My fear is that it can only happen with new readers. As an ad and PR instructor, my main frustration with the state of the newspaper biz is how some of the marketing solutions aimed at "the youth market" don't harness the power of the online world, or hit the demographic where and when it consumes information."
I meant it.

It wasn't my intention to give the impression that I hate traditional journalism, but as a PR instructor, I know how it happened: there's only so much I can hear about journalism being "the objective truth" and PR being "spin" before I've run out of coffee to spew from my mouth in mock surprise.

My usual response: "PR is more honest about its dishonesty."

Not bad, eh? You can use it!

If the front page of both of our newspapers is for sale on the same day to the same advertiser, maybe it's time to ditch the notion of "objective journalism" altogether.

As I'm fond of noting, reporters didn't always aim to be "neutral observers." Says Scott Rosenberg in his excellent book, Say Everything:
"Etched into the journalism school curriculum, these values (of objectivity) were held out as timeless verities, but in fact they were of relatively recent vintage. They had been shaped by the specific business needs of the publishing and broadcasting industries.

"As they consolidated markets and sought to sell advertising that might reach vast agglomerations of consumers, the peddlers of news found they couldn’t afford to alienate partisan populations of any stripe; neutrality was a prerequisite for profits.

"Yet vibrant journalism had existed without the benefit of such values — for example, in the pamphlet culture of late seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century Britain and Colonial-era America, or in the raucous partisan newspaper competition of the late nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century urban United States. And vibrant journalism could plausibly survive their demise."
Lately, I've also been asking myself why I enjoy reading blogs written by amateurs more than reading "the real news" written by professionals.

It's tempting to quote the line often attributed to Wired's Chris Anderson, "A passionate amateur beats a bored pro," but to assume that all pro writers are bored isn't very nice.

Maybe its the inherent dispassion in traditional journalism that makes it a less vibrant ("boring?") read than the stuff by passionate people who are really riled up about something, and writing because they care about it.

So, if we free ourselves from the notion of objective journalism, and be upfront about where our biases lie, we can read exciting and passionate journalism everywhere.

Idea for the front page of tomorrow's Winnipeg Free Press: "MTS paid us a shitload of money yesterday to advertise on a flap over our front page."


  1. I hate this rubbish, but I guess as a newspaper you have to take any big ad buy you can get. Although you'd think with the upcoming holidays they could afford to pass on this one in exchange for a shred of credibility.

    What irks me even more is the ad itself. Obviously trying to appeal to the iphone inclined with the whole apps thing, they chose an image that only has like 14 apps on it. The icons for facebook, msn messenger and myspace (really, who outside of 14 year old midwestern girls has a myspace these days) are repeated in the ad, they couldn't have found any more apps to feature?

    Having a blackberry and trolling the blackberry app world myself,Ii can tell you that it no way compares to the iPhone app store; not even close. For my money, i'm getting an iPhone next time, which MTS will probably never offer. Crappy MTS hardware (although they've slowly been making moves by adding a myriad of unpolished Blackberry devices) is why I moved to Rogers last year in the first place.

  2. I thinks it's hilarious that MTS figures that Jesus' birthday gifts were weak sauce compared to facebook and twitter apps for your phone.

    Then again, Jesus did get some pretty weak gifts, especially being the son of god and all. Oh well at least it wasn't a sweater.

  3. Well it's not only the delivery of the content, it's the content itself. When you open that flap, take a look at the billing of the columns in the "A" Section.

    1st billing: "What does Santa Speirs like to watch on TV?"

    2nd billing: "Will Afghan Torture Issue Affect Tories"

    Santa or international and national politics? Which do you think interests intelligent 18-34 year olds?

  4. The Sun sold their credibility long ago, but the fact that both they and the Freep sold the front page on the same day is pretty disgusting. Especially when it's the usual lame-o holiday ad blitz from MTS. At least there were no bison. But enough about that.

    When you consider the current state of newspapers, maybe it's time for them to re-insert a little of those personal opinions and biases into their stories. We know you have them Joe Journalist, so let's hear 'em! With the current state of the industry, how many readers would they potentially be losing by being partisan?

    Kenton, I find it interesting that every time you post about print journalism, it always comes back to blogging, in your comments or in the readers' comments. Today's comments made me think of something interesting. I don't think anyone seriously believes that blogging can ever replace true journalism, but there is an area where blogs excel: commentary.

    Bloggers aren't news breakers (for the most part) but they are a great source of opinion and dialogue. I see bloggers as the columnists of the online world. Of course, this shouldn't be confused with print columnists who blog on behalf of the paper. They're still confined by the boundaries of "journalistic integrity" and "fair and balanced reporting".

    And of course, there's the issue of passion. It's hard to write with passion when you're forced to churn something out on a daily basis. If I insisted on posting on my blog every day, there would be some pretty lame duck posts up there. I only find a couple things each week that work me up... and are worth posting about.

    One last point- it's nice to see some language at the bottom of your post, Kenton. There's something else human and real that those poor journalists don't get to embrace the way bloggers do.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hey, Wade.

    If you go to the "Say Everything" link, under "Excerpts," there's a great chapter called "journalists vs. bloggers," which is a must-read.

    I just realized that I said "shitload." I say it a lot in real life, but have never used it in a post until now.

    Feels good!

    By the way, I removed my earlier comment, because it had a typo. I suck!

  7. When I was talking about that shred of credibility, that was more for the Free Press. Anyone knows that any paper which puts stickers of Peter Nygard's face on the cover of every copy lost their credibility years ago.

  8. Yeah, that was pretty weird, especially considering his lawsuit-enriched history with the paper.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.