Monday, November 23, 2009

How I'd save the local news (not that anyone's asking me)

Billy Idol - White Wedding
It's a nice day to staaaaaaaaaaart agaaaaaaaaainnnnnnn!

I write these pieces about saving the local news from time to time, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself.

It's just that the CRTC hearings have got my heart all aflutter, and my post yesterday - about the MTS ads on the front page of both newspapers - leaves me open to the big question: well, then, what would you do to save local news, hot shot.

Why, thanks for asking, governor!

How I'd save the local news:

1. I'd get some of our favorite, local, traditional, media outlets to team up.

I'm not talking about one media outlet buying another, I'm talking about a cooperative news-sharing arrangement.

First, we need to stop sniping at each other about "who scooped who," since people who consume the news don't care. I've heard CJOB report news I first read in the Free Press, I've seen the Free Press tweet news I first read in the Sun.

You all secretly love each other, so let's consummate this marriage already: CJOB + Winnipeg Free Press + CTV = Powerhouse!

2. I'd support it with new (and social) media.

After awhile, the new media part would be the only part. More on that in a sec.

Traditional media outlets need young people to consume their news. Young people are sexy to advertisers (and each other, but that's another blog post), and they're the demographic that advertisers will pay good money to reach.

Right now, the only place it can be reached with any degree of certainty is online and on the phone.

The iPhone hasn't invaded Canada at the rate it's invaded the U.S., but it will. At Lollapalooza in Chicago last summer, every kid had an iPhone, and that means that you - or your kids - will have one soon too.

I'd get a big, local sponsor to support the app. Canad Inns? The Canadian Museum for Human Rights? Manitoba Hydro? Great-West Life? Investors Group?

I'd update that sucker all day, all the time. It's not the size of the story that matters in the digital age, it's the story's timeliness.

I'd pay good money for that app.

And, as of yesterday, my Kindle is in the mail. Is yours?

3. I'd encourage participation by "everyone" and get rid of editors altogether.

Journalism only becomes vibrant when "some idiot with a laptop" participates in the discussion. And, if we've learned one thing about reading online, "journalism" is better when it doesn't have an editor.

"But editors check stuff!" Yeah, and stories are still wrong. So, let's just open it up already. More heresy: Don't edit (it pains me to say) typo-laden rants, blogs, or articles. Proper spelling only dampens the passion.

Disclaimer: not in school assignments, puh-lease. **Update: then again, maybe the whole notion of "spelling" is outdated. At least, that's what my text messages tell me: "whtrudoing2nite?"

4. For now, I'd only produce printed versions of the newspaper on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Then, when the Great-West Life actuarial charts tell me that all the old people are about to die, no print at all.

5. Goodbye "objective journalism."

With participation comes subjective journalism with diverse voices - a network of blogs comes to mind, for some strange reason - and let's not just have professional writers posting articles and blogs and the masses providing feedback.

6. I'd make journalism fall in love with PR.

C'mon, journalists, I've seen your resumes pour in when I've posted a PR job. I know you want a little PR lovin' - and here's your big chance!

Despite the notion of being immune to PR, journalists themselves are already "brand ambassadors" for their newspapers.

I realize that the idea of an objective journalist is that he (mostly) doesn't wear a shirt and tie, comb his hair, or get along with others, but I'd make "PR skills" a prerequisite for my journalists. Who can sell a newspaper more than people out in the community, everyday, talking to people?

Now that's buzz worthy of a BzzAgent - every time you talk to your sources, sell them on the iPhone app. People will read and pay for the news if they're in it.

7. I'd partner the local news with local schools, colleges, and universities.

Let's turn students into contributors and, therefore, readers.

I've seen some very lame attempts at this in the past - most notably, the Regina Leader-Post's God-awful section written by kids.

How about this model instead?

Assign one "experienced" journalist to oversee and organize an army of student "citizen journalists," who would file hyper-local online reports from their community beats.

The students get free experience, the online newspaper gets free stories. I'm not going to say it's a "win-win," because that's a terrible PR cliche. So I won't. But it is.

Of course, this would - again - require a journalist with PR skills: you may say I'm a dreamer, etc.

And this would also free up old-school reporters to do the important work of "being a watchdog" and "conducting investigative journalism."

One of the biggest rallying cries of supporters of traditional media is "the demise of investigative journalism will screw us all!"

As I pointed out on this post, investigative, in-depth journalism is impossible for TV to do, and something that newspapers used to excel at doing, yet local newspapers have almost completely abandoned it, because it's so expensive and time consuming.

But this is the "public service" part of journalism that makes it so valuable and worth saving.

8. I'd go all hyper-local all the time.

A busted fence on Wardlaw? Stop the presses!

It may sound crass, but that's what people want to read. As the former editor of many a corporate newsletter, I can tell you that "births and marriages" is easily the most-read part of any newsletter, followed by "who got promoted."


Here's the big question: how do we make money off of this thing?

As any PR person knows, you get people to buy into your idea by showing what's in it for them, encouraging participation, making it easy to take action, and selling it as a concise idea that "makes sense."As any advertiser knows, you make money by getting eyeballs.

As I've said, I'd pay good money for a Winnipeg News iPhone app, and I'd be surprised if there wasn't a high-profile local advertiser willing to sponsor it, like FedEx does with the NY Times app.

There's some money right there!

And if I'm wrong, which I may very well be, I'll end with one more quote from Rosenberg's book, Say Everything.
"As the profession of journalism tries to rescue itself from the wreckage of print and rethink its digital future, this is where its most knowledgeable practitioners and most creative students are doing their hardest thinking."
So, would anyone like to tell me where I'm wrong? Or right? Or what we could do to add to this? Or comment on what those dancers are doing in the White Wedding video? Please do!


  1. If you want to do away with editors and spelling is not important, why do you care if assignments are rife with errors? Why not just unleash a swarm of illiterates into the industry? Editors do more than check for typos, they determine which stories deserve attention and help shape the context of 'follows.'

    I quite like the idea of student engagement. That concept is very powerful on several levels.

  2. Ha, ha! Excellent point.

    I like to joke that in three years, I'll be saying to my students, "Have your assignments plagiarized for next Thursday."

    Maybe it's not a joke!

  3. Some good points, but I agree with John about the importance of editors so long as they don't edit out the "spirit" that the writer had intended.

    On the other hand, I want my news unbiased. I can't even count the number of news programs I've stopped watching and websites I've stopped reading because I decided it was overtly biased.

    So, I guess you can't have both in "the news", so just keep labelling the correct articles as "OPINION". If that makes sense.

  4. I don't want to debate, I just want to feel the love. In a completely healthy, non-sexual way!

  5. I agree with most of your points, Kenton.

    Partnership would be a very good start. Combining the depth of print, the timeliness of radio, and the visual impact of TV and delivering it across multiple mediums would be a very good thing.

    Editors are still a necessity. Without them we would inevitably digress into a bunch of babbling, troglodytes incable of spelling with vowels.

    I think I made my opinions on objective journalism quite clear when I commented on yesterday's post. But I'm totally fine with you claiming them as your own today.

    And as far as the "hyper-local movement" goes, I just have a hard time believing this is what people really want. A lot of people think this is where local news is headed, but can you seriously see Gord Leclerc on the nightly news talking about old Mrs. Potter on Maple Street's mischievous kitty getting caught in a tree again? Or how someone's been tipping the trash cans and making a mess in the back lane off Cedar Avenue again?

    Of course the greatest irony of all this is that no matter what they do, I won't care. I don't watch the news, read the paper, listen on the radio, or even check it online. I am completely and utterly disinterested in the news. And yet somehow, my world has not come crashing down around me.

    My current theory is that if anything is truly newsworthy people will be talking about it. I will hear them talking about it, and if it interests me in any way, I will go look into it. Otherwise, what have I really missed out on? Ignorance is bliss!

  6. A couple scary things here:

    1) No editors? Yikes, I agree with John. Journalism will only lose its credibility if it were to be allowed to be released to the masses rife with errors. Not to mention it would be a severe abuse of the English language. Having an article be well-written and error free dampens the passion??

    I actually don't accept the fact you actually believe in this, Kenton.

    2) You compared city news to corporate newsletters.


    Some good points though.

  7. I think that "new age" journalists are perfectly capable of editing their own work, or proofreading each others', to the point that you don't need an editor or assistant editor for every section of the newspaper! Maybe one head guy (or gal!) would be enough.

    I agree about combining the media, they do it already! Despite Margo Goodhand's comments about CJOB stealing the Freep's stories, Free Press reporters like Mike McIntyre and Gary Lawless are featured on the Superstation every day! Combining the media together (i.e. one company owning all three) would ensure that there is a steady revenue stream coming in all the time no matter which medium is popular at he time.

    I really think, however, that media outlets need to cut out the "dead weight" of people who are so stuck in the past that they are not willing to change. This is where the true problem lies. 'OB, the Freep, City TV, every outlet has them, and they are mostly in high places, so they can't just be fired. You need a young(ish) team of PR, Journalism, Advertising and Broadcasting experts who are all plugged into this issue and are able to work together to bring the media into the 21st century!

    Hmmm... I wonder where you could find such a group of people?

  8. Hey, Wade.

    Interesting theory about the news!

    And I like your use of my favorite word, "troglodyte!" I also like saying the phrase, "troglodyte wielding a tire iron," but that's another story.

    The typos thing: yes, they drive me nuts too, but I have to honestly say that I liked "Ain't it Cool News" better when they couldn't spell a single word or write a coherent sentece.

    Kind of like how every band gets ruined after they learn how to play...

  9. I can't stand it when people say that there will always be print. There won't be print in three to five years.

  10. The only thing I know is that CKY and Globals lame Save Local TV campaign and all the tv and print ads make want to see Gord LeClerc homeless. I like Local TV, but that campaign is just obnoxious!

    And the cable companies suck too!

    It's like Alien versus Predator, no matter who wins, we lose!

  11. You know, part of the appeal of this whole blog thing is the dialogue that is created from posts like this. But one thing I really hate are Anonymous comments, especially when they are insulting and condescending like that last one was. If you're going to make a comment on any blog, tell us who you are! Otherwise, keep your comments to yourself. It's like shouting insults at people on the street from a second-storey window.

  12. Thanks, Dan.

    Yeah, it's really a matter of opinion - not a cool thing to be yelling under the guise of "anonymous."

    I generally try not to respond to anonymous comments with the exception of a well thought-out, non-yelling argument.

  13. Anonymous comments are inevitable, but you can police them. Why do you allow them on your blog, Kenton?

    Truthfully, though, I think that anonymous poster has a point. People are underestimating print media's death. Will the Sun be around in print in 5 years? Probably not. The Free Press, though, yeah, I believe it will. And that's not a bad thing.

  14. I've reluctantly turned "comment moderation" on. Let's see how that goes.

    I believe that everyone should have a say, but I can't have anonymous posters sticking it to students who are posting thoughtful comments here under their real names. Totally lame.

    I don't disagree that the Free Press will be around in five years, just that it might not be a "paper," per se.

  15. I very much enjoyed this post and comment thread. I'll be reading your blog more often Kenton...


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