Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Way Back Machine Won't Work for Daily Newspapers in Time of Radical Changes

By Michael J Morris
Just over  10 years ago I wrote a column for an internet news site declaring that in my view the National Post was "a great daily read." I had added it to my daily newspaper fix which at the time consisted of The Globe and Mail and on occasion the Vancouver Sun.

I was not particularly fond of Conrad Black,  the founder of the National Post but at the time it carried compelling content that attracted me to it.

About seven  years ago I stopped buying print newspapers altogether  because for a lifelong news junkie like me, I can get all the news, features, sports, gossip, editorials, entertainment to fix my addiction daily with a click of the mouse on the internet. And updates are made, 24/7 and for major breaking news Twitter has it as it happens. We live in the era of the 24/7 news cycle, and the daily newspaper with its rigid deadlines no longer works. 

Transferring the print model to the Internet simply won't cut it over the long term. For example, as I started to think about this column, the federal election campaign was in full swing. For the most part mainstream media (as it has come to be called) covered talking points, mainly from the Conservative spin machine.

They sure were not aware of the great quote attributed to George Orwell, and a slightly different version by the great publisher, William Randolph Hearst: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

I first started thinking seriously about the end of the print daily newspaper when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the first reasonably large daily in the United States closed down its print version in 2013. 
In Canada some newspapers have been closed. The loss of jobs part bothers me immensely because it is no longer possible for a reporter to quit or even be fired from one newspaper, and start at another one -- at times even a better paying one the next day, like it was when I was in the business in the 1960s

I started my newspaper career when I was in high school writing for the long gone Mid North News in Chapleau, Ontario and continued at Wilfrid Laurier University (then Waterloo Lutheran University) as editor of the student paper The Cord for two years. After university I worked as a reporter and editor at several dailies across Canada before becoming a teacher. But I never really left the business as I have been doing journalism one way or another for about 58 years.

I helped found a graduate New Media Communications program at College of the Rockies.

Anyone who knows me well will confirm that newspapering is in my blood, and always will be, but it seems to me that the days for us to sit back with our local paper are coming to an end. 

Arianna Huffington who founded the very successful online Huffington Post wrote way back in 2009: ".. for me the key question is whether those of us working in the media (old and new) embrace and adapt to the radical changes brought about by the Internet or pretend that we can somehow hop into a journalistic Way Back Machine and return to a past that no longer exists and can't be resurrected. As my compatriot Heraclites put it nearly 2,500 years ago: 'You cannot step into the same river twice.'"She added: "Consumer habits have changed dramatically. People have gotten used to getting the news they want, when they want it, how they want it, and where they want it. And this change is here to stay."

Now many newspapers are erecting pay walls in an effort to replace revenue being lost from advertising in their print editions. I really don't think they will be effective. For example, before The Globe and Mail and National Post limited visitors to 10 free stories a month on their respective web sites, I would visit every day. I continued for a time but I had  better things to do than keep track of my 10 story limit, so now I very seldom visit to get the headlines. I can get the news elsewhere.

Yes, I miss reading some columnists, but generally neither the Globe nor the Post carry enough good reads to pay for it, and that applies to their print editions too, as well as other Canadian dailies. 
As Ms Huffington noted, consumer habits have changed dramatically .Newspapers have failed miserably in adapting to new communication realities, and now they have to evolve with the times or perish -- disappear if you will, like is happening to the pay telephone with thanks to Arianna Huffington for the example.

Just for fun, on one of my walks around Cranbrook, I looked for pay phones. I found one outside the Telus building, another outside the Greyhound Terminal, two at Western Financial Place and a couple at Tamarack Centre.

So, what's the answer? Actually I'm working on it. I write a weekly column for a print newspaper in Ontario with photos, which is traditional. I put the same story on my blog, and where possible add a video. And I launched this blog recently.

 I write for and edit a blog based in Orlando, Florida and every story includes text, photos and video, and is produced for a niche market. We use Facebook and Twitter as well as You Tube to get as much exposure as possible and encourage interactivity with readers.

.But it seems to me journalists use Twitter as a mutual admiration society -- for example, I made a bit of a disparaging comment about the coverage of the federal election. One reporter asked "Are you new around here?" referring to Twitter with a tone implying she owned it. When I replied that I had been around journalism about 60 years, the reporter seemed lost.

They seem to be trapped on a small island surrounded on all sides by themselves.

However,  it is the Huffington Post that, to me, is closest to getting it right as the new model.. And I am watching with interest the move to e-books for major feature articles, now called long form journalism (OMG, another cliche), sold for a low price. Might be something in that one, especially for magazines like Vanity Fair. I have stacks of them going back years kept for one article or so.

I would be  interested in hearing your views on this one. For me, it has been a gradual shift from the traditional print newspaper to Internet news junkie, and I realized it had happened during the American presidential election in 2008. 

And let me be clear, the newspaper has been an integral part of my life, and my experience as a reporter and editor led to employment and enjoyment, and provided the opportunity for me to meet some of the best hard working people I know. However, the times they are a changin'. 

My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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