Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Cry the beloved newspaper

April 9, 2016


A journalist writes “Is Journalism Doomed?” at

I think not, but the services which journalists provide are now delivered in a more efficient and effective way due to technology, as has happened in many other occupations and industries. Is the output as good? Opinions will differ. I read this article on an excellent website which focuses on Canadian news, and is an example of the changes underway.

Communications in general, and in particular broadcasting (radio and television), book and magazine publishing, the music and film industries, schools and universities, are all examples of where content and carriage has had to adapt to technological change.

Journalists see themselves as suppliers of content, some high quality and some less so. There is still plenty, perhaps more, high quality content out there, but it is not in the usual places. A combination of websites and search engines will probably find too much information on a given topic, especially if it is controversial. This means that the journalistic function is performed by many more people than in the past, and the reader has to work harder to find it. But technology provides a helping hand.

For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica has an online presence and contains half a million articles. Wikipedia contains five million articles, with 800 new ones appearing each day (according to its website); these articles receive a quality rating and can be revised. While neither provides daily news, they are used by journalists and others for research purposes.

Many journalists, affected by the changes, will find and are finding new ways to distribute their material, and newcomers can enter the profession creating more competition. I would argue that the current environment provides readers and viewers with the opportunity for better quality content, but they have to work to find it. Receiving a hard copy now turns out to be the lazy way to obtain news compared with an online search.  Interestingly, there are still publications which employ first class journalists, like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.  They produce hard copies as well as having an online presence.

If old-time journalists despair of their profession, look at what happened to farm workers. In 1900, almost 40% of the labour force in North America was employed in agriculture. By 2000, it was less than 2%. Output mushroomed, and with it labour productivity. Some jobs were lost but others created, for example manufacturing tractors and other farm machinery, maintaining the equipment, and undertaking activities like research, transportation and storage. Overall there was a loss of jobs in agriculture but an increase in production, and an increase of jobs elsewhere.

Anytime technology changes existing occupations will be affected, and those who suffer will argue that the future will be worse for consumers, as well as for those previously employed. The latter is seldom the case, although the adjustments that workers and businesses have to make will take longer for some than for others. When electronic typesetting replaced hot metal type, the workers were taught how to tap keys instead of using metal plates.


Finding Reliable News

June 16, 2015

The combination of social media and the 24 hour news cycle has lead to the manufacture and distribution of poor quality news and commentary, making it harder to separate the chaff from the wheat.  The consumer is faced with the challenge of finding the good stuff.


Blogs abound, some written by informed commentators, many with a particular bias or point of view.  News organizations in countries like Canada, the US and UK are caught up in this rat race. CBC/Radio Canada, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC compete for audiences, resulting in the distribution of a mass of worthless or often low quality content. Motivated by advertising revenue where audiences are sold to advertisers, these organizations compete to keep audiences tied to their output.


As for many other activities, communications technology has had an impact on the news media. Today, print and especially broadcast news media are fashioned as entertainment. Many consumers no longer put aside time to read a daily newspaper and listen to or view a daily broadcast, they access news 24/7 in a variety of ways which news organizations try to supply.


How can the consumer access quality (factual and unbiased) news reporting and commentary? The offerings are as varied as that of restaurant menus in a large city. My choice for quality news includes amongst others the following:


  1. Newspapers – Globe and Mail, New York Times, Financial Times, Economist
  2. TV – PBS The News Hour and Charlie Rose, TVO The Agenda with Steve Paquin. What appeals to me about these programs is that the anchors are informed and ask tough questions, but do not insert their own views into the content. That is not the case for the 24 hour news channels.
  3. Blogs – The Conversable Economist, Arts and Letters Daily, Thought du Jour


This may seem a short list, but since there are only 24 hours in a day and each of these items, especially the blogs, lead to further reading, they can consume a lot of time. The bad news is that there is a mass of low quality news distributed daily, often by organizations which once had a reputation for good journalism. The good news is that today’s communications technology allows for the distribution of high quality content, but this requires the user to spend time in searching for it.



Journalists in Glass Houses

June 22, 2013

Folklore, otherwise known as common sense, advises that those living in glass houses should not throw stones. A search of the Speaker’s Bureau website for Canada lists the following journalists offering their speaking services for pay – Kevin Newman, Don Martin, Jeffrey Simpson, Chantal Hebert, Andrew Coyne  and George Stromboulopoulos amongst others. Would they be willing to list payments received from organizations, charitable and other, where they were involved over the past five years? How similar is the case of journalists to that of MPs?

It might occur to readers and listeners to wonder who pays journalists for their speaking engagements and who pockets the money, the journalists or their employers. Do journalists have employers who pay their regular salaries? Do they get paid in addition for speaking engagements? Do they share such earnings with their employers? Should they? And do journalists understand why organizations are willing to pay celebrities to be speakers. You might think they would be sensitive to such issues, explain why their case is different, as well as having a basic economic understanding of how events are organized.

Case of academics

Before examining their case, and mindful of glass houses, a word about my own profession as a university academic. Academics are paid a salary by universities for a combination of teaching, research and administration. The knowledge gained, especially in certain disciplines, such as medicine, law, engineering, business and economics (mine) results in invitations to give talks, some of which carry honorariums, as well as to do private consulting. I am not aware that these payments are either paid to or shared with the university, whence they gain much of the expertise to be invited as speakers.

Canadian faculty salaries are funded by a combination of student fees and government revenues. The economic circumstances are such that it would probably be difficult to attract certain faculty unless they had the opportunity to earn an additional stream of consulting/speaking income. This is a peculiarity of their profession, but providing they perform their paid duties to the university’s satisfaction, this stream of income is allowed, sometimes with strings attached.

Each occupation has particular circumstances which determine how persons are remunerated. In universities, I have known faculty who own and operate farms and businesses on the side, thereby earning an additional stream of income. Some may spend time managing their private investment portfolios. There are numerous ways in which people in different occupations spend their time and earn income. Even bureaucrats are known to have run personal businesses during working hours. The internet now makes this easier for them. Before criticising others repetitively and at great length, it is wise to think about one’s own circumstances. This brings us back to the case of journalists.

Case of journalists

While the situation of an employed journalist may differ from a freelancer, those who are employed are paid a salary and benefits by their publisher or broadcasting enterprise, like CBC/Radio Canada, CTV and Global or by a print publisher. Their expertise is developed in part on the job, and their public face and name become familiar largely because of the employer (firm) for which they work. These persons are invited to be speakers for organizations and events for which they are paid. The organizations are typically funded by a combination of consumers, taxpayers, and private enterprise especially through the sale of advertising. Unless journalists share their speaking fees with the organizations they work for, or speak for free (or only for expenses), they are acting in a manner similar to MPs and Senators whom they freely criticise.

An earlier practice of journalists in Ottawa was to write speeches for MPs which were then delivered in the House of Commons, at times for MPs on opposing sides of the same issue. It is not impossible to believe that the journalist might then comment on the speech in a news story. I gather the National Press Organization advises against this practice now. Certainly they don’t talk about it.

Another factor missing from the journalists’ discussion of this issue is the economics of event organization. Charitable and other organizations seek a prominent speaker so that they can then get sponsors for their events. The money collected often fully pays for the speaker, and revenues collected from those attending the event go straight into the pockets of the organization. Without the paid speaker they could not raise as much money. The fact that the organization (charitable or other) did not raise as much as it expected, and asked the speaker to return the speaking fee is a reflection of the organization’s competence, or lack of it, to organize such events. They took a risk and it did not work out. This happens with market transactions. Don’t criticise the speaker for having agreed to be the drawing card.

Such hypocrisy abounds and helps to account for the low trust that the public has for journalists who make a living out of pointing the finger at others, otherwise known as being selective in their choice of stories. As well, the public questions whether the news media can be fair in reporting stories about the institutions which are prominent advertisers in their newspapers and on air. We are fortunate to have social media where these topics are reported and discussed, bypassing traditional media sources. The financial plight of traditional news media is a reflection of this new avenue of competition.