Friday, November 4, 2011

Nov. 4: Newspaper economics and motives

*Promo.   From noon to 1, I'll be joining friends for a small demonstration in front of the Times and Transcript. Drop by and say hello. If you drive by, give your horn a honk.

Don Cherry's comments on hockey portray him as a sort of cartoon figure, the image of the beer drinking lout sitting every evening on his couch watching the latest game of whatever. But it's an act for Cherry. He's no lout. He's an entertatiner; and he acts like an idiot because people find that entertaining. He's playing the popular image of a sports fan - brutish and stupid. Such fans do exist, of course. But so do brutish and stupid politicians and business leaders. Indeed, there's nothing worse than the rioting of politicians and business leaders that we call wars.

In fact, sports fans are pretty much like all of us - except in one thing. They understand the topic that interests them - sport.

You can't fool a sports fan with a columnist who doesn't know what he's talking about. And the sports fan will not tolerate a sports section that doesn't give at least some accurate  mention of every important sports event  in North America. You can get away with ignorant and sloppy reporting on politics, education, economics, business, foreign affairs.... But not on sports.

The sports section also attracts a high proportion of people who subscribe to a newspaper - and subscription is the most  profitable way of distributing a newspaper. As well, many people subscribe largely because of the sports section. Subscription numbers are important in selling ads.

There's also an extra bonus for the newspaper owners. They can give sports editors and reporters freedom to say what they like  -----  because sports news doesn't really matter. It has no effect on opinons about shale gas or the giveaway of cheap electricity for Irving companies. The sports section is win-win for newspaper owners.

The other part of the paper that's important is what is called 'features' - such as the crossword, comics, Dear Abby, horoscope...  These features attract both men and women readers, though rather more women than men. Again, this is good for subscription sales. And, like sports, the features don't have anything to do with anything that matters to the newspaper owners.

The lesser importance of the first section, largely local news, is obvious from the few reporters who write it up. It's quite common to see only three reporters, maybe four, writing up all the local news. That means there's no time for any serious research on any of the local news items, no time for investigative reporting.

That suits newspaper owners fine. Usually closely connected with the local business elite, most owners  are not interested in encouraging investigative reporting. So things are kept down to police crime and accident reports, formal statements from  local organizations, that sort of trivia.

The case of Windsor Energy breaking the law with seismic testing was so big it couldn't be left out completely. But it could be hidden on p. 2, and reads as though it were written by minister of resources Bruce Northrup and a Windsor Energy spin doctor.

NewsToday seems to be made up of random wire items from Postmedia and Reuters, both well-known for heavy bias (but a safe bias from the point of view of the owners of The Moncton Times and Transcript.) It's obvious that the NewsToday editor has, to put it kindly, a limited knowledge of what is going on in the world, and no knowledge whatever of the range of news sources out there.

In short, the Irving media are an extreme example of all that is bad about modern newspapers. Most of them are designed to be run on the cheap, to draw readers with trivia, and to keep them ignorant of what  is going on in this world.

And it works. A typical product of reading cheap and trivial newspapers is the letter to the editor (November 3, 2011) headed "Occupy movement is confusing". It is a classic example of ignorance of current events, of history, of logic, even of the meanings of words. It also twists The Bible in a way that avoids being offensive only by being so illogical. (He draws on a very old and corny joke "The golden rule means that those who have gold rule. This is presented to the reader as wit and insight when, in reality, it has no point at all in the context of the argument presented in the letter.)

In today's paper, we read  that the Alward government has to raise taxes. Does that mean they will raise taxes on the Irvings and McCains? Not bloody likely. What it does mean is that they are going to push liquor sales. ( Just what  the province needs as times get hard.) Liquor profits are a form of tax which, like road tolls, hits the poor and the middle class far more than the rich.

Good columns by Alec Bruce and Lynda MacGibbon on the CBC - which seems slated for destruction under Harper. I've done considerable work for both CBC and private radio and television. I agree with the criticism Bruce makes of it. I also agree with both Bruce and MacGibbon that it far outclasses private stations in quality of news, analysis, and bringing a perspective that is both intelligent and Canadian to discussion.

Private radio talk stations offer a level of discussion that is as low as the worst of the Times and Transcript. Private radio music stations are staffed by hosts who are 52 going on 16. Private radio is also notorious for being hopelessly understaffed and incompetent in news gathering.

There were some, minor news stories that were missed.

A Canadian ship carrying medical supplies to Gaza has been warned off by the Israeli navy. At this writing, it should be within 50 K of the Gaza coast. Will Harper defend the Canadians on board?  Will alligators learn to fly?

Scientists have attributed a recent earthquake in England to fracking operations.

A shale gas compressing station in Pennsylvania exploded. Fortunately, it was at night  when the area was deserted.  However, local residents had to be evacuated.

In Pakistan, 127 people, mostly civlians and including children, have been killed in just the last two days by American drones. Though notoriously undiscriminating in who they kill, drones are becoming popular with a US in which citizens prefer to avoid military duty, and so leave the killing to mercenaries and computer operators.

According to Huffington Post of Nov 3, 2011, dozens of major US corporations which have made billions of profit for the last three years have paid no taxes at all in that time. For all US corporations, the average tax payment was at less than half the legislated rate.

Wouldn't it be nice if, say, Brian Cormier were to do a story on the taxes actually paid by New Brunswick corporations? And another on all we give to those corporations? Nah. that's not the New Brunswick way. We'll just have another wine expo, and lower the drinking age.


  1. Couldn't get to the T&T demonstration...please tell us about it.........................

  2. Done. It's just above. I enjoyed it. It was fun to watch Times news staff pretending they didn't see us.
    Over course, they're trained not to see things.