Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oct. 11: The Front Page.

On most papers, the front page is the big one. That's the page that attracts buyers. For an example of the front page in a related medium, check out the scandal mags at the checkout of your favourite supermarket. The front page  (the cover) is full of the most ghastly photos in the magazine. The word 'shocking' appears at least twice on every cover. 'Prophecy' is big, too, especially if it's a prophecy about the end of the world.

No, we don't want that in the Times and Transcript. But it would be nice to see a front page highlighting of the most important stories of the day, especially those things which will have a profound effect on our lives. In that context, I'm not sure that a tractor dealership being in financial trouble really cuts it. Or even the news that university fees are up by 2 or 3%.

On p. C1 is a lengthy story on federal plans to change the rules for equalization payments to provinces. Any change, up or down, in a programme that supplies this province with $1.5 billion a year, is going to be kind of important to us. As well, it has serious implications for the unity of Canada. That's a front-page story.

But it's presentation as purely a national story leaves it incomprehensible for New Brunswickers. There should have been a supplementary story on what New Brunswick uses its payments for, what is likely to be affected by any changes - and  views expressed by both provincial politicians and people who know what they're talking about.

So here's a story with two problems. It isn't given the prominence it should have (it's way back in the third section) - with the result that many won't read it. And it doesn't have the focus it should have for this readership.

Mind you, it could be worse. The big story on p. 2 is "Owner searching for cat lost in accident". There's a real, need-to-know grabber. P.13 has the daily half page on the Oland mystery which tells us once again that there is nothing to report.

For a truly useless story (and a misleading one), see A, p. 3. "Tickets handed out over the long weekend". Police gave out "close to" 200 tickets.( Actually, it was 180, so why not just say so?) The "close to" hints that this is a large number - but there is no hint in the story that it is.)

And, no, the 180 was not just in Moncton; it was also on the highways of this region and in Shediac. That's a hundred and eighty tickets for quite a large area and population base. Is that a lot for such a population and one a long, holiday weekend? I mean, at 60 a day, and including parking and seat belts, it doesn't sound like a whole lot. But who can tell? We aren't given any figures for a normal day or for a holiday weekend.

The subhead makes it worse. "Officer says compliance rate seems higher as compared with last years."
Well, that might  help - if we knew what the compliance rate was last year on a holiday weekend. No. Actually, it wouldn't. The sub head gives the impression that the compliance rate refers to traffic offences in general. In fact, it refers only to seat belts. And since it doesn't give any figures or comparisons, it's useless, even at that.

The story is credited to TandT Staff. Good move. If I had written that, I wouldn't want anybody to know it, either.

Page C 6 carries a useless story that could and should be an important one. It deals with a lengthy inquiry into a Canadian soldier's suicide. He was suffering PTSD.It's the longest such inquiry ever held - and Postmedia manages to write a long story about it without ever giving us any clear idea what it was all about.

At one point the chief officer for these inquiries was asked how many suicides at military bases he had been asked to review over a period of three years. He said he didn't know, maybe between 10 and 20 - or 25. What the hell is going on here?

Here is a story that screams questions. How can a chief investigating officer not know how many cases he dealt with in just three years? And these are just the suicides on bases. How many such suicides have there been been overall? In the Afghanistan years, how many Canadians died, but are not counted as war casualties? Exactly what is PTSD? Has the incidence of it risen, dropped, remained stable in our wars of the past century? Have their been any studies of this? Have recent developments in warfare led to a rise or a change of any sort in PTSD?

What rates of homelessness, inability to function in society. divorce, criminality  has it caused? We all say on November 11 that we remember them. Well, apparently, our military, our government, and our news media don't remember some of them at all. No Highway of Heroes for them.

For a newspaper like the TandT, this should be very much a New Brunswick story, with this province's high rate of enlistment for service. How  has PTSD affected New Brunswickers?  

Address questions like that, and  you serve the interest and the needs of your readers. But the Moncton Times and Transcript has no interest in serving the needs of its readers. This is a business. It serves its advertisers. It serves its boss. Check out the ads. They have more originality and thought devoted to them than to any news story. For a prime example, check out the newspaper's own ad on C, p.6. (It's right under the PTSD story.)  

There's a hint of something the Times and Transcript should look at in a letter to the editor "Clean up sites at all cost". It points out that the ministry of the environment lists 885 sites in NB that have been officially reported as contaminated. Now, that's interesting. A good newspaper would get on that right away, telling us at least where the major ones are, when they were reported as contaminated, and what such a report legally requires the owners to do.

They could start with sites within the limits of Moncton.  Highfield Square springs to mind. (The city told me of at least one more such site in the downtown area - but wouldn't name it.) Of course, it still hasn't broken the news about Highfield Square, even as we prepare to buy it for six million.(Gee!  Maybe that's  the answer to all the contamination across the province. We just talk dumb city councils into buying the contamination at millions of dollars a site. We could wipe out the provincial debt in a snap.

Meanwhile, I must drop a note to the Minister of the Environment to find out whether he knows anything about Highfield Square - and how long he's known about it.

Generally, the TandT is put together with no sign of any thought of what is important to its audience, or of making the story meaningful to the reader. Part of that is, I'm sure, journalistic incompetence. Part of it is the inevitable consequence of monopoly ownership. Finally, its the result of the purpose of the Times and Transcript - to keep the people of Moncton as ignorant as possible of what is happening around them, and to them.

P.S.      The rise in university fees is an important one - not in just the rise itself. The universities are on the losing end of a severe crisis. They have priced themselves out of the market so they are no longer an opportunity for the intellect so much as they are a finishing school for the rich. As such, they are ceasing to be a guide for social progress, but are becoming an obstacle to it.

The main reason for this is that universities have become hooked on academic snobbery. (They always have been, of course. But it's getting much worse.) That snobbery, encouraged by half-wit ratings like those in MacLean's, has put far too great an emphasis on research - research that is extremely expensive, and often frivolous. As a small part of this, our universities are expensively stuffed with subsidized journals that nobody reads.

I well remember a gem of the type. It was an article on the history of lacrosse in North America before Columbus. It was really nothing more than a collection of guesses. How could it be more? There was no recorded evidence to draw on. But you can always find a subsidized journal to publish such drivel in. And that's good for the snobbery rating of your university.

That means that teaching, which should be an essential function, is ignored. There is not, to my knowledge, a good or even a so-so teaching university in Canada. There is not even a university which understands what teaching means.

The result is that the universities increasingly rely on the financial support of big business. But big business is not a fairy godmother. It wants a payback. It wants control of the universities. To a large degree, that part of the game is already over. Big business has won.  Get ready now for the decline of any subject in the university that does not put money into the pockets of those people who already have most of the world's money.  Get ready for even more courses in business and economics that are pure brainwashing and propaganda (and whose professors routinely get quoted approvingly by papers like the Times and Transcript.).

But don't expect to see all this in the news. It is almost unheard of in the news business for there to be a reporter who has a clue about the subject of education. And why should  they? All they have to do is to print what Mr. Irving wants to see.

Meanwhile, we have lost what should have been our greatest resource for social mobility and and social progress.

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