Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oct. 28: Nice, positive...I promise

Today is the day we talk - not about unpleasant things, but about how to make the The Moncton Times and Transcript better. Not good, just better. First, though, let's be clear there are some things that cannot or should not be changed. So let's line them up so we won't waste time discussing them. The first "thing" in this category is the managing editor.

Normally, the managing editor is the key to a good newspaper. The managing editor sets the tone for ethical standards, for intelligent news selection...he/she is the model who rounds out the training of the lesser editors and the reporters. It's been my privilege to work with some very fine editors; so I would normally make my first step in improving the quality of the TandT the firing of the managing editor. But that would be a waste of time.

The owners of BrunswickNews would never tolerate an editor with a strong sense of journalistic ethics. Fire him, and they'd hire another one like him. Maybe even worse. No. Let's not waste time on changing that.

Incidentally, if you think I am overstating the failings of BrunswickNews and its leadership, I have followed Senate hearings about the NB monopoly on print news conducted, often, by former journalists. All have been brutally critical of the Irving Press. One, a senator who had been an editor of a major newspaper, one whom I had known well in Montreal and worked for -  spent a whole supper telling me what a horror she thought these papers were.

I wouldn't change the sports section nor most of those trivia pages of advice, gossip, etc. These, most of them, are what are called features. And features sell a newspaper. What the hell; they don't do any harm. I mean, they don't really matter. But nobody gets hurt. And a newspaper has to sell copies to get ads and stay in business. So we don't touch most of  those.

There is one feature I would change,  though. That's the Saturday church page. It is really boring. All the little sermonettes I've read in it could be summed up in five words. "It's good to be good." - with perhaps an occasional clap hands for Jesus. This is really wussy stuff.

Look. Jesus was a controversial person. What he said should still be controversial all over the world - and especially in New Brunswick.  This is not a province characterized by Christian behaviour of either its political or economic leadership. So could we make those sermonettes a bit more a bit more adult? More Christian? And just can the goody-goody bleat? People should think after they read sermonette, not go to sleep during it.

And Moncton is not entirely Christian. It has sizable Jewish and Moslem communittees. Why is the religion page not used to put us all in touch with each other? We are deep into an important Moslem holy period. What's it about? In fact, would it break the bank to have one reporter who would specialize just a little in the religious news? For example, I notice one church in the ads column that seems to be experimenting with new and imaginative approaches to the service. It's called Vision United. Why hasn't the TandT carried a story on this?

The religion page is bo-ring and close to useless. And it could easily be made into a very effective and interesting one.

Dump the business page. Anyone who's half serious about business news isn't going to find anything worth reading in the TandT. As it is, it carries topics all over the map. "local business wins trophy for cleanest washrooms in Altantic region." (who cares?) - a slim scattering of stock listings - occasional advice on how to get a job "sit up straight. make sure your hair is combed". Either find a useful focus for that page or dump it.

Use Section A for local and regional news only. It's annoying to read a paper in which a section goes from a story about a lost pet, then a story from the police beat, and then an uprising in Africa. Save the front page for only the major local and regional news. Real news. Skip the cutesy stuff.

Use NewsToday for Canadian news. We get rather little national news. So skip the foreign news, and just carry Canadian. As it is, the choice of foreign news is so lazy and limited that it's worthless. It's just wasting space.

It would be good to dump the editorial as well, because it's almost always so ill-informed and trivial. But we know that won't happen. So at least make the writer sign it. Let's get over this silly idea that the editorial represents the opinion of the whole paper. When we see nonsense, let us all see who wrote it.

Norbert Cunningham obviously loves reading. So use him properly. When he deals with subjects he doesn't understand, he just rants. But this is a province which badly needs to encourage reading. Let him write about reading, about books he has read over the years, about books he particularly enjoyed, about books and authors he's noticed in the library - ones that readers should really try out. The man has a strength. Take advantage of it. It's amazing to see a daily newspaper that ignores the world of the printed word. And it has a man who could change that. We could have a column that would do something about the reading problem, and not just complain about it. (In fact, I would be inclined to recast him as editor of a weekly books page.)

Hang on to Alec Bruce, David Suzuki, Gwynne Dyer, Jody Dallaire and..in fact, to all of the local once-a-week columnists.

Get rid of Alan Abel's cute but trivial and irrelevant columns on life in Washington. Use the op ed page ONLY for opinion. That means do not allow any staff writer on that page. There is not one who has shown any competence to write an informed opinion about anything.

In fact, at least one column a day by a Gwynne Dyer or other foreign affairs experts like him would do more to inform readers about what is happening in the world than all the international news stories the TandT has published in its history.

There. I've made positive suggestions. And I've been sweet as honey all the way. It makes me feel goody-goody.

 Maybe I should write the sermonettes for the religion page.


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