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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, August 14, 2009

Newsroom Management and Nuclear Research: Scarily Similar


One of Canada's most important civilian nuclear installations is located not far from Ottawa, at a place called Chalk River. Run by a federally funded organization, Atomic Energy of Canada, is a world-renowned research institution. For the past forty years, AECL has also been one of the world's foremost producers of radioactive isotopes, used in chemo and radiation therapy throughout North America and elsewhere.

This summer, Chalk River was suddenly forced to shut down for "maintenance," and may not be back producing isotopes anytime soon. Spokespersons for AECL can't say when Chalk River will be back in full production - if ever.

According to an important article the Toronto Globe and Mail("How Canada Let The World Down"), AECL middle management have been warning that this would happen for many months. But the federal government is, it seems, interested in divesting itself of Chalk River. No potential buyers have been identified.

This reminds me of how, too often, media organizations operate. Middle management has a perspective of what is required, and is ignored. Upper management has financial priorities at variance with the shorter term requirements of the organization. At AECL, the pressures from the government were, according to the Globe and Mail, eminently clear: no more money. The intent was to sell AECL to private interests. In short, "starve the beast" and sell it for ten cents on the dollar.

News organizations have in recent years, experienced similar financial pressures. News organizations that have been sold to hedge funds, or who now must answer to shareholders, have been told to cut spending - even if it means a poorer product. Any dissension from middle management ranks in media organizations is regarded as disloyalty. Groupthink rules. Not surprisingly, staffers in news organizations fear to speak up especially in difficult economic times.

Anyone looking to understand what is happening in media organizations would do well to study what is happening at AECL.

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