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Now the Details

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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Are Newspapers Killing Journalists?

Rosie DiManno
Well, yes, according to Rosie DiManno, a columnist for the Toronto Star.

DiManno attributed the recent death of Earl McCrae, 69, a longtime Ottawa Sun columnist, to the stress of multi-tasking.

"...faced with the multi-tasking demands of our profession in this integrated media era, he’d first filed the online audio version of his story. So I blame Quebecor (the Montreal-based owner of the Sun Media chain) for what was lost to print journalism."

But wait! There's more, according to DiManno. Newspapers owners are also killing the entire newspaper industry, along with their employees. It's quite a read.

DiManno goes on to attack the buyout of the previous publisher of her own newspaper. She also thinks that the "Occupy Wall Street" movement should occupy newsrooms to restore some common sense and old fashioned newspaper values back into the business.

To the barricades!

The former science correspondent of the Globe and Mail, Stephen Strauss thinks this is all tosh. He sent off a missile to the Star which may or may not get published. So in the interest of fairness (and a personal friendship), I reprint here:

This column may well make it into the Why Newspapers Went Extinct Hall of Fame. Its basic argument is that in the year 2011 there is nothing about print newspapers’ futures which cannot be attributed to the greed of publishers and owners. The technological changes that drive readers to read, and listen and view news on-line? A piffle. Flights of advertising to web-based sites? A passing breeze. The rise of a whole set of skills which weren’t required in the past? Don’t get me talking about that.

 All of this is tied to a 69-year-old reporter’s heart attack which Rosie, based on nothing as far as I can tell, decides wouldn’t have occurred if he just was trying to meet a print deadline.

What Rosie doesn’t seem to get is that given their druthers, newspapers wouldn’t have changed anything ever. That probably should be EVER. Their old business model was not just comfortably profitable, it was exceeding, exceeding comfortably profitable. A 20 per cent return on equity was often the norm. The “sky is falling scenario” she scorns is a panic based on the realization that what worked in the past isn’t going to work in the future. If people want multimedia information and newspapers only work in one media, reader/viewer/listeners are going to go elsewhere. (And indeed have). If advertisers link up with websites that people go to when actually wanting to buy a product, there is going to be less money to pay her and her like. If bloggers and twitterers and iPhoners put up information for free, paying for a newspaper (maybe) makes no sense.

This is not an imagined crisis. This is what Schumpeter calls creative destruction. But Rosie believes – mainly based on the supposition that she has been doing things a certain way for so long and is so comfortable in working like that that she shouldn’t have to change – today’s news revolution is a conspiracy. She reminds me in this of copyists and scribes who decried the death of beautiful handwriting and page illustration which the printed page brought on.  I cannot say that the multi-media expertise news organizations now demand is going to work out in the long run. I cannot say that good writers won’t always be bad video interviewers and vice versa. I cannot say twittering is here to stay. But I can say that Rosie DiManno’s career path is dead. When she talks to the “young’uns” it should be almost apologetically, begging their forgiveness for a work life they are never going to have no matter how much they want it.

I've asked my students to decide whether DiManno or Strauss has it right.


  1. I vote for Strauss

  2. I vote for Jeffrey Dvorkin who quotes Joseph Schumpeter. One of the very cool things about Schumpeter is that he is claimed by both lefties and righties, and he had a faculty for felicitous phrases like 'creative destruction.'

    Thanks for poking a hole in Rosie DiManno's hot air balloon.


  3. I don't think Rosie is saying her way (or the "old" way) is the single and only way journalism can be practiced. I think she's saying that a journalist who actually has time to think is better than a journalist who is so busy doing something on some platform or other, that there's no time to think. Were reporters of days gone by lazy when they were covering a story and reporting it in only print? Is nothing lost when one person has to shoot stills and moving pictures, edit, report, tweet, blog, go live, and sit on a panel? I think so.

  4. To Anonymous, 'I don't think Rosie...,' November 4.
    You have missed the revolution in work that everybody is having to go through. Work is more frenetic. It is more demanding. Deal with it. Complaining will not help you. Think faster. if you can't, then retire, quit or get out of the way of folks who will do the work.


  5. I give the Toronto Star enormous credit for allowing a columnist to criticize her own employer. At a time when media organizations are more concerned about reputation than about service to their readers/listeners/viewers, this is truly remarkable. I disagree with Rosie, but she is doing what only the greatest columnists have done for years - getting us to think.

  6. To MB..
    I am dealing with it. But are you arguing that a journalist serving all those platforms is just as good as a journalist serving one.. or two?
    The discussion is not about what CAN be done, it's about whether it SHOULD be done. News organizations aren't asking/forcing journalists to serve all these platforms because they think it's better, the only motive is financial.

  7. May I humbly suggest that it’s past time we journalists take our journalism back?

    That newspaper, magazine and broadcast journalists finally stand up and demand that our honourable craft — an essential cornerstone of participatory, liberal democracy — free itself from the blatant cynicism and greed of owners and managers!

    That yes, as Rosie suggests, we occupy newsrooms.

    Before it’s too late.

    The first loyalty of journalists must never be to bosses or unions or causes or nations. Instead, it must always be to the people.

    By long-standing democratic tradition, we journalists are uniquely tasked with serving the people. We are their watchdogs. We go where they cannot go. We ask questions (and demand answers) they cannot ask. We monitor the powerful. We tell truth to power.

    We tell the people what the powerful are doing and saying. We tell the powerful what the people are doing and saying. When dangerous pressures build in society, we are the safety valve warning about, and thus perhaps preventing, explosion.

    Today, this vital journalistic function is threatened everywhere.

    Of course it’s possible to do the multi-tasking now expected of us (video recording, audio recording, editing, tweeting, blogging, even actually writing). But we do it at the expense of degrading the quality, purpose, and essence of free journalism — reporting on, and bringing understanding of our world, to the people we are supposed to serve.

    Why has all this happened? It’s very simple. We journalists have allowed the rabid race for readers, viewers and listeners — and the cynical management demand for profit over quality — to capture our newsrooms, take precedence over public service journalism.

    Now it’s time to revolt.

    I recently debated this very matter with former CTV bureau chief, Kai Nagata on The Mark. At the end, I urged my journalistic colleagues:

    “What if we in Canada, and eventually around the world, start Howard Beale societies (named after the crazed news anchor in the movie Network)? Our motto would be his: I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!” 

    What if we all revolt?

    Free, honest public service journalism is too vital to our democracy to be allowed to die.

    We journalists have to save it.

    If not us, who?

  8. To "I am dealing with it" and Tim Knight:

    You want journalism your way. However, you have voluntarily joined commercial enterprises, willingly put on the chains of their systems and now complain about the heavy burden. You joined because it was a good job. You got paid. You got to do journalism. Now you are upset. So quit.

    You feel oppressed by the commercial nature of the work and the inevitable commercial pressures. Well hello from commerce-land out here. Don't put up with the commercial world. Get out. Start your own non-commercial journalistic enterprise. But please do stifle the whining. The commercial enterprises aren't drowning in cash, they are drowning in their own losses of followers and advertising. They squeeze journalists because they are an expense, not just a content provider.

    You are being disintermediated and you are being squeezed. Find your own solution. The whining is no solution at all.