Thursday, August 7, 2014

Redefinition of news - Updated

It is no secret that Postmedia, owner of daily newspapers from Montreal to Vancouver, accumulates losses at rates it cannot sustain. Raising prices and reducing expenses is not a solution. Despite higher fees, circulation revenues declined 11% in the past three years. More seriously, print advertising dropped 30% in that time frame.

The deadly spiral troubles old media. Lower cost inputs result in lower quality outputs. Content degradation means fewer readers, which means less advertising revenue, which demands further cost cutting. For large media empires, the future is not bright.

In its 2011 Annual Report, Postmedia stated,
"We continued to experience growth in digital revenue, primarily in online advertising, and expect to see continued growth in fiscal 2012. We believe digital revenue represents a future growth opportunity for the Company and we continue to focus on many new initiatives in this area."
Trouble is, those "forward-looking statements" were wrong. Measured in constant dollars, 2014's monthly digital revenues are lower than in 2011. The company is not giving up the search for Internet dollars; it is accelerated. However, risks abound for a company that already suffers in credibility ratings.

According to Forbes Magazine, Sponsored content is the holy grail of digital publishing. However, it has consequences:
"People feel deceived when they realize an article or video is sponsored by a brand, and believe it hurts the digital publisher’s credibility, according to a study.

"In recent years, a debate has raged on among publishing and advertising industry insiders over 'sponsored content' — more recently called 'native advertising' and once known as 'advertorial' — the sort of advertising that looks very much like editorial content but is, in fact, directly paid for by an advertiser..."
How should readers react when business pages are presented by an industry lobby like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers? I don't care to pay a newspaper that presents promotional pieces of advertisers as news nor do I wish to pay a newspaper that hesitates to publish stories that affect reputations of its sponsors.

If the Vancouver Sun's business pages are presented by the fossil fuel industry, readers are not likely to read that shale gas is "The dotcom bubble of our times." Nor are they likely to read that British Columbia has earned almost nothing from natural gas royalties in recent years.

I've complained about media reporters and commentators pocketing cash from organizations affected by their coverage of issues. If that is now a prime corporate strategy of their employers, we must conclude that rules have changed. News should now be defined as:
"Information about events and situations that advertisers and editors believe to be noteworthy and helpful, not harmful, to their private economic interests."

UPDATE (The above was first published May 5, 2014)

Long time journalist Paul Willcocks writes about these issues. He knows whereof he speaks, having benefit of experience as reporter, opinion columnist and editor. If you don't regularly read Paul's blog or his Tweets, you should be doing so.

The Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin, is another voice for integrity. Breaking Down the Wall discusses the lines separating news and commerce in the pro-media. It makes clear that the good old days are not necessarily good old days. Ethical journalism has been dragged along a parabolic curve and today's downward slope returns us to what existed in major news sources during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The evidence of difficulty is clear, even if pompous practitioners of the art think they can pretend that green is red and up is down. It is the greedy hypocrisy that I find most disturbing.


In comments on this article, there is a discussion about the partisan status of Canadian Taxpayers Federation BC Director Jordan Bateman. After a reader stated that Bateman was president of the Langley BC Liberal riding association, I searched online for confirmation or contradiction and was surprised to find at

Bateman said in a Twitter message that the page on his personal website was outdated, adding, "I haven't been a Liberal for 3 yrs, or prez for 4."

The subject webpage is now removed. I understand Jordan's wish to not be identified as a Liberal. I was one too, a few decades ago, and I wouldn't want anyone associating my name with them either.

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  1. I guess the OCit has been ensared by the same policy.

    But, what really drove me to their site was when McMaher and, especially, McGregor really started blogging the backstories of their stories...That's the kind of thing that will make me pay.

    Will be interesting to hear/read Paul Willcocks' take on the abomination that is 'sponsored content'.


  2. Hi Norm. Sponsored content is the inevitable result of excessive concentration of ownership of news outlets. There are so many ills that spring from this. The media goes from being the watchdog of government to the lapdog of government. Information is subtly transformed into messaging. Facts are delivered wrapped in spin that much of the audience may not discern. Sponsored content is just the next step.

    That this is a direct threat to democracy is or should be obvious. Sponsored content is a form of propaganda that is designed to shape opinion, to defeat an informed public. You will never see reports akin to Nikiforuk's work in The Tyee in any PostMedia paper. They wilfully omit that sort of content which further impairs the cognition of their readers.

    Do you find it curious that none of the major parties has a media policy to restore a free press in Canada? Only the Greens advocate acting to reverse concentration of ownership. Democracy depends on an informed public having access to the widest range of information and opinion from a broadly owned mass media. Once any nation's media fall under concentrated corporate control, democracy is readily defeated.

  3. Meanwhile, over at Globull, the grinding of message gears at the top of yesterday's 6 PM news was a mite hard on the ears.

    Unable to resist running the horrific-but-too-dramatic-to-ignore visuals, they led off with the Mt Polley mine tailings dam breach. Then they awkwardly transitioned into a puff-piece by Jas Johal featuring a resource industry talking head having a one-way adult conversation about how rippin'-n-shippin' builds schools. Even in Oak Bay. Where urban hippies are marching and drumming, it seems. Or something like that.

    Sad, sad.

    1. Let us acknowledge the fact that those urban hippies, now the Greens, are really just Liberals in drag. Of course they are OK with runaway resource extraction.
      How can any true activist support this Greenwash Party?

  4. On the screenshot of the Vancouver Sun page, notice the promo for Goldcorp, a BC based mining company.

    How do we know what is news and what is advertising?

  5. Yes! Thank you for making the connection between Postmedia's embedded advertising and the segment that John Oliver did on native advertising. Ever since the report on Postmedia and CAPP was leaked, I have taken everything that Postmedia's newspapers have put out with a grain of salt. Not that I didn't have a reason to beforehand.

  6. There is a link here to something published by The Telegraph, a conservative (large and small C) newspaper of Britain. It is a warning about non-conventional gas production being unsustainable. I hope you write about this subject as it applies to BC.

    This may explain why the industry is so anxious for British Columbia taxpayers to take on the financial risks of building transmission, liquefaction and shipping facilities for LNG. The smart guys are not about to be careless with their own money but they are always happy to put taxpayers' money at risk.

    I fear the present BC Government has not the brain power to protect BC from this pending scam. Having Rich Coleman in charge of anything is dangerous.

  7. Self regulation is a slippery slope in any field

  8. Imagine Rich "Rich" Colman being a member of a party called "Liberal"!

  9. Isn't Jordan Bateman a liberal member.?CTF

    1. If he isn't now, he certainly was previously. My understanding is that, for the sake of appearances, CTF requires spinmeisters to withdraw from party memberships, Obviously, their philosophical comforts remain the same.

      The CTF serves its funders, which means the corporate agenda. As former newspaper editor David Climenhaga wrote in Whatever the 'Canadian Taxpayers Federation' is, it's not a 'tax watchdog',

      "...evidence suggests its principal purposes are to provide partisan support for the Harper Government, fulfill the corporate agenda and undermine the rights of working people."

      Bateman complains about spending taxpayer money selectively. He hates civil servants gaining non-salary rewards (well, he dislikes those too) but he's fine with the gas industry getting billions of public money through drilling and road subsidies.

  10. Jordan Bateman is the President of the Rich Coleman riding in Langley. Not biased at all is he?

    1. Indeed, the spokesman for CTF is an active officer of the BC Liberals. This is from his personal website, Jordan Bateman:

      "Jordan is a long-time member of Rich Coleman's Fort Langley-Aldergrove BC Liberal riding executive, and currently serves as riding president."

      Kind of blows a hole in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's claim, "The CTF is independent of any institutional or partisan affiliations.'

      On the other hand, in the CTF's fantasy world, being the President of a BC Liberal Minister's constituency association may be independent of partisan affiliation.

      I guess that statement is as accurate as the bumf they regularly churn out.

    2. Norm, you misunderstand. The CTF is independent of partisan affiliations. It is the people inside the CTF who have the partisan affiliations.

    3. See the main article addendum.

  11. I know I've commented with this exact (rather lengthy) cut and paste before, but it sure makes sense to me that there has to be a formal definition of "News" that is adhered to. Many of those who comment here would be much better at articulating my point....I did not allude to the "paid advertisement" issue. Did Lauren Krugel get paid any amount in addition to a regular monthly salary for this article? Does Lauren Krugel get a monthly salary from the publisher of the paper? I know Gillian Shaw got paid to call me the IPP's "worst nightmare" at a conference of theirs. C'mon....I don't have low self esteem and am not an idiot, nor a me exactly where Norm is nutty with his figures and I will buy something from someone who advertises in your paper on on your radio stations. I am doing an admirable job of not doing that now....and its major appliance replacement time to boot.

    Thank You for Your Submission
    Your comment was successfully submitted to the CRTC.
    You are commenting on the Notice #: 2011-14-Call for comments on amendments to the Radio Regulations, 1986, Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987, Pay Television Regulations, 1990, Specialty Services Regulations, 1990, and the Broadcasting Information Regulations, 1993
    Reference Number: 145589
    Date submitted: 2011-02-09

    Request to appear at the hearing: Request to appear
    Topic is to discuss restriction of the use of the term "News" to programs that report events with a mandate to present all points of view in a balanced manner by organizations not connected to political contributions of any form. Reason is lack of confidence that the voices of ordinary Canadians are being listened to by policy makers. This is evidenced by the progression to this stage of such an ammendment proposal.
    Intervention-Comment: Opposition
    **Beginning of submission, paragraph 1 of 1** I am strongly opposed to any further relaxation of standards relating to truthfulness in broadcasting. This includes deception by omission of facts and or events pertinent to the subject. Following is my below complaint as registered by your office on Oct 6, 2009 with Case ID 464421, dated October 6, 2009. Re Canwest/Global group of companies, I would like them to be restricted from using the term "News". Any communication company that donates to any political party, except those that donate equally to all parties, are not providing the general public with a balanced reporting of events or government policies. These are merely entertainment programs and should be labelled as such. Canwest appears to acknowledge this fact by slotting Entertainment Tonight immediately after their "news" program in our viewing area. The time slot from 5:00pm to 8:00pm becomes just one long entertainment program with "Local News", "National News", "Local News" again, "ET Tonite", then "ET Canada". The corollary to this complaint is that funding to the CBC must be maintained and/or increased in order that the taxpaying public is being informed by true professional journalists. **End of submission**

  12. Nice post.
    That said you , we, must prepare ourselves for...
    Bill Good returns, followed by the Best of Bill Good,Bill Goods favourite interviews,Christmas with Bill Good, Bill Good & the Orphans fund .

    All brought to you by BMW.

  13. I am currently reading a book titled "Necessary Illusions" by Noam Chomsky. It was published in1989. Its subtitle is "Thought Control in Democratic Societies." Here is a paragraph from page 10.
    "Case by case, we find that conformity is the easy way, and the path to privilege and prestige; dissidence carries personal costs that may be severe, even in a society that lacks such means of control as death squads, psychiatric prisons, or extermination camps. The very structure of the media is designed to induce conformity to established doctrine. In a 3 minute stretch between commercials, or in 700 words, it is impossible to present unfamiliar thoughts or surprising conclusions with the argument and evidence required to afford them some credibility. Regurgitation of welcome pieties faces no such problem."

  14. The picture suggest spots can be changed but I see one problem: the leopard doesn't seem all that interested in changing.



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