Friday, February 27, 2009

American Media Trends Dangerously Approaching Canada

Today, the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. The Denver, Colorado paper’s front page headline summed it up simply with “Goodbye, Colorado.”

The paper’s parent company, E.W. Scripps blamed the faltering global economy, which now leaves Denver with just one major daily paper to cover all the news.

As the biggest economic slowdown since The Great Depression of the “dirty thirties” continues to escalate, companies just don’t have the money to advertise in newspapers, people don’t have the extra cash to subscribe to newspapers, and that in turn means newspapers don’t have money to stay afloat.

Add in all the other free sources people have of getting their news – the Internet, television stations, radio stations, even word-of-mouth, and the newspaper business is in a serious state of disarray.

The Rocky Mountain News won’t necessarily be the only paper to fail, other big city dailies in the United States and even up here in Canada may disappear.

The San Francisco Chronicle in the city of the same name, lost $50 million last year, and may be sold or just stop publishing altogether this year if that trend continues, says it’s owners from the Hearst Corp.

Canada’s largest daily newspaper, The Toronto Star, owned by Torstar Media, recently announced that the paper had recorded its biggest loss in the last quarter of 2008. The Toronto Star has already laid off a handful of staff last year, and more layoffs could be coming if the paper continues to lose money. The paper’s direct competitor, The Toronto Sun also laid off staff recently, because of a corporate restructuring and a failing economy.

Although no one wants to lose their job, the real danger with the newspaper industry isn’t job loss – it’s objectivity.

So far, we’re pretty lucky here in Canada, with more than one major daily paper in each of our big cities across the country. This means we can get a wide variety of points of view, opinions and news analysis from different sources.

However, if papers close up shop here, as they are in the States, that could change. And when you only have one voice ringing out, the news can become quite tainted.

There’s this famous quote, about the power of the press, where the real power is by the person who owns the press.

Although the news media is always the first to tell you they are wholly objective, fair and always provide you with all points of view, anyone who’s got half a brain can tell you otherwise. The media is very subjective, covering the news the way their owners want it covered.

To be fair, the news media is usually fair – they will balance their stories with diverse points of view. But they all have a slant, an angle, a bias. And even those young rookie reporters hell-bent on being completely objective will eventually find out just how biased they really are, when they are told to either drop a story, or re-write it based on major changes “from above.”

When I was a journalist, it was always fun to watch these kids fresh out of journalism school try to defend their need to remain objective and unbiased. I even remember watching not just any editor, but THE editor-in-chief escorting one young reporter out of the building after such a debate. We never saw that young reporter again, maybe he got a job selling cars?

Late in the 1990’s there was a newspaper boom in Canada, caused by the now imprisoned media baron Conrad Black. Black had always wanted to own a daily paper in his own country – he already owned dailies in other countries including papers in Israel, London and New York. But Canada always evaded him.

So, he started his own paper, The National Post, based out of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto. Now Toronto, and much of the country were newspaper-heavy, with other big dailies, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun and The Globe and Mail.

Over the years, these papers – and all the other local daily papers across Canada – fought each other for a declining market share. Readerships continue to drop for most papers, as people flock to television, radio and the Internet for their news. Advertisers also were becoming harder to find, especially in today’s economy.

Oversaturation of a market is never good – yes you can have too much of a good thing. Reading a newspaper takes time, and these days, most of us barely have enough time to read one paper, let alone several.

But, without competing papers the news will only come from one side – and that may prove to be a fate far worse than having too many papers to read.

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