Yesterday came big news – but probably not surprising news to anybody outside looking in – that Postmedia is merging newsrooms all over the dang place and, also no surprise, multiple people have been laid off in the process.
As a journalism grad who had to write an essay on “will we have newspapers in 20 years?” (and, by the way, I graduated from j-school twenty years ago) – this is a story I have to be interested in.
So, I listened, and read, and paid attention all day yesterday and this morning.
Do I think this is good for news coverage in Ottawa? No – but not a lot has been good for news coverage in Ottawa (or I suspect most communities) for a long time.
Do I feel badly for the laid-off workers? Of course. As somebody who writes resumes for a living (I do that!) I know how hard it can be to be job searching. Especially if the reason you’re job searching is that your industry is dying, or at least changing right underneath you.
I get that it’s tempting to lash out and, to be honest, I’m impressed how little lashing out there has been. But I have heard / read in a couple of places subtle – or less subtle – suggestions that this is my fault.
Yup, me. Because – that’s right – I don’t subscribe to a newspaper anymore. The message is “See what happens when you stop subscribing to newspapers?”
Don’t get me started …
Did I mention I have a journalism degree? And anyone who knows me, knows I like to know what’s going on. I like to hear different stories. I listen to current affairs podcasts for fun.
So, instead of saying I’m causing the death of the newspaper by cancelling my subscription, take a minute to wonder if the evolution of newspapers forced me to kill my subscription.
From where I sit, it did.
Here’s the storyline:
1) Lo, many moons ago, my husband and I were full-time subscribers to the Ottawa Citizen, weekend subscribers to the Globe and Mail, and we used to have a copy of the Telegraph put aside at a local newsagents for my husband to pick up.
2) Life got busy, subscriptions got expensive, the Telegraph became available online (the copy we used to pick up was $10 / week!) and we trimmed the Telegraph and the Globe and stayed with the Citizen.
3) Life got busier, our family grew, our recycling box got ridiculously full, and I could no longer stomach putting half of each day’s paper on the blue box unread, untouched, unfolded. This wasn’t just because of limited time. This was because I’m probably really never going to read (for example) the Sports section. I’m just not. So why am I paying for it, and killing trees for it, etc.? Hard to justify. We switched to a weekend subscription.
4) That was good for a long time. The weekend papers were always our favourites anyway. Then they axed the Sunday paper. So, now we were paying for one paper a week – and not paying less, either. Then there were a series of redesigns and each time we enjoyed the paper less and less. It became Citizen-lite. Local coverage became very, very scanty. Finally one day all the sections were renamed from things like “Arts” and “City” to thinks like “Where to be” and “What to think” – I’m making those up, but they did rename all the sections to weird, obscure things (I think they were supposed to be “hip”) and, for example, I could no longer find “Books” – where was Books? And if I couldn’t find the section I was looking for, what was I paying for?
We were also supposed to have access to online reading because we were subscribers – except something would go wrong at regular intervals with cookies or tracking or something and I’d be kicked out of the online Citizen and I’d have to jump through stupid hoops to make it work again. Then, one of those times, I read the fine print in the Terms and Conditions (because I was always having to re-agree to them) and I saw my information was going through some company in New York, and by agreeing to all the Ts & Cs I was agreeing to be bound by the law of the State of New York and I was like … uh … no!
The final straw was when I called the Citizen and said I didn’t want to be bound by the laws of the State of New York in order to read my local news and the person who answered the phone said “Oh, don’t worry about it – it doesn’t really mean anything and you should just click ‘OK.'” Really?!?
It was during that phone call that I cancelled my subscription.
Do I wish I could still have a Citizen subscription? Yes … but not to the current paper. To the old paper I grew up with. To the paper that was a doorstop of interesting information on a Saturday. To the paper that used to cover every little bit of local news and even some gossip.
That paper doesn’t exist anymore.
I feel terrible for journalists caught in the middle of this, but please don’t blame me. Please don’t expect me to pay for, and thereby perpetuate, a failing product.
And no, I don’t necessarily think it’s failing because of external conditions. If I had seen a valiant effort being made to improve the product, and people still didn’t subscribe, then fine. But I haven’t seen that.
So … lest I be seen as bitching, while offering no solutions, here’s what I would do:
First, a couple of observations:
1) What you can’t get (as readily) on the internet is local coverage. Sure, certain Twitter and FB accounts might cover local issues, and some bloggers do, but those are rarely in-depth, and they don’t even pretend to be objective. I can find out from seventeen (million) different sources about a bombing, or plane crash, or the world economy, but I can’t find out about what’s happening right here in my city.
2) There are still local newspapers covering this stuff but there is a quality issue. I’m sorry to have to say it, but it’s true. Writers are rarely paid, and if they are paid, they’re paid a pittance. As a result – and I don’t blame them for this – they have limited ability to do research, to chase stories down several levels and often *sorry* the writing is pretty poor.
So – hmmm … – how could we fix this?
What about (radical thought) we take well-paid, well-trained journalists and set them to covering city issues with depth, quality, and some attempt at balance? How amazing would that be?
All I’m going to say is I’d pay for it.
One subscriber back right here.
I wish I thought somebody would try …