Friday, May 10, 2019

Journalism 101: Winning awards is one thing, consistent and solid local coverage is something else

Advice to Phillip Crawley, or any other boss poised to cut $10 million in salaries, none of which involves their own job: Don't try to dress that up as a positive thing.

 Yes, the Globe and Mail's reporting staff of 250 does seem unbelievably luxurious in the eyes of any other slashed-to-bits Canadian newsroom. And yes, I'm sure those who remain after this latest round of cuts announced this week will still do their best to maintain quality journalism.

But Crawley - G&M publisher - came across as tone-deaf, insensitive and pretty damn unaware of newsroom realities in the J-Source story about the coming cuts at Canada's national newspaper. Defending the cuts, he chose to cite the recent National Newspaper Awards win of the St. Catherines Standard with a skeletal staff of five reporters (down from 49 after years of cuts) as an example of how quality reporting doesn't require quantity.

Here's the thing: Sure, a newsroom with almost nobody left to do reporting might still be able to win a National Newspaper Award once in a while. But can it cover the non-award-worthy daily grind of local news that readers actually care about? Not a chance.

I only have to reflect back on my own time as managing editor of the Victoria Times Colonist in the mid-1990s, presiding over a newsroom staff still large enough that we were able to cover all the regular council meetings of Greater Victoria's 13 municipalities, and even keep an eye on the three school boards in the region. Oh, those were the days.

Nobody wins national awards for the quotidian coverage of council and school board. But those kinds of stories are the lifeblood of a good local newspaper. Those are the stories that keep councils mindful of their actions, citizens aware of what their municipalities are up to, and maintain a general sense of news coverage that stays on top of the local scene.

What is being lost in the ongoing cuts to mainstream media is average "beat" reporting. It's the kind of reporting that keeps politicians on track and citizens in the loop. It's the unremarkable yet critically important foundation to democracy. And nobody has been able to figure out how to make it happen in the new age of digital media that no one wants to pay for.

What to do? Worry, I'd say. Subscribe to the daily newspapers that matter to you, though subscription costs seem very much out of whack with the sad-looking products that pass for daily newspapers these days. And I'm sure you'll have noticed already that local news coverage is a shadow of its former self compared to what it was back in what I now think of as the golden era (though cuts were already happening even 20 years ago), because it's the coverage that costs the most.

Do send donations to the digital news sources that you rely on, because quality journalism simply can't exist without somebody paying. The Tyee online newspaper fundraises to hire reporters for specific local issues - better than nothing for sure, but not able to sustain a fleet of reporters grinding it out on the unsexy but essential coverage of daily life in our communities.

So ignore guys like Crawley when they tell you that a $10 million cut in newsroom staffing isn't going to hurt the quality of journalism. He's wrong.


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e.a.f. said...

I'm sure all Crowley is interested in is his own job. What passes for newspapers in Vancouver is just awful. They don't even report the news. Its all opinion pieces at some level or another. Its the choice of words, etc.

Winning an award with 5 journalists, well they got lucky because there isn't much competition out there either. One good journalist can write an excellent article win, but we really don't know what is going on in our province, country anymore.

At one time I had the Province delivered in the a.m., and the Sun in the p.m. Approx. 20 years ago, I stopped. there wasn't much to read in them, unlike previously. they seemed to simply tell us what the government wanted us to know, there weren't the writers I grew up with like Marjory Nichols and Sima Holt, Jack Wasserman, etc. there were some later ones, who reported well, but then they were gone also. I'd actually pay money to have a paper with information delivered once again. Reading on a computer is o.k. but its never going to replace the feel of a newspaper in your hands. When friends ask me what they can bring me back from their vacations in Europe, etc., my request, newspapers.

Once in awhile I will purchase the times colonist, because it does seem to have better reporting than the Sun and Province. T.V. news, you just have to listen to the language and you know that isn't impartial reporting. Perhaps when the last of these rags die, some one will get the idea to start printing information and actually send out information. Nice post.

The Grudge said...