SAINTS PRESERVE US
Early last autumn I wrote about a western Canadian grocery banner ceasing the physical publication of its weekly flyer. I predicted its competitors would quickly follow suit. This came to pass. Since then, ripples from that decision have widened. Postmedia last week announced that 12 Alberta community newspapers would continue to publish as mere digital-only shadows of themselves.
The critical casualty is Fort McMurray Today. From wildfires to carbon emissions to energy sector profits, the city is the symbolic focal point for those debating the level of existential threat climate change poses to Albertans’ way of life. The newspaper’s editorial voice needs to be heard by as many people as possible.
If a free and impartial press is a pillar of democracy, then advertising is its plinth. Readers living in major markets will have noticed their dailies are awfully skimpy these days and that much of the content is generic enough to have been published anywhere. Kijiji killed the classifieds, and Google and Meta slew the display ads. Until very recently, established papers provided a reliable mode of distribution for major retailers’ colourful inserts: appliances, automotive, fashion, furniture, grocery, hardware and so on and so forth, et cetera.
The Cold Lake Sun and the Cochrane Times may seem like insignificant publications, wraps for advertising inserts, but their content provides the common ground for café conversations. Their staffs know their towns. Should any of those people have larger ambitions for careers in the industry they’d present as candidates versed in the fundamentals of composition, design, reporting, editing and photography.
Digitization as a cost cutting measure allows a chain like Postmedia to do less with less, less local journalism with less people. The Edmonton Journal has stopped publishing a paper edition on Mondays. I have read marketing press releases reprinted verbatim. The sports department or what’s left of it ignores university athletics and West Coast League baseball. Arts performances may or may not be reviewed. While a beat writer covers the provincial legislature and city hall, there is no dedicated political columnist; Edmonton’s businesses are similarly neglected. Postmedia also owns the Edmonton Sun, once the Journal’s arch-rival. Their newsrooms have since been combined; naturally there were redundancies.
The Journal, established in 1903 and (somewhat ironically) a fine newspaper prior to the onset of the Information Age, is disengaged from its market, its readership. A particularly irksome example of this was a few columns of fluff, tips for winterizing one’s yard and garden generated by Postmedia’s generic content churn facility in Hamilton, Ontario. The piece ran during the third week of November. In Edmonton. Hello?
This is the state of affairs at the newspaper of record in Alberta’s capital city. Even the less expensive digital subscription option isn’t worth paying for. It’s difficult to imagine too Cochrane’s biggest civic booster even bothering to access the Times whether the site is free or otherwise. That poor little community newspaper now competes with the entire internet for eyeballs. And this distorted and wired version of reality has proven problematic for every news gatherer. In times like these plain facts objectively presented are often perceived as lies and covert manipulation.
And there’s something off-putting about digitized text. Perhaps it’s aesthetics or the lack thereof. Readers become scanners. Engagement, comprehension and retention necessarily suffer. Proper journalism has been hollowed out. Social media thrives like a parasite in the holes it has bored. Its style book demands brevity, simplistic memes, and hysterically pithy turds of misinformation!! Critical thought need not apply. The pandemic served to magnify the already yawning gap between the actual and virtual worlds.
Covid was the story of a lifetime and, much like the virus itself, the narrative and coverage kept evolving. Some fine reporting was done. The legacy media – a dismissive term for traditional news organizations coined by self-styled libertarians and conspiracy-minded dupes- covered every conceivable angle: scientific, medical, political, social and economic. A study published today by a Canadian non-profit organization as detailed in this morning’s Globe and Mail estimates misinformation and vaccine paranoia cost this country’s health care system $300-million, 200,000 covid cases, 13,000 hospital admissions and 3,500 ICU stays could’ve been avoided; preventable and therefore pointless deaths number in the thousands.
(Coincidentally, Alberta’s premier, the Banshee of Invermectin, has just commissioned a commission to investigate and expose the tyranny of the various public health measures imposed during covid’s height.)
Truth used to be such a simple matter, black and white and read all over. And it’s always been the main foundation of advertising.
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of media commentary since 2013. The novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com for links to purchase it in your preferred format from various retailers.