Paul Willcocks writes a blog with the perceptive eye of a skilled and experienced journalist and editor. I suspect Vaughn Palmer might even exclude Paul from his description.
Nincompoops ranting in their underpants is the term for people blogging, for me.
Paul’s latest contribution at Paying Attention has a title designed, for purposes of illustration, to grab attention. In KILLED AFTER OFFICE GOLF PARTY NIGHTMARE OF CRASHES. Paul writes,
…the people who go on about the great quality journalism in the old days – a decade ago, 40 years ago, and a hundred years ago – haven’t actually read the old papers. Then, as now, there was some fine work, a lot of average work and some hackery.
I might reminisce about journalism in the old days but I did actually read the old papers each day, local and national, morning and evening publications, when that was an option. I read most sections of each paper, which might have been slightly unusual. However, that reflected the utility of old broadsheets; they were what each of us we wanted them to be.
Some readers scanned the front pages, read a favourite columnist or two and finished with a preferred section, be it editorial, sports, style or another. Others might devour the entire content and feel knowledgeably disadvantaged if they missed anything. Heck, I even scanned obits before they included my acquaintances. When pre-school teacher asked each student to sketch a family member, one of my sons drew a man seated behind newspaper.
Newspapers were sources for information and they taught us about life. Edith Adams appeared in the Sun 90 years ago with tested recipes and instructional tips on pickle making, dieting, extending the life of nylon stockings, “how to make a home-made foot scraper” and, my favourite, “having fun with bleach.”
Sports pages had a share of moist and garrulous jock sniffers but there were also the wonderfully creative and plain funny. I grew up on Jim Taylor and learned to regard professional sports as something to smile about. Had I been a decade older, I probably would have loved Province writer Hugh Watson.
He sustained the Howe Sound basketball league for months, though it was composed of phantom teams from lightly populated Squamish, Woodfibre, Port Mellon, Britannia Beach, Gibsons, Horseshoe Bay and Deep Cove. (The last perhaps was an intentional snub of Snug Cove on Bowen Island.) With help from the Vancouver Sun, Watson’s accounts of great basketball in unlikely places spread widely. National basketball officials searched for figment Len Schwartz so they could invite the Horseshoe Bay scoring star to play for Canada.
While composing this, I found an article by eastern writer Pat MacAdam, B.C. Basketball Hoax was impressive, but not original. He remembers a legendary, but non-existent powerhouse, the Plainfield Teachers College of New Jersey. Today, harmless and humorous frauds like these would not succeed for 24 hours and that reflects current reality that “facts” do not exist in unchallenged isolation.
The information world has grown small and consumers are in charge of their own filters. With little effort, I can read journalism of The Narwhal, The Intercept, The New York Times, The Guardian, Spiegel Online, and many more, along with, countless bloggers who are not all nincompoops, no matter what Vaughn Palmer says.
To avoid propaganda, we can look at original sources and go beyond opinion that regurgitates press releases and government talking points. Had Vancouver Sun survivor Barbara Yaffe done the same, she would not have written this lately realized information, B.C. no better than ‘middle of the pack’ economic player in Canada.
Seemingly, Yaffe learns economics from reading the Sun’s business pages. She is surprised this province trails others in a number of economic indicators and that BC was “the only province last year to suffer a net decline in jobs.”
Yaffe notes, without recognizing the conflict with opposite predictions by the newspaper,
…consumer prices declined fractionally in B.C. last year because of the HST’s cancellation.
Wait a minute. Did not the newspaper insist that prices would decline because of HST? The columnist gets back on track though when she complains that taxpayers are missing an opportunity to fund more business subsidies:
The province’s failure to compensate B.C. businesses for extra costs they now incur as a result of PST reinstatement has them operating at a disadvantage…
I suspect that daily newspapers cannot regain significant parts of the broad influence they once held if they only aim to be advocates for the business classes.
However, established properties might survive if they focus on regional interests and offer a diverse mix of ideas, including controversial opinions instead of ones that conform to a safe list of concepts preferred by editors, advertisers and the world of multinational corporations.
Though not a model for leadership of world opinion, this might be appropriate for journalism that is relevant within a region. When it sold community papers to Glacier Media, Postmedia was separating itself from the small, to support its larger efforts. However, the marketplace might have preferred the opposite.
I believe there is a place for a daily newspaper that connects with its readers, that stimulates, informs and entertains. If they see themselves instead as promoters of particular interests and narrow points of view, let them die. The sooner, the better.
The Guardian’s Margaret Simons:
All guidelines and codes of ethics come back to the same thing: the first duty of journalism is to the public.