Archive | November 2014

Magical Greenwich Dunes

By Jim Brown

Visitors crossing a wooden walking bridge were greeted with this magical view at Eastern PEI’s famed Greenwich Dunes in early October.0117

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Conservatives lack compassion for war vets

By Jim Brown

So now the Harper government’s “help” promised to veterans – $200 million for mental health initiatives – will be doled out over 50 years, not the six years spin doctors originally led the media to believe. That’s on top of the billion dollars plus in lapsed funding siphoned away from Veterans Affairs over the past few years and the recent closure of eight regional veterans’ offices.

Disgraceful, disgusting treatment of our vets by the Conservatives, and, of course, the base remains silent. They seem quite happy to collect a cheque for as much as $2,000 a year under the government’s new income-splitting pledge that will only benefit 15 per cent of taxpayers, the well-to-do and the filthy rich. Hard to believe anyone with even a flicker of compassion for broken human beings would accept all of this just to get a tax break.

Even dogs need to bundle up

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By Jim Brown

It was bitterly cold during a hiking trip to eastern PEI. Even a hiker’s dog had to don a miniature parka to stay warm.

The gathering darkness

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By Jim Brown

Darkness is descending on the Stanley River. Early November, 2014.

Paywalls could hasten newspapers’ demise

By Jim Brown
Prince Edward Island’s largest newspapers are using paywalls in a bid to tap some extra cash.
But paywalls, as well as well as other strategies to limit access to online content, only smell of desperation.
Newspapers shouldn’t need to charge their print subscribers an extra monthly fee to boost revenues. Isn’t that what clicks are for?
It seems newspapers everywhere have recently reduced their access, forcing readers to “register” and then pay for what they read after a certain number of free articles. More often than not that involves reading the same stories that were in the morning’s paper. Or in the case of community newspapers, days or perhaps even a week earlier.
Something’s not right in the brave new world of digital journalism when fees have to be charged for a service that was previously free. What adds insult to injury for print subscribers and those of us who still buy the ocassional paper off the newsstand is that the paper’s cost has continued to rise while the size of the print edition keeps shrinking.
I count myself lucky to have earned a living over three decades, modest as it was, in print journalism. I can’t see anyone graduating from J-school today lasting even a decade in newsprint.
When I read these smiley face columns from newspaper associations about the rosy future of print journalism all I can think of is: Were buggy makers this delusional when a car manufacturer opened next door? Did they share the same misguided belief all they had to do was tweak their product and their brand? Perhaps install a cigarette lighter, AM-FM radio system, or power windows?
Again, I repeat – if newspapers aren’t swirling around the toilet, why are they limiting access to their online content? Do subscriber fees actually bring in enough money to offset the loss in good will among loyal readers who would be tempted to never again click on the paper’s digital edition?
It’s almost as if they are waving a red flag at regular print subscribers who have been with them through good and bad times, decade after decade, from kids to grey-haired, paunchy, stoop-shouldered seniors.
And that’s really all they have left – greybeards – kids from half a century ago who grew up watching their parents read the paper every morning at the kitchen table or after work when the evening edition smacked against the door.
In the case of PEI and the rest of Atlantic Canada, maybe I’ve become too cynical. After all it’s entirely possible sometime in the near future tens of thousands of 60-year-olds will pull up stakes and move east.
But seriously, i can’t recall the last time I saw anyone under the age of 30 actually read a newspaper from cover to cover.
Of course there are always exceptions in which paywalls can actually be justified. For instance, the Globe & Mail’s recently launched Globe Unlimited. Much of the digital content, only available to subscribers, is good journalism. It isn’t the stale, rehashed articles and features that were in the day’s print edition. The Globe is actually contributing money towards developing original content that readers could find compelling and isn’t easily available in print. That, in my opinion, is worth a small fee – at least to those readers who are willing to pay for it.
But how much original content is in digital versions of print newspapers on the Island and elsewhere? I’m going to say, with confidence, very little.
Now there are other newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times come to mind, that are essential reading for many Canadians. I can’t imagine being a professional trader, for instance, and not have a quick glance through the WSJ before setting up for a day’s trades. Or, for that matter, someone who relies on their investments for retirement income.
I have friends who have the titles bookmarked and start their morning with a coffee and a quick read through those online publications. They don’t mind paying a monthly fee for their morning digital fix.
However, the exceptions are few and far between.
But shouldn’t we sign up, just for breaking news? Well, most communities have access to local CBC outlets and their content is constantly refreshed and they have the necessary journalistic resources to go after news everyone wants to read about – sensational court cases, fires, storms, murders, car accidents.
And there are no restrictions to access, and, more importantly, no frustrating paywalls.
Really, on many days small newspapers deliver less news than the pages of many Facebook users. If you have more than 100 friends I can guarantee you there are least three or four who are news junkies and regularly share photos, articles, columns and editorials from local and national news outlets on their newsfeeds. All at no charge.
You don’t even have to crack a newspaper most days unless you want to check death notices and even the funeral homes are providing better and more up to date content. Classifieds? Kajiji is often the go-to source. And they don’t charge for small ads.
I’ve always believed if you want to charge people for a service or a product you have to at least make an effort to provide something of value in return, not rehashed, recycled articles from Canadian Press or other wire services that have been on many social media platforms hours or even days earlier.
Ah, but that’s the rub. Too many newspapers don’t have the cash to hire journalists who work only on digital content – to take photos, upload videos, write hard news and features, columns and editorials, all exclusively for the newspaper’s website. (In fact, a former journalist once joked newspaper publishers had “a Come to Jesus” moment when minimum wages shot up to $10 across the country).
Why bother, they argue, when the same content can be shared between print and digital platforms and few readers are bothering to complain. Well, newsflash, newspapers would be lucky if they did receive complaints, because then publishers would be compelled to act on them. It would also show their readers cared about the fate of those lumbering dinosaurs.
It’s a digital world, so if news consumers meet any resistance there are plenty of other content providers that offer the stuff they are looking for, for free.
One of the big myths propagated in journalism school and by firebrand editors is that government news releases aren’t news. I’ve come to think differently in recent years after signing up for regular news releases from the provincial government. Even though the photos are usually grip and grins the content, for the most part, is easy to digest. Why wait several hours or even a day for essentially the same story, put through the editorial blender of a local news outlet, when it can come right to your Facebook stream. Believe it or not several of the writers are former print and CBC journalists.
Perhaps it’s a futile dream, but I hope as long as I am breathing I can continue to pick up a newspaper or maybe two or three at a favorite coffee shop and lose myself in the day’s news. I will continue to hope the Globe and Mail doesn’t abruptly stop the delivery of its print edition to PEI, as it did last year in Newfoundland.
I would like to think print journalism, as least of the local kind, isn’t doomed just yet.
But then again it’s hard to cling to that hope when the recent sale of Quebecor’s massive stable of newspapers and digital properties to Postmedia fetches just $316 million, barely a fifth of what the papers cost Quebecor to acquire the titles.
And the cherry on top of the cake, well, perhaps much of the entire cake if we were completely honest – was Sun’s Canoe web portal. It almost seems as if the 175 Sun Media publications switching hands in the transaction were thrown in  as an afterthought.
Further, I challenge anyone to list the name of a new print newspaper of any significance that has started up in the decade. I bet you it’s far easier to list a dozen or so that have shuttered their operations or sought bankruptcy protection during that span. One, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, around since the 1800s, went entirely digital five years ago.
In summary, anyone who says they know the secret formula to reviving a dying industry probably has swampland in Arizona listed in the local paper’s real estate pages.
One thing I’m sure of is that paywalls will only hasten print journalism’s demise.