Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just When You Think Online Journalism Is Rubbish, This Comes Along

Stephen Hume is one of Canada's finest essayists. He's also one of Canada's least-appreciated journalists. We were at the Vancouver Sun together, and there he still toils, and here is the result of an odyssey, years in the making, now on-line, about 120,000 words in total, interactive, gorgeous, splendid history, and also great literary journalism in the bargain. If this is the future of journalism, I'm liking it.

Stephen tells me Sun editor Patricia Graham deserves kudos for her unwavering support for this project. So congratulations to Patricia as well, along with condolences, to her and to all my former colleagues there, for the recent unpleasantness.

The combined newsprint circulation of both The Sun and the Province is now roughly where it was 50 years ago, but the troubles are by no means confined to Vancouver. It's happening everywhere. Here's a fine survey and analysis of the phenomenon in the American Journalism Review.

Canada has its own special problems, which my pal Marc Edge has written about extensively. There's a four-part series on that matter, excerpted from Marc's book Asper Nation, which begins today in The Tyee.

Neither the current euphoria over "citizen journalism" or the prospects for "media democracy activism" do much to put a spring in my step, I regret to say (although where there's no free press, as in Burma or Iran, citizen journalism is proving more than adequate to the task of dissent).

New media is making things easier for avocational and amateur journalists, some of whom are proving much better and braver writers than the "professionals." This is good. But journalism is a trade, like any other. It requires some training, a proper apprenticeship, and a hard slog of hands-on experience to produce journeyman work you can reasonably count on to conform with expected standards and practices. It's like any other trade in that way. Do you want those stairs built by some bloke with a hammer, or an experienced union carpenter?

But at least for now we have tradesmen like Stephen Hume around to tide us over into whatever new forms journalism will take once the current weirdness shakes itself out.

Nice work, Stephen.


Blogger kurt said...

I like to be sanguine about journalism's future too, although that can be a challenge sometimes. The old models have to change, however, and I think it would be better if the public companies revert to private ownership. Going public was Conrad Black's biggest mistake (he was a scoundrel but at least he knew the biz, valued journalism and could make a decision when it was private). The Aspers have compounded the problems by becoming a family trust (any decision requires consensus by the board, whenever that might happen), and the Aspers generally haven't a clue about what journalism is.
This is playing out on a much bigger scale at NY Times and Tribune debacles. I'm hoping Zell can pull off the Tribune deal, taking it private, because he's got a great track record. On the other hand the deal is being largely financed by the Tribune employees' pension fund (yeegawds, shades of Bob Maxwell!) and what are generally considered overly optimistic revenue projections to repay the debt. Tribune employees are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea... I suspect they would envy Canwest employees.
Perhaps ex-Province editor Vivienne Sosnowski had it figured out when she went to the SF Examiner, then Washington Examiner and now top dog at their Clarity head office. The owner is crackers (pro-creationism, anti-gay, pro-Bush, etc.) but has taken the Examiner to free distribution, operates with skeletal news staff and pays out for columnists like Limbaugh, Drudge and Coulter... is this the future?

10:22 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

Check this out:

11:48 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Good points, Kurt.

10:25 AM  

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