The curse that comes with age and retirement is the urge to reflect. On one’s life, one’s choices and especially one’s career.
Mine has been a magical one: the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, the people who have told me their stories, the wild wonderful Vancouver Sun newsroom where I spent my entire career. All of it, magical.
But I’m not going to bore you with war stories. Tonight I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me about my beloved business, especially now that I’m on the outside looking in.
Times are tough for traditional media. There be dragons. Newsrooms are shrinking. Monetizing digital is proving a bitch, as is engaging readers who say they want quality journalism but don’t want to pay for it.
Social media has seemingly swallowed the news, and our advertising revenues with it.
But I’m an eternal optimist, and as such I have hope for our future, because the way I see it, newspapers have already survived more than a century of profound change.
I do, though, think we’re our own worst enemy, too often giving the impression that there is nothing left but to write our own obituary.
(Recently), Newspapers Canada reported there are currently 1,158 newspaper titles in Canada circulating 50 million copies a week. Postmedia media recently announced that its national readership, including its digital products, is 11 million a week.
Those are astonishing numbers.
We are reaching more readers than ever before in our history. Ever.
So why aren’t we telling that good news story with more fanfare, instead of bombarding readers with story after story about the mind-numbing financial woes our industry is facing.
Is it because we are so busy bailing out the so-called sinking ship that we have forgotten how to stand up and be counted?
They say that Mark Zuckerberg is now the planet’s most powerful editor, but I’m calling BS on that. His news feed is nothing more than personalized content scraped and aggregated, much of it from traditional media sources like us, and then spoon-fed to Facebook’s 1.7 billion subscribers based on their specific interests.
That isn’t news.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t an editor.
Facebook doesn’t employ news judgement, or journalists. It employs algorithms.
I can’t help but think that we are ceding our territory, without putting up much of a fight, while these copyright carpetbaggers continue their hostile, unearned takeover of our century-old journalistic legacy, taking our stuff, with and without permission, and rebranding it and recycling online it as if it was their own work.
It is not.
Maybe we can’t put the horse back in the barn, and let’s face it, we let it out 20 years ago when we all of our stuff up on the web for free, but sweet Jesus, let’s not forget that we still own the pedigree.
I have an idea.
Why don’t we mount a united front, all 1,158 of us, and launch a national ad campaign, and remind people that chances are that the news they are reading right now on recyclers like Facebook, Google, Twitter and the Huffington Post, is very likely the work of a traditional radio, TV or print newsroom and its traditional reporters and editors.
Why don’t we remind them that if there is no us, there is no news.
We are still the source.
We are still the content generators.
We are still the storytellers.
Why don’t we take back the news? Because let’s not forget: newspapers are the original social media.
I didn’t know Bruce Hutchison, except by reputation, but I have long pictured him in his Victoria office, hunched over his typewriter, surrounded by books and writing column after column, each one well-researched, thought-provoking, exquisitely written.
So I was delighted the other day, when I was sifting through the archeological dig that is my basement—I am something of a newspaper memorabilia hoarder—to find a booklet titled “A Testimonial Dinner to Bruce Hutchison.”
It was dated April 1970, and it reprinted speeches from the event, which was attended by luminaries such as Peter Newman and Lester Pearson. The booklet included a speech from Hutch himself, whose words that day included this gem of a sentence:
“Like all other human institutions, the press has fallen behind in the race of galloping imperatives and hideous dangers.”
For me, it was a timely reminder, 46 years on, that the more things change, the more they stay the same, that we have much to be proud of, but that we also have much work to do to hold our own in world where journalism is being redefined and co-opted by those who know nothing about it.
This is the edited speech presented by former Vancouver Sun columnist Shelley Fralic at the Jack Webster Awards banquet in Vancouver last year. Fralic, who retired from a four-decade journalism career in 2016, was presented with the 2016 Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award at the event.