John Baglow

DiManno: Inc-stained wretches

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Luddites at work.jpg

Is Rosie DiManno a journalistic Luddite? I don’t usually have serious differences with my comrade-in-arms mattt bastard. But he’s Twittering critically about her column this morning, and I think he’s got her mostly wrong.

DiManno is not my favourite columnist by any means, but she can pull one out of the hat when she chooses. She proved herself ready, willing and able, for example, to expose brutish G20 cops, some by name, after all the well-resourced folks in Chief Blair’s office and the provincial Special Investigations Unit flapped their hands haplessly in the air and declared that it couldn’t be done. Every so often she reaches deeply and puts together a first-rate piece of humane, sensitive journalism. She’s no friend of elite corporate figures and their toadies either, to put it mildly—and she does not.

In other words, she’s one of the best when she’s at her best.

Today’s column picks up the theme of corporate media barons who are driving journalism into the ground.

Mattt is justifiably unhappy with this drive-by:

[T]hen there’s the tweeting: yips from the field to provide a kind of rough play-by-play, even (as allowed by some wrong-headed judges) from the courtroom — and the blogging and the interactive. Digital dross, I say, but that’s apparently a reactionary view.

But DiManno is talking mostly about that oxymoron, in-house “blogging.” Real bloggers don’t have editors. I guess that’s where the digital dross really does come in—the Blogging Tory drones are a case in point—but media bloggers exemplify a kind of faked-up, with-it journamalism to which she rightly takes exception. They’re just writing op-eds with slightly relaxed standards.

On the other hand, she’s got Twitter mostly wrong. Those “yips from the field” are often keys to stories that are breaking just as the yips are emitted. Skilled liveblogging, its cousin—I’m thinking of Kady O’Malley here—gets us the guts of a story before it even hits the electronic media. If we’re lucky, we’ll read that story in DiManno’s tactile newspapers a day later.

All that being said, however, the weight of her column is a swingeing critique of the corporate media and the usual trickle-up effect that (DiManno’s link) rewards owners with Croesus-like bonuses and salaries as they run their newspapers into the ground. Skilled reporters are tossed, foreign bureaus are abandoned: much and quick substitute for good writing and analysis.

DiManno is literally right on the money.

To her credit, she doesn’t let her own newspaper escape her justified wrath, either:

Not that the family-owned, solvent and stable Toronto Star is in any position to throw stones. At the depth of the recession in 2009, CEO Robert Prichard — a man with zero newspaper background upon arrival here — departed with an $11 million severance package right after dividends had shrunk by half and Torstar had posted a fourth-quarter loss.

The result of this greedy drive for personal enrichment (can you say Conrad Black?) is poorer and poorer product. To go after the ever more jaded audience, the bosses keep throwing new gimmicky stuff into the mix: in-house “blogging,” piles of raw video footage. The editing, as any media aficionado will testify, is poor to nonexistent: online copy is rife with spelling errors, bad cutting and pasting, incomprehensible narrative flow.

As for what remains of the printed word:

The Toronto Star drops on your doorstep, of a Saturday morning — no newsboy (do they even still exist?) would dare try lobbing that hefty mother onto the porch; it might crash right through the front window — with plenty of excellent journalism but fattened by ersatz stuff, special sections, infotainment, inserts and tons of ads.

Admit it: who among those of us interested in news and analysis doesn’t begin with a strict winnowing process, pulling out the news sections, the sports section (for those so inclined: apparently you can still find real journalism there) and maybe the arts section, and throwing the rest, pounds and pounds of it, into the recycle box unread?

DiManno isn’t a Luddite, but a disheartened observer concerned about a dying skill. If the quality of online news reportage were up to scratch, and good work in the print media were still rewarded, I suspect she wouldn’t have a beef with online editions and the social media. But content and editorial standards have plummeted, and part of that includes the lazy mishandling of the new media.

We’re deliberately weaning readers off the tactile experience of newspapers by luring them to instant, sloppy, error-riddled, cursorily edited reportage. Then we wonder why circulation is declining? Like I said, dumb as a bag of hammers, the ruling elite in my business. But they’ll retire to lives of leisure and financial security.

Don’t let that word “tactile” throw you. DiManno just needs to be convinced: “I’m not opposed to change. I just don’t think we know what we’re doing,” she says. In one sense, who could deny the truth of that? The new media haven’t been integrated into the practice of journalism: they’re just forked into the blender, rarely rising above the level of clever gimmicks.

But the rapacious media overlords who plunder, waste and move on know very well what they’re doing, as they sow the journalistic world with salt. Plenty of room for the #Occupy movement to expand and grow, I think, and the top-floor offices, not the beleaguered newsrooms (pace David Carr), would be a good place to start.

[H/t mattt]

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This page contains a single entry by John Baglow published on October 31, 2011 11:47 AM.

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