Friday, April 10, 2009

Edmonton Journal in the black but reporters told to stiff contacts on lunch tabs: tipster

A Fading to Black reader writes about declining morale at the Edmonton Journal, where penny-pinching and fumbling at the top have beaten down the spirits of reporters:

For anyone who takes any feeble assurance in the knowledge that the Canadian newspaper industry has not slammed to the floor quite as dramatically as our American cousins, let’s stop kidding ourselves.

At the Edmonton Journal, one of Canwest’s two top money-earners in the past few years, and we’re talking million-dollar money-makers here, the remaining staff are so beaten down by a diminished product and subterranean expectations that no indignity is so outrageous that it can’t be met with a “whatever...” and let’s move on. At this newspaper, never a great one, but once a solid Canadian daily, it is all about pushing out those Gainsburgers as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

The new publisher at the paper, a Verizon yellow pages exec airlifted out of Dallas by the company after a year-long recruiting drive, is a nice fellow who knows nothing about newspapers, nothing about Canada, and nothing about his local market. Who better to take the reins? Every local issue is approached by him as a revelation, no matter how hoary that story might be for the paper and its readers, so The Journal, to the extent it covers real local news anymore, spends a lot of its time reinventing the wheel.

Cash flow austerities have reached ludicrous proportions. Reporters have been quietly directed to stiff contacts with lunch tabs whenever possible and police reporters are being asked to share the motor pool with ad sales. Crime reporters may soon be cruising through the local Indian reserve in Journal vehicles dressed up like ice cream vans.

Canwest, in its wisdom, has foisted another national program on its member papers, reminiscent of the infamous national editorials that the Asper family foisted on the country before even they were shamed into backing off. This one is all about sticking to the bright side of the street. What a novel notion that is for newspapers. A longstanding and shameful Venting feature in the paper, which consumes endless columns of space in several sections, consists of banal comments submitted online by anonymous readers (at least one supposes so) on everything from potholes to the weather to the local hockey squad. The sort of mindless drivel you might overhear at any truck stop. The sort of cheap enterprise that might give one the illusion of a local voice, if one was shallow enough to see things that way. It’s a hit, a huge hit that has somehow not caught on nationally, and now we’re going to gift our readers with a Venting column, in the lead section, consisting only of “positive” commentary. They asked staff for a new and appropriate name for the thing. The silence was deafening. Drivel wouldn’t work, nor Platitudes, nor Hakuna Matata. So they went for Toasting. Hilarity is bound to ensue.

It’s so funny, it’s sad, and it’s so sad these days even the biggest cynic in the newspaper world is finding it hard to laugh off just how badly the business has declined.

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