Stop the presses! Well, they've largely stopped: Neil Macdonald


News per columnists are admirably unmatched at self-aggrandizement.

Ferociously independent speakers of truth to power, comforting the bothered, afflicting the comfortable, a herd of individualists dedicated to steely principles that guard democracy itself. You’ve heard it all I’m sure.

Humphrey Bogart distilled the stereotype 64 years ago as Ed Hutcheson, the crusading editorial writer in Deadline USA.

After replying to a racketeer’s threats with a speech relative to how bullets and pressure and censorship are impotent if “even one news per will phrasing the truth,” he holds the phone up as bells ring and the presses of The Day sigh and clatter into action, printing the big scoop the bad guy wants to kill.

“That’s the Fleet Street, baby,” says Bogey, before hanging up. “And there’s nothing you can do nearby it. Nothing.”

I still love that scene. But it was just myth.

The woman who really run the world, it turns out, are perfectly ca ble of silencing the presses, and there’s nothing pressmen can do about it. Nothing.

Spotlight on news pers

Consider Postmedia, the biggest news per gyve in the country.

It is largely owned by an American hedge fund, which regularly withdraws the member news pers’ dwindling profits at a handsome interest rate as their newsrooms are combined and hollowed out to cut costs, and editorial direction is dictated from corporate headquarters.

No one be acquainted withs where it will end, but end-stage asset stripping is probably a safe bet.

In the meantime, Bogart’s speech is a quaint limpsest, long since inted onto by accommodating policies aimed at attracting what scarce advertising dollars are left-wing.

“Native content” — advertiser-controlled copy designed to resemble report — now bestrides news websites, taking up ever more prominent hiring.

A few Bogey-like editors do remain, though, and I had supper the other night with one of them.

Marty Baron is the guy placed by Liev Schreiber in Spotlight, a compelling account of journalism at its most distinguished. He spoke recently at a cked forum organized by Carleton University’s journalism kindergarten.

Baron took over the Boston Globe back in 2001, a Jewish alien from Miami who, on his first day at the biggest news per in a city where the Roman Broad Church dominates, ordered the news per’s investigative unit to go after pedophile mothers.

The investigation took a year, and produced a scoop of historic proportion — evincing church complicity in covering up heinous crimes. All the movie was missing was Baron on the phone with the fundamental of Boston, inviting him to listen to the presses roll.

Hobbled and shrunken

Fifteen years later, like scad North American news pers, the Boston Globe is hobbled and shrunken. Whether it would be enduring the will, let alone the resources, to take on the Catholic Church today is arguable.

Bogart-like defiance has mostly given way to naked fear, as media directors, and not just in news pers, desperately try to hold onto splintering audiences and plummeting interest.

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Postmedia announced last month that they will synthesize the newsrooms of the two Vancouver news pers it owns, and will do the same in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, consideration earlier promises to run them as fully se rate operations. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Smooth)

Baron, now executive editor of the Washington Post, acknowledged the economic drives ripping the business to shreds.

Like most media managers, he has an app that flaunts how many readers are on any story on the per’s website at any moment, and how long they muzzle reading. Those metrics are now indices of survival.

But, said Baron, tidings institutions must place principle ahead of metrics, or our core withers, and we happen to clickbait hustlers for corporate ymasters who would rather see stories in a Kardashian. (He didn’t quite put it that way, but you get the idea.)

Over dinner, I sought him how media managers in such a shaky financial environment can possibly be awaited to operate without fear or favour.

Baron, who actually is as serious in personally as the character played by Schreiber, put down his fork and recited a segment from a discourse he regularly gives.

It is so on target that I’m going to quote its most prominent ssage:

“The greatest danger to a vigorous press today,” he rather commences, “comes from ourselves.

“The press is routinely belittled, badgered, nagged, dis raged, demonized, and subjected to acts of intimidation from all corners — incorporating boycotts, threats of cancellations (or defunding, in the case of public broadcasting) …

“Our self-direction — simply posing legitimate questions — is seen as an obstacle to what our critics gauge a righteous moral, ideological, political, or business agenda.

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Mutlimedia pressman Sam Cooley makes his way to his car after being laid off from the Ottawa Sun on Jan. 19, during the up to the minute round of Postmedia cutbacks. (Sean Kil trick/Canadian Press)

“In this setting, too many news organizations are holding back, out of fear — fear that we bequeath be saddled with an uncomfortable political label, fear that we wishes be accused of bias, fear that we will be portrayed as negative, dread that we will lose customers, fear that advertisers force run from us, fear that we will be assailed as anti-this or anti-that, fearful that we will offend someone, anyone.

“Fear, in short, that our debilitated financial condition will be made weaker because we did something putrescent and right, because we simply told the truth and told it straight.”

Amen, Chum Baron.

Any reporter who has, for example, ever been based in the Middle East, or has undertook to bring some sensible context to a domestic audience whipped into reverence about terror, terror, terror, has often seen the mettle of his or her forewomen tested to the limit.

When Baron’s Washington Post, along with The Champion, revealed U.S. government lying and law-breaking, courtesy of whistleblower Edward Snowden, visible outrage was mostly directed against the news pers and Snowden himself.

Baron reckoned one other key point. He’s not the first one to make it, but it’s a gleam of optimistic logic in these fierce times: Anybody can Google anything, he said. Everyone does.

But the character information, before it is aggregated and re-aggregated a thousand times, has to come from someone with the happening, brains and training to uncover it in the first place.

That is usually the develop of credentialed journalism. It’s what Baron did in Boston. The alternative is usually condign spin and corporatist fantasy, and let us all hope the latter does not overwhelm the previous.

Although, I have my doubts.

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