Quebec conference on media and public democratic interest

Unionized Quebec journalists will host a conference next February, headed by Joan Fraser, on whether media is still serving the public interest. Fraser knows about this issue first hand. She was a long time journalist, including as as editor-in-chief of the Montreal Gazette. More recently as a senator, she was a major force behind the Senate Report on the Canadian News Media, including, for a time, as chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.

From the press release from la Fédération nationale des communications:

   MONTREAL, le 28 oct. /CNW Telbec/ – Constatant les transformations majeures survenues au cours des dernières années dans le paysage médiatique, la Fédération nationale des communications (FNC-CSN) tiendra en février 2008, à Québec, un colloque sur le thème : Médias et démocratie : Informer est-il encore d’intérêt public?
        La FNC est fière d’annoncer que l’honorable Joan Fraser, sénatrice et ex-rédactrice en chef du quotidien montréalais The Gazette, a accepté d’assumer la présidence d’honneur de ce colloque au cours duquel seront débattus les principaux enjeux qui découlent de la concentration de la propriété des entreprises de presse, des effets de la convergence entre médias, de l’émergence des nouveaux médias sur le travail des professionnels de l’information et des conséquences de tous ces phénomènes sur la qualité de l’information livrée à la société.
        “J’ai accepté la présidence d’honneur de cet événement, explique Mme Fraser dans une lettre adressée à ses ex-collègues journalistes, parce que je crois qu’il est impératif que les travailleuses et les travailleurs des médias s’accordent un temps d’arrêt et de réflexion, si bref soit-il, afin d’évaluer lucidement le cadre dans lequel ils évoluent et leur attitude face aux attentes du public lecteur, auditeur, téléspectateur ou internaute.”
        Mme Fraser ajoute que la turbulence qui secoue le milieu de l’information, en constante remise en question, fait surgir “plusieurs aspects
qui méritent d’être débattus par les acteurs de premier plan que vous êtes”. Parmi ceux-ci, la présidente d’honneur du colloque cite les nouveaux médias, les propriétés croisées, le droit du public à diverses sources d’information et le droit d’exercer le rôle d’informer sans entrave tout en disposant des ressources nécessaires pour livrer une information complète et de qualité.

Apologies for posting in French; the press release was not issued with an English translation. Which raises the question: will the conference be reported in English in Canada?
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A Cautionary Tale for Old Media

In 1990, four years before the first web browser was released, the executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a remarkably prescient memo to his bosses at the newspaper chain Knight Ridder, reports a Nov. 5 Business Week story about the state of newspapers, A Cautionary Tale for Old Media. “Typing at night in his breakfast nook on an Apple II PC, he envisioned that a global information network would emerge, giving rise to all manner of online communities. And he proposed an online service, Mercury Center, aimed, his memo said, at “extending the life and preserving the franchise of the newspaper.”

“If Ingle’s proposal had been enthusiastically embraced by Knight Ridder’s 28 dailies, perhaps the fate of the chain might have been different. As it was, an epic shift of advertising over to the Web would cut the economic legs out from under the Mercury News and other Knight Ridder papers,” said Business Week. “…. The collapse of Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper is in many ways the story of American newspapers in the 21st century. The industry has reached a near-crisis point. Many dailies are losing circulation at an alarming rate, and local newspaper ad spending fell 3.1% last year, to $24.4 billion, while Internet advertising rose 17.3%, to $9.8 billion, according to Advertising Age.

“But the shivers rippling through the Mercury News also serve as a dramatic example of what happens when industry leaders get complacent in the face of fundamental shifts…..”  The whole piece is well worth a read.

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Krugman, according to Alternet

Alternet has an interview with Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. The leader says it’s about how Krugman thinks “the right-wing media machine is destroying social progress.”

Here’s Alternet interviewer Rory O’Connor’s introduction to his piece:

 “It’s more than a bit surprising when the guy from the New York Times sounds more radical than anyone else in the room, but Krugman and his twice-weekly column have been more consistently surprising and radically different than anything else allowed to appear in the Times (or indeed anywhere else in the so-called “mainstream media”) for so long that even Krugman himself no longer seems surprised by the force of his own outrage.”

“He certainly pulled no punches during our conversation, stating in a forthright manner his opinions on such controversial topics as truth and lies in the newsroom (“The Big Lies are all on the right”), media bias (“A large part of it is in fact right-wing bias, because they are effectively part of the right wing”) and corporate pressure (“It’s very clear that when the parent companies of the major news sources have issues at stake before the federal government … this definitely influences the coverage.) Perhaps the fact that he’s a tenured professor at Princeton — and not a professional journalist still on the make — has freed Krugman to speak truth to naked emperors and Times readers on a biweekly basis.”

Krugman’s an interesting and impressive thinker, and the interview is an interesting read. But I do think Alternet’s usual simplistic take on issues is also a tad naive — and that Alternet is more than a tad ingenuous in its incessant dissing of all mainstream media. It’s the tattered, beleagured remnants of mainstream media, after all, that are allowing doing what investigative reporting is still done — and is also giving Krugman space.

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The Irvings and the courts

A New Brunswick judge extended an injunction against a man trying to start up a community newspaper in New Brunswick, who is accused of stealing corporate secrets from the Irvings, reported Chris Morris of the Canadian Press on Oct. 26. An excerpt:

Justice Peter Glennie of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench extended a sweeping injunction against Ken Langdon Friday, former publisher of the Irving-owned Woodstock Bugle-Observer, for one week.

The injunction stops Langdon from approaching customers, advertisers and employees of the Woodstock Bugle-Observer for the purpose of starting his own weekly paper in the area.

Townhall’s Oct. 25 post:
Serious charges should be tested in serious ways. A court is doing this in New Brunswick, examining charges by Irving-owned media that a former employee stole secrets of an Irving newspaper to start up a competitive newspaper. Now, a court should also be asked to test allegations that Irving-owned media is failing to report on the case in a way that meets the most basic standards of journalism.

No, I am not suggesting that the Irving companies sue the critics for libel — a chill tactic that is the most cowardly of cowardly acts. I’m suggesting that if the allegations against the Irvings are true, someone or a group with a contract with the Irving group to provide a good or service — in this case, that would be comprehensive, balanced and accurate coverage of news — take Irving media to court for breach of contract. This litigant could be, perhaps, a paid subscriber to an Irving newspaper, or an advertiser.

Some background from a report by CBC news: CBC reports that the Irvings own all the English daily newspapers in New Brunswick, as well as all the weekly publications with the exception of the Sackville Tribune and the St. Croix Courier. Now, Irving-owned Brunswick News is accusing William Kenneth Langdon of stealing company secrets to start his own publication. “The accusation has been widely covered by Brunswick News,” reported CBC. “But critics say Langdon’s accusation, contained in court documents, is equally serious — that Brunswick News vice-president Victor Mlodecki is prepared to establish a $1-million fund to drive a local competitor out of business — and is going unreported by the same newspapers.”

An excerpt of the CBC report, which can be read online here:

“The coverage in newspapers of Brunswick News has been quite, very much in the favour of the company,” said Kim Kierans, director of the school of journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax. “It’s been giving the company’s side.”

Journalism should cover both sides of a story, Kierans said.

“In all our stories we try to be fair to both sides. We try to be fair, accurate, unbiased in our coverage. They have to ask themselves if they are being that way and what are the bigger issues involved.”

The Toronto Star is carrying an Oct. 25 Canadian Press story, which Irving’s lawyer Stephen Hutchinson quoted. Hutchinson argues that that the case is not about competition, but about the misappropriation of confidential business information.

CP reported that Brunswick News “is seeking to maintain an injunction against Langdon until a trial can be held, forbidding him from approaching Bugle-Observer customers, advertisers, and employees on behalf of his new newspaper.”
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Kill the messenger!

Al-Jazeera’s journalists have suffered bombings, expulsions, censorship, threats, beatings, routine jailings and controversial incarceration by U.S. forces. Now, says an Associated Press report, “Al-Qaida sympathizers have unleashed a torrent of anger against Al-Jazeera television. They accuse the pan-Arab TV network of misrepresenting Osama bin Laden’s latest audiotape in the excerpts it aired.”

It’s often said if both sides dislike the way they’re portrayed then journalism is being done right. That’s too simple, of course — but the cliche bears a degree of truth.

Reporters Without Borders provided some context last year, on Al-Jazeera’s 10th anniversary:
“This satellite channel, beamed into the majority of Arab homes, took an immediate stand in opposition to traditional news broadcast by authorised media. On one hand its programmes regularly enraged Arab leaders for giving a voice to their opponents and to viewers themselves and because it raised political and social issues considered taboo in many countries in the Arab world.

“On the other hand, the US government frequently accused it of fomenting anti-American sentiment in the region and inciting violence against the US-British forces in Iraq….” 
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Murdoch and the WSJ: a stumbling block?


WASHINGTON – A federal communications regulator on Thursday said News Corp.’s proposed $5 billion acquisition of The Wall Street Journal’s parent company raises competitive issues nationally and in New York.

Michael Copps, one of five commissioners with the Federal Communications Commission, is asking Chairman Kevin Martin to open a proceeding to study whether the deal for Dow Jones & Co. is in the public interest and whether it will affect diversity and competition.

from an Associated Press story.  And here’s what Reuters has to report.

It’s about time.

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Charter should protect journalists

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be enough to protect journalists from being forced to give up their sources, lawyers for Montreal’s La Presse argued in Federal Court. The newspaper is trying to prevent a Federal Court judge from ordering two of its journalists to disclose the source of a document containing allegations against a suspected terrorist.

Here’s a link to the Canadian Press story.
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Trina McQueen award

The Association of Electronic Journalists announced a new award for Best Television News Information Program, named after Trina McQueen.

McQueen has been a reporter for Toronto’s CFTO; co-host of W5; a reporter and later executive producer for CBC’s The National; vice president of English Television News and Current Affairs at CBC and CBC Newsworld;  President and Chief Operating Officer of CTV Inc.; and is currently on the Board of Directors of CBC/ Radio Canada.

The award recognizes McQueen’s breadth of achievement, said the press release. It quoted RTNDA Canada President Bob McLaughlin: “Throughout her career she has helped promote excellence in journalism, raising the bar for broadcasters everywhere and we are delighted to name this award in her honour.” The first Trina McQueen award will be given next June.

A small quibble: the press release emphasized McQueen’s “firsts” as a female Surely, we are all past that by now?
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To Be a Journalist in Iraq …

Six Iraqi women who work in the McClatchy Newspapers bureau in Baghdad were honoured in New York with a “courage in journalism award.” Kudos to the New York Times for running the acceptance speech by Baghdad journalist Sahar Issa, speaking for the six, as an editorial. Excerpts:

“To be a journalist in violence-ridden Iraq today, ladies and gentlemen, is not a matter lightly undertaken. Every path is strewn with danger, every checkpoint, every question a direct threat.

“Every interview we conduct may be our last. So much is happening in Iraq. So much that is questionable. So much that we, as journalists, try to fathom and portray to the people who care to know…..

“…. since the war started, four and half years ago, an average of about one reporter and media assistant killed every week is something we have to live with. ….

“So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back? It’s because I’m tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my county is no loss at all. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless. I have pledged my life — and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are, ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations, and not what we have been portrayed to be….” profiled winner Lydia Cacho from Mexico, who exposed a pedophile ring in Cancun.

Visit the International Women’s Media Foundation site for more information about these and other winners of the courage in journalism awards.
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Reuters’ new mobile toolkit

Reuters and Nokia have developed a new “mobile journalism” toolkit aimed at helping reporters file and publish text, photo, audio and video news stories from handheld devices, rather than laptops. An excerpt from the press release:
Helsinki, Finland – Nokia Research Center (NRC) and Reuters are working together on a mobile journalism project that could transform the way journalists file news reports when on the move.  The new mobile application is the first project to be showcased from a long term research collaboration that has been established between NRC and Reuters.  It centres around a lightweight toolkit that provides everything journalists need to file and publish stories from even the most remote regions of the world.
In a trial last summer select Reuters journalists used the technology to edit, combine and file text, images, sound and live and recorded video streams  from the field, said the release.  It said the toolkit is aimed first at professional journalists, but would suit “citizen journalism” in future. The technology involves the use of existing smart phones and, in the trial, GPS integrated video-streaming technology

Some footage and stills from the trial are here.

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