Saturday, September 17, 2016

Why newspapers matter (Musings on digital age killing print journalism)

Updated: 18 Sept. 2016
This blog derives from attending Paula Simons' talk at EPL's Forward Thinking Series. 

Since it was published, as always, I've revised the blog significantly. Main reason is the first version is a stream-of-consciousness draft that nearly always needs major work to capture thoughts fully and present them in an interesting way. Translation: First iteration often sucks and begs to be improved, putting readers out of their misery.
As an instructor and prof teaching transfusion science in Med Lab Science, to my surprise I was often asked to speak at conferences. Partly it was half-believing Bernard Shaw's maxim, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” But that underestimates teaching, because it sure as hell ain't easy.
My suspicion is that I was asked to speak mainly because of presenting the real-me, even if politically incorrect and risking criticism, something that Alyson Connolly and others see as critically important in public speaking. 
That's what The Edmonton Journal's Paula Simons did in her EPL talk. She was unafraid to be authentic and reveal her genuine thoughts on many topics, even if possibly seen as politically incorrect by some. As well, Paula demonstrated a classic way to give an entertaining, successful talk. Her presentation style caught my attention from the get-go, because it's a skill I team-taught in Med Lab Science.
So what follows is what I really think about the digital age and print journalism. And how the digital revolution undermines democracy, especially as it affects the young, pretty much the opposite of what everyone claims.
My views are not balanced and fair, but they are genuine. Revisions are shown in [brackets].
The motivation for the blog specifically comes from meeting a young woman at Paula's talk who told me she was tired of superficial news from social media like Facebook and was glad her Mom encouraged her to attend Paula's talk because she learned a lot. She also noted that she was concerned that she was being stalked on Facebook with ads targetted to her interests.

[Oh yah! Not only Facebook. Google is the main culprit and tracks everything you do, unless you turn it off. And there's so much more about the digital age that invades our privacy. My take is that most young folks could care less if their privacy is invaded, if they see ads based on their interests, that's AWESOME! They don't care what Apple, Facebook, Google does.See FURTHER READING.]

In my 7th decade, I have subscribed to a newspaper for as long as I've lived independently from parents, obviously many decades. Residing in an Edmonton university-area apartment complex whose residents are mostly University of Alberta students, it's hard not to notice that I'm the only one on my floor who takes a newspaper, in my case the Edmonton Journal. Suspect it's the same on all 28 floors.

Headlines such as, 'Internet growing as Canadians' main source of news' concern me, especially if news is mainly via social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Detesting Facebook for many reasons, I prefer Twitter.

But the fact is we tend to 'friend' and follow folks who think just like us, meaning we on social media seldom see alternative viewpoints. As an oldster I have the breadth of experience to realize others think differently. But those younger likely do not. 

[Indeed, judging by my fellow tenants (mainly University of Alberta students), most don't have a clue about issues important in Edmonton or even Canada and definitely receive no in-depth analysis. 

How could they? Few listen to local local radio stations like CBC's Edmonton AM, watch cable news at 5 or 6 pm or national newscasts later in the night. Few subscribe to cable TV or have a land-line phone. 

They don't subscribe to or read Postmedia's monopoly troika, the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, National Post. The Globe and Mail, are you kidding? They don't even read the free local daily Metro News judging by the stack of freebies left in the front lobby.

So where do they get the news that makes for an informed citizenry. They don't. Dare I say they don't vote in significant numbers either, despite major efforts to motivate them and make it easy.]

I'd love to see the University of Alberta's Faculty of Extension  offer a course correlated to what Paula Simons gave a masterclass in at EPL's Forward Thinking Series. 

Perhaps call it, "Why local newspapers matter" or similar. Maybe even expand it to being a compulsory course in many faculties.

[Upon reflection, this title doesn't cut it. It's way too boring. As a transfusion instructor the one word that woke students up immediately, like no other, was SEX. And the target audience for such a course is not folks like me, it's young people from late teens to early thirties,who have abandoned newspapers, think they don't matter.

In Paula's EPL talk, she joked that when we read her column, we have 'intellectual intercourse' and we were all fabulous. So how about these suggested course titles:
  • Newspapers: Best intellectual sex you'll ever have;
  • Best intellectual sex you'll ever have is this media course;
  • Be adventurous: Give intellectual sex a try.]
Main topics would include (no particular order):
  • [Great intellectual sex you're missing without newspapers]
  • Why, if newspapers did not exist, you'd be clueless, dumb and dumber. Reporters would not exist to tell your stories, those of your city, local entertainment, sports team, nada.]
  • Newspapers before the Internet (Sources of income, reporting standards such as requiring 2 sources of information before printing. [Does it sound quaint? Don't be ignorant. Watch All the President's Men.]
  • Newspapers in the Digital Age (Loss of advertising revenue, Internet users want everything to be free. [Who do you think will work for free? Would you?]
  • Rise of democratic 'citizen journalism' (Anyone can blog, become a source of information for tens of 1000s with zero accountability. [Some citizen journalists are quality, many are not. You're their poodles because you don't require them to give evidence for claims.]
  • Why it's critical to an informed citizenry for print journalism to survive, especially at local level (In-depth coverage of local issues, helping citizens understand issues. Prefer to be dumb or want others to decide your every-day life for you? Then don't support local papers who inform you.)
  • Negative impact of Digital Age on print journalism (including many excellent journalists losing jobs and pitfall of rush to immediate reports that are often false.) [Guess you don't care if info is wrong.]
  • Positive impact of Digital Age on print journalism (Mostly ability to inform citizens in real time. One of the pros of the Digital Age, but downside is the first information may be wrong, and often is.)
  • Strategies for how print journalism, often denigrated 'main stream media', can survive. [They need your help.]
I'm just a senior citizen who sees the past, present, and future of newspapers and hopes print journalism, with its high standards, will find a way to survive.

I've no doubt omitted many key issues but hope you can see why such a course would be a wonderful resource for Edmontonians, especially the young, but indeed everyone.

And Paula Simons would be first of many experts I recommend to teach the course. Others include (not an exhaustive list)

[Small sample of ethics of social media companies the young rely on. Won't even start on Facebook.] 

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