Sunday, October 24, 2004

Let's talk about my paper

As many of you may already know, I'm not much of a morning person. I so enjoy my sleep that when night begins to turn to day and the world slowly stirs, I need to work through a whole set of predictable steps before I'm ready to face the world.

Part of that ritual includes a trip to the mailbox beside our front door to collect the paper. I know newspaper subscriptions aren't on my generation's priority list, but in an age when information comes at us faster and in greater volume than ever, the morning paper represents a trusted, repeatable means of putting that torrent into its proper perspective

Newspapers are no longer the first or sole deliverers of major breaking news. That's now become the domain of the cable news channels. But beyond a 15-minute news delivery cycle that tells you what's going on Right Now, accelerated delivery does little to build any sort of context for what you're seeing. If I want to understand what that news means, and how it all fits together, nothing approaches the power of a newspaper. The fact that I can pull it out of my mailbox before the sun rises and spend some quiet time absorbing it over breakfast is the icing on the media cake

London, like most fairly large cities in this day and age, is home to one daily paper. The days of two or more dailies are history in most centres. Ours is called the London Free Press, and it's owned by Quebecor's Sun Media.

The thing that irks me about it is the snideness with which it is viewed by visitors to our city. Typical comments include "It's so small-town," "It reminds me of a local paper," "I read it in six minutes flat," "Any thinner and I'd be able to see through it."

Never mind that I write for this paper. Most folks who insult the paper do so to my face, or they forget to whisper quietly enough when they're across the room. Rest assured, I hear you, and it bugs the fecal matter out of me.

My initial response is always a hot flush of frustration beneath my cheeks. I can feel my skin get red as my brain races to assemble some witty phrases to spit back at the media mavens in my midst. I never say anything, of course, because I'd only come across as rude and partisan in the process.

To put my thoughts in perspective, I'm not writing this as an unabashed cheerleader for the paper for which I am a columnist (though, to be fair, I love reading the paper for which I write…anyone who publishes will likely understand the curious mixture of pride and accomplishment associated with being a part of a major media vehicle.) Rather, it is the complete lack of understanding of how newspapers work, and the willingness with which the entire product is dismissed, that eats away at my journalistic soul. Someone who has likely never written so much as a letter to the editor feels eminently qualified to pass final judgment on a paper in a city which he/she does not call home. Everyone make way for our next journalism school professor, shall we?

My perspective is this: London is a city of some 350,000 people. The hinterland likely drives that figure above a half-million. It is an incredibly diverse population whose occupations span a wider range than you'd likely ever find in the corridors of a downtown megalopolis. We don't have countless millions of people here, and we may not be the je ne sais quoi of urban chic and leading edge. But a centre's relative size has little to do with the relevance of its media to the people who live there – something that's often lost on people who don't live here.

This particular paper is staffed – and freelanced – by some of the most gifted writers with whom I've ever worked. From a personal perspective, what I write here I likely wouldn't be able to write anywhere else. I draw from a deep well of human-focused topic areas that don't exist in the same manner outside of this region. It's a special place for a writer like me, and I'll never run out of great things to write because I'm surrounded by similarly great people and communities.

People here still care passionately about their neighborhoods. They're far more willing and able to step forward when they're not happy with the way things are. The degree of citizen participation in civic politics, media, and community organizations exceeds anything I ever witnessed in the big city where I was born. And it drives my writing in ways I could have never imagined before coming here.

So the next time someone feels compelled to comment on how my paper – "my" referring to the fact that I am a subscriber, I am a Londoner, I am a writer, and I am passionately involved in making both my medium and my community better through my writing – falls short of the lofty standards set by those in larger cities, I hope they consider the true depth of their error before they dig their feet any deeper down their esophageal tract.

I've always tried to follow the mantra of choosing to be part of the solution. If said cosmo-media-commentators are so compelled to dismiss our paper as small-town, they're always welcome to pick up a pen and try their hand at contributing.

In doing so, they may learn something profound about how lucky we are to be part of a medium that so richly contributes to the life of its community. They may never look at this paper – or indeed, any paper – the same way again.


A Woman Changed said...

"Consider the source," is a favorite response of mine. Many of these people are probably the ones who helped launch Jerry Springer into 150+ markets, and I'm sure they admire papers like USA Today. Or, they are like the other 46%+ part of the population that doesn't read the paper every day - they prefer to rely on cable tv...which is hollow and homogenized. Don't let them get to you. You have a special talent that is so rare these days: You don't rely on sensationalism or gratuitous sex to capture the attention of your audience. You write about the things that weave a family and a neighborhood together. And the fact that your paper embraces your writing style is a strong statement about their editorial mission and focus on the community. What you do, Carmi, is artistic in its own right, and I imagine that you have quite a following. When I was in pre-marriage counseling with my husband, I mentioned to my pastor that one particular sermon of his had made a deep impact on me. My pastor seemed dumbfounded and confided in us that all he ever heard were complaints day in and day out...and that this one compliment was a genuine rarity. How very sad, I thought then...and now. Keep doing the good work, Carmi. I think there are more people on your side than you might ever imagine. jk

Dean said...

I agree with Jill, Carmi.

I don't know what it is going to happen to the newspaper (in general) over the next twenty years, and I don't know enough about the business to offer much.

What I do know, though, is how I get news. It's almost 100% net, now. Broadcast news (as in radio/tv) is too superficial and fast-moving. The local Big newspapers are too slow-moving.

The local community papers are surprisingly good. I remember the days when community newspapers were nothing but local gossip, garage sales, and flyers. Most of them have had to adapt, and they have, adding top-drawer content like the columns of yours over on the right.

I think that Big newspapers will disappear. I'm not so sure about the smaller community ones.

Rachel - Wicked Ink said...

Thanks Carmi.

I have on more than one occasion, bitched and nagged about our local paper. How can it possibly be award winning, when they don't even run a spell check?

I will try to be more compassionate, and understanding about them, even as I sit there with my red pen.

Our community is 1/10th the size of yours, and I would suggest that your daily is nothing to sneeze at.

Tara said...

I write for a group of super small papers. We get compliments all the time: "You cover our neighborhoods so much better than (THE BIG PAPER)." Community News, for those who don't know, will survive into the future. People *always* want to read about news that affects/ involves them. And big papers usually don't bother.
Rock on, Carmi!

Kate said...

It's great that you like/love what you do.

Here's a theory, they're jealous. Many people, when I tell them that I went to art school, they say, "Oh, that's so cool!" When I tell them that it took me 5 1/2 years to graduate, they say, "How could art school have taken so long?"

They don't have experience with it, they don't understand it, so they dismiss it to remind themselves that any desire that they may have to be accomplished in that area doesn't exist. "Oh, that's easy. I've never done it, but it's easy." Sort of like the people that think being a stay-at-home mom isn't work.