Friday, February 27, 2009

Media meltdown

It's been a challenging week to be in media. The Rocky Mountain News published its last edition today, ending 150 years of chronicling life in Denver, Colorado. The San Francisco Chronicle, ever the leader in understanding the impact of new media on traditional ones, is teetering on the brink. Closer to home, CTV Globemedia announced it was shuttering two southwestern Ontario stations in Windsor (CKNX) and Wingham (CHWI), victims of the recession and, what they characterized as a "broken" media model that needs to be fixed.

This latter case hits close to home, as the stations are operated under the 'A' banner, as is the London affiliate. I spend a lot of time at the London studio, as I do most of my BNN and CTV interviews out of this facility and, more locally, am a regular guest on the 'A' Morning show. I've worked with so many people in media, and I can honestly say that the folks here are like a family, endlessly kind and generous.

I was scheduled to do an interview with BNN yesterday afternoon, the day the news of the closings hit. Everyone knew more layoffs in London were coming, but they focused on their roles and did what they needed to do to get the job done. I wanted to do something to lift the spirit of this quiet, sombre place, but in the end all I could do was offer my empathy and briefly chat about possibilities before we all headed back to our respective jobs. I still feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach, and I hope none of my local television friends are affected by this latest wave in a seemingly endless stream of them.

Further afield, Canwest is holding on by its fingernails. Today's deadline to refinance a chunk of its massive debt came and went - and when the day was done, creditors gave the company until March 11th to repay a chunk of its massive debt (link). For now, Canwest is spinning off assets as fast as it possibly can and scrambling for additional investment. This is ugly, and I've been approached by a range of media to help make sense of it all. Here's a taste of some of what I've been up to media-wise:
Looking ahead, I'm scheduled to be on CTV's Canada AM this Monday (March 2) at 7:40 a.m. Eastern. I'll be discussing the implications of the current crisis in Canadian media, and the future of the entire industry in light of the economic downturn and the growth of the Internet as a mainstream medium. If you're in Canada, I hope you'll get a chance to watch.

This just in: If you've arrived via CNN.COM, welcome! Hope you'll hang around for a bit and drop us a line in a comment. Are you as concerned about the future of conventional media south of the border as we are north of it?


Anonymous said...

I have the Wall of Voodoo... I'm on a Mexican radio in my head now.

I wish I had the technological skills like you to record our spoken words. At least I have my camera.

I do worry about the print media. The Roanoke Times has gone downhill, covering less and less national news and more and more local stuff.

Mojo said...

I really rather shudder to think what might grow out of this. Fox News Canada?

Scary stuff when you consider the possible implications. And not just for the people whose jobs are at risk either.

If this were happening here, I would worry a good bit more simply because the prospect of whole networks tanking and the deep, deep pockets of certain right wing elements ready to bail them out... that's as scary a thought as I can conceive of.

Maybe things are the same way north of the border, I'm really not informed enough to say. If so, it could be a dark, dark time ahead as journalism gets an agenda.


NJ said...

That is quite sad. Growing up in Bruce County I often remember watching the Wingham station. I'd heard yesterday two tv stations were shutting down but not which ones.

Hilary said...

I'll do my best to remember to watch, Carmi.

Dale Challener Roe said...

It doesn't help those affected by the layoff and downsizing, but I've long held that much of the media's problems now stem from the over-saturation of media for the last decade or so.

Or more simply, there are just too many stations, papers, sites, etc. all reporting the same thing.

David Edward said...

Please God, take the L A Times next! it so deserves to be extinguishged.
I used to deliver the "Valley News and green sheet" four mornings a week before school, for $30.00 US per month. and you know what? it was a good job. That was less than $2 per day - wow!

David Edward said...

add to dale's note:
they all report the same NEGATIVE stuff, and do not hide their biases, and are out of touch with "normal" people.

Anonymous said...

I am very worried about print media. Everything is going digital. In a way, this is better for the earth, but it's sad that some day (maybe sooner than we think) we will see the end of the print era.

craziequeen said...

I would hope that the media meltdown you describe here may lead to more effective reporting and less sensationalism and hearsay - but it won't happen :-(

Our local newspapers here seem to be bulging with advertising and little inconsequential stories.

Tanya sent me this Snoozy Saturday afternoon, Carmi my dear..

Thumper said...

The downfall of print news frightens me. Where will we get our news? TV? Even Dan Rather said that if you want the news, read a newspaper--what you're getting on the local 5 o'clock news isn't it.

Newspapers are too important to lose, yet here we are, watching them teeter on the edge. It's more than lost much more.

Anonymous said...

While you had previously defended the internet as the savior of media, it is in fact the death knell.
The content is free, and anyone that has tried to impose a user-fee, has discovered that it does not work. ( e.g. National post ) and went back to free content.
If I had to pay, I could either get the information elsewhere, or get it from a more reliable, better informed source than the local podunk small town biased gooberville paper.
Example: If both the London Free Press and the Toronto Star and the N.Y.Times were all charging 6.95 per week, do you really think anyone other than Aunt Gertie would choose the London paper?
And the majority of the information would be available for free from an ad supported free site.
Local papers are successful because of availability, i.e. I can get the London and Toronto paper delivered to my home daily, but not the Washington Post or Chicago Tribune.

If the locals have great columnists, trusted sources and reliable info , they will survive.
If they just pull the same info off the wire as everyone else for the sake of cost-cutting, there is no reason to choose their product.

William Randolph Hearst

carmilevy said...

Mr. Hearst: Good points all. Somewhere in the discussion about newspapers, we collectively seem to have fallen into the belief that it's all about subscriber revenue. It isn't. In fact, most newspapers make well under 20% of their revenue from subscribers - the rest of it comes from advertising.

I've worked for a number of tremendously successful free newspapers whose advertising revenues were so strong that they didn't need to charge for the privilege of reading the product.

Another free-distribution model? Google. They make more money than any subscriber-based service, all from advertising.

Newspapers - or, rather, the highly advanced newsgathering organizations that currently allocate large chunks of their finite budgets to killing trees and driving them across town before dawn - would do well to figure out how to leverage alternative online revenue streams, none of which has anything at all to do with subscriptions.

Anonymous said...

I agree on the revenue stream , but advertisers only inject capital into those with readership, which is generated by distribution.
If the distribution could be supplied via the net,then advertisers would already be flocking to it.
Not only does the hard copy supply tangible proof of readership ( even if all papers/magazines inflate their numbers) it also supplies a geographical audience.
If Bob's Jewellers from Weinerville Iowa wants to have a sale on solid gold dog collars, he would want to advertise in the local market to the local readership. The web cannot narrow the audience.( Though cookies can narrow it somewhat)
If the web were a viable method of marketing advertisers dollars,and therefore supplying increased sales of product, people much smarter than you or I would have figured it out by now.
The majority of ad money is still spent on broadcast and print media, perhaps due to targeting of demographics etc..
It is all about return on investment.

William Randolph Hearst

Jeane Myers said...

All of us seem to be teetering on the brink of change of one kind or the other - a time of true testing - my world of art/theatre is feeling the down turn also.

Anonymous said...

Read Rosie DiManno's column in the Toronto Star today. Page A2. It supplies a good comment on this topic.

Molly said...

This is really no great surprise. The internet has replaced many other media resources. I am a print designer, but I have had to sharpen my web skills to stay employable. i actually am currently unemployed, having been one of the milliions of laid off employees in the U.S. right now. I am blogging about that experience, if you are interested in reading or joining in on my unemployment rant:

Brian G said...

While what's happening to newspapers and TV stations in North America is undoubtedly tragic, it comes as no surprise to me.

I worked in the Television industry for a decade. Starting at Netstar (home of TSN and Discovery), moving to some dot coms, going to Alliance/Atlantis, and then back to TSN which had by that point been gobbled up by CTV/Bell Globe Media.

I saw stupidity, ignorance, a dazzling lack of business model (I still can't believe that broadcasters give their programs away for free on their websites, incurring massive bandwidth bills and tiny little ad rates), and a complete inability to view the future.

I saw Canwest grasp at straws and launch a daily national newspaper ?!?

I saw Alliance Atlantis totally unable to understand electronic distribution and the massive potential (consider for a moment that AA distributes the majority of all movies in Canada).

I saw Globe and Mail sell off Workopolis, all the while they were losing money on the print side hand over fist to Craigslist and Monster (but were making tons of cash with Workopolis).

What I saw was dinosaurs, and all apologies to the dinosaurs, but I don't weep for them either.

That's why I got out of broadcasting originally, and that's why I decided to stake my claim on the internet, and in 20 years when HeadNet comes around, I will transition to that...because mammals evolve, and dinosaurs go extinct.

Anonymous said...

I won't pretend to know anything about how things work in media, numbers of that nature bore me to tears.
However, as a general observation, how much of the downfall is due to overly grand profit expectations? Seems to me when mom & pop ran things, as long as you made money to live comfortably you where doing well (rose colored glasses maybe?). These days, if a company doesn't have X number of zeros to the left of the decimal place its deemed to be a money losing proposistion. Huh? Is Windsor shutting down becuase they only generate a million dollars in profit instead of five million? Or are they spending money on things that should not be persued and instead focus on providing a good program base to put on the air?


NJ said...

I taped Canada Am and just watched your bit! Just wanted to say good job!

Cynthia J. Coleman said...

jUst my 2 cents...Unless print media can find a way to charge their internet readers, I think the print subscriptions, and on the counter buys are going to slow down. There are a few people who refuse to learn how to use a computer or the internet, or the print media would probably be worse off than it is. Still, internet reading is not the same as reading in print- most online readers read an article or 2 on a site, but if you buy a paper or magazine you are more likely to read all of the issue.