Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Re Lou & reality

Bill Glisky, managing editor of Sun Media's Belleville Intelligencer, responds to TSF's Lou & reality posting:

"I tread softly because any missteps will see me working more weekends, stuck on nightshifts or doing streeters. After all, it's the only real power they have over me."

"If the writer were truly the reporter he claims to be, working weekends or nightshifts wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference - news is available at any time and any place and those of us who have actually been around for a few years know that.

"As I was told many years ago: 'There are no small stories, there are only small reporters.'

Despite claiming to represent the best in our profession, this reporter reminds me too much of so many other young journalists I have seen over the years who want to be handed the 'big' stories or the 'big' opportunities but won't put in the work to warrant the shot and don't recognize that great reporters make their own breaks by doing the legwork and putting in the effort. They need nothing handed to them; they know how to go out and find it and when they find it, make the most of it.

"A few years ago, I had a reporter ask me why other reporters got all the big stories and she didn't. Yet when I told her - namely the other reporters were willing to dig deeper, make extra calls, drive extra distances, wait for something to develop, not walk out the door after exactly eight hours of work, and not argue with their editors about whether a story was 'worth' their time and effort - I got looked at as if I was talking a foreign language.

"Those other reporters, by the way, have all recently been to the Ontario Newspaper Awards, not for stories they were handed by editors but for work they did to take their stories above and beyond.

"That reporter, like this one I suspect, talked the talk but never walked the walk. If this correspondent was as good as he or she claims to be, he or she would not be waiting for approval, or need his editor to 'have his back.'

"He would be getting the job done on his own, overcoming obstacles and putting his work out there for the readers to judge. Instead, he would rather whine about how hard done by he is and how it's not his fault he can't be as great as he thinks he is.

"Feel his pain? Not in the least. I feel the pain of the readers of his newspaper who aren't getting full value for their money from people like this who would rather collect a pay cheque and talk about how great they are than actually put in the work to be that great."

Thank you for your comments, Bill.

One observation: Are bare bones newsrooms allowing today's reporters the freedom to be self starters, with adequate time for digging into a story?

The reporter says he/she is chained to a desk, which tells us the reporter doesn't have the freedom to leave the newsroom to develop a story.

There are drawbacks to restricting the content of a news story to library files and telephone calls.

Today's newsroom numbers give new meaning to Ron Poulton's 1970s book Life in a Word Factory.

The key word being factory.


  1. Way to go Bill!! You took the words right out of my mouth...

  2. Bill lost touch with reality many years ago.
    It's one thing to attain his lofty ideal of 'journalistic integrity' these days, but the reality of the situation is that there is no longer any freedom granted by people like Bill, there are no thanks given for any employee who takes the extra step for the bigger story anymore, and extra (paid) hours are deemed completely unnecessary - particularly in Quebecor's Ontario newspapers.
    Putting it bluntly, people like Bill embrace QMI's central philosophy of ONLY encouraging excellence in journalism or creativity when it costs the company absolutely nothing. 'True journalism' must always come at the employee's expense.
    It's absolutely true that we all feel chained to our desks. The workload is often so immense, and the staffing levels so thin, we have no alternative but to field stories internally rather than venture outside.
    If you're in Bill's position - making $80K+ a year for sitting in an office all day surfing the Internet and counting his beans, then recounting - then you have the luxury of making grand statements like the above. You then have the privilege of blaming the state of Quebecor's homogenized cloned products on how worthless the average staffer is - heck, by now we're almost comfortable feeling undervalued by upper management.
    If you're in the trenches, like myself and my fellow beleaguered colleagues, then you don't need me to tell you this, you're already trained to see the ugly truth beneath Bill Glisky's fascist mantra. Or any daily newspaper publisher for that matter; they're all the same.

  3. Sure... and I'd like to stuff them right back in...

  4. To answer the question "Are bare bones newsrooms allowing today's reporters the freedom to be self starters, with adequate time for digging into a story?", the answer is simply NO.

    Many newsrooms at weeklies (at least the ones I've been at) have only consisted of one or two reporters (two if you're lucky) and that leaves little time for any digging. You have to answer the phone, take classifieds, make re-prints, take out the garbage, handle distribution complaints (including delivery of the actual paper to some homes), sort the worthwhile faxes and e-mails from the junk, take out the recycling, deal with the front counter when the office manager is on a break, type submissions and update the website, etc., etc., in addition to covering everything from council meetings to basketball games to taking a picture of little Jane Doe winning a pie-baking contest. There's also the fun advertiser-related stuff from taking a picture for an ad to doing a story on a client (which, because they are paying clients, has to be approved by them. What journalistic ethics?)

    And, if your your branch is still doing it, you have to paginate the paper yourself too.

    That doesn't leave much time to devote to actual journalism. It's assembly line reporting with a variety of other odds & ends to occupy one's week. And yes, that week is 50-60 hours a lot of weeks. If you try to dig, you often get sidetracked. I'm not complaining, that's just the way it is.

    If there are people in this line of work simply "collecting a pay cheque," they are in the wrong line of work.

    Are there kids fresh out of college acting like their feces doesn't have an odor? Yes, absolutely. I've heard of cases where some don't want to cover council meetings because they find it "boring." But there are many others slugging away doing the best they can with limited time and resources with little (if any) complaint.

    I would sign my name but, in my own best interests, I'll keep my identity quiet. With the axe still be sharpened, I'd just as soon not give the brass any ammunition against me by revealing I read this blog. Thank you.

  5. "Bill Glisky's facist mantra"


    Spoken like someone who doesn't know the guy or has ever worked with or for him.

  6. I'd sign my name, too, but I rather like the paycheque. I'm sure my employer will figure out who I am anyway though by my comments.

    It would be nice if reporters had time to work on stories, but such is not the case at most papers under the whip of Quebecor. Staffing levels are too low and reporters have to do too much fluff and crap to actually delve into anything substantial.

    And most of the time, those reporters are so swamped with stuff, they stay an hour or more past their shift to finish stories. Are they ever thanked for that? No. Are they ever compensated for that? No.

    I've gone out of my way, on my own time, to take photos, shoot video, or do a story for the paper. Would I like some time in lieu for that work, or some extra cash? Sure, who wouldn't. But I'd be grateful for a simple fucking (pardon the language) thank you. Not once has anyone said thanks, thanks for going out of your way to make the paper a bit better.

    I often wonder why I bother - why should I even care about the paper when it's clear no one else does, especially no one higher up in this chain.

    I'm on the brink of not caring at all anymore. I'll just become one of the mindless drones that work for this company because the life has been sucked out of me.

    Thanks PKP, you're the best boss ever.

  7. Someone is living in the 1960s...there's no reward for digging, for doing the extra....you get the same pink slip as everyone else.

  8. Bang on, Bill!
    This reporter sounds like a card-carrying member of the instant gratification set.

  9. My union boss wouldn't want to hear this - but suck it up.

    I hate what's happening to our business. It's horrid. But it is what it is. I am thrilled to have a job and am willing to go the extra mile.

    I love working for a newspaper. I agree it sucks right now, but I'd rather work for a newspaper that sucks than Wal-Mart.

    I know that's not the popular opinion, but these are difficult times.

  10. I love how PKP fires a tonne of reporters, then claims he's going to put extra focus on the websites as the new source for news, the new alternative to dying papers. Not a damn thing has happened with the average Sun Media community paper website since the cuts. They're still awful. Ridiculous.

  11. So there's a difference between Sun Media's daily newspapers and Walmart? I wholeheartedly disagree with you there.
    Both of them think they can pay minimum wage to new employees, but at least Walmart will pay you for any overtime you do.

  12. "Hahaha.
    Spoken like someone who doesn't know the guy or has ever worked with or for him."

    Right, I agree that was a bit much, but he (or she) does have more than a point or two to say.
    I think Bill was over generalizing too. It's not at all like he portrays. Maybe at his paper, but certainly not at mine.
    The publishing situation right now is "horrid" but it's been like that for many years now, it's not a recent event. It was happening long before the economy took a nose dive, and it has never once looked like it was improving, at least under Quebecor's iron fist.

  13. Difficult times my ass. When you rape and pillage your own product, how can things go anything but from bad to worse? Newspapers are becoming irrelevant simply because they are so intent on being so.

    Not long from now, papers will be dead ... not because they are papers, but because they had nothing in them worth reading anymore. Car ads are only so interesting.

  14. Bill is right, and the reporter is right. I've been city editor in Kingston and a reporter in Peterborough in the last eight years or so. Do new reporters think it's easy and not want to do anything? Sure. Do out-of-touch desks expect too much from a thin staff? You bet.
    But the good reporters have always managed to find a way to get good work done. Saying you can't get good work done because you're chained to your desk is a cop out - you can sit there and write a crappy story because you're so beleagured, or you could do something better. I've yet to meet an editor - even a really shitty one - who will turn down a better story than those on offer from higher up.

  15. "My union boss..." That ideologue again. (Last time it was "union masters"). He kills me. "I know it's unpopular to say, but management is great. But I'm going to remain anonymous because if word gets out how much I love management, it would be bad for my chances for advancement. (But don't worry, I'll let management know on the side that I'm the righteous dude who's got their back on that evil blog.")
    Our members work harder than anybody, because they have to. And even ridiculously outgunned as we are, we still manage to nail exclusives every week.
    What's it going to be next time? "Union galactic overlords?"
    Jim Slotek
    Vice Chair
    Toronto Sun unit
    Local 87-M

  16. "I love how PKP fires a tonne of reporters, then claims he's going to put extra focus on the websites as the new source for news, the new alternative to dying papers"

    Well, there's only one reason for that: he's trying to de-unionize all of his products. That way employees have little to no rights, he can control every minute facet of the environment they work in or move production wherever he pleases, and he can pay his staff the bare minimum. It's pretty simple really.
    If the remaining union members had any smarts, they would be focused on preparing for the upcoming battle. It's going to be bloody and they're ill prepared.

    Of course, PKP understands this too.

    Did any of you ever wonder why so many of the people let go last year were actively involved in union activities?

    It was all planned this way from the start. Strategized well over a year or two ago.

  17. That's just it, we're killing ourselves and our own industry in an attempt to save money and work staff into the ground.

    When will being happy making millions of dollars a quarter be enough to actually work on IMPROVING our products, instead of killing them to makea few more million?

  18. @anonymous with the 5:23 a.m. post
    You said 'Newspapers are becoming irrelevant simply because they are so intent on being so.'
    I think you meant to say - Newspapers are becoming irrelevant simply because PKP is intent on making it so.

    I also have to agree with another poster about the websites - they suck and have not changed. There is no focus on them at all. If PKP truly wanted a multimedia company, he'd fix the wesbites first

  19. A couple rebuttal points, just to keep the discussion going:

    "I think Bill was over generalizing too." On the contrary I was speaking about one particular reporter, and his attitude toward his work. As noted in my post I have worked with many, many reporters who don't have this attitude (including the two I have working in my newsroom now) who "are slugging away doing the best they can with limited time and resources with little (if any) complaint." To this group I say God bless them and would that all up and coming reporters were exactly the same.

    "It would be nice if reporters had time to work on stories." Sure, and it would be nice if dollar bills flew out of my butt and the Swedish bikini team set up shop outside my office, but it's not going to happen. The issue is what are you going to do about it -- whine and complain, or make the most out of what little time you have and few resources that are available to you to do something great. I was privileged enough at the ONAs last year to know eight people nominated for awards, all from small newsrooms and all who found the time and took the initiative to do more.

    ".There's no reward for digging, for doing the extra....you get the same pink slip as everyone else." I have always felt the reward for doing this job right was twofold: serving the readers well and the satisfaction of doing the job right. For me, this job has never been about the paycheque, it's been about, as one commenter noted "love of working at a newspaper."

    "But I'd be grateful for a simple fucking (pardon the language) thank you. Not once has anyone said thanks, thanks for going out of your way to make the paper a bit better." Same answer. Sure your editors should say thank you, but so what? Be proud of the effort you have put into doing the job right and don't worry about the pats on the back. That's not what this job should be about. It would be nice if it was, but again it's not. So what?

    Very early in my career a wise retired journalist asked me a pointed and poignant question: Is being a journalist your profession or your vocation? I answered the latter, and more than 20 years later feel the same way.

    That's why I, like many, will bemoan changes being made, some due to the recession, some due to poor understanding of this business and some made out of greed that could very well make the poster who said newspapers will be dead absolutely correct.

    Then I pick myself up, shake myself off and go about doing the best job I can, producing the best newspaper I can despite all the challenges involved in that. And I do so not because of a paycheque or a pat on the back. I do it because that is what I was taught a journalist does.

    If that makes me a throwback to the 1960s so be it. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let anybody anywhere change that in me.

  20. The reporter chained to his desk like a dog in a cage...

    I fail to understand how Mr. Glisky or anyone else could assume that my distaste for the direction newspapers are heading is any indication of my attitude towards how I go about working a story. That is ludicrous.

    I was pretty clear to point out my qualities of being a digger, hard worker, etc are not appreciated. I was also clear to point out that it's bad out there, really bad in some cases, many probably worse than mine. But I spoke out, albeit without attaching my name, but I said it and I stick by what I said.

    It's funny, we're hired to ask questions and be critical of everyone but if we do it of ourselves it's blasphemy. As in, how dare a reporter question the state of his newspaper or those running it. Come on.

    Moving on.

    Even though I found Mr. Glisky's reply way out of bounds and illogical in the sense it missed the point I was trying to make, I still appreciate the passion for which he appears to go about being an editor. I'd take a nasty jerk for an editor with some balls over a dead body at a desk any day. We don't have that way out here. So. Go Bill Go.

    However, to attack a reporter for expressing how they feel is proving my point all the more. It's the easy way out. Forget about looking at the issues at hand, let's hammer him with a bunch of nonsense and belittle him for things we assume are correct. That's a great way to go about things and says a lot about a person's intellect.

    Our papers are run by editors, for the very large part, who have never been a reporter and would never know what it is like to work a story. Reporters aren't meant to always be at a desk or sifting though the Internet to find stories, they should be out and about digging, talking and meeting with people.

    Technology has made the reporter nothing more than a gatherer, like a squirrel collecting nuts or pieces of discarded bread. That's a fact and can't be argued otherwise. If we can't agree with that, we're already dead.

    It's a disease that not only hinders Sun Media but Canwest and others. So, say what you want about what I said, I wrote what I felt and I wrote it from the heart. Like, Mr. Glisky, I'll fight the bastards day in and day out.

    I appreciate a good debate like anyone else and I'm glad what I wrote has sparked a lively one.

    And as for you, Mr. Glisky, if I ever come to Belleville I'll look you up for a pint. I'm sure Belleville has a pub or two.

    Long live the reporter.
    Long live the newspaper.

  21. I'll defend Bill's honour as well.
    Great city editor when I worked with him. Frank and constructive criticism, given with a sense of humour.
    Hope all is well, you 1960's fascist...

  22. Well good for you Bill, but I'm wondering how utterly fabulous you're going to feel when they hand you your severance cheque?

    "Thanks for being awesome for however many years it was you worked for, in whatever newspaper you worked for, Bill Whateveryournameis."

    They'll briefly reminisce about all the great things you did for them as they help you pack up your belongings in a Zehrs carrier bag and march you towards the door, making sure you've filled out your Quebecor Exit Checklist, handed over your CP Stylebook (Ha! As if your replacement will use it!) and handed in your keys.

    With a little luck they might write a brief explanation on Page 2 and blame it all on the recession.

    With even more luck they might even spell your name correctly.

  23. This shouldn't be about whether attitudes are right, or if "union bosses" would like this or that.
    We're all pretty good at what we do, and I think we're pretty well on the same page when it comes to what a reporter should do, and the reality of the situation.
    This should be about all of the small-circulation daily newspapers like Belleville that have only "two reporters."
    Just how much of a community can be covered with two reporters?
    Just how relevant will the paper/website be to their community with just two reporters?

    Rob Lamberti
    Toronto Sun Unit
    CEP 87-M

  24. Re the pst: Well good for you Bill, but I'm wondering how utterly fabulous you're going to feel when they hand you your severance cheque?

    Well I will feel lousy — for about 30 seconds. Then I will pick myself up and start hustling again to find work — freelance, at a weekly, at a monthly, whatever group will pay me to write for them. Exactly like I have done before. That's what I do; that's what all the best journalists I know do — they write, ideally for whoever will pay them to do so but sometimes even for free.

    And I won't give a crap if they put an explanation on Page 2 or spell my name right.

    And to Mr. Lamberti — you hit the nail on the head all the way through your post. The only answer I can give to your questions — the best we possibly can. Not the best that could be done, but at the very least the best we can do with the limited resources we have, if I have anything to say about it.

    It's not ideal. It's not pretty. It's what it is. It sucks at times. But it's still a helluva lot better than doing anything else.