Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Media freeloaders

Actor Kevin Williams was on David Letterman recently talking about New York snow storms and appeals from news outlets for amateur video.

"They go so crazy on the news," he tells Letterman. "It's not just the weather people, it's the reporters. They were actually saying 'if you're out and about and you see news happening, video record it and send it to us, please.'

"And I'm thinking, isn't that your job, really? How lazy can you get?"

Well, Kevin, pretty lazy these days.

Newspapers and radio and television stations are heavily into soliciting citizen-produced news, video and sound bites and, in most cases, without compensation.

Meanwhile, Sun Media's Kincardine News has taken appeals for news and video from citizens to new heights, or new lows depending on how you feel about lazy journalism.

In a nutshell, the Kincardine News says ignore its weekly print edition, help it  produce the news and video for daily online viewing.   

The story reads:

"The nature of the newspaper business is changing drastically to keep up with the progression of free, Internet new content, but the Kincardine News isn't too far behind as part of Sun Media.

"Our focus in the coming month will swing away from a workweek focused on the print product, with an emphasis on posting more news regularly on and increased sharing with our local daily Owen Sound Sun Times.

"This way, our readers will have the opportunity to keep up with news as it develops throughout the week, rather than relying on radio briefs or next week's paper for the Troy Patterson day's news. 

"We're also shifting so there is a greater focus on Reader Generated Content, whether it be sports reports, briefs from organizations, a series of photos from an event or anything our readers deem newsworthy.

"With the increased frequency of digital cameras, camera phones and the ease of text and e-mails, a lot of people can share the news, so it's recorded by us and isn't lost in the digital universe of a cluttered hard drive or memory stick. It also helps us, as we can't make every event, although we'd like to.

"We do ask that people take the time to make it readable, the rest we can do here."

That is lazy, manipulative journalism. 

Mark our words, the use of citizen stories, photographs and video will come back to bite  understaffed, overworked newsrooms in the ass.


  1. Weekly papers have always solicited reader-generated content — this is nothing new. When I was at a weekly paper, the majority of the sports section was filled with reports from local minor teams sent in from parents or coaches (in fact, it still is).

    Is it lazy for media outlets to solicit readers' photos or videos? Not in the new media landscape where readers want to be part of the discussion. (Community journalism, anyone?)

    Sad to see you rip apart a weekly paper that is likely very low on staff as being lazy — working at a weekly paper is anything but.

  2. Why should this be surprising? It's no secret this company is gradually getting away from the physical print product.

    That's why reporters at newspaper offices will be expected to shoot video for SunTV. Web and TV first, worry about the paper later.

    Keep accepting the public's shaky video and out of focus photos. Will give the company excuses to dump photographers and save a few more pennies.

  3. Wow isn't the whole premise of journalism that you have reporters present both sides of a story in an unbiased manner.
    How does a citizen journalist do that, why would they even want to?
    Who polices citizen journalism and takes responsibility for what's published in a web or print format?
    Who does the fact checking?
    Or do we just wash our hands of the truth as a profession and allow anyone to report on events on the basis that they own a digital camera and a computer.

  4. There's a difference between submitted content at a weekly (which is generally sports and 'Sue and Barb visited with Bill this week' stuff), and what this paper is looking for.

    I've worked weeklies and took submitted content. But to disregard your own print product (a $40 subscription) and blatantly tell readers you're going to be running generic crap is an insult to real newsrooms and real journalism.

    And this paper hasn't had its newsroom staff cut, by the way. I know this for fact.

  5. I wish people would stop buying into the "prophecy" that the newspaper industry is dying. The sad thing is that it's the industry "leaders" that have pronounced this prophecy and are acting on it. Why? Because going digital is a cheap solution that requires less work and less resources. The only thing stopping the "leaders" from going fully digital is the low revenue returns from the digital model, a thing that will never change because the Internet is the land of free stuff.

    The things that are killing the newspaper industry are laziness and greed. It takes hard work to produce a quality newspaper and it takes some investment in time and money. How many of our "leaders" are willing to do the work and make the investment necessary to produce quality newspapers (and other media vehicles)?

    Although we like to convince ourselves that the newspaper industry is a special snowflake, the fact remains that the newspaper industry is like all other industries. If you use shoddy materials and over-taxed work forces, your end product will be crap.

    There is nothing wrong with changing with the times and offering readers/advertisers content and opportunities on the Internet. There is nothing wrong with using content supplied by citizen journalists. At the end of the day, however, it is the job of newspaper journalists, editors, publishers (and the production teams and sales and office staff that support them) to carefully compile and compose a record for people to read and enjoy - whether on a weekly or daily basis. It is up to professionals to pull all the news together and present it in a comprehensive manner to the public.

    Only when the "leaders" stop looking for lazy and cheap solutions to their money woes will things change for the better.

  6. I would imagine this is asking more for things like cheque presentations, which are still big in small community newspapers, but which also use up a lot of a reporter's time for one lousy shot. I've done some of these and the community people out there who want you to take the photo of the $1,000 cheque or bake sale aren't always the most organized - so it's not in and out in 10 minutes. It's 30-45 minutes.

    By asking citizens to send these photos in, it means the reporters have the time to work on actual stories of interest that do present both sides of a story.

    Lazy? I think not.

    Go try and cover everything a small community demands of its paper and you'll see this is a way to ensure those photos and events larger papers would simply ignore still make it into a newspaper people care about.

    I think people who are calling this lazy journalism should go ask papers like the Kincardine News if you can sit in their newsroom for a week and experience what they are doing. After that, tell us the reporters are lazy based on your observations - not some Toronto-centric idea that this call to readers is a way for the reporters to sit on their butts and put their feet on their desks.

  7. Anonymous (20 Jan. 2:05PM),

    Stop skim reading. I wasn't calling the reporters lazy. I said the "leaders" (i.e. management types) are lazy. They are looking for lazy solutions to their money woes. One lazy solution is eliminating hard-working staff to better their bottom line.

    They are not going to use citizen journalists to aid staff. They are going to use citizen journalists to replace staff. Another lazy solution to squeeze more profit from their newspapers.

  8. The Jan. 20, 2:05 comment is bang on. I once worked at this specific paper, and it's 50 hours a week... easy. And yes, cheque shots are a drain at papers this size.

    But, what the comments are missing here is the fact that a small-town paper is moving to running regional news from Owen Sound when there's more than enough in its own coverage area to fill 40 pages a week.

    If I want news from Owen Sound I'll buy that paper (or go online). But I don't, because I want local news in a 'local' newspaper.

    Just more junk in an increasingly poor product, I'm afraid.

  9. It's the de-evolution of newspapers from their traditional position near the centre of civic life and a mission of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted to little more than a public toilet on whose walls passersby can scrawl their own graffiti.

  10. What is worse is the proliferation of online news websites that rely on press releases for content. Press releases from provincial ministries, city hall, police are just copied and pasted onto websites — no editing or rewrites.
    The sad part is that there are people who follow these sites religiously and think they are getting news.
    Meanwhile, these journalism posers are taking advertising revenue away from real news outlets.

  11. RMP - for the record, I wasn't responding to your posting. I hadn't read it as I don't think it was approved when I responded at 2:05 p.m. I was addressing the comment in the blog post saying, "That is lazy, manipulative journalism."

  12. When I was managing editor of a community newspaper several years ago, my department began to feel the pinch as corporate looked for ways to cut costs. Reporters were always the first to go, since bean counters never did understand what they did. I decided that I would no longer have my dwindling supply of editorial staff waste their time on cheque presentations and other things that had a place in the paper but were not of real significance. So, I had the various groups, etc., take their own pictures and send them in. After some early opposition (man, those Odd Fellows could be cranky) virtually all of those groups were on side; as it turns out, they really didn't care who took their picture and produced their little write-ups, as long as it made the paper. Of course, digital cameras, e-mail, etc., made it a hell of a lot easier for all concerned. So, the point of all this ... if Kincardine is following a similar path, for similar reasons, then good on them. If it is to replace working journalists, then a pox on them .. but I suspect (and, admittedly, hope) it is the former.

  13. There's a lot of people who comment on this topic who may not know just how far Kincardine is from Owen Sound...

  14. There are a lot of commenters here who do not grasp basic grammar concepts such as contractions (1:13pm it is "there are a lot of people" and not "there is a lot of people").

  15. And how little Kincardine people care about Owen Sound news in their 'local' paper...

  16. Being a relative youngin in this business, with only a decade (five years as editor) under my belt, I've seen how convergence has changed everything. Those who deny it are fools.
    Those who attacked my comments are also oblivious to the changes that are necessary to see print survive, both in print as a physical record for future generations and online to be consumed as a commodity during this 'Age of Information'.
    By soliciting, vetting, editing and publishing content provided by readers, we involve them in the telling of the news, or "recording of history" on a community news level.
    The tone some referring to publishing submitted content as "little more than a public toilet on whose walls passersby can scrawl their own graffiti" is evidence of the pompousness of some journalists who feel they can do the job better than the average person or are better for providing that information to the public. They likely subconsciously feel they are somehow better than these average people, who often turn to us to tell their stories for them.
    The thing is, most of your readership are "average people" who just want to be involved. They want to be treated as though their stories mean something and in turn, will often let us know of breaking stories, leads on interesting features and links within the community for information we may not be able to get elsewhere.
    The Toronto-centric folks act as though newspapers are above those who submit content, when those who are feeding us stories and photos are often some of the most involved in our area.
    From the sounds of it, a lot of these haters wouldn't last six months in a community like ours because attitudes like that burn bridges. It's nothing like a city atmosphere where you can write and forget about your subject... here you'll likely run into them at the grocery store or at a community event the next week.
    I still have the freedom to break news stories (like I did when I first wrote about the Bruce Power Steam Generator Shipment), but this new atmosphere limits my time and forces me to ask the community for help to record the more minor photo features and stories, which still mean a lot to our readers.
    As some referenced, I would like so many of you to fill my shoes for a week, work the 50 hours living paycheque-to-paycheque with a family to feed and spend time with, compete with one other strong independent print newspaper, a strong online competitor and three radio stations, while attempting to scoop yourself each week when you file regularly for your flagship daily (Owen Sound).
    I'm an editor, a journalist for hard-news/feature stories/general news/online content manager, photo editor, special edition manager and community liaison. Soon we'll have video to shoot and edit on top of that. I have one reporter and a freelancer to help out. Our print competitor has an editor and two full-time reporters. Try living that life without losing ground.
    I'm so thankful to work for a community newspaper and shame on whoever thinks they're above what I referred to.
    Once you take out the spin and actually hear both sides, I'm not the demon you demonized after all. Neither are the ideas I regurgitated from our company's big wigs.
    Next time, why not ask me what I mean rather than assuming? Or are you to 'lazy' to pick up the phone or fire off an e-mail.
    Troy Patterson - Editor