Sunday, July 11, 2010

Condolences and career advice from City council

As the shock of Monday's announcement of the pending closure of the city's 99 year old print tradition the Daily News begins to sink in, the city's political class has been quick to offer their thoughts, concerns and advice as it turns out to the soon to be unemployed.

Like a gaggle of advice columnists, council members put on their Dear Abby hats for Thursday's edition and offered up a number of talking points regarding the unfortunate news.

First of all, they of course rightly offered up their condolences to those that will soon lose their jobs, many of whom will no doubt be forced to relocate away from the city that they have called home for varying amounts of time.

Council members on Monday put forward a motion asking that Black Press offer up some form of explanation for their decision and their future intentions.

They may have received their answer later in the week via TV 7 with this remarkable bit of candour and or spin from Rick O'Connor of Black Press, (see video here)  (print version here) who outlined the dire financial circumstances of the paper and how those financial prospects don't appear to be reversing any time soon, a situation that according to Black Press left them with no other option but to close the long running Rupert mainstay.

Now while some of that is most likely a bit of public relations work over an emotional subject, there surely is some financial sense to the recitation of fact as presented by Black Press, when it comes to the bottom line of operating a daily newspaper in these times.

If council were to gain a personal audience with Mr. O'Connor or some other Black Press official, we imagine their commentary might go something like this:

"Mayor, council members we appear in front of your panel today with a sense of regret over what we felt was a hard, but necessary business decision. 

Our purchase of the Daily News  was part of a larger package of purchases of troubled newspapers across the province, indicative of the ravages of recessionary times, something that you no doubt are aware of.  

In fact in your own community, you have seen your population almost drop in half over the last ten years that's 50% less subscribers for a daily paper,  as you can imagine without subscribers there is less incentive to advertise.

In fact, due to the economic situation in your community, there is significantly less  of those advertisers to seek out these days. 

If you were to walk just two or three blocks in any direction from this chamber, you will see boarded up windows, abandoned store fronts, going out of business signs and this building for sale signs, all indicative of an economy in serious distress.

For us, those are advertisers that are gone or going, as you know advertising is the main lifeblood of a business venture, without that commercial class there is no revenue, without revenue there is in our case no paper.

Unlike the elected officials in this chamber, we cannot pass on the rising costs of operation with yearly tax increases such as this council puts forward, for if we did there would be in our opinion an exodus of support and a further erosion of revenues and capital.

Thank you for your concern over the fate of our business, but the trying economic times of your city has left us with little option but to regrettably close down the paper.

Or, they could just tell council that it was a business decision in troubled times and leave it at that.

Either way there really isn't much that council can do about the situation other than to wish the departing well and maybe throw in a few suggestions.

Towards that thought Council has offered up some career advice for the workers at the Daily News, with  Mayor Mussallem and Councillor Bedard thinking aloud that perhaps the employees could band together and start up their own daily paper, or perhaps that Black Press could expand their efforts into a daily operation.

A rather remarkable and perhaps overly optmistic  pair of suggestions, considering the financial outline  presented to CFTK by Black Press  (see above) regarding the cost effectiveness of running a daily paper in a depressed economy.

As for the idea that the displaced employees could operate their own version of a daily newspaper in this city's worrisome economic climate, we imagine that  the idea is a non starter considering the cost involved and the investment that would be required. Especially from a group that surely weren't making huge amounts of money in the first place and probably would not be inclined to put their family investment dollars at risk.

Councillor Thorkelson expressed her disappointment at the end days of the newspaper and offered up advice to those residents now left adrift in the quest of information about their city.  Warning them away it seems from the world of blogs and such, which in her opinion it seems spread nothing but misinformation.

Now we digress from our treatise here for a moment, with a thought on that, while we won't speak for any other site, blog or message board in the region that offers up commentary on the issues of the day. Our efforts here in the evil blogosphere has to our thinking at least, not descended into a world of misinformation, for the most part we outline items that we think might be of interest to the community, striving to strike a balance between the two sides of any particular issue.

If the council members or other interestested Rupertites are inclined to some light summer reading, we invite them to puruse our archives, those taking the time will find that a good number of the items highlighted on the blog, appeared here first, then as they might discover a few days or more later,  similar items of note would be distributed by what we imagine the councillor considers the more "respected" and "reliable"  media outlets in the city.

As in anything generalizations and characterizations about any expression of opinion and information is a dangerous principle to follow, free expression mindful of appropriate libel or slander laws, is one of the corner stones of most democracies, even in small, isolated northern Canadian towns.

And while we're on the topic of the dissemination of information, it's just a tad interesting to hear council express concerns about the pending reduction in  those options for the flow of information to the community. Considering that this council and previous ones through the recent years past, have been at times perhaps some of the most secretive sessions of governance sine the days of the Soviet Politburos.

While all Rupertites no doubt will wish the soon to be unemployed well and offer a fervent hope that they all find successful and rewarding employment in the future, those employees reading council's contemplative words may find some of their comments a tad ironic.

While council this week praised the paper for its efforts and bemoan the loss of their voice, as the saying goes, twas not always so.

Over the years going back as far as Pete Lester and beyond, council members have famously been contributors to the editorial pages of  the city's various newspapers weighing in on many items of concern, frequently with a tsk, tsk at some of the local coverage.

In recent times, at the height of the city hall hiring tempest of a few years ago, there was much coverage  of that thorny issue and some other of the particularly controversial events in the city, a topic that made for much discussion around town, reflected in the paper, it's editorials and letter to the editor pages.

in fact the Mayor at that time used both the Daily News and the city's own e newsletter to  to offer up his thoughts on some of those events, in his letter to the Daily at the time on the issue of delays on the Rusbrook trail project, he seemed to chastise the paper for fixating on what he called the "complainers"

Shortly after that bit of advice,  he joined in with Dave MacDonald the Mayor of Port Edward  to take the Daily to task over what they believed was a wrong direction of reporting, the tone of the civic government as expressed by the Mayors of Prince Rueprt and Port Edward in this letter to the editor was that the paper had taken a "notable shift to negativity and serves our community poorly"

Interestingly enough it wasn't that much longer after those suggestions, that the Daily News developed it's more "positive news agenda", a remake of the paper explained not once but twice by the change of command.

A result that as time would move forward would at times seem to strive to avoid any suggestion of controversy, featured a remarkable increase of good news stories and at times  seemed to move comprehensive reporting of any potential explosive issues off of the front pages.

So perhaps a little political pressure from the past and the chill on journalism that it may have provided for, can also be held accountable for the closure announcement of earlier this week.

A little further into that past and perhaps as a precursor to those mayoralty impressions of "negativity" there were a number of articles and commentaries by then Daily News reporter Leanne Ritchie (one of our favourite of reporters of the recent era of the paper by the way) who in one most memorable column, rightly asked questions over the then sale of CityWest, an instructive piece for the community which seemed to ask some very difficult questions on a then controversial topic.  (Which by the way, is what  great journalism is all about.)

Within six months of that impressive review of some mysterious events and a after a number of fine articles about the machinations of civic governance, Ms. Ritchie a more than capable reporter on the city council beat disappeared from the pages of the Daily News without even the customary "thanks for reading, I've loved my time here" column, and while we don't subscribe to conspiracy theories or wish to be accused of spreading "misinformation", we never really did learn why Ms. Ritchie suddenly no longer appeared in print after those flash point reports and commentaries.

News of her departure eventually was provided by then editor Earle Gale who brought us up to speed to a fashion, while introducing us to her replacement George T. Baker, who took over the council beat at a time of high drama and provided some helpful background on yet another city hall mystery with his review of the Coast Hotel penthouse meeting of council in November of 2008.

Ms. Ritchie was followed out the door less than six months later by the very same Mr. Gale,  the popular editor of the paper during perhaps some of the most controversial of times that city hall had seen in a long time, Mr. Earle at least was allowed to provide for his own farewell before handing in his keys to the building.

His departure spawned more commentary in the Daily News, with a review of the state of journalism in the community from former reporter James Vassallo, who seemed to nail on the head the changing times of the news agenda at the paper, first posted to the local chat board hackingthemainframe, it eventually would made it to the pages of the new version of the Daily News.

And of course more recently there was the now famous letter to the Northern View from Mayor Jack Mussallem, who took offence to an editorial in the Northern View over the Mayor's non appearance at the All Native Basketball opening ceremonies.

The Mayor in a most remarkable diatribe of anger, that perhaps could have used a second and third thought before hitting the send button or making it into a mailbox,  suggested that the "amateur editor's view is filled with innuendo and feces".  Using a strange third person reference to himself , he suggested to Mr. Thomas that , "in reality, the Mayor should give you a swift kick in the ass."

So as we see, when it comes to the political folks, it hasn't always been roses and chocolates for the ink stained lads and lasses of the city's media.

And while the employees are no doubt thankful for the kind thoughts from their elected officials at this time of personal travail, they most likely would have preferred if the city's council had focused on the issues of the day and formulated some kind of economic plan that resulted in a thriving business class, a growing population and thus a support base for a daily newspaper.

Now that, would be something to put into a headline of the Daily News, but instead the reality is that the community they live in and for some the one  they now will have to leave, is nowhere near the same community that they may remember from the past, or arrived in to work their craft.

For the archives, here's the Thursday review from council.

City Council wants answers regarding Daily News closure 
By Monica Lamb-Yorski 
Staff Writer 
Prince Rupert Daily News 
Thursday, July 8, 2010 

The shock of the announced closure of the Prince Rupert Daily News is even being felt within council chambers.

The demise of the Daily News came up at City Hall Tuesday evening with council unanimously passing a motion to write Black Press, asking what the company’s intentions are going forward with print media in Prince Rupert.

 “I think we’re all very sad to hear that the Daily is closing down and can’t imagine Prince Rupert without a daily,” said Councillor Joy Thorkelson before putting forward the motion.

 “It’s concerting to me about the consolidation of print media in town. It’s very sad when a company creates a monopoly and then shuts down newspapers.”

 Thorkelson also wondered where the paper will be printed. Presently it is printed in Williams Lake. 

“We’re losing 21 jobs and I think that’s a concern to our community, plus the general ability to disseminate information. I know that some people are in love with media blogs, but I find they mostly tend to spread misinformation,” she said, adding she’d rather have professional journalists delivering the news.

Councillor Anna Ashley said the community will still have some sort of newspaper in town, regardless of how that structure will work with the Northern View moving forward, yet she will miss the community-mindedness of the Daily News and its team.

“It’s really kind of sad,” she added.

While Councillor Kathy Bedard said it was sad news, she also sees it as an opportunity.

 “There may be an opportunity for the existing print media to step up and make it a daily. We always take the black side, forgive the pun, but I think there are opportunities there that are exposing themselves to this community,” she suggested.

Bedard commented on the Daily News lasting 99 years.

 “I think we should celebrate that fact, but I think the tenure of the letter should be that we understand this is a business decision, but as a council we think this is a poor decision because your visibility will be missed,” she said.

“Unless we buy into the fact that our community is changing, then we are being a gloom and doom council as well. I really hate to see people go, but maybe some of those people will say, ‘heh, we can run a newspaper’, there is a positive spin to this, we just have to get over the sadness of it because it’s just been released to the public,” she added.

Mayor Jack Mussallem reminded Council that’s what started Prince Rupert This Week, a publication that ran independently for a decade.

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