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A danger of outsourcing journalism

I think newspapers need to focus locally to survive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, here. Newspapers need to focus locally to survive. See? I just said it again.

On June 2, Postmedia papers announced that Christie Blatchford had joined the company and would publish a column. Here is a selection of Postmedia papers’ announcements:

Montreal Gazette:

Columnist, feature writer and award-winning author Christie Blatchford is coming to The Gazette and Postmedia.

Blatchford was named National Columnist on Wednesday. She will bring her inimitable style of news reporting and opinion writing to the Postmedia chain of papers as of June 13. She will write on issues ranging from crime and courts to politics, from native affairs to Olympic sports, and whatever else catches her fancy.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix:

Columnist, feature writer and award-winning author Christie Blatchford is coming to The StarPhoenix and Postmedia.

Blatchford was named National Columnist on Wednesday. She will bring her inimitable style of news reporting and opinion writing to the Postmedia chain of papers as of June 13. She will write on issues ranging from crime and courts to politics, from Native affairs to Olympic sports, and whatever else catches her fancy.

Calgary Herald:

Columnist, feature writer and award-winning author Christie Blatchford is coming to the Calgary Herald and Postmedia.

Blatchford was named national columnist on Wednesday. She will bring her inimitable style of news reporting and opinion writing to the Postmedia chain of papers as of June 13. She will write on issues ranging from crime and courts to politics, from native affairs to Olympic sports, and whatever else catches her fancy.

Although I could, I need not go on.

OK, so Blatchford is a national columnist writing on supposedly national issues. So what does Postmedia’s Canada get today? Blatchford wrote about a murder trial in Toronto that is of practically zero interest outside of Toronto.

It’s a trial for second-degree murder. It’s not even first-degree murder! Seriously, though, Blatchford’s column is simple court reporting. She puts forward no lessons, draws no parallels, and starts with a cheesy lead: “After lunch at a Toronto McDonald’s on a sunny spring Saturday last year, a six-year-old girl was tucked safely into her booster seat in the family car, pink knapsack at the ready, when her parents began quarrelling.”

You’d think that a lead like that would start an article talking about the effect on a child of her mother killing her father, but no. Like I said, this is a straightforward piece of court reporting.

My lead above? My lead states that newspapers need to get local to survive. None of this is local, except to Toronto. It’s just another cost-saving measure gone wrong. It’s cheaper to pay one occasionally irrelevant columnist than to hire an eager reporter in each client city.

Can someone at Postmedia please chime in and tell Montrealers and other non-Torontonians why we should continue to pay for content like this? Me? I’ll be grading the work of journalism students who I hope can get work some day.

2 Responses to “A danger of outsourcing journalism”

  • I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts on the the prospects for journalism students. My grade 10 daughter just informed me last night that she’s giving serious thought to a career in journalism. I wasn’t sure how to react. The situation seems pretty clear in the traditional media. But I wonder if the explosion of new media and the internet meaqns that a journalist is afforded new opportunities, or just many many more low-paying (or no-paying) jobs?

  • Webs:

    A few students go on to great things. I have former students working around the world, primarily in TV news. A few pass through the Gazette on their way to greater and lesser things.

    The prospects aren’t great. Journalism is run by bean counters. If they can pay a younger reporter 50% of what they pay a current staffer for work that is, say, 75% of the quality, they’ll fire the experienced staffer and hire the cub reporter. Five years down the line, when the former cub reporter starts to make a decent wage, she’s turfed for someone even younger.

    There are few stable jobs. It’s not a great way to feed yourself, unless you mean metaphorically.

    But I’m a cynic.

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