Is this journalism?

When it comes to journalism, I’m not not much of an academic. I teach it in university from a strictly practical perspective.

When faced with the question “What is journalism?”, I don’t have an academic definitions to fall back on. I consider the act of journalism to be a black box. Facts go in one end and interpretation comes out the other. Journalism takes a complicated stew of facts and opinions and turns them into summaries that are more easily understood.

It is with that definition in mind that I looked at Rookie, a new Web site for sports stories. I intentionally avoided the word “journalism” there because the site doesn’t mention it on its About page:

Rookie is a sports site. But it’s not like any sports site you’ve read before. Instead of regurgitating the same scores and boring articles as everyone else, we’re working behind the scenes, hand-selecting the storylines that are important, and using quotes and comments from people that matter to tell them (players, coaches, and insiders). Accompanying the stories are the best sports photos you’ll find this side of an art gallery.

And that’s what it does. Each “storyline” is a collation of quotes from other journalistic enterprises and Twitter. Rookie doesn’t even try to write articles, boring or fresh.

Each storyline does have an introductory paragraph. It’s something. Is it enough to pass as journalism according to my definition? I think so, but only because of that paragraph. Blurbs count.

Does that make this good journalism, though? I doubt it. Good journalism would incorporate those quotes in an article instead of leaving them in list layout. Am I being to old-fashioned?

One thing unquestionably positive about Rookie is it’s pretty. The layout is stunning.

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.

Poor decisions in Web management

The Montreal Gazette’s Habs Inside/Out site has grown over a few short years into the de facto destination for English-speaking fans of the Montreal Canadiens. The word “Habs”, of course, is short for “habitants”, which is what the early French-Canadians – the Canadiens – were called in the 17th century.

The Club de Hockey Canadien Inc. asked the Gazette to stop using the word “Habs” in reference to its Web site. It’s arguable whether or not the Canadiens can uphold a trademark on the nickname, but the Gazette capitulated and renamed the site Hockey Inside/Out.

Notwithstanding some grumbling from the hoi polloi, such a change is easily accomplished. You register the new domain name, hockeyinsideout.com, and transfer the content of your habsinsideout.com site to the new domain. Sure, you may have to change a few links here or there with a global find and replace, but the site will remain robust.

Instead, the Gazette took the opportunity to move the entire site to WordPress. What a hellacious mistake. The site has lost all reader comments and much of contributor Mike Boone’s post-game analyses. I can’t even show you what the old site looked like because the Web team has trashed the CSS code it used to use. Even links to old stories no longer work.

Audiences are conservative. They don’t like change. In this case, the audience is right. Take a look at this malfunctioning page of crap. It used to have dozens of comments. Go ahead and try the link to Boone’s “Quick Hits/About Saturday afternoon…”. Or try the link to the unhappily formatted “Afternoon delight”.

I’ve just spent two weeks at my dad’s apartment while his wife was back home in the Bahamas taking care of affairs. I did pretty darned well without a newspaper. Missteps like this make it easier.

Bonus knee news:

I can walk at about 90% efficiency thanks to physio. I can’t run, skate, jump, etc. yet. I do know that jumping off a bench hurts.