Wednesday, December 2, 2009

If anyone needs me, I’ll be on the cutting room floor

Back in the old days, when we killed trees to tell people that it snowed yesterday, we operated under word counts.

We wrote in pyramid styles, expected our articles to be cut off at the ankles and hid them under awkward headlines that were missing prepositions.

Then we plugged in. Instead of going to your address and whacking your home with rolled up newsprint, we gave you our address and invited you to click on us at your convenience.

No more word counts, no more missing prepositions. Right?


Articles in newsprint are sometimes cut down to size, but I say the hacked version doesn’t have to end up online.

My newsroom has trouble distinguishing between media. The shrunken head that screams out its disjointed message from the newsstand is the same topper for the online product even though there’s plenty of room for more words.

The prospect of the Internet running out of space is a real one without enough IP addresses to locate information. But I hardly think butchering my work to fit nicely in a one-column, eight-inch hole won’t send the web crashing down if the uncut version ends up online.

A digital option shouldn’t just be a cookie cutter of the print product. Anyone who thinks otherwise deserves a kick in the ‘as.’

The Hyper Journalist


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day Nov. 12 or later

Remembrance Day. No longer a national holiday, and all the more reason to shine.

Most of us will be at work or school, maybe recognizing a couple of minutes of silence at 11 a.m. Whether we’re celebrity watchers tuning in to see Prince Charles and Camilla in Ottawa, or wondering what took place at our local cenotaphs, we’ll hopefully deliver the images the public is looking for.

For my part, that means a late lunch to put together an online feature ASAP after our local ceremony. No more slacking for hours knowing the images and information won’t appear until the next day. The prospect of layoffs is a great motivator.

I’m determined to post before our rivals. We’ve got TV beat by six hours, and radio is blind to eye candy. I don’t even think about the print product anymore since the event will be long over before the dead trees hit the press let alone doorsteps.

I plan to take a peek at online weekly newspapers to see if they break with their snail’s pace tradition of only posting once a week. I bet my poppy their online work will be hidden away and only see the light of day when their latest issue hits the stand.

I look at their sites fondly as nostalgia, since I can’t in good conscience consider them news.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The bionically challenged newsroom

Joe Reporter, multimedia journalist. An industry barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology.

My newsroom doesn’t have the luxury of professional video cameras, mics, a video suite or digital recorders. We’re making due with what we have. Sometimes it’s not half bad, although our hands are tied to move to the next level producing a professional-looking product.

Doubtful we’ll ever have access to better equipment. There are a few choice pieces of technology, and I have a few choice words about how they’ve been distributed. We’re patiently tolerant with the endless speeches about how news is immediate, yet the one editor who brags about not being able to use a computer was given the department’s only mobile media device. I’m optimistic its owner will one day learn how to switch it on.

Our best computer with the fastest processing speed and best software for video production is used by that same editor for writing text and is usually off limits to the rest of us.

I don’t expect to be consulted on what equipment we should buy or who should have access to it. I expect someone sitting in an ivory tower to decide that for me.

I recommend a splashy new work SUV slapped with our logo, flashing lights and bum warmers. We can park it on blocks and misuse it as a fridge to store the beer that will help us forget about backward decisions.

Tsilanruoj Repyh Eht


Monday, November 9, 2009

Flu, craps and fake photos

I tip my toque to bloggers with full-time jobs who keep up their ramblings in the midst of a flu outbreak.

My newsroom had casualties, and we’ve never been so busy -- and so efficient. We’re a mixed bag of talkers and doers, and it turns out the talkers were rendered mute by sore throats. With that heavy layer of administration out of the way, reporters have been producing more and better work.

There appears to be another wave of layoffs in media. With my own newsroom in mind, I find myself hopeful that our chaff might being separated from the wheat. An opinion piece on The Globe website reminds me of the bigger picture. As media hemorrhages staff, we're losing the ability to fight the onslaught of supplied photos and information. We're guilty of blindly posting information that's supplied to us, although that has stopped for a time thanks to the flu bug, not good judgment.

Stephen Harper’s team is busy releasing heroic photos of him, including the infamous kinder, gentler leader performing on the piano during a gala last month. His handlers apologized for releasing wrong information when it was learned the photo was taken during a rehearsal, although they’ve never corrected the cutline.

More people are receiving or distributing news through blogs that rely on supplied photos and information, but they don't challenge what’s being fed to them. Government and business supply photos all the time. The difference is now they know media are losing the workforce they need to challenge this information.

They hold all the cards while we're losing our players.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, October 30, 2009


I get the big picture. It’s the little details that escape me.

For the longest time, I thought <3 was a dirty DM joke. A pair of breasts, a bum, a scrotum and such. Turns out it’s a heart; a gesture of affection.

Clearly, I’m not getting the lingo.

It’s not that I use Internet abbreviations. But if I’m going to use social media as an acceptable voyeuristic tool to find out what’s on someone’s mind, I need to crack their codes.

I looked up acronyms and was shocked at how many codes for kids to let chatroom buddies know if parents are in the room, or to give instructions about getting naked in front of the web camera. That would be hilarious if that wasn’t so creepy.

During summer festivals, there was little distinction between bands that were shit and others that were the shit.

Doubtful I’ll ever share a <3 in my tweets, but it will totally change the mood in the messages that I get from now on.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pedigrees and privacy

I’ll have to direct you to our media department.

I’m not authorized to comment.

I could lose my job if I talk to you.

Media is moving faster, yet it seems the process of getting people to talk is moving slower. When you finally reach someone who is allowed to comment, they don’t always bother to return calls. And so it begins: Moving down the guest list from the A players, to the secondary sources and so on, stopping before we become no better than tabloid celebrity

This week, I will pick up Rick Hillier’s tell-all book A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats And The Politics Of War. No sex, drugs and rock and roll, but a candid and at times contemptuous look at the petty workings of the Canadian government and how it drove the country’s top soldier in Afghanistan to turn to other countries for quick response to quash terrorism cells.

I’m lapping up every TV, radio and online report I can find. Much of the appeal is Hillier’s blunt perceptions about what has gone wrong in the Canadian military to the detriment of the soldiers that I believe he truly strives to protect and support.

I find unions and pensioners are tops when it comes to unfettered albeit biased opinions, but freedom of the press is under the gun as industries hide behind false privacy pretence and rank to abandon their responsibility to explain themselves.

How can we be watchdogs in our communities when everyone is afraid to talk? How low do journalists have to go on our guest lists to scrape together stories and feed the public’s appetite for immediate news?

The Hyper Journalist


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Roll up your sleeves

The H1N1 outbreak shows how essential it is to provide up-to-the minute information, and how print and stale websites fall short.

It was a mad dash to isolate the strain and produce a vaccine. Canada even sought special ministerial permission to distribute the vaccine to provinces and territories before it was approved to save time dispensing it to health authorities for flu clinics. The health authority where I live received its first batch hours after that approval came this week.

I’ll bet these health authorities were flooded with calls from media and people wanting advice and wondering when the vaccine would available. Major online newspapers have H1N1 special sections with updates, features, polls, videos and other bells and whistles. Smaller online products that don’t update often do their communities a disservice by not providing timely information. The print product is always behind.

However, online newspapers that list stories that get the most hits don’t show H1N1 in their top 10 lately. Am I overestimating public interest? I hope not.

Some cities are rolling out the shots to high-risk groups first, others are making them available to everyone right out of the chute. The Globe and Mail has an interesting breakdown by province. There’s constantly changing information about whether children should receive one or two shots, whether pregnant women should wait for the unadjuvanted vaccine expected in early November or get their shot now when the outbreak is in its second wave.

Is it news or alarmist to shed light on scares about vaccines causing autism and neurological problems, or if the mercury content in the H1N1 vaccine can harm children? Canada’s chief public health officer is urging people to get the shot, and I suspect we’ll all rush out to get the money shot of the first mass vaccination clinics starting Monday in many communities.

The global death toll is nearing 5,000 -- that’s about the number of Canadians who die annually from complications to the seasonal flu. The push for vaccinations is to prevent H1N1 statistics from growing exponentially.

Media outlets big and small have a responsibility to provide the information to help people make informed decisions. When the information changes so often, that standard rises.

I’m grateful to the online newspapers that are updating often, because I’m also trying to decide whether to roll up my sleeve. I’m even more incensed at online sites that still think it’s OK to update at a snail’s pace. When it counts most, they’re asleep at the switch.

The Hyper Journalist