Enough already with the cocktail party columnists

March 14, 2009

Reading Margaret Wente in the Globe is often unsettling. You recognize the events she’s talking about, you know she’s making observations about the country you live in. But strangely, none of the people know know seem to be living in Wente’s Canada.

I usually don’t mind that Wente’s universe seems to be entirely contained within a few of the nicer Toronto neighbourhoods. It’s even good for a few laughs at times. But today’s column from Wente about how nouveau chic frugality suddenly is, caught in my throat for some reason.

Maybe it’s her admission that the two-person $235 sushi dinner she had the other day looks a little obscene now, even though it used to be a normal treat of their hard-working family before the recession. Maybe it’s the faux-zen reasoning that makes her think people who lost their job get healthier because they have more time to exercise (with a quote from an economist, no less). Maybe it’s residual anger from Jon Stewart’s clobbering of Jim Cramer on the Daily Show.

Or, maybe the column reminds me how frustrating it is to talk with those high-flying columnists with an worldview so limited that you just can’t find anything that will resonate with them. They know the world through the friends they meet for brunch on Sunday, the New Yorker writers they admire and quaint family stories about how their grandparents worked hard to get their kids in college, without taking a handout from the government.

Times are hard for the media. Revenues are declining and the future looks bleak. If daily newspapers are still unwilling to cut on the money it spends on columnists, could they at least replace the cocktail party columnists with people whose writings are relevant to the current situation?


Poll: National Geographic vs. Alberta oil sands

March 8, 2009

This post below received quite a few visits since it got posted a few hours ago. This looks like a good opportunity for a little poll. So read the post and vote if you are so inclined.

National Geographic and the oilsands: what the heck are they complaining about in Calgary?

March 8, 2009

I’ve been scratching my head for a few days now, trying to make sense of the uproar out West about the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine. The venerable yellow-framed publication, famous for the quality of its pictures and focus on conservation, ran a 20-page section on Alberta’s ‘oilsands’. It illustrates the dark side of the sand operations – you know, the scoured landscape, the sick people, the dead birds, the complete lack of restraint from the industry.

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

The Oil Patch loves playing the victim

Gary Lamphier in the Edmonton Journal denounces it as eco-propaganda. Predictably, the National Post is outraged. Biased, soft-handed tree-huggers from New York, don’t they know they need Canadian oil to drive from their country home to their Manhattan office?

But reading the magazine made me wonder why the heck they are complaining about.

Sure, a text in National Geographic about the oilsands would be cause to send Cheryl Rubb at Syncrude’s media relations service into a panic. But as it turns out, the oil patch, as well as the Alberta government, have plenty of reasons to rejoice: even a cursory reading of the magazine’s text shows that it contains all the messages they’ve been trying to get through to Americans for years:

  • Canada is America’s no. 1 oil supplier and has reserves greater than Saudi Arabia’s.
  • Canadian oil is the best way to reduce America’s dependency on oil from the Middle-East.
  • Alberta’s oilsands are open for business: it’s full steam ahead and development will not slow down.
  • Extraction even of the deeper oil is plenty profitable.
  • In the grand scheme of things, the oilsands’ carbon footprint is negligible and First Nations are seeing this as an opportunity.

As for the environmental aspect of the oilsands, the text makes it clear that it’s a Canadian problem that has no impact on the U.S. Canada wants to turn part of their own countryside into a hellish hellhole to pump oil south of the border. It’s their business.

I’m sure the oil patch’s PR wizards see it that way, if they have any wits. Curiously, it’s the newsroom hacks who get blinded by rage. Lamphier can’t even get past the pictures:

“No one reads National Geographic. Like Playboy, it’s all about the pictures. And you can bet that everyone from Al Gore to David Suzuki to the righteous folks at Greenpeace will be using the magazine’s grim photos to convince the pliable masses, and U.S. politicians, that the oilsands are indeed the world’s greatest eco-disaster.”

Right. Apparently publishers have a responsibility not only to be balanced, but also not to publish pictures that could be used to support a public relations campaign. Interesting how the ethics of journalism shift with who is doing the spinning.

If Lamphier and the National Post editorial board like to pretend American public opinion is ripe for an eco-crusade involving oil production right now, it’s fine. After all, we’re used to frequent high-pitched whining from either of those sources. But nobody should think their outrage has anything to do with reality.

POLL UPDATE: What do you think? Take the poll!

Rocky Mountain News’ farewell video

February 27, 2009

The Denver’s Rocky Mountain News published its last edition today. It’s a local bit of news within a global catastrophe for the print media (and much of the electronic). The farewell video put together by the staff illustrates a whole range of issues linked to the changing industry, as well as captures the human side of the event.

Lest this blog becomes entirely about the media, I better try to avert my eyes from all those ‘media in trouble’ news items and get back to my PR notebook. Until the Canwest goes bankrupt, of course.

Here’s a great stolen podcast

February 27, 2009

I have no particular comments on the content of this podcast, which is a slightly more entertaining version of the standard discussion one can find all over the Internet in these difficult times for the media. I just wanted to see if the inter-Wordpress ’embed’ function worked well.

Okay, it works – copy, paste. Nice.

The podcast’s real home is here on Inkless Wells and here on Coyne’s blog, of course.

Congratulations, Hélène Buzetti

February 27, 2009

Today, Hélène Buzetti was elected President of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery. Félicitations. Richard ‘Badger’ Brennan did not run again, after two years marked by a difficult relationship with the Prime Minister’s Office (and some victories for the reporters – kind of).

The Press Gallery is much less useful than it used to be (from a PR point of view, that is). With the proper invitation, a flack could walk in to schmooze and booze with the members of the old boys’ club. Things have changed – they even closed the bar a couple of years ago, for lack of patrons. And of course, women have risen to the top of the profession, through skill, dedication and force of will.

Cheers! To a better Press Gallery.

CBC needs $ 65 million, fast

February 25, 2009

The CBC is deep in the redbecause, well, nobody’s buying advertizing time right now. Apparently discussions are already under way with Heritage Canada. Most government-watchers I talk to agree there will be some kind of rescue funding but some cuts will have to be made – the process is already underway internally. There shall be pain.

It’s nice to see the dismal situation has not affected CBC VP Stursberg’s metaphorical speaking style. “The revenues fell off a cliff. … I have not seen a slide that precipitous and that deep in my entire life.”

So is the Mother Corp sinking?

“We have not been able to bail the boat as quickly as the water is coming in over the gunwales.”

Better keep pumpin’, mate!

February 26 update: Okay, so it seems the government isn’t seriously considering additional funding for the CBC after all. Perhaps my contact were doing a little spin themselves… Still, there are many ways to get money to the CBC and not call it a bailout. Let’s see what happens now.