Tag Archives: Canadian-Press

Media, correct thyself

Apparently, the CBC News Network today accidentally broadcast 45 minutes of Olympic coverage coast to coast.

Errors happen (especially these days when fewer people are controlling more channels), and though I’m not quite satisfied by the explanation that this was a “technical issue”, what amuses me about this story is the errant headline produced by Canadian Press about it (since corrected), that lets us see which websites don’t even read stories before they’re posted:

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Copy editing: Does outsourcing it make sense?

As newspapers look forward to an increasingly bleak economic future, their managers are beginning to contemplate drastic measures to cut staff and/or expenses while doing their best to avoid cutting their most important jobs: middle managers reporters.

One of the measures that seems to be in vogue recently is the outsourcing or centralization of editorial page production and copy editing. Instead of having staff lay out pages and write headlines, editors ship reporters’ copy to a specialized production house where a team of dedicated personnel put the page together at a lower cost. Canadian Press has become the latest to jump into this field (Canwest and Sun Media are already there), signing a deal with Australia’s Pagemasters to setup a North American production house.

Since my job at The Gazette is a copy editor, and Canwest also uses this kind of centralization (though to another division within Canwest), I’m not exactly a detached observer here. My union is attempting to fight the outsourcing of this work, while at least one manager at a sister paper seems to support the freedom from dealing with “mechanical” and “tedious” pagination.

But with that in mind, I have to be honest with myself, and ask: Does this work? Is this the future? Is employee opposition to this way of functioning just a matter of saving their own jobs? Or is there something inherently better about having your own copy editing staff – something that is worth more than the cost savings of outsourcing?

Some small newspapers and magazines don’t do page layout at all. They don’t have the staff for it. So they leave the layout to the experts. As the budgets crunch, larger papers who have copy editing and design staff are considering moving the work of less important pages at the back of the paper onto these production houses and concentrating their efforts on the section fronts and local news pages that are most important to readers.

Does it cost less to have a page produced by one of these production houses than to have one of your own copy editors put it together? To answer that question, one has to look at where those cost savings come from. The unions would have us believe (and no doubt there is a lot of truth to this) that the savings come mostly from paying workers less in salary and benefits. Instead of veteran, unionized copy editors, the pages would be laid out by inexperienced cheap labour. They would also point out the downside of this: the non-unionized employees are cheap, have no emotional connection to the newspaper, and might make errors because of their lack of familiarity with either the newspaper’s style or local culture. These subtle issues may be dismissed by a bean-counter, but they make a difference to readers. At least, we’d like to think they do. In reality, readers aren’t nearly as observant as we sometimes think they should be.

When rolling out these systems, both the outsourcer and outsourcee make it clear that local editors approve of the layouts and headlines done by the third party. This technically ensures local control, but in practice an editor under time and budget constraints might accept a mediocre job done by an outsourced worker instead of spending the time (and possibly money) to send it back with instructions on how to do it right.

The employers and media empires say the cost savings come mainly from centralization – instead of having a dozen people doing the same thing at a dozen different newspapers, one or two people can do the same job at one central location for all of them. This argument makes sense for things like sports scores and stock listings (which will be mostly the same for different newspapers in the same country). But what about news stories? Each newspaper will lay those out differently depending on what stories they decide to publish, which ones they deem important, and of course what kind of layout they have to work with above the ads. Since no two newspaper pages are the same (copy-and-paste exceptions notwithstanding), it’s hard to see where centralization brings efficiency here for large newspapers who already have staff who are experts in page design.

The other potential problem down the road is that this might encourage newspapers within a similar ownership group to become more like each other (kind of like the Sun papers). If newspapers have the same page dimensions, typefaces and designs, they become easier to duplicate, reducing seemingly redundant work. Centralized workers can simply copy and paste the content from one to the other. And that could lead to newspapers across the country having identical international news pages or national business pages, for example. Eventually the papers could all become identical, save for the front page and a few holes for local news.

On one hand, it sounds bad. On the other hand, it sounds silly for people in different newsrooms at different papers to edit the same wire stories about the same news events. It’s a question of whether readers think that having a local editor editing a non-local wire story is really important enough to dismiss that potential savings.

I don’t have nearly enough facts to make a complete determination of whether this centralization is good or bad in the long term for newspapers (even if I did, the decisions on such subjects are made at a much higher pay grade), and a lot of these issues are still being wrestled with by people on all three sides of this equation.

Only time will tell if this trend will save significant money for major newspaper publishers, or if there will be a backlash from readers. Either way, the problems facing newspapers are much larger than whether the person laying out pages is local or not.

CP gets in on iPhone craze

Canadian Press has launched an iPhone application where – for $3 a year – you can get access to breaking news from the CP newswire, CTVglobemedia (The Globe and Mail), Transcontinental (some Atlantic papers), Torstar (Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator) and FP Newspapers (Winnipeg Free Press).

In other words, major publishers except Canwest, Quebecor or the CBC.

The application is basically the same as the CP’s mobile-enabled website, except with GPS functionality added, according to the press release.

Since the only local Montreal news it has right now is from CFCF, I don’t see much advantage to GPSness.

Besides, even if this is successful it’s just going to steal traffic away from CP member sites, and $3 a year isn’t about to pay for a nationwide team of journalists.

Let’s just assume I’m missing something here, some key that actually turns this into a revenue source for CP or its members.

CP cuts 25 jobs

To those who might think that wire services, whose content is replacing a lot of laid-off journalists, might be immune to the crisis affecting the news industry, Canadian Press is cutting its staff by 25, or 8%. Though the cooperative doesn’t have to worry about servicing a large debt or reversing the advertising decline, it does have to worry about the decreasing membership dues. Quebecor is the latest mega-publisher to pull out of CP, following Canwest two years ago. Though large newspapers don’t represent as much of CP’s income as they used to, Quebecor is still a huge player and the red balance sheet means they have to reduce staff.

French FAIL

This week, Canadian Press issued a press release announcing some mobile portal. It sounds really impressive but it isn’t. Still, websites that specialize in rewriting press releases (or just cutting and pasting them) picked it up and regurgitated it without doing any research.

Had they done such research (and by “research”, I mean “going to the websites being talked about”), they might have noticed that the French version, nouvellesmobile.ca, doesn’t have a word of French on it. Oh, and the website asks us to “enter your US mobile phone number”, basically because this CP website just redirects to the Associated Press version.

Memo to CP: Before announcing websites, maybe it would be best to do some sanity checks first.

Rearranging the deck chairs on the media’s Titanic

Some news today from Canadian media as they struggle to keep afloat:

Canwest still ticking

Canwest, which faced a huge debt-related deadline today, got another extension – this time to April 7. It also said it would not make a $30.4 million debt payment scheduled for Friday, taking advantage of a 30-day grace period before lenders start demanding all of their money back. The rest of the release includes a lot of news which sounds kind of good but I don’t understand.

Everyone is understandably nervous about Canwest’s future, including some independent television producers for Canwest’s cable channels who have halted production and are holding their breath.

UPDATE (March 12): DBRS has responded to the delay by lowering Canwest’s credit rating from CCC to C. Canwest Limited Partnership, which is the branch The Gazette falls under, is rated slightly higher because it has more manageable debt.

Quebecor pulls out of CP

The bigger news is that Quebecor, the huge media company that owns Sun Media and the Journal de Montréal/Québec, gave notice to Canadian Press that it plans to pull out of the news-sharing cooperative effective in June 2010 (CP requires a year’s notice before membership is suspended – Sun Media could always change its mind, though that’s probably unlikely). Sun Media is CP’s largest member since Canwest pulled out of CP in 2007. Despite that and the “millions” of dollars that won’t be paid each year, CP is downplaying the significance of the pullout, saying it is restructuring itself to become a for-profit operation, which will allow it to sell its services with more flexibility.

Since pulling out of CP, Canwest and its newspapers (including the Gazette) have relied on competing wire services including Reuters, Agence France-Presse, New York Times News Service and PA SportsTicker, in addition to beefing up its internal Canwest News Service by adding national and international bureaus. Sun Media has already started beefing up its parliamentary bureau in Ottawa and launched its Agence QMI wire service, which notably has been used to provide content for the locked-out Journal de Montréal.

Apparently the notice happened in December, but the news was leaked to the public through a memo to employees by Quebecor head Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

UPDATE: Steve Proulx notes that CP said as recently as a year ago that it was confident Quebecor wouldn’t pull out.


Is poutine offensive?

The Canadian embassy in Washington is apologizing to Impératif français, among others, after it used a photoshopped picture of Samuel de Champlain holding a poutine on invites (now scrubbed of the poutine offensiveness) to Canada Day celebrations. IF reacted to the image with their usual measured response.

Perhaps I missed something in Political Correctness 101, but what’s so offensive about this again? Is it some stereotype that we eat poutine? Is it because the image of Champlain was sullied in some way?

Frankly, I think the fact that Canadian Press had to explain what poutine was is offensive to me.

Canadian Press wants attention

Canadian Press

For some reason, Canada’s biggest news service has decided it needs to “brand” itself. Canadian Press, the nationwide, not-for-profit wire service, is running ads through member organizations such as CTV, Transcontinental, the Toronto Star, Sun Media (Quebecor) and others to “add value for Canadian Press member daily newspapers and media clients by ensuring more of their news consumers recognize The Canadian Press brand as the credible source of Canadian and international content in their papers, newscasts and websites.”

Perhaps I’m missing something about the newspaper industry in Canada, but I honestly don’t understand what the point of this is. Canadian Press is a wire service, and it doesn’t sell anything to the public directly. So who cares if the public is even aware of its existence? And why would media outlets want to publicize the fact that they’re too cheap to hire their own journalists and have to rely on the same wire service their competitors get their news from? It’s like if CJAD ran ads reminding people that its morning news headlines were read straight out of The Gazette.

I know CP is sad about CanWest’s empire pulling out this year, and it’s constantly annoyed by the fact that people refer to it as “Canadian Press” instead of “The Canadian Press”, but this advertising campaign looks like a giant waste of money.

The end of the CP press release also adds that the organization will be “phasing out” the use of (CP) and (PC) for Canadian Press and Presse Canadienne stories, in favour of the wire’s complete name. I find this funny because the wire has little control over how its stories appear in print, online or on the air. Many websites use the full name already, while many print publications use the shortened form to save space (especially on briefs that are only a few lines long to begin with). Whether member organizations comply with this edict remains to be seen.

Google the wires

Speaking of wire services, Google News, which used to be an aggregator of news content with links to full articles on their original sites (and for some reason annoyed content owners who I guess don’t want traffic from the biggest website on Earth), has come to an agreement with Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Canadian Press and the U.K. Press Association to host wire stories on its site (as evidenced by that CP story hosted on Google).

The result of this is that when you see mention of “Canadian Press” or “Associated Press” in Google News results, that link will take you on a page at Google instead of some cheap generic small-market U.S. network TV affiliate who just republish unaltered wire copy online.

What it doesn’t mean is that you will be able to directly scroll the wires on Google. You still have to go through the Google News homepage. Fortunately there are other places that give you almost-direct access to unedited CP wire copy.

It probably won’t mean a huge deal, but you’ll note that wire copy on Google is much simpler and less ad-riddled than the places you’ll usually find it, which I think will lead to more people linking to stories off Google when given the choice.

Wire services are a double-edged sword

There’s an interesting trend happening in the news media. As wire services become ubiquitous, providing almost all the content for crappy, journalist-free newspapers like Metro, major news organizations are beginning to realize that they need to provide good, original content to distinguish themselves from these free alternatives. Otherwise, why would people buy their paper or visit their website when they can get the same wire story from another source?

Earlier this summer, CanWest completed its pullout of Canadian Press, the only nationwide news service in Canada. The decision cut CP’s budget by 9 per cent, and had some people crying that the sky was going to fall.

Although we’re only a couple of months into it, that looks unlikely. CP’s reliance on the big papers was already much lower than it had been previously, thanks to these free papers and other organizations like radio stations who are too cheap to have a news staff of their own. They’re also expanding their online presence, providing things like those Flash-based election tickers. (It’ll be interesting to see how CanWest papers handle general elections where the CP wire is of critical importance.)

I’ve heard a lot of people criticize the move, both inside and outside affected newsrooms, because it limits access to news from small regions, and because other outlets will run news they don’t have access to.

But I see it as a good thing. CanWest used some of the money they saved from dumping CP (though very little compared to how much they’re pocketing for shareholders) to expand its CanWest News Service, which before this summer was basically just the newsrooms of CanWest papers and a few reporters scattered in places like Ottawa, New York and Washington D.C. Now instead of one news service, we have two competing ones, and more journalists covering news.

In a similar vein, as of today CNN is no longer a client of Reuters news service. (If your first reaction to that news was “CNN was using Reuters?”, you’re not alone.) Instead, the news channel and Internet news giant will be boosting its own news-gathering, while still using Associated Press copy. That’s probably just some marketing speak and the investments will be trivial, especially when you consider that they were just looking for a better deal, but it’s better than nothing.

Wire services are very important, because they allow small news organizations to get news from far-away places, and provides an alternative to, say, expanding the White House Press Briefing Room to the size of a small stadium.

But in the Internet age, where a story carried by a wire service can be read from hundreds of different websites, news media have to provide strong original reporting to send eyes their way.

It’s vain, self-serving, greedy and transparent, but it’s good for journalism.

UPDATE (Sept. 11): CNN dumping Reuters comes back to bite them in the ass when they couldn’t run the Bin Laden video that Reuters had gained access to and started distributing. I wonder if Reuters paid Bin Laden royalties?