Tag Archives: Globe and Mail

National humility in contrast

Two articles from two countries’ most prestigious newspapers compare two television networks’ coverage of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies.

The Globe and Mail says NBC’s coverage “outshone the work of the CBC, mainly because co-hosts Bob Costas and Matt Lauer brought more information and enthusiasm to the show than did the stolid, rather dull presentation of the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, who handled most of the commentary during the first 80 minutes.”

The New York Times: “how extraordinarily pleasant it was to be able to view that spectacle in Beijing without the annoyance of constant exclamation and endless recitations of trivia — just great swaths of wonderful silence from our narrators MacLean and Mansbridge between 8am and 9am or so, just letting the show at the stadium tell its own story with the least obtrusive economy of helpful footnotes, no urgency whatsoever to riddle the air with inane nattering and relentless fill.”

I guess it’s all a matter of interpretation.

Olympics blogs ahoy!

La Presse unveiled its Beijing Olympics blog, noting that it’s sending a team of reporters, including columnist Pierre Foglia, to China next month. (Ten years ago, a newspaper sending reporters to the Olympics wouldn’t be news, but with the industry suffocating and cutting back, every plane ticket and hotel room has to be justified as a Newspaper Reporting Event.)

The Star, meanwhile, is putting links to its Olympics website on every page, including a logo next to its flag. Sadly, the website from Canada’s largest newspaper has about the same design finesse you’d expect from a YMCA bulletin board.

The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs, meanwhile, is still milking the Chinese news sources for weird stories relating to the Games on his Five-Ring Circus blog, which contrasts with Canwest’s matter-of-fact topic page.

The Globe and Mail hilariously has its Olympics coverage in a section called “Others“. Their Olympics blog is better, at least, though I’m not sure what “Wb” stands for in the URL.

The best Canadian Olympics news website unsurprisingly goes to the CBC, which not only has a general Olympics website, but has separate related sites for each major sport at the Games, each filled with stories. These will be the last Olympics the CBC has broadcast rights for.

And for completeness sake, Quebecor’s Canoe portal has yawnable websites in French and English for the Games with stories from its newspapers and wire services.

But even that’s better than CTV’s Olympics website, which doesn’t exist. (CTV has rights to 2010 and beyond, so you’d think they’d take advantage of the opportunity to get some practice online)

Collected Wisdom is not

The Globe and Mail has a regular feature called “Collected Wisdom” by Philip Jackman, in which a bunch of people ask questions and another bunch of people answer them. The questions are those didja-ever-wonder types, like “why aren’t there A and B batteries?” that you’d find the answers to in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader books.

Some other examples:

This column is part of the traditional media’s embracing of News 2.0, interactivity, where the reader/viewer/listener has power. It’s the same reasoning behind republishing anonymous troll comments in newspapers, or those “live” web chats the Globe is so fond of.

The problem is that this goes against the entire point of having a trusted news source. This column seems to pride itself on not doing any fact-checking whatsoever, nor providing credible source material for the answers it gives.

Forget the fact that many questions can be answered by spending about 30 seconds on Wikipedia or doing a Google search. The answers aren’t checked to make sure they’re right. Occasionally it might come from an expert, but the vast majority of the answers have the same authoritative backing as that guy at a bar or your friend Vinny who says he knows everything about everything.

As a result, we get urban legends repeated as truth, multiple (sometimes conflicting) answers to the same question, and corrections.

It would be one thing if these questions, interesting as they are, were answered by experts in those fields (you know, the way all those “ask the experts” columns are done). But why leave fact-gathering (and fact-verifying) to the most untrustworthy source that can possibly be found: some random person you don’t know?

Either it’s a really dumb idea or it’s just plain lazy journalism. Either way it’s not the way to innovate in the face of the Web revolution.

Globe goes free

It is truly the end of an era.

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, has pulled the plug on its Globe Insider service and unlocked all its columnist pieces for people to read for free. People will no longer be stuck with those “for Globe Insider subscribers only” messages.

Instead of Globe Insider, the paper plans three other ways to make money online:

  • An “e-paper” version of the print edition, which I haven’t seen or tested but is probably as annoying to use as the other poor-man’s PDF viewers out there.
  • Its Globe Investor Gold service which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with news.
  • Access to its archives.

The third one is probably what’s going to annoy people most. The Globe is still restricting access to its archives, and expecting people to pay ridiculous prices like $5 an article or $16 a month to get access to them.

Not aware of this, initial reaction has been a mix of “thank you” and “it’s about time,” with the usual comments about Christie Blatchford thrown in (and one saying The Gazette is better than the Globe).

The decision leaves Le Devoir as the only major Canadian daily that maintains a subscriber wall. How long until it finally crumbles?

Globe, La Presse dominate National Newspaper Awards

(The title of this post is coincidentally the same as the CBC.ca story)

The National Newspaper Awards (or Concours Canadien de journalisme) were handed out this week. I mentioned the finalists in March.

The big winner was the Globe and Mail, which won six first-place prizes (they were nominated 15 times, including a sweep of one category), and they’re very proud of themselves. Also posting a strong showing was La Presse, who won in five of the six categories it was nominated in. Again, lots of pride.

The biggest disappointment goes to the Toronto Star, who won only two categories despite eight nominations (though two were for the same category). But hey, they’re still proud of themselves too.

As for my beloved paper, it was shut out, winning in neither of the two categories it was nominated in. In fact, the entire chain combined picked up only three awards (two for the Ottawa Citizen, one for the National Post). Still it does a valiant effort covering the situation in its Canwest News Service story. You’ll notice it mentions the Globe and La Presse in the final paragraph.

Newspapers? Self-obsessed? Nevah!

In related news, The Gazette’s Words Matter campaign has won even more kudos, this time from the International Newspaper Marketing Association, which apparently exists. You can see a video of the TV spot on the website if you haven’t seen it ad nauseam already — ironically it makes you watch an ad before you get to the actual ad. You can also see a photo gallery of the “On Thin Ice” gimmick of a block of melting ice on a downtown street.

As for me, I’m still waiting for my awards.

Corporate executives dishonest, oh my!

The Globe and Mail accuses Canwest head Leonard Asper of talking out of both sides of his mouth, telling the CRTC that Canadian television is in financial peril and telling shareholders that Global TV is making a gazillion dollars with profit margins going up.

On the one hand, it’s true. On the other hand, it’s neither surprising nor is it unique to Canwest. As the article points out, Globe owner CTVglobemedia made the same statements to the CRTC, and I don’t think that company is telling its shareholders that it’s near bankruptcy.

AP needs more sleep

Apparently forgetting that correlation is not causation, Associated Press promotes a study that says more sleep leads to better performance in schools compared to all-night cram sessions the night before an exam.

It reaches this conclusion based on the fact that people who stay up all night have statistically better grades.

This is an uncontrolled study. Rather than take two randomly-selected students and have one stay up and the other go to bed, it asks people after the fact about their habits. While it shows a link between sleep and grades, it does not show that the lack of sleep while cramming causes a decrease in grades.

The study could be simply explained away by the fact that students who do poorly tend to procrastinate to the last minute and do all-night cramming. There’s no evidence that getting them to bed earlier would improve their grades, because nobody has actually tested for that.

AP (and the Globe) should know better than this. Comments attached to the Globe story pounced on it immediately. Why didn’t a journalist?

More pay walls coming down

The Wall Street Journal’s Lord Master Rupert Murdoch has decided to drop the pay wall on WSJ.com content, just a few weeks after the New York Times decided to let all its content online be free. Both newspapers are betting on the fact that increased online ad revenue will balance out the reduced subscription revenue.

MediaShift has a good blog post summarizing the arguments in favour and against dropping the pay wall, including its effects on paper subscriptions and volatility of the online advertising market.

One of the blog posts it links to says in one sentence my chief concern about all this: “Are we seeing the death of the paid content model?

I like free content. I like not having to pay to download stuff on my computer. I like being able to read articles from all sorts of newspapers. I like blogs and YouTube and Flickr.

But I’m also one of many people who is trying to make a living off of this “content” thing, and along with all this free content is a race to the bottom, with content providers seeking cheaper and cheaper content. Many now seriously expect people to work for them for free, hoping that not even five minutes of maybe-fame will be enough to cloud their judgment and cause them to ignore the fact that they have to put food on their table.

The bigger problem is that as content gets cheaper and cheaper, so does the work being produced for those low salaries. Investigative journalism disappears completely, journalists get lazy and become stenographers, columnists write uninteresting fluff about their daily lives, and the wall between editorial and advertising starts getting blurry.

We seem to accept being charged for content only when it exists on a physical medium, like books, DVDs and newspapers. Is there any purely digital content that people will keep paying for in the future, or is advertising expected to cover everything? (And with all the increasing content on the Internet, can we possibly have enough advertising interest to bankroll it all?)

We’ll see. By my count only two major Canadian dailies still have pay walls on their websites: The Globe and Mail and Le Devoir. Are they coming next, or will they buck the trend?

No better than Canada’s first president, this duck

For the first time in 30 years, the Canadian dollar closed above the U.S. dollar in trading today.

Yeah, that’s more about the U.S. dollar being in freefall, but it gives me an excuse to re-post my graphic:

Suck it, Greenback!

For the weekend at least, Canadians can cross the border into the U.S. and demand “real money” instead of their silly green-coloured paper.

A Globe story about the dollar’s surge curiously linked to a Stephen Colbert video ranting about the dollar. I wanted to watch it, but the Globe’s video player “cannot be played on a Macintosh.” What is this, 1998?

For those interested, Comedy Central has the video (legally) online.

Newspapers’ online video ventures are still lacking

The Globe has a video by Anastasia Tubanos about couples who do video podcasting. Of course, no such list would be complete without Rudy and Casey of Galacticast, who are interviewed in it.

The video is somewhat typical of the state of newspaper-produced video. Since they have no clue what they’re doing, and don’t want to spend any money building a web media infrastructure, they leave everything to the individual producer, from the credits to the music selection. Videos range in quality from atrocious cellphone-quality badly-framed talking heads to semi-professional packages with unnecessarily-long credits.

The quality of content, of course, is always more important than presentation. So I can forgive the tinny audio or inconsistent lighting, especially when producers don’t have sound or lighting technicians. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is all just a gimmick to them, that the newspapers are feeling around in the dark and hoping they can get by without knowing what they’re doing. And independent producers, without formal training or direction from editors and managers, are doing the same.

Familiar story in the Globe (UPDATED)

An email on the CAJ listserv pointed me to a Globe & Mail Facts and Arguments piece called “The English Assignment“. It’s by freelancer Sharon Melnicer of Winnipeg, who’s written for dozens of publications.

The story is about an assignment she says was handed to students in her class in the 1990s to have them write a story together, each alternatively writing a paragraph. The result is a story that radically changes direction in each paragraph as the two writers attempt to wrestle control from each other, and it eventually degenerates into profane name-calling.

The problem: This story has been circulating around the Internet for a decade. That story has the names changed (including the name of the teacher who assigned it), but the story is otherwise exactly the same.

The way I see it, there are three explanations for this:

  1. Sharon Melnicer is the original source of the Internet legend, and the names were changed before the story was disseminated online. I find this unlikely because the Globe story says students were supposed to communicate exclusively via email, and email simply wasn’t in widespread use in 1997. (UPDATE: The Snopes page has been updated to reflect Melnicer’s claim as the source of the story, based exclusively on the article.)
  2. Sharon Melnicer’s students read the story on the Internet and decided to plagiarize it. That doesn’t really make sense either (and would you send your teacher profanity like that if you wanted her to grade the story and forget about it?). But if true, she should have caught it and certainly not given these students full marks.
  3. Sharon Melnicer’s students never submitted this story, and she simply rewrote one she found online claiming it happened to her. I’ve read a couple of other stories she’s written and none are obviously plagiarized from other sources. I find it hard to believe a seasoned freelancer would throw her career away over a Globe Facts & Arguments piece.

I’ve emailed Ms. Melnicer to ask her about the story. I’ll update this post when I hear back from her.

I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding.

UPDATE: The Globe apparently is saying it’s #1, and that she just sat on the story for 10 years after presenting it at a workshop for teachers in 1997. Plausible, but still strange.

UPDATE: Her response:

Yes, it is indeed a coincidence and not one I’m very pleased with. This is the fourth time I have “met myself” on the Internet after penning and submitting an original piece. I didn’t realize my essay had been posted on <snopes.com> until it was published in ‘Facts & Arguments’ on Tuesday and generated a response like yours.

The following response to your comment is being given to readers like you who wonder why they’ve seen the piece before and how it’s come to be so widely circulated.

Sharon Melnicer

Dear F&A reader,

Thank you for your e-mail re the essay of Sept. 5.

The essay writer, Sharon Melnicer, tells me she first presented this article at a province-wide workshop for Manitoba English teachers in 1997. She says she had found the idea ( ‘Writing a Tandem Story’) as explained in the essay, in a professional journal . The first part of a sample tandem story (the “Outer Space” theme) as well as the teacher’s instructions for students were provided in the article. Ms. Melnicer says she tried it out with Grade XI and XII students, as her essay describes, then wrote up what happened and presented it at the workshop. Copies of that paper were distributed to the 50 or so participants who attended. Nothing further happened regarding publication of the piece until she picked it up again after retiring, did some revisions, and submitted it to F&A.

Ms Melnicer says she knows plagiarism is a serious offence, and not one she would commit. I have no reason to doubt her.

Moira Dann