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Saturday, October 04, 2008

"I don't think you give credit to the paper for the work it does."

Reader-submitted complaint: I'm challenging you to write a blog entry about what you like about Name of Paper Withheld. I'd like to know if you can even find the good things the paper has done and the good things the paper does on a regular basis.

I'm now convinced that this person has never read my blog. I'm not totally sure he or she will come back to read what I post, but I am a woman of my word. If this person does come back, (s)he might be interested in things I've written about journalism ethics or the work involved in producing news.

I got home and found a ton of e-mails from current and former employees of Name of Paper Withheld. God love 'em. They really are wonderful people who care about journalism. I do know them, and I do see how they feel about the paper.

But I promised to write about the things I like.

This commenter (I don't think he/she is a reader) has pointed out that many people who work at Name of Paper Withheld go on to do great things. This is true, but they don't just deserve respect for what they might be one day. Let me speak directly to those people, since I know they're reading: Being a community reporter is one of the most honourable things a person can do for a living. And being the editor of a local paper is an awesome responsibility. It's a chance to do something that's not just about yourself; it's about the good of the people who read your paper. You're not famous like those smarmy TV guys. You're an ink-stained hero, and you serve the public with little or no recognition.

The Canadian Arctic is an incredible place, and you are lucky to work here. There are fabulous stories here, and the Paper of Record always screws them up. You're there every step of the way. You never publish stupid non-stories like "Old Town exists!" or "People scavenge at the dump!". You find quirky and fun stories, and you cover them well. You're also covering important global issues like climate change, aboriginal rights and our changing political environment. You get to write about the details: the different perspectives and the developments as they happen. You've put a lot of effort and money into covering every corner of the north. I applaud your dedication.

This is a tough place to cover. There's lots of terrain, lots of cultures, and an enduring sense that the regional centres are out of touch with the communities. You know how to make people feel that it's their paper, even if they live far away from your main office. You have separate papers for the regions, and you publish your Nunavut version in Inuktitut and English. You cover on-the-ground community news, and you check in with the remote communities every week. That shows that you understand that people want to feel included. They want to know that you're there for them and will cover their issues. You're not content to do this once in a while: you make a point of proving it every week.

In an age of media convergence, your paper is still owned by a local person. I respect that. It keeps your attention here, not on a head office in southern Canada. This is less and less common these days. The local paper should be a local paper, and in many communities across this great country, it just isn't. You know that your readers deserve a true local paper.

I personally don't like sports, but I have read that overall, sports sections are the most-read sections in newspapers. You understand this and have put resources into covering sports. I loved the photo on the cover of Wednesday's paper. Great shot, and you used it well. It was such a good shot, I noticed it from across the room. It's hard to get great photos of speed skaters, but you pulled it off. Fabulous job.

In fact, you have some really nice photography. I love the way you're not afraid to tell stories through photos. You have some great photo essays, and you always have a featured stand-alone photo that captures a moment in the community. I think that's great. You also have reader-submitted photos: a great sign. When people are really proud of their pictures, they send them to you. That's a vote of confidence.

You are the only media outlet that covers all of the ins and outs of city politics. That's important to me. I want to know what's going on with city council and my local school board. You are the only news organisation that consistently delivers on this.

Newspapers have a higher calling than, say, blogs. They provide information about important local issues and provide a forum for discussing those issues. They have an obligation to the public to provide accurate and balanced information. It's the only way we can have a true democracy. A newspaper's opinion pages should include feisty discussions, with different perspectives on many issues. I'm very pleased that your paper publishes a wide range of letters to the editor, but what impresses me most is that you consistently publish letters that are critical of your coverage and editorial decisions. It's important to be transparent. We need to know who disagrees with what you say, and why they say it. (This is the same reason I make a point of publishing all of my hate mail on the blog.) Some people would try to stifle their critics. You're above that.

You have consistently made an effort to identify promising young writers and hire them as reporters. I like that. When you can't find them in the community, you pay for them to move here. I loved your job ads promising a parka as a signing bonus. That was funny and eye-catching while being starkly honest about the weather here. You knew that candidates for the job would be concerned about the weather, and you dealt with that concern directly.

I'm glad this person commented, and I hope he or she will stick around. Many of my readers are current or former journalists, so people who want to discuss media issues will likely find someone here to talk to. Most of my closest friends are former reporters, and I respect the role of the media more than most people do. That respect means that I point out errors from time to time. It's the same thing reporters do to everyone else.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely post to wake up to! :-)

a concerned journalist said...

I definitely will continue to read and I'll be here to comment on what you have to say.

Megan said...

Excellent! I often write about journalism and the media, so I look forward to your contributions to the discussion. We can always use another working journalist around here. You bring an important perspective. As A Concerned Journalist (great handle, by the way), which specific issues are you most concerned with?

I hope you won't be disappointed, but I really don't write about northern media very often unless it's in response to reader-submitted questions. I usually write about national media and general journalism issues.

Mongoose said...

Well I'm glad I don't know anyone who works or has worked for The Hub and will never have to tell them they do great work. I'd never get through it with a straight face. Of course I'm only the customer, not a fellow professional.

Speaking of including all the communities, this summer we had a power outage that lasted close to two hours, if I recall correctly. The next week and the week after the territorial newspaper mentioned power outages in several communities in the South Slave that happened the same night. But there was never a word about ours. Like we don't even exist or something.

I sure wish I wasn't too lazy to have my own newspaper.

Anonymous said...


You didn't mention the horoscopes.