“Better future for news” says former Globe editor Stackhouse

“There’s still time, and plenty of reader interest and journalistic resolve, to forge a better future for news.”

This sanguine view belongs to former Globe & Mail editor John Stackhouse, in Vancouver recently to promote his latest book, Mass Disruption, Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution.

After hearing him speak  I was enlightened – and encouraged.

I’ve been reflecting on an intriguing opening comment. When asked if journalism is a good career choice right now he says he’ll reply that it’s a hard business – but then it’s always been hard.

I like that answer. When I graduated from Carleton’s journalism program in 1984 jobs were scarce. I recently came across a hand-out we received on the first day explaining our apprenticeship program.

“The only rule is that you get both [apprenticeship weeks] done before we stuff your BJ into your hands and send you down to UIC.” Okay , it was tongue-in-cheek but it did reflect the times!

It’s a hard business, but it’s a great business.

The disruption Stackhouse refers to in his tome’s title is, of course, digital.

stackhouse optimistic about digital ageThe book tells of a memo written by Washington Post columnist Bob Kaiser in 1993 after a trip to then technology giant Japan. Kaiser warned of the need to switch to electronic classifieds and electronic news delivery.

The Post didn’t act, as we know, but Craigslist and The Huffington Post did. So here we are playing catch-up.

Plenty has been written about the sorry state of newspaper finances, but what makes Stackhouse optimistic is his view that demand for quality journalism will always be high. We just need a way to make money delivering it.

The Texas Tribune, he says, can show us how. Formed by a group of concerned citizens in 2009, it’s an online, non-partisan paper with a focus on state politics.

“Thanks to American tax laws, the group raised US $27 million from citizens, foundations, and a corporate roll call – Exxon, Walmart, AT&T – that one might not intuitively associate with serious journalism.”

The Tribune now has 50 full-time staff, $6.5 in revenue, a Washington bureau and – interestingly – an events business from which it makes 20% of its revenue.

Current tax laws mean this is not feasible in Canada  – but this could be fixed.

Back to those incipient journalists Stackhouse spoke of  earlier – he advises them to learn skills like collaborating with techies, audiences and advertisers (gasp!) and managing databases.

I agree with Stackhouse that it’s a matter of understanding and harnessing the new tools that surround us. We’ve had a jolt from the juggernaut that is digital – let’s jump in.




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