Thursday, 4 October 2012

Media disanalogies

Image Source: The Hamiltonian
Graham Hnatiuk has a scathing critique out about the Winnipeg Free Press (WFP) and what he sees as there deep incompetence in adapting to a new, digital landscape. While there are many cheers to independent media -an attitude I happen to share - I can't help but think there's some colossal disanalogies in his piece when comparing the WFP to "online success stories" like Mother Jones.

For starters, the Winnipeg market is colossally smaller than the audience Mother Jones targets. The US has hundreds of millions of people. Even defining the market more narrowly, Mother Jones has tens of millions of potential viewers who'd be interested in their long form journalism and analysis. Winnipeg has less than seven hundred thousand. As commenter Wendy Sawatzky stated, Mother Jones relies on memberships and donations to stay afloat. To be fair, Hantiuk does note that they're a non-profit.   

But that also goes to the heart of the matter. The WFP is a business with the clear objective to make money, not just "stay afloat" or produce "quality journalism". Perhaps one could make the argument that if newspaper businesses aren't profitable anymore, than the public still deserves a news service and so it makes sense to restructure newspapers into nonprofit organizations like The Media Co-Op. But it's important to keep in mind that big distinction between for-profit newspaper businesses versus nonprofit independent media outlets.

I don't know too much about the financing of "The Great Canadian Talk Show" (TGCTS), the only independent media outlet ran by someone full-time in Winnipeg that Graham mentions. TGCTS used to be affiliated with the Red River College campus station, which was somewhat sheltered from market forces. Nevertheless, Marty Gold's succeeded post-RRC in getting enough sponsors to at least survive doing what he does full-time. Beyond that, I don't know too much about his financing model, but I doubt it could keep a larger news organization afloat.

Lastly, it should be noted that investigative outlets in America like Mother Jones don't have to deal with the threat of Canada's political libel laws, which are a powerful tool for the rich to SLAPP dissent or bad press. That tends to stifle muckraking. 

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3 comments:

  1. Hi, thanks for mentioning my efforts at citizen journalism. Can you explain what you mean by "somewhat sheltered from market forces?"

    marty

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    Replies
    1. I mean precisely what anonymous (Oct. 5, 2012) says I mean. Campus radio stations don't rely solely on advertising dollars based on ratings, somewhat distinct from must stations (with the exception of the CBC).

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  2. My understanding is that Marty's broadcast model was to arrange sponsorships for his show (when it was on the air.. it was good, and I regularly listened), and he wants a percentage of that ad revenue as his compensation. Unlike the other hosts on these campus radio stations, who do their shows on a volunteer unpaid basis. At least that is the model that was proposed when other campus stations were considering offering Marty a new home after KICK FM was fiddled with by the Free Press Editor and Marty's show and this meddling resulted in TGCTS' cancellation on KICK.

    I'm not knocking "Mr. Gold" for this arrangement, a guy's gotta eat, but this arrangement likely had a role in Marty not re-appearing on another campus station. I would've followed his show to a new spot on the dial but it was not to be.

    My guess is that the post above considers KICK FM as a station that did not need to rely on BBM ratings for its survival, therefore it could be considered "somewhat sheltered by market forces".

    The same thing can be said for CKUW and UMFM, both are not dependent on BBM rating performance to survive or generate better ad revenue. They only need to raise enough pledges, get some advert $$ and budget effectively in the case of CKUW or live within their ad revenue & UMSU-issued funding grants and budget effectively in the case of UMFM.

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