Editorial: Journalism lite

By Chris Beauchamp

There is no doubt print media is in a time of upheaval and change. With Internet news, film documentary, blogging and YouTube, people are getting their information in radically different ways than even a decade ago. The concept of journalism as a watchdog on traditional power centers has been all but washed away for a cynical citizenry to whom journalism scandals, plagiarism charges and the partisan politics of outlets like Fox News have become commonplace. But just because the lofty ideals of journalism have been weakened by shoddy practices and political goals doesn’t mean newspapers should abandon them outright.

Three new daily papers hit the streets of Calgary this month, and while each is published by a different media conglomerate, they share some strikingly similar characteristics. The stories are short, the focus is primarily on mainstream entertainment and the advertising is invasive. The reasoning behind publications like these is simple: young urbanites aren’t interested in spending too much time engaging with what’s happening in their world. To market products to them effectively involves a rethinking of the traditional print medium, especially the way advertising integrates with editorial content.

This premise is at least partially false, as witnessed by the booming online news expansion. Rather than looking for more succinct, dumbed-down versions of news stories, meaning-starved citizens are searching for context anywhere they can find it. In the vacuum left by the failures of mainstream print, online news and blog communities are growing at a dizzying pace.

Unfortunately, launching publications like RushHour (CanWest Global), 24 Hours (Sun Media) and Metro (a Swedish company with distribution in over 100 cities) does not address the shortcomings of print media, but exaggerates them. As Metro says on their website, “Metro is therefore not only delivering a new generation of newspaper readers but also the ‘premium TV audience’ that advertisers so prize.” 24 Hours has already taken this maxim to its logical conclusion, printing a four-page advertising “wrap” around its March 5 cover. But this is old territory for Metro, which has printed whole issues devoted to promoting a single product in the past.

As the editor of a weekly publication, I intimately understand the types of issues that can lead to compromised editorial content. A blown deadline, late-breaking news, a story that falls through–all sorts of things can force editorial staff to make decisions that aren’t ideal. That’s the nature of any publication working on daily or weekly deadlines. And while the Gauntlet is as guilty as any paper or magazine of falling short of journalistic ideals at times, the student journalists learning and working in this office at least aim for those ideals. We don’t sell them to the highest bidder and we don’t compromise our editorial content as part of a business plan aimed at serving our advertisers over our readers.

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