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Media set to line up at federal trough

Long ago in the before times (before Internet, or more aptly the early days of the Internet), I was one of a small group of newspaper editors who lobbied long and hard for us establish websites.

Hard to believe in this day and age that we had to lobby for a website. In today’s world, you don’t start a business without a website or, at the very least, social media presence. But there was a lot of angst-ridden discussion and a lot of push-back from the higher ups as to whether we should embrace websites. (BTW, the same discussion came along when Facebook emerged as the force it is.)

The rationale was that newspaper advertising was our core business and we should focus on that (even though many newspapers had branched out into event planning/hosting and other such ill-fated ventures). I think what was really happening was those newspaper executives, many of whom liked to boast to me about their business acumen for guiding a money-maker through good times, really didn’t know what to do so they turtled.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “they’ll come back,” regarding advertisers who flocked to digital because they were frustrated with their local newspaper that wasn’t. And it wasn’t happening just in my little corner of the newspaper world.

We watched newspaper after newspaper crumble into dust until it finally came for us.

Did I have all the answers for the digital onslaught? Not a chance. But my philosophy was that we had to do something.

When I was at the Free Press, Roy Spooner and I pushed to create the Free Press Daily, an entity that looked very much like a newspaper, but was digital. I still think the powers-that-be at the time let me go ahead just to shut me up rather than seeing it as a way to supplement our already declining revenue.

But we were already the walking dead.

And, like I said, this was playing out across the land. The newspaper industry’s first response to the digital world was to ignore it, then jump on board way too late to drive the bus, and now, expect the public to pay for years of bad business decisions.

Maybe I’m just a little bitter (OK, a lot bitter), but news this week that Ottawa is going to pump “nearly $600 million over the next five years to help news organizations struggling to adapt to a digital age that has disrupted traditional business models (National Post),” simply rankles.

There is no doubt Facebook and Google have had an impact on ad revenues in this country. But, for all their misgivings (and there are plenty) they are cheaper. That’s their edge.

As you can tell (there’s that bitterness again), I don’t have much sympathy for the newspaper industry. For years, newspapers in this country arrogantly dismissed the threat of the oncoming digital age. The gravy train was chugging along so well no one could imagine it could derail, even when the wheels started to bounce. Now that they hit the ditch, they want someone to bail them out.

What’s particularly irksome is the sense of entitlement and self-importance many of the media execs have. Humble pie would serve them better.

I’d also like to know how many more journalists will be “speaking truth to power,” as a result of the $600M. I suspect I could buy all of them coffee and we could all sit around the same table. I’ve never supported corporate welfare, regardless of the sector … and these are the same guys (yes, they’re all guys) who rail on about the ills of socialism, that we need to get rid of the CBC, and that we have to protect free enterprise and capitalism at all costs.

It’s been almost 50 years since David Lewis coined the phrase “corporate welfare bums.” Has anything changed?

Quote of the Day: ‘We believe in a strong and independent free press.’ Finance Minister Bill Morneau



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