Payette Report on establishing a class hierarchy for journalists in Quebec out of touch with the real (virtual) world

Stories such as the one involving the report that was released earlier this year by former CBC Journalist Dominique Payette are at once both exciting and exasperating at the same time. hierarchy

Exciting in that Payette’s recommendations reflect just how much the former journalist is out of touch with the real-world as it relates to the emergence of the Internet as a dominant medium through which people gather and share the important news of the day.

Exasperating because there are so many options in terms of analogies that one can use to illustrate the almost comical undertone of her recommendations that like a hungry man standing before a bountiful buffet having to choose just one dish, or in this case colorful prose, it is far too difficult to pick just one.

I mean this is the ultimate straight man set-up, where you almost feel sorry for Payette.

The shifting landscape that is traditional journalism is of course a subject about which I have both written and talked about on air quite extensively.

From my August 30th, 2009 post in which media industry heavyweight J. William Grimes predicted that daily newspapers would no longer be in existence in 5 years (DEATH OF PRINT NEWSPAPERS IN 5 YEARS (J. WILLIAM GRIMES)), to the PI Window on Business radio segment in which panelists including The Young TurksCenk Uygur discussed the FTC’s public workshops that were focused on answering the question “How Will Journalism Survive The Internet Age” (Public Workshops and Roundtables: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?), to my most recent article about The Wall Street Journal scandal involving the publication’s efforts to artificially boost its circulation numbers through an elaborate buyback scheme, the shifting realities of a market in transition is easily recognizable to even the most novice of citizen journalists.

Yet based on her report, Payette not only missed the aforementioned changes, she wasted valuable natural resources re paper, in making her 51 recommendations as it relates to addressing an estate which no longer exists in the form with which she is most familiar.  Like a general fighting the last war (there I got to use at least one of the analogies that came to mind), Payette seems to have forgotten the one, and to many only, important fact . . . it is the public and more specifically the people that determine who will or will not be heard, and not a set of unenforceable draconian rules.

Think about this for a moment within the context of the results from a comScore Plan Metrix study, which identified the following industry trends:

  • Younger news readers, though less likely than average to read newspapers, are more likely to get news online, while heavy readers of newspapers are more likely than average to read online versions of print brands.
  • The study analyzed the differences in online behavior among heavy, medium and light readers and non-readers of newspapers (segments defined below).
  • “That current generations are growing up getting their news online for free is an indicator that print circulations are likely to continue their decline,” said Jack Flanagan, comScore EVP. “But the internet represents a significant opportunity to extend – and even improve upon – existing news brands and reach out to new consumers with living, breathing real-time content.”

Heavy print newspaper readers according to the study, show a strong skew toward older age segments, while the non-reader segments skew younger:

  • Those age 65 and older are nearly three times more likely (index of 296) than average to read the print edition of newspapers six times per week, whereas those age 18-24 are 38% more likely than average to not read a print newspaper at all during a typical week.

What was also worth noting is that TV news brands are also heavily visited by non-readers of newspapers, underscoring the importance of sight, sound and motion to the digital news experience:

  • Non-readers were 29% more likely than the average internet user to visit FoxNews.com.
  • Non-readers were also 15% more likely to visit CBS News Digital.

“Non-newspaper readers,” concluded the study’s authors “are a particularly important segment to reach because they are heavier-than-average news consumers – they just prefer to consume it in a digital format.”

“That they are receptive to print, TV, and Internet news brands indicates a broad opportunity online, but the brands that will ultimately win over these key news consumers are the ones that successfully integrate cutting edge digital content with high-quality journalism.”

Now some reading this while acknowledging the shift to a digital format via the Internet is definitely a force with which to be reckoned, might suggest that all the traditional print dailies need to do is simply launch an electronic version of their former selves and presto all will be as it was before, virtually speaking.

However, when the New York Times launched their electronic version a couple of years ago expecting to offset the growing losses of their established print version, they were shocked to see that they actually lost money with the new incarnation.  In short, the major transformation through which we are presently evolving ultimately has less to do with the Internet and more to do with the quality of content.

The real question then becomes whether or not the measures proposed in the Payette report, including the establishment of a mandatory membership policy forcing all news organizations to join the Quebec Press Council through which journalistic accreditation will be determined, will effect the kind of control over the media the Province hopes to achieve.

Inducements for compliance under Payette’s proposed plan include restricted access to government officials for non-accredited journalists and, the government’s ability to withhold advertising revenue from those who fail to toe the proverbial line.

Payette's view on how journalists will respond to her report

I have to say that the inducements are toothless threats that will do little to control the flow of news.  Or to put it another way, and recalling the riots in Iran after the election results were adjusted to put into power the extremist elements in that country, news happens and gets out in the world with or without the machinations of an oppressive regime.

The exclamation point relative to this immutable truth is that outside of those who are already dependent on the government for ad revenues and access to regurgitated information, the Province of Quebec or for that matter any Province or government body has little to offer in terms of a journalist’s ability to attract and build a following.

Take the PI Social Media Network for example. Through our various mediums which consists of 13 blogs, 4 Internet Radio shows and one Internet TV Channel we will, by early 2012, reach a monthly audience of more than 3 million people.

While I have had the privilege of interviewing Stockwell Day (at the time Canada’s Trade Minister) regarding the Buy American controversy (An Interview with Canada’s Trade Minister on U.S. Trade), and MP Harold Albrecht regarding the Internet Predator Bill (PI News Flash: Cyberwar and the Emergence of the Borderless Predator), their added perspectives were important but not essential to my readers and listeners.

In the latter instance for example, it was the story itself and more specifically my coverage of the story through a series of posts and corresponding shows (A Quest For Justice – The Case of the Serial Suicide Killer (A PI Window Exclusive)), of which Albrecht was just a part, that resonated with and therefore attracted my audience.

I am not suggesting that similar ruminations to those of Quebec’s are on the Ottawa agenda.  In fact I would be very surprised if they were.  What I am saying is that in the emerging world of social media and social networking, people follow people first in much the same way that my good friend and Fox News regular Dr. John Tantillo states that People Buy Brands and Not Corporations (which also happens to be the name of his new book).

Journalists View of Payette's report: Stifled yet still heard!

As a result, and regardless of the imagined validity of the accreditation proposed in Payette’s report, Quebec can huff and puff and blow all they want but in the end, a well written article or post supported by solid research will be found by its intended audience.

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