David Olive’s “stubborn faith in newspapers”

Toronto Star business and current affairs columnist David Olive explains his “stubborn faith in newspapers” in a recent post to his Star blog Everybody’s Business.

He outlines the reasons for his positive outlook under these main headings:

  • The traditional newspaper industry only looks dead
  • Panic
  • The competitive advantage of newspapers

He writes:

“You have to wonder about the death of newspapers when Toronto has six English-language dailies. (Again I’m leaving out a vibrant local ethnic press). Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver each support two local dailies plus The Globe and Mail and National Post. The two-daily town survives in Quebec and Winnipeg, 

“The decline in N.A. of the two-paper town accompanied an undeniable gradual drop in newspaper penetration rates. Again, why? Because the remaining, monopoly paper, eager to keep the dead paper’s readers it had effortlessly inherited, became determined not to offend them. The monopoly papers that have now dominated our industry for decades stopped having a forceful point of view. They stopped being interesting.”

He continues on about why newspapers have become dull:

“The new key to success has been to not alienate anyone. To not be controversial. Combine that with the ‘objectivity’ doctrine drilled into J-school students beginning in the 1960s. Which was compounded by the media’s inflated sense of its power after Watergate, and accompanying self-imposed mandate of being extraordinarily fair. The result has been the ‘one-the-one-hand, on-the-other’ journalism of today. Today, any newspaper article describing what is blatently true must include in equal measure the views of nutbars holding the opposite view. ‘These things we hold to be self-evident’ would not pass muster with contemporary newsroom managers. Instead, the operating principle is: ‘This story’s not balanced, everyone you quote says water is wet. Go back and get the other side.'”

On the topic of the ever-feared rise of online journalism, Olive writes:

“Newspaper managers are fretting over smartphones and Facebook and Twittering. They’re in a panic that somehow a communication device that enables me to send a maximum 141-character message is some kind of threat to the knowledge disseminated by newspapers and magazines, with their in-depth coverage of the why and how of events and what’s to be done about solving the world’s problems.

“Newspapers have survived magazines, the telegraph, radio and television. They will not only survive but exploit the Internet, which already has exploded the size of my newspaper’s audience from one million to close to two million, and transformed my metro daily into a paper that reaches the entire planet. I could never have imagined, stepping out of the Ryerson journalism school for the last time in 1979, that someday the columns and features I write for a Toronto newspaper would be read by people in Singapore, London and Fort Worth, Texas. But every small-town paper with a website – and almost every paper and magazine has one – can now be read worldwide, on the date of publication. Our I should say the hour of publication, since newspaper websites are updated constantly through the day. In that sense – and this is a very big deal – these are the greatest days in the history of newspapers, which have never commanded such a vast, global audience.”

Read Olive’s extensive post here.