Friday, October 21, 2005

J-school update

Apart from the few hiccups, j-school isn't all that bad. A somewhat dull (yet useful) class has suddenly been given a new life by a new, young instructor who'll be teaching us crime and court reporting for the second half of the semester. He warned us his class will be very difficult and that he rarely gives A's. So while we're mentally prepared for reporting hell, I think most of us are still looking forward to it because it's vibrant, hands-on and challenging. (Plus, he seems like a nice guy).

That's the "real education for the real world" we're looking for.

The theory-laden class that seems to be a popular topic of discussion on this blog is also rattling along. I think it has become slightly more interesting as we and the instructor get the hang of things, but I hate to think of what he and the department have coming their way via mid-term course evaluations.

Application deadlines for scholarships and internshipse be coming up soon. If any readers are aware of opportunities for newbies like us, please do let us know.

We were recently introduced to the CBC's Joan Donaldson scholarships. Early indications are that competition will be very tight, even within the department. There really is so much talent here that I don't even feel like applying. But as I've learned in life, it never hurts to try.

Advice on which internships to look forward to and which ones to dread is appreciated as well.

We also have the option of going for a one-week internship at one of seven media outlets. All but two are small local papers.

Let me throw this out there:

You're a second- or third-year student. You're into broadcast and have the option of spending a week at either CJAD (news talk) or at Radio Canada International.

Which one do you go for? Why?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hapless state of democracy

The residents of my city, Vaudreuil-Dorion, were supposed to choose to a new mayor and a new councillor for each of the eight districts on November 6, 2005.

Residents in none but three districts will get that chance, and even then, only to choose one of two wanna-be councillors.

Why? Because no one could be bothered to mount a challenge.

The pattern extends all over Quebec. Over 500 mayors were re-elected on October 14 because they had no opponents.

Let's say you were a disgruntled resident in one of those 400+ municipalities. Unless you wanted to run for mayor yourself, you could pretty much consider yourself to be in Cuba or North Korea.

But for most people, it doesn't seem to be an issue. Who cares what they do in the council chamber anyway?

I've attended city council meetings where there were seven citizens present.

The passing of resolutions by the mayor and councilors sounded like an uncontested auction. I wonder what resolutions they would pass if not one citizen was to show up.

Something's got to be done about this. While this may technically be a democracy, for the average, disgruntled Joe, it's anything but. It could be argued that angry Joe can simply run for mayor if he's not happy. Sure he can, except it won't help Joe to spend his valuable time and money just so that he can cast a vote for himself, and still get the same mayor. He might as well not bother.

Have a bunch of dissatisfied Joes thinking that way and you have what we had on October 14.

Having a choice doesn't guarantee Joe a new mayor, but at least Joe should feel there is a reasonable chance for his vote to make a difference in getting a new mayor. Otherwise, Joe will have no reason to be engaged in the political process.

Heck, if all those people who run in federal elections with absolutely no chance of winning were to contest these local elections, I'm sure at least some of them would end up with a job.

As for my councillor (who I can remember since I opened my eyes to the world of local politics), he too went unchallenged.

I think political-savvy students should band together next time and attempt to give these unchallenged dictators a run for their money. If anything, it'll be good experience.

Let's get a province-wide students' movement going. We could all run under the same banner.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Advertising and news

Working at a small town newspaper, I am getting more and more of a sense of what news is all about. I am however quite disappointed in the way advertising plays such a crucial role in what is being reported on. In our area, there are 3 newspapers: Etoile (a bi-weekly French paper), the Hudson Gazette and Your local journal (where I work).

I had always thought that Etoile was too focused on advertising - you flip through about 75 pages, and you get approximately 10 pages of content. Even that is being generous, because of lot of it are pictures and Community Calendars. So, you might take 10 minutes to go through the paper. I asked myself, who goes through these ads? How can anyone find anything when there are maybe 20 ads per pages (the size of a business card)? I know papers rely on advertising, but I hadn't realized to what extent.

The paper I work for, is no exception, in the sense that the paper runs only if we get enough advertising to pay for the cost of producing the paper. You see, these local papers are free, therefore, there is no income from subscriptions. So far, our paper has been able to keep a fair balance between advertising and content, something I am grateful for. However, I realized that advertising has been dominating the content of the paper.

I look at the composition of the staff: there is the editor, a french journalist and me (I write a few articles per week) doing the reporting. And then there are almost 10 people working in the advertising department (!).
I had a discussion with the office manager (she oversees advertising) and she hadn't realized how much advertising was taking place in the paper. We both know they are essential in the survival of the paper, but she didn't realize that the editorial department was being treated almost as secondary to advertising. She was glad I reminded her that the paper is about reporting first and foremost and has since but a much bigger emphasis that more news is put into the paper.
Community papers are essential, I believe because they report the issues that are from within the community. Big papers won't talk about the vandalism going around the town's school, they won't talk about residen'ts contempt with speeding on their residential streets, they won't talk about school events, community meetings, shows and local people. And they don't talk about municipal politics.

On the flip side, local business greatly benefit from local newspapers - they are a cheap way to reach the local people and to show they are involved in the community. For example, we have a sports section, paid by the hockey association, we have school notes pages, sponsored by a local business. They know people want this news and they know people will think highly of them if they sponsor a page. So I guess there is no harm in helping each other out in small towns.

One thing that does bother me is that sometimes the publisher or sales people ask up to write up an article based on an ad for an upcoming event. For example, for the upcoming issue this week, I wrote a piece about an art exhibition and the art association doing the show because they asked that we give them some publicity (since they placed an ad in this week). I was a bit reluctant, considering they already got publicity with the ad. So instead of simply talking about their event, I found out that a competing artist association is also having a show the same weekend, raising money for the same association. So I wrote a comparison piece, explaining to people why these two associations are different, how one association started because of fighting within the other group. So, I managed to write about the exhibition without simply reiterating what was in the ad.

So there are ways around it, you just have to be creative about it.

I don't know if there are other alternatives of getting money to run a small newspaper (other than subscription revenue; something I don't think would work here) without succombing to the grips of advertising.

The only thing I hope for our newspaper, because we are relatively new, is that we don't fall into the trap of giving up news space for advertising. Ads should not become so prevalent that one wonders if the newspaper is just a business catalogue.