The Grant Rant

A journalist's view from Niagara

Sometimes journalists find their careers in newspapers. Other times, newspapers find them. For myself and fellow Calgarian, Bishop Grandin Highschool alum and friend Steve Warburton, it was a bit of both.  As young men, neither of us set out to become newspaper men but fate, it seems, had other ideas.

In January, the two us started an email exchange discussing the state of our industry, social media, the difference between weekly and daily newspapers, how we found our way into newspapers, how we go about producing the news and election night pizza!

For those interested in some interesting perspectives on journalism, here is the conversation that followed. (My apologies to Steve for posting this so late.)

Steve Warburton is the managing editor of the weekly newspaper The Glengarry News. Grant LaFleche is an investigative reporter at The St. Catharines Standard.

Steve: Recently, you and I had a back-and-forth about the events that happened in Washington DC shortly after the March for Life. I speak, of course, of the Covington Catholic students (many of them in MAGA gear), the native elder who was there for an annual ceremony, and the Black Hebrew Israelites, who spent the better part of two hours hurling invective at pretty much everyone.

What happened next has been recorded and written about, ad nauseum, on the internet, so it probably doesn’t need to be rehashed here, though the one constant that both sides seem to be saying is that there are no heroes in this story. The talking point seems to be who is the biggest villain? Some of us place the lion’s share of the fault with the BHI, who called the students “bastards” and “incest children” and “pedophiles” and probably much worse – thus provoking them into chanting their school cheer (a display of solidarity) that, perhaps, morphed into something more sinister. Some lay the blame with the students, claiming that their MAGA hats are advertisements for their privileged and racist worldviews. As one liberal friend of mine put it, “wearing those loses them all credence and sympathy.”

Obviously, I have my opinion on this (as do you) but what I’ve been contemplating more recently is how social media platforms has made it a much different world from when you and I were in high school. Back in 1991, it’s unlikely what happened in DC would have even made the news – not because it’s not newsworthy but because no one would have recorded it. I don’t find it at all peculiar that every single Generation X’er I’ve ever spoken to has told me they’re happy they didn’t have Facebook or Twitter when they were growing up. This suggest that social media is a pox and a blessing. What I find most disconcerting is that it can give rise to “citizen journalism” – which is not necessarily a bad thing, though it’s certainly disheartening when these citizen journalists are so dedicated to an ideology that they won’t even print a follow-up piece, or a retraction, when other facts come to light.

Your thoughts?

Grant: I think there are a number of things coming out of, what in the grander scheme of things, was not exactly an earth-shattering story, but nonetheless has come to dominate the news cycle and social media.

It’s an interesting question because it represents, I would submit, the deleterious impact social media – Twitter in particular – has on journalism. It also shows that sometimes journalists are rushing too much to try and pull together a story they see on Twitter. Remember, the first thing that hit social media was the short clip focused on that kid grinning at that elder, kids shouting at him. That clip is what went viral. A bunch of website that cosplay as journalism put it up (in this case more left-leaning websites, because the incident suited their political narrative.) Then it caught the attention of major media outlets who, while they provided some context, really rushed their reporting, painting an incomplete incident of the event. It took two or three days before the Post and Times published accounts of the more complex situation.

Essentially, Twitter lead journalism by the nose in this case, and I think that is almost always a mistake. As Bob Woodward said at a recent event I was at, the speed of Twitter makes him a little “batshit crazy”  I think the incident shows just how wary journalists need to be about immediately pouncing on an event spreading like a fire on social media.
I actually disagree that if this story had happened in an area before cell phones it would not have made the news. I rather suspect it would have, but it would have been done more responsibly, with the various pieces of the story properly told in the first place, rather than get short-changed by this obsessive rush to feed the social media beast. I think a hate group taunting a group of Catholic students, sporting hats to declare their support for a divisive president, and then up behaving in a racist manner toward an Indigenous elder who, himself clearly did not know what was happening between those two groups, is news. But the story needs to be told for it is.

You are correct, I suspect, that because those kids were wearing Trump hats, they were judged immediately by many people. The job of a journalist, though, is not to treat people as signifiers of an ideology. We can report on what the kids did, what the hats mean etc. But it all has to be done in context. Because as I like to say (Thank you Star Trek: Discovery) “Context is for kings.” And that story, how it was reported, even how people react to it now, lacked that context.

By the way, I have little good to say about “citizen journalists” these days, for all the reasons above. This story is a product of “citizen journalism” in a way – no careful fact checking, just a rush to put material out there to generate as incendiary a response as possible.

To turn a question toward you, how do you manage or deal with social media, particularly Twitter, at your paper? What do you think about the impact of social media on our profession?

Also – and this may be interesting because I think we had very different immediate reactions to the story about those kids and that elder when it first emerged – how did you originally view it? How did you react to it when it initially surfaced?

Steve: I’ll confess that when I first saw that clip, my initial reaction was outrage toward the kids. I’m happy I didn’t jump the gun because I would have felt foolish once the broader picture came to light. I have some left-leaning friends whose opinion on the matter wasn’t altered by the larger context. That’s their business I suppose. Some people are so married to their ideology that it’s pointless even trying to share facts with them.
At my paper, Twitter isn’t that big of a problem. We are, for all intents and purposes, the only official paper in our county but other newspapers pick up stories that affect us now and then. I get annoyed when one of the dailies scoops us on something and this, I think, is the big reason why the DC situation exploded so quickly.

All journalists want to get the scoop. All of us want exclusives or to be able to say “you heard it here first.” It saddens me that this drive, the need to get information out there ASAP, often comes at the expense of a full and well-balanced story. People can get hurt when this happens. I think about the kid in the MAGA hat in particular. He’s not completely innocent but I surely think he should be exonerated from the larger crimes that were hurled at him by the left.

This touches on something else we spoke about before – namely, the metaphysical impossibility of getting “all the facts.” I agree that it’s important to get as many facts as possible but you can’t get all of them. An example: there is a saucepan on my desk. I can tell you some important facts about this saucepan. It is stainless steel. It was given to me by my mother about 20 years ago. It has a black handle. There is residue from Campbell’s cream of tomato soup on the bottom (don’t judge me.) Indeed, if someone commissioned me to write an essay about that saucepan, I could do so. I could delve into its history, the meals it helped prepare, etc… but, obviously, I can’t tell you everything about it. I don’t know where it was made, for example. I don’t know where its raw materials were sourced or the name of the store where it was sold as a new item.

It’s conceivable that my ignorance of these details could offend my readers. Someone could be upset that I don’t give proper credit to the manufacturing company, for example. I guess that might read as minutiae, but I am constantly amazed as to what will offend my readers and what will not.

So yeah, we can’t get all the facts. But if more facts present themselves, then journalists should jolly well do a follow-up story. It seems like it is the ethical thing to do.
You and I have a mutual disdain for “citizen journalists,” as we like to call them, but I’m not too afraid that they will cause professional newspapermen and women to go the way of the pinsetter or the factory lector. When I call a government department or a PR firm and tell them who I am, I can be reasonably assured that I’ll get a phone call in the not too distant future. If I tell them that I write a political blog, I doubt I would garner the same degree of respect.

Grant: You touch on something really important there that I don’t think is talked about enough in our profession, and certainly not communicated well enough to our readers, which is the sometimes incremental nature of news reporting – and, in our current context, how that is different from what we saw in that MAGA hat wearing kids story.

It’s true we cannot get “all the facts” all the time, as you say. Bob Woodward says our job is to get to the “closest possible version of the truth” – meaning we try to get our darts as close to the bullseye as possible, always with the knowledge that there may be some piece of information relevant to the story that we don’t have yet.

I experienced this in a big way with a more than a year-long investigation I did into Niagara’s regional government. My first story was the result of an investigation that ran from Nov. 2017 to April 6, 2018, when we published the first story. I thought at the time we had the story, whatever pieces of information we didn’t have must be small and they would come up and the impact of the story was felt. I was wronger than the BeeGees performing at a Hendrix tribute concert. I did not clearly understand it at the time, but that first story was the start of a dive down an investigative rabbit hole that is still not entirely over. We ended up publishing more than 50 stories on the subject, including three other major investigative features. Each story uncovered new pieces of the puzzle, creating an increasingly clearer picture of what happened.

So to use your saucepan example, it was like the first story told readers what the saucepan was and the materials it was made, the next several stories told them who made and how, and finally that it was used Throw Momma From the Train style to smash someone in the face.

I think many times, solid reporting opens doors to new avenues of investigation. Sources lead to documents, which leads to new sources, which leads to new documents. Stories led to new information that led to new stories.

However, I think that is different from what happened with the MAGA Hat kids. In that case, the initial reporting was poor. It wasn’t a case of “where is what we know happened, and these are the questions we are still trying to get answers to.” It was a rush to judgement that wasn’t actually an attempt to find out what happened and why. It was reporting on a video that went viral without context. I mean, we know even know the original clip that you and I everyone else reacted to was posted by a Twitter account that appears to exist only to foment outrage. So while the incremental nature of news reporting eventually brought a much fuller story to light, I think the failure was right at the start when there wasn’t nearly enough of an attempt by legacy media outlets to get at a fuller picture of the story.

The other point you raise about “being first” is also something that worries me. Yes, we all want the exclusive story, we want to be first on a big story. The competitive nature of journalism drives that, and social media has only heightened and it can be healthy. But more often these days, it has a deleterious impact on reporting for the same reason we have been talking about with the MAGA story – it creates a rush to get ANYTHING out, as opposed to working to confirm the facts. I once gave a talk at a college journalism class and the teacher had written on the board “speed is the new accuracy.” I walked up to the board, crossed out the word “speed” and wrote “Accuracy is the new accuracy.” It’s better to be right than first and it is certainly better to hold off publishing something if you don’t know enough of the facts.

You are right about bloggers and “citizen journalists”. To be fair, there are some blogs and podcasts that do a damn fine job, but they are exception not the rule. And unlike you and me and our colleagues who sit through town council meetings and read government budget reports, they just react to what we produce with their “hot takes”. It tends to make the issue of “fake news” worse in my view. As I like to say, when bloggers start sitting through local public works meetings, I will start to take them seriously.
Have you ever found yourself in a position where you had a story, or what you thought was a story, and then had to decide whether or not you push that out on your website or social media or hold back until you had more details?

Steve: Yes, but I doubt it happens as much as it does at a daily. As I said before, my big fear is getting scooped by the dailies. When that happens, I’m put in a real dilemma. I can publish something stale and people will think I’m slow or I cannot publish at all and people will think I’m incompetent.

Still, I’d rather get SOMETHING in. I did that recently, in fact, when the township I cover held its budget planning meeting on our production day. I knew the real story wouldn’t come out for another week, so I wrote a small story that summarized the draft budget and we put that on the front page. If I let the readers know that more details are forthcoming, I think I’m making everyone happy.

Speaking of following up, an old publisher of mine once told me that not a lot of reporters are good at doing follow-up stories. He recommended having three years worth of agendas on hand (this was before smart phones) so it would be easier to plan follow-up stories. An example: a woman in a town near me had to have a double mastectomy. She was kind enough to invite me into her house, tell me about her battle with breast cancer, and, more poignantly, her struggle to feel like a woman again. I wrote the story but I never followed up. I wish I marked that day in my agenda so I could go back to her house a year later to see how she’s coping.

An afterthought, I went to watch our junior hockey team play tonight. Toward the end of the first period, there was a scuffle between the two teams. Apparently, it was intense enough to involve the parents in the stands. There was screaming, profanity, etc… and I thought I spied one heated exchange between two middle-aged men. I had my camera ready, prepared to snap a picture if fisticuffs flew. It didn’t happen and I’m grateful for that – not just because I’m a pacifist but also because it could have turned into a small town version of MAGA hat.

Grant: So where do you draw the line between putting something online in advance of your weekly publication? At a daily, we tend to publish online first most often, unless we deliberately hold it back to publish online at the same time as the print paper is on the newsstands.

I agree with your old publisher that reporters are not doing good enough with regards to follow up stories, although I do not think that is a function of reporters not being competent or not caring. I think the state of cutbacks is such that we don’t have the staff to follow up on everything. It is very frustrating. I often find that we are choosing what not to cover as often as we are deciding what we are covering. For instance, I just spent the better part of a year and half on a single investigation into the local regional government. By devoting that level of investigative resource on a single story, I am by necessity, not covering other stories I could be covering. And yet, if I had not invested that degree of energy on that story, we would have not been able to publish stories of real public interest. It is an ongoing Catch-22 across the newspaper industry and I suspect a great many reporters feel somewhat helpless to cope with it. And I am not certain what the solution is other than corporations reinvesting in their newsrooms. There are a huge number of stories that would have routinely appeared in newspapers that are not getting told because there are no longer enough reporters to cover them. I think our communities are poorer for that, and something intrinsically important is getting lost.

I do often think weeklies could play a more vital role in this regard, particularly in markets where they are effectively competing with a daily or the local daily is a sister paper. Instead of covering the same stories the dailies are plugged into, weeklies could hunt down the stories that are not being told by the dailies. If the local daily is not, for instance, providing in-depth coverage of the local school board or hospital, the weekly could choose to pick up that coverage.

To your last thought, I suspect the potential for that kind of incident has always been there. The trouble now is we are primed for it. We expect it. Perhaps not without some justification, but I do worry that the expectation of that sort of thing does subtly influence how we view stories we are covering, or at the very least, captures too much of our attention and, as a result, we end up missing things.

Steve: I think my publisher’s point was that reporters are incompetent in not following up stories, though he believed the problem was poor planning, not apathy. I’m blessed in that I’ve never been too stressed about cutbacks, but then again, I work at an independent newspaper, which means that the upper echelon is ultimately concerned with putting out a good product, not putting smiles on the faces of a sea of anonymous shareholders.

You and I both grew up in Calgary, so I’m sure you remember when The Calgary Herald unveiled its new product, Neighbours, which was, essentially, a community newspaper stuck in the middle of the Herald. You wouldn’t find any investigative reports on city budget meetings or school board woes, but you would find stories about book store employees who were retiring after 50 years or math teachers who moonlighted as fire jugglers. I’m not sure if the Herald still publishes Neighbours, but I daresay it was a more fun read than what went on page A1 of the Herald.

Full confession: I much prefer writing the Neighbours type stories. It’s my forté, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, I CAN cover a budget meeting with the best of them, but I do my best work writing human interest stories. I doubt I’ll ever win the Pulitzer and I’m totally cool with that.

You mention your frustrations working at a daily. As I work in a more relaxed environment, my frustrations are probably different than yours. I thought I’d try to think of a few frustrations we might both experience.

– People who can answer your question, but insist that you talk to a media spokesperson. Government organizations and school boards are notorious for this. The other day, I was interviewing a local principal about a fairly innocuous matter. She refused to talk to me, insisting that the school board would contact me to “ensure we’re giving the same information to everyone.”

– People who think that reporters are Burger King employees ala “Have It Your Way.” I’ve talked to people who think they have the right to tell me how to write the story, what the focus should be, how I should take the picture, and where it should be located in the newspaper. (“I want this story on the front page, above the fold.”) Over the years, I’ve had a few people express their displeasure with the way I wrote about them. One example that springs to mind: a lady had self-published a cookbook. She was expecting I would write a big advertorial that would (of course) negate the need (and expense) of advertising said cookbook. She was not happy when all the newspaper did was print a small picture and a brief caption. “I actually lost money on that,” she later told me.

– Streeters, also known as “question of the week.” I used to have a pretty good success rate of getting people to participate but it’s been getting harder and my fellow reporters have told me it’s getting harder for them too. As such, we discontinued it and replaced it with a new feature, Student Voice. It’s still a streeter but now we only talk to young people. I figured that since kids are so eager to have their picture in the paper, I’ll make the streeter all about them instead.

We’re nearing the end of our dialogue so I thought maybe I would switch tacks here and talk about my own way of doing journalism. I didn’t go to J-school. I happened to fall into this career. I was living in a very very small town that had a fledgling paper and, since I had some rudimentary writing experience, I did a bit of writing for them. Somehow, I garnered enough clippings to get hired as a sportswriter for the now defunct Regina Free Press. After that paper folded, I gathered up my sports stories and started sending them around to all the community newspapers in the AWNA and the SWNA. The North Battleford News-Optimist bit, giving me my first full-time newspaper gig in the spring of 1999, when I was 26. From there I moved on to the Sherbrooke Record, East Northumberland Independent, Stettler Independent, and then my current position at The Glengarry News, which I’ve held for almost 16 years.

Somewhere in there, I was mentored by a career newspaperman named JT Grossmith, who gave me my current job. He became aware of me after I sent him some clippings when I was between newspaper jobs and toiling away as a bicycle courier in Montreal. He liked a story I had written about a recycling initiative in the Eastern Townships. The lede was something like this: “Harry Smith is holding a kleenex as he stands above a recycling bin. ‘Do you see this Kleenex?’ asks Mr. Smith, who happens to be in charge of the city’s new recycling facility. ‘It can be recycled about five or six times before it ends its life.'”

JT said he liked how I was talking about a person instead of an issue. I told him it was a lesson I gleaned from the James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, where the narrator is talking about a journalism lesson her boss once gave her. “Always tell a story through people,” the boss said. “So if you’re writing a story about a bus strike, don’t start with rubbish like ‘a bus strike will begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.’ Find someone you can tell the story through. An example: ‘Mary Jones is a single mother of two little boys and she relies on the bus system to get her to work each morning. Now, with news that the bus drivers are striking, Miss Jones has no idea how she will get to work.'”
Yeah, it’s a useful strategy and sometimes I think I owe my career to James Bond. What do you think about telling stories through people?

Grant: I would agree with your former publisher if things were as they were 15 or 20 years ago. At least in a daily newsroom, the challenge caused by cutbacks means that follow ups are sometimes lost not because of poor planning, but because there is simply not enough bodies to cover all the news that needs covering. As I say, we often find ourselves determine what we will not cover as much as we determine what we will devote energy and resources to. The situation is far from ideal.

I certainly take your point about the difference in tone between say the old Neighbours publication as a weekly and the daily news in the Herald. Neighbours was still around when I started my career in the Herald’s newsroom in 1997 through to the summer of 1998 and, as I recall, it covered community news in the way that most weeklies do.
I suppose my larger concern, pulling the lens back to the entire newspaper industry, is that as daily newsroom shrink and there are fewer journalists covering their beats and communities, should weeklies consider changing their mandate somewhat? Don’t get me wrong, I actually think that a newspaper ought to have room for the full spectrum of news – from what gets labelled “soft” news (community events, fundraisers, and the kinds of features you mention that engage readers.

I think papers have suffered as those elements started to vanish from dailies as they necessarily had to recalibrate in the face of cutbacks. Given those facts, and the rise of what is called “new desserts” (communities that no longer have any local paper whatsoever), has the time come for weeklies to recalibrate its coverage as well? Or in doing so, would the kind of coverage that pretty much only effectively weeklies deliver – the kind of news you talk about – would be gone forever?

(As an aside, I am not a fan of streeters. Never have been. I think they got used too often as filler and, from a data perspective, actually do not provide an accurate glimpse at the plus of a community. That is, in effect, why we stopped including twitter reactions to our stories some time ago. While it is entertaining, or can be, the fact is the loudest voices on social media are not necessarily a reflection of what a much broader segment of a community actually thinks.)

So my question to you, then is, what do you think the mandate of a weekly should be given the economic environment newspapers presently find themselves in?

Funnily enough, I fell backwards into my career as well. I had written some op-ed stories for my student paper at Bishops University (where I took political studies and history, not journalism) and did not really consider a career as a journalist. I ended up job shadowing a reporter at the Herald while I was between jobs, helped a reporter put together a front page exclusive about a chemical plant explosion, and the rest was history. Interned for three months before being given a full-time contract and put on the police desk. I worked at the Herald until July 1998, when I took a job at the Standard on the recommendation of my editors who thought working at a mid-sized daily would provide excellent experience and more responsibility than I could be given as the cub reporter at the Herald. At the time, my intention was to try and return to the Calgary Herald in a few years…but in that span, the newspaper industry was hammer by cuts, job openings dried up, and 20 years on I am still at The Standard.

I cannot complain, though. The Standard has been very good to me and I have been able to do things at this paper that, in retrospect, I might not have at the Herald over the same time frame: Interviewed Prime Ministers, covered world boxing championships, travel overseas for stories, end up featured in documentaries, and see my work occasionally play a role in positive change in the market I work in. It’s long, draining, and stressful work and its not for everyone, but its a fun and interesting career to say the least.
It does amuse me, to be honest, that they two of us ended up in newspapers. If we could find a time machine and go back to Bishop Grandin highschool in Calgary and ask our younger selves what they wanted to be when they grew up, I highly doubt young Steve or young Grant would say “newspaper journalist.” I suspect that many of our old friends would be equally surprised.

In terms of “telling stories through people”, I think that is excellent advice to give almost any reporter regardless of the subject matter. I think the best reporting is the kind of reporting where you can marry the data about a particular subject with the human element. That always stands a better change of being understood by readers and resonating with them. So, for instance, we could do a story about poverty rates in the community. Let’s say the stats show that single parents are over-represented in the numbers. Now we can present those numbers in a story as such, and while its important, the numbers alone may cause some people to turn away. But if those numbers are married with the experience of actual people (in the case, the accounts real lives of single parents) then you are telling a story that people can identify with.

This applies to nearly anything. I have been preoccupied with intensive investigative work about politics in Niagara for the last two years. One of the stories that really connected with readers was a series I wrote with a colleague called “Becoming Citizen Bill” which was about how the 25-year career of a local politician was destroyed by what was, in effect, falsehoods and political attacks. We dug up all the relevant facts – emails, reports, confidential documents etc – which build a pretty strong story as it is. But the account of the person at the heart of the entire issue made the story much more complete and compelling because it contained the human element.

A few quick questions for you – in part because I think this sort of thing is up your alley:
What journalists that you haven’t worked with inspire you the most? (In my case, Bob Woodward and Edward R. Murrow)

Election night pizza – pineapple or no pineapple? (Always pineapple)
Coffee, life sustain elixir of evil goodness, or the fuel that makes the world go around (both!)

What would be your ideal paper to work at if you could pick? (Washington Post)

When will you finally admit that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie?

Steve: As this will be my last piece in this email exchange I thought I’d preface it by telling you how much I’ve enjoyed doing this. It’s not only been fun, it’s also been enlightening. I am also affording you the privilege of having the last word.
I’m not sure if weekly newspaper need to change their mandate, even in the wake of shrinking newsrooms at the daily level. Weeklies are not immune to layoffs – this is especially true of chain papers where the owners are more loyal to the shareholders than their employees. Another problem is shrinking advertising revenue. A number of years ago, it was announced that weekly newspapers were no longer going to get the national ads they had grown accustomed to. Advertisers had found it was more economical to go to the internet rather than keep relying on print media. Some publishers have been forced to raise subscription rates, sometimes to detrimental effect.

This is a peculiar phenomenon. I believe that being informed is a privilege, not a right; readers should make a small investment if they want to be privy to this information. Well some readers balk at that but they have no problem paying monthly subscription rates for Netflix or other streaming services so they can get the content they wish, free of commercials. So people will pay for entertainment but not for news. That’s peculiar and sad.

What should be the mandate of a weekly? Quite simply, at The Glengarry News, the mandate is to cover Glengarry. We tend to ignore what goes on at the provincial and federal levels unless there is a direct impact on Glengarry. One example: On Monday, some local students will be protesting the changes to OSAP. We intend to cover it. After we learned that the new version of the Canada Food Guide pretty much ignored the dairy industry, we asked LOCAL dairy producers for their thoughts. When the province unveiled its marijuana legislation, our story focused on whether or not LOCAL municipalities were opting in. So, in short, I think weekly newspapers need to be obsessed with keeping things local.

I enjoyed reading the story about how you also fell into journalism. High school Shteevie never would have envisioned himself as a newspaper reporter. In Grade 11, I even turned down an opportunity to write a weekly high school column for theHerald. (I should note that this opportunity was only offered tothe members of Mrs. Beck’s creative writing class; I’m curious why you didn’t sign up for that course.) Back then, I still harboured dreams of being an actor.

To answer your concluding questions:

– Journalists I admire: Well, I’m not too sure how true-to-life the 1999 movie, The Insider, was, but I consider it the greatest journalism movie of all time. Lowell Bergman (famously played by Al Pacino) believed freedom of the press was so important that he was willing to risk bankrupting CBS, even handing over the majority of its shares, to a big tobacco company. I’m not sure I could do that. I can also tell you one of the best pieces of journalism I have ever read. In 1994, Rolling Stone published a series of articles that were, curiously, not about rock stars or hep comedians or other pop culture figures. They were about everyday people. There was an article about an aspiring teenaged novelist who didn’t have any hands. Another one profiled a fat middle-aged guy who worked the drive-thru window at Wendy’s. I think there was another one about a teacher who liked teaching kids how to read. I liked it so much because it was the perfect antidote to one of the West’s greatest failures – our propensity for celebrity worship. (I don’t think I need to tell you that the average person on the street might not be able to name our last five prime ministers, but they can sure tell you their favourite character on The Walking Dead.) I admire Bill Maher, he of Politically Incorrect, who tried to combat this by injecting citizen panellists on his show every now and then. Unfortunately, it didn’t change the fact that when it comes to the economy, people are less interested in what a Nobel-winning economist has to say than Paris Hilton.

– Election night pizza: Oh Grant, I’m jealous. Around here, we have the luxury of treating election night like it’s just another day. There was no communal pizza during the recent provincial election or the more recent municipal election. We went to our assignments, got the necessary quotes and pictures, and then filed copy before bedtime. You wouldn’t like going for pizza with me though. Not only do I eat it sans pineapple, I eat it sans cheese.

– Coffee? I don’t drink it. Not regularly anyway. I’m a tea man. And it has to be loose leaf tea. That’s the only way to drink it.

– My ideal newspaper? The Glengarry News. I’ve no desire to make the jump to dailies. I can see myself spending the rest of myprofessional life at this newspaper.

Die Hard. Not only is it NOT the best Christmas movie ever made, it’s not even a Christmas movie. Christmas movies are not released in the summer, as Die Hard was. I understand that Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve, but that’s not a qualifier. The big fight at the end of Rocky takes place on New Year’s Day. Doesn’t make it a New Year’s Day movie. No, Grant, I stand by my earlier stated opinion that the best Christmas movie ever made is the 1969 James Bond offering, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was released during the Christmas season, it has Diana Rigg in a bathrobe, the stakes are higher (everyone in the world dies vs a billionaire losing millions of dollars) and the henchmen don’t look like constipated Fabio wannabes. Yippie-ki-yay, Mr. Habs Fan.

Grant: You hit on something there that I think is so important, which is the idea that the news is something many people expect to be free. I think this is our fault as an industry in a way. Newspapers were very slow off the mark to adapt to a digital market place. Most papers did not fully move content online when Napster went down in flames and by then, online users had already adapted to a culture of what amounts to overt piracy. want to watch a movie, listen to a song, read a book….steal it online. Then papers starting offering everything for free and thus trained, in a way, our readers to expect newspapers for free online. I never read a fella on Twitter not that long ago bemoan the concept of paywalls because it means poor folk could not afford the news…as though in the past they didn’t read newspapers before the dawn of the interwebs.

The fact remains, and I say this as often as I can, producing the news is neither cheap nor easy. You and I work in different spectrums of the news media – investigative reporting and community news – but at the core, we still have to expend a huge amount of time and energy to bring the news to our readers. We spent long nights away from friends and family to do this job because we believe it is vital to our communities.

And yet, as you correctly note, people will pay for Netflix without blinking an eye but won’t pay the same amount for information they need at the ballot box or when they go to the local grocery store.

I loved your example about the dairy industry. It’s one of those stories that we have to remind readers about. There are stories published every day in dailies and weeklies that would go untold, and the public would remain in the dark about, if reporters were not digging into them.

I hope we can continue doing this, and talking about journalism and newspapers. In an era of “fake news” and increasing propaganda, reminding people of the value of real journalism is important. And on a personal note, it’s been fun getting to know an old friend better!

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