08.14.2012 05:00 AM

In today’s Sun: the death of Big Media

A while back, I gave a talk at the University of Toronto. My topic was how big institutions ­— governments, unions, corporations, associations and (particularly) big media — are completely out to lunch when it comes to communication.

I told the 300 kids in attendance that big institutions speak in a language, and a manner, that normal people just don’t. I gave the kids an example: Lots and lots of people don’t actually know how many million are in a billion, I said.

“But governments and corporations and unions, and especially big media, keep talking about billions all the time,” I added.

“Which means they are literally talking to regular people in a language that they don’t really understand.”

It’s not just language, however. The entire culture has changed, too. But big institutions ­— and big media in particular — keep talking at citizens in a manner that is as old-fashioned as a rotary phone or a VCR.

For instance: Back at the dawn of time, when I had the privilege to work for then-opposition leader Jean Chretien, we selected subjects for the daily Question Period by (a) reading newspapers and (b) watching CBC and CTV news. We determined what was important by watching Peter Mansbridge, in effect. We based our approach in QP on what the journalists and columnists wrote in the morning papers.

So I asked the kids: ”When was the last time one of you watched Peter Mansbridge’s show? When was the last time you sat down on a leisurely Saturday, and read a newspaper?”

All of this wasn’t very scientific, of course, but neither is the big media, most days. Too often, big media make important decisions based upon anecdotes, hearsay and a tenuous understanding of marketing data.


  1. Joe says:

    Very good article, Warren.

    Myself, I am 47 years old and I have stopped watching TV news years ago. I surf the on-line newspapers only to get the jist of what is going on on any given day. I felt that it was necessary to me to get news from many sources because relying on one source only provided the spin of that source. I guess I get me news the old fashioned way now, I watch it happen without external commentary and make my own opinion.

  2. Doug says:

    WK knows what time it is. New ways of talking to each other are helping more and more folks recognize the stench of decadence coming from traditional media.

  3. que sera sera says:

    When MSM acts solely as an echo chamber for the political class, you understand exactly how the fifth estate sold out long ago and made themselves irrelevant. To me what is amazing is that MSM completely failed to grasp how their skewed commodity was entirely and superbly available on the internet from a multiplicity of qualified and independent sources.

  4. Tiger says:

    Big media are intermediaries.

    Those of us who are news junkies want news without the mediation; those of us who aren’t, don’t want the news, period.

  5. Mike says:

    I teach High School…
    Kids are informed as much as I remember being informed 20 years ago….they just get that information in a completely different way than Big Media. Jon Stewart is who they consider the most trustworthy newscaster on tv….followed by Stephen Colbert…

    I think they are also far more informed about the underlying bias in the news. As digital natives they can be exposed to differing viewpoints instantly.

    They also expect the world to respond to them – like all of us on your website – they assume their voice has equal value and deserve to be heard.

    It really is exciting where they will lead us with the new technologies.

    • Tim L says:

      “they assume their voice has equal value and deserve to be heard”

      Everyone seems to think that these days, and yet they won’t (or can’t?) read a newspaper front to back, and get all their news from John Stewart. I love his show, but I hope your students realize he’s a comedian, with his own biases, not a newscaster, right? Might as well rely on Weekend Update on SNL to get your news.
      Getting information from multiple sources is great, but a lot of those sources are paid professional writers and journalists, and if they all get laid off as newspapers and magazines die, where does that leave us?

      And maybe I’m just a 38 year old curmudgeon, but I don’t think all voices deserve to heard. Reading the comment section of any news site confirms that.

      • Cath says:

        I agree Tim L. I also believe that those students are all about instant gratification and rewards for doing what actually? I find there’s little responsibility being taken by students these days to exhibit good communications skills at the very basic level…..ethics and standards often go right out the window.

        • Philip says:

          Wow. What makes you uniquely qualified to judge whose voice gets heard and whose does not? Nice blanket generalization of entire generation (not your own, naturally).

        • Mike Foulds says:

          What you call “good communication” is really the issue…they communicate instantly with BTW’s and LOL’s and they communicate in real time with people at ground zero through things like twitter. Timely and abundant communication is the new definition of “Good Communication” for them not grammar and diction. Don’t confuse their intelligence because of the medium…read a little McLuhan – these kids are native to a world you and I are immigrants to.
          Some of them are the most ethical and globally sensitive people you are ever likely to meet…just this year;
          Former student is working in Bangladesh helping set up a rural educational system (19 year old)
          Graduating Student named to top 20 under 20 in Canada – Sonu Solanki – she flies to India to volunteer at a hospital for her summer holidays

          Every generation is unique – you can blame WK’s for Punk, mine for Grunge, and theirs for Bieber I guess 🙂

      • Doug says:

        Don’t be too sure they don’t deserve to be heard … that kind of thinking leads to wondering why those crybabies don’t just eat cake.

        It’s in all of our best interests for everyone to be heard, even the ignorant and inarticulate. There’s good information in the comment section of any news site and in the “letters to the editor” page of any newspaper.

        • Mike Foulds says:

          To me the interesting part is they just assume their voice should be equally heard and respected….who cares what that PhD thinks…what is she an expert? I think (pick your topic and opinion and insert it here)

          But I love them. They are so amazing to watch as their minds grow- sometimes in class you can actually see the dendrites growing and glowing! I have the best career in the world…..WK and I need to talk about Dalton and this threat to legislate my working conditions though! I’ll take 0% over 4 years but back off on everything else!

  6. John says:

    Very good comments so far. I have to agree with everyone to some degree. ;o)

  7. Philip says:

    It’s funny how the death of big media comes at a time when there is a huge appetite for good reporting. Not Twitter personalities, not empty posturing dressed up as commentary (from any end of the political spectrum) and definitely not the talking heads from the 6:00 news. Good in-depth reporting has been missing for awhile in Canada.

    Which is why the National Post/Ottawa Citizen’s investigation of the election fraud/robo call scheme took a lot of people by surprise. Surprised it came from traditional media, rather than online sources. Regardless of which party a person supports, most would agree that these are the exact type of important issues which need to be investigated by journalists. Investigated fairly and impartially, with an eye to giving citizens the information they deserve.

  8. Don Johnson says:

    Does anybody read a newspaper cover to cover? Can’t imagine anyone ever doing that and I’m an old fogie.

    I agree with Warren’s point that everything has changed about the way people get information, especially among younger people.

    • I read the newspaper that comes to the door every morning. Cover to cover. And I am a VERY old fogie. Also read the twice a week local one. Also on line Newswatch. Because I am an old news-junkie fogie and have the time.

  9. Alex says:

    Warren makes a valid point, but I think his analysis is outdated. He is right that the MSM is no longer the central source for news. This point is not new, however, nor does it provide an up-to-date picture of what is replacing the MSM.

    I am a voracious consumer of news, but only a small part comes from daily papers or nightly TV / Radio newscasts. Years ago, if I wanted to know about a local artist, community activist, musician, recent film, new restaurant or local event in the city I would pick up the Ottawa Citizen or the Ottawa X-press, which recently folded. Today, I read the volunteer-operated web site Apartment 613, which provides an excellent rundown of arts and culture in the city. In fact, some have argued that Apartment 613 helped to make weekly papers like Ottawa X-Press obsolete.

    In the 1990s, if I wanted to know about development issues, I would read the Citizen and Ottawa Sun. Today, they are the last places I go to. My initial sources for new condo projects and other construction in Ottawa are: the online SkycrapersPage Forum; local blogs that are focused on development issues; web pages of community associations; and local online news sites like OpenFile. With this information, I am much better informed today than I ever was in the past about what is happening in Ottawa.

    Same for politics. Many people argue that the decline of the MSM means that politicians (whether federal, provincial or municipal) won’t be as scrutinized as before. I disagree. I regularly read countless news sites (e.g. Huffingtonpost, OpenFile, web sites like this one) that discuss politics. For me, the MSM provides only one perspective (and sometimes an out-of-date perspective) on issues that I already became aware of online.

    I don’t doubt Warren for a second when he says that the students he talked to don’t ready daily newspapers. In fact, I rarely read a newspaper from front-to-back. I am pretty confident, however, that if he were to ask the same students if they regularly gather news from web sites, blogs, discussions forums or other Internet sites, a majority would have raised their hands.

    Yes, there is a good chance that daily newspapers will die in my lifetime, and that TV institutions like the CBC will not exist in the future. But this does not mean that society will be less informed. My view is that people who are interested in their community and the news, will be better informed in the future than their counterparts when the MSM dominated the political agenda.

  10. Michael Watkins says:

    There are people who don’t know how many millions are in a billion?

    Isn’t that an indication of a lurking problem, regardless of whether people get their news from a broadsheet or via John Stewart, who sadly has no Canadian counterpart?

  11. Pat says:

    I feel like I read somewhere that the definition of the term “billion” differs in different parts of the world.

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