Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sponsored Editorial Part II

In the part I of my blog on sponsored editorial I looked at the history and negative aspects of it. Here I will examine the whys and hows of sponsored editorial.

The most obvious reason for doing it is to bring in additional revenue. This can be especially important to a small publication, radio station, t.v. station or Internet publication. However any size media will appreciate additional revenue.

The Guardian News & Media of Great Britain says, "These [sponsored] supplements are a valued source of revenue and allows us to explore in depth than editorial budgets would otherwise allow..."

So what are some general guidelines for dealing with sponsored editorial? Radio and t.v. stations should not do voice overs. Using sponsored content without attribution undermines the creditability of the station doing this. Opponents call this "fake news".

Related to this is what Australia's Nursing Review has this to say about the handling of sponsored editorial, "The layout, design and text of advertorials must be distinctly different from those of the publication." Some, like, say that no member of the editorial staff may be involved in putting together sponsored editorial.

Single or limited sponsorship can limit the media's ability to cover a story and can dictate directly or indirectly what stories may or may not be covered and how a story is covered. Probably the best way to handle this is to go for the clearly sponsored program or section. The airline industry has done this for years. Some companies also sponsor a magazine or t.v. show. Two examples of this are Westjet's Up Magazine and Costco's The Costco Connection, both of whom I've written for.

There's a lot more that could be said about the does and don'ts of sponsored journalism, but that will have to wait for another time.

On a sad note, I just learned that one of my favorite magazines, which I have occassionally written for, Harrowsmith, ceased publication July 25th after 35 years. The magazine treated writers reasonably well and provided a unique Canadian voice to country life. It will be solely missed and I wish the staff well in finding new jobs.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sponsored Editorial Part I

Is it possible to have sponsored editorial without selling your soul (i.e. compromising your integrity)? This question will be examined in a two part blog on this subject. In part one I'll examine the history and negative aspects of it. In part two, to be posted either around New Year's or around Christmas, I'll look at the positive aspects and how to do it.

Purists may argue that sponsored editorial undermines the integrity and credibility of that particular medium, be it a newspaper, a magazine, a t.v. news show, a radio news program or news online site, ezine or blog. However, sponsored editorial isn't new. In the 19th century in Canada and the United States, at least, you had newspapers sponsored by particular parties and religions. Today we have sponsored newspapers, magazines, radio, t.v. and Internet blogs and ezines. For example there's The Costco Connection and The Christian Science Monitor. Sponsored articles and video have been doene for years in the travel, health and food industries.

This still hasn't answered the question of whether or not sponsored editorial is generally good or generally bad. On the negative side it can blue the distinction between advertorial and journalism and undermine the credibility of a particular medium. It can leave readers or viewers wondering about the accuracy of a sponsored product, service or place. Sponsored editorial and segments have the potential of dictating what else can be published or shown.

Some travel magazines, travel sections of newspapers and travel programs on t.v. and radio won't allow a contributor to accept freebees on account of fearing that the contributor's opinion might be colored by this. Speaking as a writer who has taken the odd freebee, my seeking this out was colored by my positive opinion of, in this case, the attractions.

A major problem is not clearly identifying something as being sponsored. There has been a big uproar over fake (sponsored) t.v. news that is not clearly identified as such. The term "fake news" implies a lack of credibility and trust, which is reinforced by the sense of coverup when not identified as being sponsored.

Wraps are another potential problem. These are newspapers or magazines covered with a fake sponsored cover, which may often have some items taken from the real cover.

In my next post I will cover the positive aspects of sponsored editorial and provide some guidelines as to how to deal with it.

By the way, I missed my last post as my girlfriend, who lives out of town, was visiting me for a week and I simply forgot until it was too late.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Crowded TV Screen

I have a confession to make. I don't watch a lot of TV. In fact I don't have cable or satellite, getting my signal instead from rabbit ears. I also watch the odd show online. Frankly I'd rather curl up with a good book than watch tv or put on a movie.

One of the few programs I do regularly watch is Canada AM for the news, weather, sports and business news. If they're going to be talking about something that interests me I'd stick around longer, otherwise I only watch the first 20 minutes. I especially like seeing the weather across Canada and the business news with Michael Caine.

Another thing I like about Canada AM is the fairly clean screen. In the upper right corner is the time. At the bottom is the Toronto weather, followed by a moving line with more detailed Toronto weather, along with traffic conditions and, when appropriate, transit delays.

I used to get up half an hour earlier to watch CHCH Morning Live, but they cluttered up the screen too much. On the left side of they have show promos with photos, while on the right side they have two traffic cams, temperature and time. At the bottom they have show promos with words and underneath a moving line with sports scores and stock quotes. That leaves only a small box with the show itself for which you need a big screen tv just to see it.

Personally I'd like to see them replace the talking heads with headline news, local weather aroung the region and local events, with a spinning globe, a twirling line and an interactive ticktacktoe thrown in for good measure.

Seriously I've come to conclusion that the redesigned show was created by someone with too much time on their hands. I highly recommend the people at CHCH Morning Live watch Don McMillan's Life After Death By Powerpoint at as the principles definitely apply here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mobile Devices A Right?

Is communicating via mobile devices a right or a privilege? This issue came upm last month in the San Francisco area when BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) cut off power to four cellular towers for a three hour period. A protest against police brutality was planned on BART train platforms. (In July a BART police officer shot and killed a transient after he allegedly lunged at an officer with a knife. In 2009 a white BART police officer was found guilt of involuntary manslaughter after killing an unarmed black commuter.) BART cut off the cellular towers in an effort to block protestors from using mobile devices to coordinate the demonstration. The protest went ahead anyway.

Naturally there was an outcry about this from various people, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to the interruption of mobile communication. They called it the wrong response to political protests.

BART in response said they were trying to protect their customers from protestors intent on causing chaos. "It is illegal to be protesting on the platform," a BART spokesperson said.

BART's actions are part of a growing trend to block or interrupt mobile devices users to stop protests. Both Britain and Egypt have used it. All used this tactic in the name of protecting public safety.

One person, on a list I'm on, commented, "If BART had failed to spend the money to wire the tunnel, would they be infringing on free speech?" Another said that this is a "value-added" service so it's okay to block it. They also compared it with airlines blocking mobile device use once an airplane takes off.

Others counter by saying that if the towers were not owned by BART they were interfering with a common carrier. Even if the towers were owned by BART then it was blocking public access to a public resource paid for by taxpayers.

So who is right? At first glance the argument for public safety makes sense. However, in Egypt this argument was used as a tool of repression. Governments, their agencies and businesses have been known to hide behind public safety in the name of preventing protests. There's also the issue that BART by shutting down the towers not only blocked protestors from communicating, but also blocked the majority of users who use mobile devices for business and personal use.

How do you handle the two competing interests? When the police want to search a house, tap a phone or examine e-mail, they get a warrant. Perhaps the best way to handle restricting mobile device use for public safety is to get a court order permitting it.

To swtich gears, I want to publicly thank and praise CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson for his many years of service. I've long been a viewer of CTV news because of Mr. Robertson. I will miss his delivery, which always seemd to strike a right balance. I'm glad he is sticking around in journalism with W5 and other projects and I hope, for his sake, that he dies doing what he so clearly loves to do, but, preferably, not for many years yet. Best wishes to Lisa LaFlamme as she takes over the anchor and becomes a new broadcasting legend.

Finally a tip of the hat to Ken Shaw, also of CTV, for sharing his story of being treated for prostate cancer. It may be just the spur some men need to get tested and thus spare their lives for a few more years. And yes I've had a regular PSA test.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

When To Draw The Line

In my early years I once queried an editor offering to be sort of a proof reader as I had noticed several errors in the magazine. The editor wrote me back pointing out several errors in my letter. Whoops! I can laugh at it now, but I sure felt bad and very embarrassed at the time.
Recently I put my foot in my mouth again with another editor when I threw in a comment that, only after rereading it a couple of weeks later, did I realize I came across as possibly questioning the editor's judgement on something in the publication, which is not what I had intended. I apologized, but the editor has ignored me. I had previously written four articles for the person and had had a good relationship.
On the flip side a new editor I queried was very encouraging until I called the person. Then the editor gave me all sorts of excuses for not using me. When I said you're a closed market then the editor denied it and encouraged me to query again even though it was VERY obviously I'd never be used. On top of this the editor talked down to me. I called the person on this in an email and challenged them to give me an assignment. The person sort of apologized and then underminded it by offering me the assignment on spec.
These examples bring up the tough question of where to draw the line on mistakes made by writers and editors with each other - when to forgive and forget and when to walk or run. I realized that for some things it depends on the personalities of the parties involved. It also depends, rightly or wrongly, on such things as the work load and stress levels of the offended party.
That aside the following are what I consider to be generally good guidelines for either forgive and forget or walk or run:
1. The nature of the offense. It's one thing for a person to put their foot in their mouth and quite another for a person to name call or make threats. For the former forgive and forget is probably in order and for the latter run like heck.
2. The previous history, if any, between the parties. With a generally good relationship I'd say forgive and forget, while with a rocky one I'd say walk or run.
3. Finally is their an underlying medical or psychological problem of some sort. For example did the person suffer a death in the family or did they have an accident? In a case such as this I'd tend to forgive and forget.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Food For Thought

Two weeks ago a St. Catharines radio station had an "Eff Cyclists Campaign" on the Biggs & Barr show with the predictable backlash. They claimed their issue is only "...with those hardcore cycling enthusiasts who seem to think that the road belongs only to them and that anyone who is not riding a bicycle is somehow a lesser human being." and not with those cyclists who obey the rules of the road. They also claim their message is share the road. They prefaced their remarks to a newspaper story, by saying, "Here's the summary of what we actually said without the fear mongering and inflammatory language."

This raises a number of freedom of speech issues. It is in the long standing tradition of journalism and commentators to voice controversial opinions and issues. This leads to change and helps keep society together by allowing people to vent their feelings.

For example in the 1960s and 1970s the non-smokers rights movement was very controversial. They were pushing for such things as no smoking in grocery stores and non-smoking sections in restaurants, which was radical at the time. Radio shows played an important role in allowing people to air their views both for and against.

There is also a very strong tradition of poking fun at groups, issues and society in general. One only has to think of the long tradition of political cartoons and satire. Comics have long poked fun at people, issues, groups and life in general. There is also an equally strong tradition of protecting the vulnerable. This is one of the reasons we don't poke fun at the abuse of people.

The radio station in question said that their "Eff Cyclists Campaign" was meant as tongue-in-cheek and didn't pose a threat to cyclists. Was it? Let's take a look.

In all fairness I didn't listen personally to the show and all I'm going on is the newspaper account and comments. However, one question that immediately comes to mind is how do these hardcore cycling enthusiasts act who seem to think that the road belongs only to them? Is it by riding several a breast on a busy road or is it by a single cyclists taking the lane on a road that is too narrow to safely share. The former is illegal, the latter, according to police, is legally permissible.

A couple of other questions need to be asked. If they did a similar program with any other identifiable group would it be appropriate? The other question is how did cyclists take it? Those quoted in the newspaper article and who responded after the fact feel threatened by it. They did not seem to think it was tongue-in-cheeck as the manager of the radio station said. To be funny something must be seen and heard as such by those on the receiving end as well as on the giving end.

Some food for thought, not only for Biggs & Barr, but for all who comment and/or enourage comments about identifiable groups to think carefully before they act.

See "Radio Hosts Give Cyclists The Gears"

Saturday, April 30, 2011


With Monday being the federal election I think it's only fitting that this month's blog be about it. We have three main parties to chose from: the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats. The Greens, for better or worse, are totally out of it.

The Foundation For Democratic Advancement did a non-partisan audit of all federal parties running in this election and rated them totally and by issue. In looking just at Arts & Culture the Foundation rated the Conservatives at 1 out of 10. They said the, "Conservative Party of Canada's policies are extremely vague and demonstrate a lack of interest and support for arts and culture. Moreover, the Conservatives fail to mention their interest in cutting funding to the CBC. The Conservatives mention support for the RC of Music national examination system and Canadian Periodical Fund, and for this reason, the Conservatives received a score of 1."

The Liberals scored the highest at 7. The Foundation said their, "policies are concrete and with no innovation. Moreover, the policies about how to identify Canadian culture and promote and protect it, except through digital, CBC, Radio-Canada, Promart and Trade Routes, Canada Council of Arts, and support for the official languages."

The New Democrats rated 5 as their policies were very general.

On this basis the Liberals seem like the party to vote for. However, last year the Liberals came out with a press release attacking VIA Rail Canada for using freelancers and refused to apologize for it. The Conservatives are well-known for cutting funding to arts and culture. Only the New Democrats seem to have a good track record.

I am a Conservative at heart, but I left the party when the party left the center and moved to the far right. Their track record on other issues, like the environment, the economy and health, also leaves a lot to be desired. Harper is well known for keeping a tight lid on journalists. The Liberals have a reasonably good track record, but their record on the environment and health also leaves a lot to be desired. Their leader, Michael Ignatieff, is about as appealing as soggy cereal. That leaves the New Democrats and Jack Layton. In my two dealings with him I've found him approachable and consistent. For this reason, his fluency in French and the party's support for arts and culture and the press I, as a writer, endorse the New Democrats.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The New Great Depression

Last year I warned of a new Great Depression that is rapidly approaching. The naysayers probably laughed because, as we all "know", we're not in a depression - yet. However, 1929 and 1930 didn't seem like the beginners of a depression, but historians now consider 1929 to be the start of it. I think future historians will consider 2007 to be the start of the new Great Depression. We're actually in worse shape today than in 1929. Debt levels are higher and more governments, businesses and people are on the brink of defaulting than ever before. Even some American politicians are now warning of a financial Armaggedon. It's like a ship, that on the surface, seems okay, but deep in the hull water is slowly leaking in. Eventually it becomes obvious to all that the ship is in very serious trouble. So how does it affect us as writers? For starters anyone who writes for American markets can expect their incomes to drop drastically. There are plans to replace the American dollar as the reserve currency of the world. If that happens the American dollar sinks immediately. I think the Canadian dollar could go as high as at least $1.50 and quite possibly to $2.50 American. Companies will go bankrupt, which means the loss of markets. Financial insitutions will close, which means loss of money and credit. Governments will introduce drastic cuts in services and assistance, which may not be liked, but are necessary. Extremism is increasing. Some have noticed a rise in anti-unionism, which is a symptom of the coming depression. Any investments you hold could either become worthless or increase in value depending on what they are. For example the bonds of companies and governments that default would go to zero or, at best, be worth only pennies on the dollar. At the bottom of a depression, if you still have money, you can make money by buying stocks, bonds and realestate at bargin basement prices. That would be a good time to start a business as prices are low. In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, cut expenses and reduce debt. Don't get into any new debt. Look for companies that are likely to survive and thrive during bad times. Finally get out of risky investments and end your relationships with companies and governments that are likely to go under.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


A post on the Online Journalism Blog and interview with David Weinberger raised an interesting question - Objectivity Has Changed - Why Hasn't Journalism?

I agree with the premise "that sustaining the appearance of objectivity is unfeasible and unstainable, and that transparency is a much more realistic aim." One can argue that there has never really been objective journalism.

As a Great Lakes marine historian I'm aware of the changes in journalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Traditionally in newspapers there has been a conservative paper, a liberal paper and sometimes even a socialist paper. When you read a particular paper you knew you were reading a particular bias.

Toronto, where the tradition lives on, has four major newspapers: the National Post is very conservative, the Globe & Mail is right of center, the Toronto Star is left of center and the Toronto Sun is very liberal. This has carried on into t. v.: think of Fox News for example, which is very conservative.

And it's not just in the particular culture of an organization, but also in how news is chosen and what views get aired. For example the local Toronto station of CTV recently aired a story about people complaining on the higher price of gas. The underlying bias was that higher prices are bad and lower prices are good. They didn`t explore the argument that higher gas prices might actually be good for people and the economy.

Objectivity was originally raised in a vain attempt to present both sides of the story, but sometimes there isn`t two or more sides. I have yet to hear anyone in the mainstream media argue, for example, that child abuse is really good for children. The assumption, and rightly so, is that it is bad.

This gets down to scrapping the farce that there is objectivity and instead focus on transparency so that your audience can make up their own mind about a particular story and why it was chosen over another one or over a different angle. It also offers your audience an opportunity to further explore a particular story even if they agree with it and your bias. This is what I was trying to get at in a previous post that compared Behind The Story with Washington Week.

I`ll return to this at a later time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Innocence And The Media

Imagine being accused of a crime you didn't commit. How would you feel? How would you react to the reaction of family, friends, colleagues and total strangers? This month's post is about the negative role of the media on those accused of a crime.

On December 9, Richard Dyde, 47, of 57 men charged with child pornography, jumped off a bridge and died. It was just one day after he had made bail on December 8. Dyde, a researcher at York University, had expressed to his lawyer a desire to fight the charges. According to Jim Rankin, writing in the Toronto Star, December 17, facing the media after his bail hearing seemed like the tipping and lead to his suicide.

Rankin reports that Arthur Lurigio, co-author of "New Defendants, New Responsibilities: Preventing Suicide Among Alleged Sex Offenders In The Federal Pretrial System", says that "...the public "outing" by police and the media of those accused of child pornography crimes increases the suicide risk...."

It raises the question of the responsibility of the media, as well as the police, in being very careful in what information is disclosed to the public about the accused and remembering that the person or persons are only accused, they HAVE NOT yet been found guilty.

I DO NOT condone the sexual exploitation of children or abuse of children. I'm positively disguested and greatly angered by this. And I strongly suspect that both Rankin and Lurigio feel the same. However the media, as well as everyone else, needs to remember that we, in Canada, have the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes it seems as if it's guilty until proven innocent.

Getting back to Richard Dyde, maybe he was innocent or maybe he was guilty. We'll probably never know. While it is the duty of the media to report on those accused of a crime, it is not the media's to pass judgement on them as so often seems the case. It is also the media's duty to be as respectful and as balanced as is reasonably possible, which may mean withholding some information from the public until the person has been convicted.

We need to remember that there have been some high profile cases of people convicted of crimes against children, of sexually assualting another adult and of murdering another adult, who have subsequently been found innocent through new evidence.

By the way, sorry for missing the December post. My girlfriend, who lives in another city, was visiting me and I forgot.