Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Fall Of A Once Great Television Station - CHCH TV

With sadness I learned of the recent bankruptcy of CHCH TV in Hamilton, Ontario. I grew up watching the station. Every Sunday afternoon, I think, my parents and I would watch Tiny Talent Time with Bill Lawrence, who also had a children’s TV show. It also had the Party Game, several call-in shows, Smith & Smith and the Red Green Show (an outgrowth of Smith & Smith), which started at CHCH before eventually moving to CBC. My favorite was the Hilarious House Of Frankenstein with Billy Van, which although I wasn’t a child when it ran, it was still fun to watch.

CHCH was founded in 1954 as am affiliate of the CBC. It dropped its affiliation in 1961 and became an independent station. The heyday of the station was in 1960s and 1970s, when most of the shows I mentioned, were produced.

The station lost its independence in 1990 when it was bought by Western International Communications or WIC. WIC in turn was bought by CANWEST Global in 2000. The next year CHCH was rebranded CH. It was rebranded again in 2007 as E. Less than two years later CANWEST looked at either closing the station or selling it. It was acquired by Channel Zero and reverted to being called CHCH. It basically became a news and movie network, plus some American tv shows.

At the time of its bankruptcy on December 11, 2015, it was reported that the station had been profitable up until about 2012. Then it began losing national advertising revenue, although local advertising remained steady, and the federal Local Programming Improvement Fund. Also it is very costly to produce local news.

To me CHCH began going slowly downhill in the 1990s when it started to cease producing great local shows of regional and national interest. I quit regularly watching it years ago, except occasionally for the news, which was very informative, but not great. It became ho hum tv.

If the station can survive and make a comeback, which I genuinely feel it can, it needs to distinguish itself from the other stations out there.  One way is to look at what led to its success in the past and made it must see tv. To me that was producing great shows that can be sold to other markets, as well as continuing to produce local and regional news. There they might want to look into expanding beyond Hamilton, Halton, Niagara and Brantford to perhaps include all of Southwestern Ontario. It also needs to inject some zest and some fun to it, which I feel it has lacked for many years now.

I wish them well and hope they’ll be around to celebrate their 70th anniversary on the air.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Myth And Undesirability Of The Paperless Office

The coming of the computer age was supposed to herald the paperless office yet many years later paper is still going strong. We seem to be using as much paper as ever before.

CTV reporter, Scott Lightfoot, did a report on this. It mentioned that some companies are concerned that digital records may not have the same permanence as paper. Joanne Mc Neish, from Ryerson University, said there is a link between paper and memory, which you don’t get with a digital record. One company mentioned in Lightfoot’s report said that they had gone almost totally digital.

At first glance going paperless seems to make sense. It saves paper and space. It’s also easier to copy and to access. As an environmentalist I should be thrilled as it means fewer trees cut down for paper and less waste and all the energy and other resources involved. A room full of electronic data houses more than a room full of filing cabinets.

However, overall going digital without saving a paper copy does not make good sense. For starters programs and storage formats change. When I computerized in the 1980s I had floppy disks with limited storage space. For a word processor I used WordStar. Since then I’ve used small hard disks, CDs and, now, an external hard drive to store data on. My word processor has changed to Word Perfect and now to Word. I do save data in both Word and ASCI, ASCI in hopes that I can continue to read it years from now.

Another problem with electronic data is that you need to keep two or more copies of it in two or more places in case something goes wrong with one storage medium. If you store your data in the cloud then you’re at risk for having data accessed by unauthorized persons. A magnet can easily erase most data.

Paper, while vulnerable to fire and flood damage, is more permanent. A flood can wipe out electronic data, but not necessarily paper data. Language may change, but you can always access the document if physically present. You can copy paper documents, but not as easily as electronic ones.

Another big advantage of paper over electronics is that paper can be read anywhere without a computer or electricity. All it requires is the ability to read.

Electronic data is all that environmentally friendly as it seems. Trees are renewable and you can recycle paper. With electronic data and storage there are the materials needed to manufacture the electronic devices needed to read and store the data, which are not renewable. Recycling is a much bigger issue with electronics than with paper. If you throw paper away say into a woods, while it looks messy, it will eventually disintegrate over a few months to a year or so. An electronic device thrown away in a woods will take decades and even centuries to disintegrate, plus there is the danger from the materials used leeching into the environment.

In short a paperless office is not the way to go.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How To Read A Medical Study

Earlier this year a study from the Institute Of Diet And Health claimed that eating chocolate helped you to lose weight. The problem was the Institute Of Diet And Health was fake, the study had only 15 participants and 18 different measurements were looked at. However, that didn’t stop the media from lapping it up, which was the whole point of the exercise to illustrate junk science.

Most journalists don’t know how to read a medical study. So to help them here’s a bare bones run down on how to do it.

One of the first things to look at are the authors of the study; how many, what are their credentials and are there any potential conflicts of interest? Closely related is how is the study funded? For example, if a drug company funded a study on a new drug they’re making the study will be likely biased towards a favorable outcome for that study.

Also please keep in mind that for FDA approval, which Canada tends to follow, a new drug must be shown to be not inferior to an existing drug. So if drug A is already on the market new drug B only needs to show that it is not worse than drug A. It doesn’t have to be better or have fewer side effects.

How many participants are there in the study and how many measurements are being looked at? A dead giveaway for the chocolate study was that there were only 15 participants and 18 different measurements were being looked at: too few participants and too many measurements. A study needs to have a reasonable amount of participants in order to be effective. There is no precise number below, which a study is ineffective, but a study should probably have at least 100 people. I’m a participant in a multi-year study that probably has tens of thousands of participants.

As to how many measurements a study looks at depends on how many participants. The fewer the participants the fewer the measurements. So a study with a 100 participants should probably look at no more than about three measurements. With a much larger study, like the Ontario Health Study, which will be looking at about 300,000 subjects over many years, you can look at a much larger number of measurements.

A study should define the background to what is being studied and describe the rationale for the design of the study. It should also provide details on who was included and who was excluded in the study and why, as well as the endpoints for the study (how long did it run).

Be very careful about the claims. One study I looked at said there was a 71% reduction in stent thrombosis when dual anti-platelet therapy was extended from the current 12 months to 30 months. Sounds very impressive until you look at the incidence. The incidence of stent thrombosis over 18 months is 1.4%, extending dual anti-platelet therapy lowers this to 0.4%.

Remember that one study does not necessarily establish a new treatment, diagnosis, prevention or other such thing. You need several studies showing essentially the same thing in order to be significant. When the link between smoking and cancer was first established, it certainly raised alarm bells, but more studies were needed to confirm it.

Abstracts do not always accurately reflect the summary of the study. Sometimes they make mistakes.

Finally always check Retraction Watch for retractions of studies or parts of studies. These are quite common so it’s a must to look at when reporting on a study. 

For further information on this subject see the YouTube video, Skeptical Journal Club: How To Read A Medical Study 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Verbal Sexual Assault Of Female Reporters MUST Stop

Let’s make one thing VERY clear, saying “fuck her right in the pussy” is NOT even remotely funny. It is a verbal sexual assault on female reporters and women in general and it MUST stop.
I hadn’t heard of the phrase let alone was aware that female reporters are being constantly bombarded with this until the Shauna Hunt incident. At first I thought it was some run-of-the-mill juvenile sexist remark that Ms Hunt had heard once too often. That would have been bad enough and is also uncalled for. However, when I looked up the phrase online (I only saw the initials at first.) I was floored and disgusted. I applaud Ms Hunt for fighting back and turning the tables on her tormentors.

According to various news reports the practice started as a result of a video uploaded to Youtube by a Cincinnati filmmaker, as a spoof. According to Catherine Porter, a columnist for the Toronto Star, it was part of a business plan. (See As the trend of interrupting live news reports by female reporters with the phrase took off, the filmmaker began selling T-shirts with the initials written on them.
A report in The Guardian about the Hunt incident says this sort of nonsense has been happening all the time to mainly female reporters in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom.  It reminds me too much of the so called men in India who try to justify violent sexual assault of women by blaming the woman. (See my An Irregular Heart blog post on this:

One of those who verbally assaulted Ms Hunt on live tv has been identified as Shawn Simoes, a then Hydro One employee earning well over $100,000 a year. His vulgar heckling has cost him his job and the freedom to attend sporting events at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment owned venues. Mr. Simoes, to his credit, has written a note of apology to Ms Hunt, which she has accepted. Another man involved with the stunt has also been apparently identified, but his name and occupation have not been made public.
While it’s too bad Mr. Simoes lost his job over this, one has to keep in mind the numerous women who have quit their jobs over sexual harassment. Recently a woman in the Canadian military quit over this issue. So far her tormentors have not been punished and are still free to torment and physically assault other women.

It gets down to respect. I wouldn’t, even in jest, say anything vulgar to my wife as I respect her too much to do that, let alone say it to a total stranger, live, on air to let the whole world know what an idiot I am. Until we all respect one another incidents, like this, will unfortunately continue to happen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Toronto Star's Latest Venture Holds Hope For The Future

About 19 months ago, in August, 2013, the Toronto Star erected a paywall to improve its bottom line and allow it to improve services. At the same time Montreal’s La Presse launched an iPad app after having invested $40 million over two years. As a result La Presse has attracted a highly engaged younger audience who use the app for an average of 45 minutes a day and up to an hour on Saturdays. This is according to an article in the Huffington Post last November

Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank was quoted as saying, “These are numbers we haven’t seen in the digital world at all to date.”

The Huffington Post also reported that the Torstar had signed a deal with LaPresse to develop a new tablet product for the Star at a cost of up to $14 million.

Like most papers, the Star has seen revenue for print advertising decline. On a year over year basis ad revenues have declined 20.5%, which is quite a lot.
On March 7th the Toronto Star announced in a “Note To Readers” that it was removing its paywall as of April 1st  It made the move after “extensive input from our readers and our advertisers.” Translated it means the paywall wasn’t working as well as they had hoped. (Ironically while looking at the note a message came up saying that I had 7 free articles left, out of 10, to view before I had to buy a subscription.)

The newspaper business reminds me too much of such failed companies as Baldwin Locomotives and Eastman Kodak. Baldwin was famous in its field as a builder of railway engines. Despite having pioneered in building railway diesel engines, it continued to focus on steam long after other builders had moved on. Kodak was the same in photography. It continued to concentrate on film, despite having pioneered in digital photography, and went bankrupt. Today it is just holding on.
The newspaper business is too much like these businesses. Newspapers pioneered in the use of the Internet and yet have failed to capitalize on it. Hopefully the Toronto Star’s new venture will succeed. We need the Toronto Star and we need newspapers.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Handling Rejections

Rejections. They come with the turf as a journalist, especially if you freelance, but there’s no way to avoid them, unless of course you are the boss. Even then your brilliant ideas might be rejected by your audience.

One way to handle a rejection is to take an AK47 or some other gun and shoot the bastard who rejected you. A good way if you don’t mind spending the rest of your life in jail or being executed and having a lot of people hate you. Or you could write a nasty letter or email to the bitch telling the person how brainless they are for rejecting you and your brilliant idea. That’s like blowing up both ends of a bridge with you in the middle. Another way is to just walk away from it all and never pitch an idea again. Yes that’s really showing them how not talented you are.
Rejections could and sometimes did ruin my day, especially if it was an idea that I had high hopes on and that I knew was a good idea. I’d often spend a day or two or three moping about and feeling sorry for myself. I would often fantasize about being a multi-millionaire and firing the editor or demoting them to a menial job. However, it was a good way to waste time and not accomplish anything.

Gradually I learned far better coping skills. I’d take an hour or two break and do something totally different, like play a computer game (My favorite was and is Railroad Tycoon.) or read or file. Sometimes, if a rejection hit particularly hard I’d take the rest of the day off and do something different, which might include a walk or a bicycle ride.
I also learned to try not to take rejections so personally. I learned to realize that it was an idea that was being rejected and not necessary me. Sometimes the editor themself might not know why they were rejecting the idea or reject it as they had reached information overload and were just wanting to get home. Sometimes the rejection might be that they have two people proposing the same idea, one they knew and one they didn’t know. They would go with the one they knew, which is natural. An idea might be rejected as you didn’t do your homework and they had just covered it or were about to cover it.

And let’s face it not all ideas are good and some are pitched at the wrong time to the wrong place or are good, but not pitched well. You then need to pause and rethink, which can be a very good response to a rejection.
Finally the very best response to a rejection is to just move on. Send out the query to a new publication or, if, upon reflection you feel it may not be so brilliant after all, send out a new query.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On Showing Respect To Various Faiths

With great freedom comes great responsibility. In the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo too many people seem to believe that because we have the right to do something they should.

As a Canadian citizen I have the legal right to cheat on my wife as long as it is with another consenting adult, but that doesn’t mean I should, especially if I truly love and respect her, which I do. That doesn’t mean that I believe we should enact laws making adultery a crime either.
Here in the West we have the legal right as people in the media to poke fun at people, including Mohammed, but that doesn’t mean we should. Most Muslims are upset and angry over the mocking of their Prophet and their faith. As a devout Christian I can understand and sympathise with how Muslims feel as people mock and poke fun at my Savior all the time, including Charlie Hebdo, and worse, they use his name as a swear word. So as a writer I will not turn around and mock or otherwise show disrespect to Muslims and people of other faiths, including atheism, as I want them to respect my faith.
As for the argument that defiantly putting a cartoon of Mohammed on the cover with the caption “Je suis Charlie” is an act of defending freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I strongly disagree. It is an act of unnecessary disrespect and provocation.
However, as strongly as I may feel about someone mocking and showing what I consider to be disrespect to my faith, that does not give me the right to murder them or their families and friends or total strangers because I feel they might someone be associated with those who offend me. Nor does it give me the right to threaten them or destroy their property. I don’t think making such behavior illegal is the solution either. Education and changing attitudes is. Just look at say the term “nigger”, which was once commonly used. Blacks educated people about it and gradually the term disappeared from public use without the use of laws.
However, the biggest concern I have with a legal approach to this issue is where would it end? People of all faiths could probably agree on some basics, but beyond that there would likely be major disputes. We’d also start crossing the line between respecting the faith of others and imposing a particular faith’s values on everyone else and on suppressing freedom of the press.
Bottom line is the press needs to be very mindful of the ethical implications of what we do.