This project contradicts my theory that local news is becoming less relevant and important to citizens, especially those in my generation, but I’ll sacrifice this rationale for the sake of this assignment and assume that there will always be a massive public appetite for this information. Also, this, if done properly, can really work if the vision and content is perfect.
My vision is the Atlantic Media Network, a collection of reporters based in bureaus in all the major spots throughout the Atlantic region. Halifax, Sydney, Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, St. John’s, Charlottetown, et al would have a bureau covering everything there is to be known in each city, region and province.
Because you asked for a synopsis of my city instead of a broad outlook, I’ll focus in on Cape Breton as a whole. Our daily paper, the Cape Breton Post, has few daily stories that are written by Post staff. Most of the stories in the paper are picked up from the Associated Press or Canadian Press wire, including columns from national writers such as Chantal Hebert and Tim Harper. Two full pages are dedicated to obituaries, which shows that a lot of older people still read the paper religiously because that’s the best way to find out which of their friends have died. There is also national and international sections that are dedicated to that niche, but clearly all of those stories are taken from the wires, and if you’re a foreign affairs junkie the Cape Breton Post is not going to be the first destination.
Other than that, it’s slim pickings. But the issues that are most important to Cape Bretoners are the police force; the health care system; the local arts and music scene, which always gets recognized at the ECMA’s; the school board; the QMJHL hockey team; community issues; and all of the local MLA’s and MP’s. I rarely see town hall stuff — perhaps because I’m not looking on those days, I don’t care, or because they don’t have anyone who covers it, which I doubt.
That’s what matters in Cape Breton. The island for the longest time was built on blue collar workers in coal mines and when they shut down in the late 90’s-early 2000’s many people were out of work, and many Cape Bretoner’s who expected to spend their lives working manual labor jobs for the municipality had to scramble for other options and didn’t have any education to fall back on. These people had very little time to care about what went on outside the bubble of this island, and the Post reflected what they wanted to know. Too bad it’s a very insular world.
But what does get covered gets covered well, but the Post’s format is so antiquated. I don’t go to the individual sections the paper has to see who won in the NHL last night, or the latest news on the Japan disaster. There are better sources of information to receive it from, and certainly more faster than a daily newspaper. But Jacques Poitras told a group of us during he and Dan McHardie’s lecture during ARCUP that what news services should be doing, especially in smaller places, is finding a niche and killing it and providing unique information to the public that nobody else can publish.
That would be the vision for the Atlantic Media Network. It would be dedicated to bring the Atlantic provinces all the news that matters to its citizens. Each bureau would have town hall reporters so the public is kept up to date on what is going on in the local communities. This goes back to making sure that our democracy is kept in check and those elected to uphold the principles of our society do so.
The town hall reporters would also be responsible for keeping track of the local MP or MLA, depending on the region. Clearly in a place such as Halifax, which has numerous elected representatives, there would be more reporters on the ground following this news. Each bureau will also have reporters dedicated to keeping track on local community issues, such as health care and the school board. Depending on funding this could be divided amongst numerous reporters or one who takes it all on. The vision for the news team would be no different than that in any normal newsroom, reporters entrenched in the community going after stories.
But how do we fund this project? While I do believe that public broadcasting is a wonderful thing because of transparency and lack of corporate interests which could cause conflicts of interest in reporting, I’m not convinced that the citizens of the Atlantic provinces have the appetite to fund such a new organization. And if there is a demand for it, will it be big enough to generate the revenue capable to produce the work that I envision? I’m skeptical about this so that’s why the AMN will be funded by sponsors and advertisers and, hopefully, be owned by a family or numerous shareholders or companies that can fund the company without any hassle. Could this lead to ethical journalistic problems? Sure, just look at the Irving monopoly. But for my vision of the company, I believe this is the best way to go.
Now how would I pitch this organization? I do so by describing the content that will be available for those who consume the content from AMN. This will be the first media organization in the region — that I’m aware of — that will not be based around a newspaper or a television station. We all know that newspaper consumption is going down as the years go on, but I’m also skeptical about the future of TV news. The anecdotal age of those who watch the six o’clock news I would guess is roughly the same of those who read the newspaper every morning. That generation is going to be wiped out sooner than later so instead of trying to bring those people in, it’s more important to get a foothold of the generation that has grown up in the digital age.
The AMN starts out as a website, but we can’t use it like a typical news website does now. Each section has its own page that breaks down into the typical sections that a newspaper would have. But instead of just the straight text for a typical news story, each journalist is responsible for filing stories in written and video format. The business of reporting is changing to the point that any journalist that is one-dimensional is going to be left in the dust. Journalists who only specialize in print or television I believe will eventually become extinct, and the consumers need to see a commitment to getting the information across in numerous ways. If you don’t have time to read an entire print story, you can watch the minute-and-a-half video report. If you’d rather read, then the print story is there for you. Keeping options open for the costumer is imperative. At the end of each day, on the video section of the website, all videos will be put in a section for each day’s news and will be divided by province then community. The same will go for feature stories — which is my favourite type of journalism. This piece about a former football player who wrongfully spent time in prison is the perfect way to bring in the viewer. Again, if they’d rather read or watch, they have both options. Anybody on the staff is open to pitch story ideas for features and can attack them however they wish. As the site grows, eventually there can be room for designated feature writers/broadcasters and columnists.
Cape Breton, for example, will have town hall reporters for each community that has municipal government, political reporters who cover the MP’s and MLA’s from our region, sports writers for the university and QMJHL teams, arts reporter for the entertainment scene, and a general community reporter for the other issues that pop up.
To go along with the corporate funding, the AMN will begin as a subscription based site. Just like a newspaper or a television station, you have to pay for the content. I believe that your product is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. So we have to begin charging out of the gate so we don’t create an apathetic feeling for our organization, where they always expect news to be free and effortless. The Times of London put up a paywall in May 2010, and are getting subscribers. For a monthly fee of $29.99 — less than a dollar a day — a six month fee of $149.99 — less than 85 cents a day — or a year subscription of $274.99 — 75 cents a day — you can access everything that the site has to offer. All fees can be paid in increments that better serve the consumer’s needs.
What else can you access? Exclusive tablet and mobile app so you can consume the news wherever you are. Our reporters will also be expected to produce podcasts weekly or daily, depending on the beat that they’re on, for more perspective, analysis and opinion. Yes, the production costs can be high for all of this stuff. But we don’t have to pay any of the bills on newspaper machines or a TV studio or the best cameras in the business. And with the Network serving four provinces with a population of almost 2.4 million people, if 10% of the population (which may be a tad high to get at the start) buy yearly subscriptions, that’s over $65 million in revenue. I’m sure after that we can pay the bills and pay the workers properly and continue to serve the community with the information that they need to know. And I think it goes without saying that each reporter must be active on Twitter. They don’t have to stick to tweeting news, they can go outside that box and show some of their own personality. But we wouldn’t use YouTube because that would be giving away our video content for free which we shouldn’t do.
With all of these tools, you should be able to consume all the news you want and need, from your area and beyond at your pace and leisure so you aren’t beholden to time frame of the six o’clock news or reading the paper before going to work. News organizations can’t expect that its audience will construct their lives around the news broadcasts; the organizations have to adapt to their lives. The Atlantic Media Network will do just that.