“I think it was especially telling for me, the number 11 from out of downtown at quarter to five, and on the bus it was mostly working women. The bus was full and a lot of women and a lot of people who were wearing uniforms and clearly had come out of fast food-type jobs. A lot of ethnic diversity too, so some of them perhaps were Indo-Canadians so I think it’s just good for people to see exactly what the ridership was on the bus and how important it is to those groups.”
Also telling is the fact that most of the other councillours had never taken a bus before. This is why it’s worth at least talking about diversity in leadership – what sort of priority is a transit system going to get if all the decision makers drive cars? And where does that leave the people who can’t afford them?
One of the discoveries of audio production discoveries I’m most grateful for is the layers of sound hidden in silence. This morning I went outside to record some bird song, but as soon as I had my headphones and microphone on, I started hearing whole new layers of crows, distant traffic, early-morning chores, a helicopter. In the words of the Kitchen Sisters, a “microphone is a is a divining rod. It’s a Geiger counter. It’s a stethoscope.” It’s a whole new way of hearing the world.
“‘Surely there was some way this could have been handled without Mr. Simoes losing his job?’ some have said. Likely, yes, but that wasn’t Hydro One’s call. And Hydro One is not Mr Simoes’s parent or his therapist. It’s not nanny-Hydro One, and they’re not obliged to coach or reform him or employ him, and there’s no question the man made himself, through considerable effort, not a momentary one-line lapse, a liability.
“Hydro One has other employees to consider, people who might not feel comfortable working under or beside a man who has made it clear that sexually harassing women while they work is something fun that he’s entitled to do, and if they object they are failing in their duty to feel grateful they don’t have a vibrator in their ear.
“It strikes me “he lost his job” is mostly said in a graver tone than “she lost her job.” Somehow, one often senses that a woman losing her job is just not considered as serious a thing.”
Just two weeks after the Prince George Free Press shut down, editor Bill Phillips is back, writing a column for the online-only 250News.com (which, incidentally, just celebrated its ten-year anniversary). Glad we’ll still have his voice.
Last year, I posed that question to fire chief John Iverson. However, he said he wouldn’t consider it anything unusual, just about what you would expect for a city this size. But even so, why are so many downtown buildings being hit?
“Anytime you’re dealing with older buildings you have some challenges. These buildings were obviously built to the code of the day… and there’s been huge improvements in the fire code to prevent fires from spreading outside the room of origin, let alone to other buildings. “None of those buildings had a fire separation between them, they were basically woods walls built against wood walls.”
So is wood as a building material safe (for example, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre)
“When those buildings are properly constructed and their protection systems are maintained, they are safe buildings to occupy. I would have no problem living in a wood building.”
After nine months of filling in as the producer at Daybreak North, I’m going back to associate producer today.
People have been asking me how I feel about the move. The best way I can describe it is it’s like when you’ve been working and studying for weeks, but now you’ve finished all your exams, and all you have to do is go to your job. It feels like I suddenly have a lot less to do.
As with any higher-level job, producer came with a lot of extra responsibilities. The buck for many things stopped with me. There was a lot more time management and long-term planning necessary.
It was hard at times, but I enjoyed myself. We did multiple series, a bunch of original stories, held live election debates, live specials, and more. I also had a great team to work with.
But I’m not sad to be stepping away. It was always the plan, so it’s not like a surprise. It was a great opportunity, I’m grateful to have had it, and maybe I’ll get it again someday. But for now I’m happy to step back for a bit and let someone else take the reins, while I get ready for whatever else comes next.
Bill Phillips reveals Prince George Free Press is shutting down:
“Two newspapers is good for a community. Having two newspapers provides readers with different perspectives on the same issues, different looks, different voices.
“Sadly, competition is good for the consumer, it’s not good for business.”
Unfortunate news. I’m trying to ballpark how many journalist jobs have been lost in Prince George in the last decade. Double digits, for sure.
Note: normally I would post an excerpt and a link, but when I try to share this story on Facebook I’m told there is a security error. So I’m posting the whole thing for now, until the problem is resolved.)
Sad day for newspapers
It is truly a sad day for us here at the Prince George Free Press, and for the community of Prince George.
As of May 1, the Prince George Free Press will cease publishing.
The first issue of the Free Press hit the streets on October 31, 1994 and the last issue today, May 1, 2015 … just over 20 years of telling the stories of Prince George.
But it’s sad for the community as well.
Two newspapers is good for a community. Having two newspapers provides readers with different perspectives on the same issues, different looks, different voices.
As journalists, it keeps us sharp because we’re always trying to beat the other guys (that goes for all media) … trying to get the “scoop” as it were.
Sadly, competition is good for the consumer, it’s not good for business.
In most of B.C., newspaper chains have made concerted efforts to get out of each other’s way, rather than take on the other guys. Black Press and Glacier Media have been carving up the landscape geographically so they don’t directly compete with each other in communities big and small.
The Free Press is owned by Aberdeen Publishing, a relatively small newspaper chain, so we haven’t been a part of that rush to competitively not compete.
For us, it was simply a matter of revenues disappearing.
When I started at the Free Press in 2006, we had 27 people on staff and we were publishing between 40 and 48 pages twice a week. Now, as we close, we have 10 people on staff and have been publishing, on average, 32 pages once a week.
You don’t need to have a UNBC MBA to figure out that, as our owner Bob Doull said, “we just weren’t moving the needle in the right direction.”
And it’s not a case of advertisers flocking to our competition. The Citizen isn’t publishing as many pages as it used to either. The advertising dollars just seem to be going away. So, these days, newspaper wars are battles of attrition. It becomes a question of who can hang on the longest.
Here, it was the Prince George Citizen. Just last year the Kamloops Daily News, which was a sister paper to the Citizen, lost the attrition battle to our sister paper Kamloops This Week.
So, Prince George is not unique. Declining revenues are an issue facing the industry everywhere and if I had a solution to that problem, well, I’d be rich.
As for me, I don’t know what the future holds.
It was on the May long weekend in 1985 when I was hired as the sports reporter for the Fernie Free Press. Almost 30 years to the day.
When people have asked me what I like about being a newspaper reporter and/or editor, my response been the same over those 30 years: “Every day is an adventure. You never know who’s going to come through the door or where the day will take you.”
“We ask a question; you answer it. We’ll feed our favorite answers back into the app for your listening pleasure. Some of your answers will wind up on our show (like here). And sometimes we’ll collect questions from *you* for a special podcast guest. (Think: sex advice.)
Smart way to tap in to the community with ready-made audio clips. I imagine we’ll be seeing more of this in the future.
“Its very existence actually poses a threat to journalists and members of the media working in the private sector. As a government agency, CBC is competing with private sector media outlets for audience and those audiences have value or CBC would not be able to sell advertising on television or on Radio 2. Every audience member and advertising dollar CBC takes hurts the viability of local media outlets across the country (and the good-paying jobs those outlets provide), starting locally with the Prince George Citizen and the four local private radio stations and one local TV station.”
To put it bluntly: this is absurd.
The Prince George Citizen was founded in 1916. CBC Radio started broadcasting in 1936 and CBC Television began in 1952. I imagine that if the existence of a public broadcaster were some existential threat to local media- especially print- it may have dealt the death blow at some point during the previous seventy-odd years when radio and TV were the hot new kids on the block. To act is if the CBC of today is the reason for declining revenue in private local media is just irrational. We’ve been bleeding resources for the last twenty years or so. If there was any correlation between the fortunes of CBC and the fortunes of the Prince George Citizen, surely they would be cashing in on these cuts.
CBC is not the reason for the tough time print is having. We have no reporters in the Peace, one of the fastest-growing parts of the province, and yet the Citizen’s parent company, Glacier Media, shut down the Dawson Creek Daily news in 2013, merging it with the Alaska Highway News. CBC has just two staff members in Prince Rupert, compared to many more decades ago, and yet the Prince Rupert Daily shut down in 2010. Similar stories have been happening across the country, despite plummeting government support for CBC.
Neil suggests that a better model for CBC would be a community radio station like CFIS or CFUR in town. I may not know much about how the Citizen sells ads, but having been the station manager for CFUR for a number of years, I’m well aware of how that model works, and let me tell you this: there is no way they can afford to be a replacement for the CBC without a significant increase in the government funding they receive, and then we wind up back where we started. I love community radio, but it ain’t no CBC. This holds in communities across the country.
“You go back to my idea of there being an ecosystem. And the creatures there aren’t always predatory and competitive, you know? If you have a healthy enough ecosystem with enough creatures swimming around it big and small they can be cooperative, they can be collaborative, they can do better because of the diversity.”
Exactly. I love reading the Citizen. It consistently reports on stories- court, civic, community stories- that we don’t have the time or resources to cover. If it were to fold, it would be a loss, and not one that could be replaced by a community paper run by volunteers. I truly believe that having a healthy media ecosystem is good for everyone, the journalists who work within included, and the loss of any outlet is a loss for all. I cheer when they succeed, and I’m saddened when they are diminished. I only wish Mr. Godbout felt the same.
I remember when I started at CBC. We had tens of millions more in our budget. We had a robust slate of overseas correspondents. We had a radio drama department. We had much more ability to invest resources into investigations, arts, training, long-term thinking. The CBC of today can do much less than the CBC I started working at.
I started working at CBC five years ago.
This isn’t some political post. I know the Liberals gutted the CBC before the Conservatives took over the job. I know Conservatives who strongly support the CBC (I also know plenty who don’t). Honestly, this isn’t even about the CBC. This is about journalism.
* * *
I’m writing this post with the presumption that I don’t need to convince you that a robust, independent media is an important component of a functioning democracy. If you disagree, I suggest you turn to the People’s Daily and 24seven for your news coverage and enjoy slowly slipping away from reality.
Meanwhile, I’m going to tell the rest of you about my story file. Actually a bunch of files – there’s a Google Doc, a notebook full of jotted down ideas, an email folder, and a few actual physical folders with newspaper clippings and notes.
All of these are full of stories I want to do stories on but haven’t had the time/opportunity to yet. Among them:
an explanation into why people making a little more than minimum wage are being paid by private companies to look after high-risk teenagers
an in-depth look at why it is so hard to bring doctors to northeastern B.C. (the community of Chetwynd will have no doctors come this summer, four are resigning at once – what’s behind that?)
the story of the Chinese gang wars that hit Prince George in the 1920s
following the struggles of one family with a special-needs child trying to navigate the public school system
There’s lots of other stuff, too. Some is interesting, but small scale. Others are much bigger and more important to the point I don’t feel comfortable putting even a teaser out here because I haven’t had time to fully fact-check.
And that’s sort of the problem. I don’t know a journalist out there who doesn’t have a whole list of meaty stories they’d like to delve into, but require more time, research, and editorial judgement than a quick one-and-done about a traffic accident or the latest city council meetings.
And the quick one-and-dones are important, no doubt, but so too is original, investigative journalism. Unfortunately, the latter requires resources that are increasingly scarce.
Look, CBC and other outlets across the country are still committed to hard-hitting, boots-on-the-ground, analytic reporting. But they are also committed to telling you all you need to know about the news of the day. And eventually, something’s got to give. In many ways, it already has.
I am not a veteran journalist. But I’ve talked to them, read interviews with them, heard them talk about the old days. And the journalism of old had far more resources than the journalism of today. People could get on planes, spend weeks going through papers and reports, attend full days of meetings. There are still people who can do that, but it’s increasingly rare and increasingly difficult. Sometimes it’s tough to even leave your desk for lunch, let alone to meet a contact for a story that you don’t know will immediately produce results. There are just too many deadlines to invest time in potential stories.
“Rank-and-file comment-section staffers are now expected to write multiple pieces per day, help out with editing, write headlines, browse freelance submissions, libel-check the comment threads, do radio and TV hits when necessary, and promote the hell out of themselves and their colleagues on social media. And even when it’s time to go home for the day, everyone’s expected to keep his or her smartphone on: you never knew when the media-party action is going to get good on Twitter.
“It’s a lot of work for not much money. In 1998, I took a 30 percent pay cut when I left my job as a tax lawyer to become a journalist. These days, the equivalent pay cut would be more on the order of 75 percent.”
And that’s if you get a decent job. I am exceedingly and utterly lucky to be in a position where I can have a mortgage, a pension. Assuming things don’t get worse for the CBC (which, today, feels like a pretty big assumption) I could actually do this job until I retire and be comfortably middle class. That is not the case for many of my colleagues in the private industry. In Prince George, I have seen newsrooms everywhere shrink as, like the CBC, people are expected to do more with less. I have seen many talented people parachute out of journalism to jobs elsewhere. As one former newsroom director told me, she was making barely more than if she were to take a job at Dairy Queen, and she wasn’t sure it was worth it anymore. Being a journalist has become akin to a backpack trip around the world: something relatively-well-off people do in their twenties before getting a real job.
That’s the thing. Critics of the CBC will often say it’s time to cut loose and let the market decide. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t seem to be sure it wants to pay for journalism or, if it does, how those payments will be made. There’s a lot of promise in the world of online, and I’m a big believer in those models, but there are no internet startups that are providing coverage as robust as even today’s diminished CBC. Many of the communities we cover have no other media outlets, or just one of those small “community announcement” newsletters you find at coffee shops. Believe it or not, there are still people and places where the internet as a news source isn’t viable, and newspapers like the Globe and Mail and National Post will no longer deliver. The further north I drive, the more likely it is someone will recognize my name, because CBC radio in a small resource town of a few hundred is a vital link to the rest of the country in a way that is tough to grasp in a bigger city.
* * *
Again, this isn’t a critique aimed at any specific person or policy. This is just a statement of the way things are.
Not so long ago, I went on a Twitter spree explaining the constraints of my job in response to someone wondering why CBC wasn’t at an event in the city. I said that the answer to why we aren’t covering a story is never because we don’t think it’s important. It’s because we don’t have the resources to be in the many places we would like to be. We don’t have the resources to do all that we want to do. And the resources we have left are shrinking.
I’ve seen direct action happen as the result of journalism. Important policy changes are made, or someone who needs help connects with someone who can provide it. There is no doubt in my mind that journalists makes positive difference in ways big and small, all the time. I am certain of that.
I am also certain that fewer people practicing journalism means journalism in this country will be less effective. You can only “work smarter” for so long. Eventually, you just don’t have enough people or time to practice effective journalism. I’m not sure we’ve hit the breaking point yet. But from where I stand- one of the lucky ones to not be among the hundreds and hundreds of journalists in the private and public sector to not lose my job in the last decade- I fear we’re getting dangerously close.
“So what do the recent changes to the Oxford Junior Dictionary mean? I think it’s fair to say that it means that school-aged children – the target audience of this dictionary – aren’t holding buttercups under chins. They aren’t catching amphibians. They aren’t listening to birds. They aren’t playing games among tangles of willows. They are, instead, being influenced toward corporatized indoor loneliness instead of towards a corporate outdoor solitude.”
Like Huber, I’m in a community that is still surrounded by nature, but also like him, I worry. Even as an adult living in the same neighbourhood I grew up in, I notice that woods I used to wander in are now subdivisions, and the elementary school I attended with a forest on the side is now among many that are shut down. I didn’t fully understand the psychological impact nature had on me until I lived in urban China and experienced a profound sense of relief after discovering a small wooded area after months of nothing but concrete. I hope that future generations will also get to grow up with dirt and trees and birds.
“I very much fell into the trap of only being exposed to the voices of men. My blog subscriptions were all to male writers. Those I followed on Twitter were almost all male. I spoke at many conferences, and in every case, the speaker line-up was either almost completely or exclusively male. Those men then amplified other male voices, perpetuating the effect.
“It’s vital, for all our sakes, that we make an effort to change that.”
I’d also make this recommendation for other voices. During #IdleNoMore, I made an effort to follow more indigenous voices, and during the initial events of Ferguson last year I added African-American voices.
I don’t know what my ratio is, but I do know having more diverse voices in my Twitter feed has helped make me more aware of and empathetic towards viewpoints that, pre-Twitter, I simply didn’t know about. One other tip I’d add: once you’re following those voices, don’t challenge, argue or question. Just listen.
Word this morning that Ben Meisner, legendary broadcaster, has died. As a longtime journalist, he was known for his no-holds-barred interviews, tough questions, and his signature line, delivered in his perfect, old-school radio voice: “I’m Meisner, and that’s one man’s opinion.”
The first I knew of Meisner was when I was a kid, and he was the owner of the business Crazy Willys here in Prince George. He’d show up during my Saturday morning cartoons, in commercials for the deals. I didn’t get a good sense of who he was as a journalist until years later, when I was an intern working in the B.C. legislature.
I was in government caucus communications. Gordon Campbell was still the premier. Some years earlier, as the host of a talk radio show on the now defunct 550 AM in Prince George, Meisner had Campbell on to talk BC Rail.
I didn’t hear the interview myself, but it had grown to the stuff of local legend. Meisner wouldn’t let Campbell off on why he sold the railway. He kept questioning him, rather than moving on to the next subject. Or so I heard.
There are a number of versions of the story about what happened next. In one, the station owner in Vancouver became so enraged about the interview that he personally flew to Prince George to fire Meisner. This is probably not true. This is where the “legendary” status comes from. There are legends around the guy.
Either way, not so long after this interview Meisner was off the air, and the two events became conflated.
He resurfaced, of course. He started the website 250 News in the early days of the internet-as-a new-source, and started broadcasting on community radio. That’s where he was when I started my internship.
So anyways, in government communications there was a job called media monitoring. Tracking what people are saying about the B.C. government. There were only about four or five columnists that the government cared about, because of their ability to influence public decision. All of them were in either Victoria or Vancouver. All of them but one, that is: Ben Meisner.
* * *
I didn’t actually meet Meisner until I started working at CBC. It was on Campbell’s last visit here as premier.
Funny thing is, they acted more like old friends than people who had very publicly sparred. This was a pattern I would see a few times. Despite often being the one to most hold people’s feet to the fire, Meisner was also the one they would chat and laugh with. That’s a tough thing to do.
I got to know Meisner later. When he heard something he liked on CBC, he would reward us with a visit to the office and an invitation for coffee. He would put his face against the glass door, and peer in with a smile. “What’ll ya have, bud?”
Waiting in line, there were always friends and people he’d helped. “Hi there, old-timer!” he’d exclaim.
About three years ago, he ended his radio show. Shortly after, he told us what motivated him. As he told it, he was in the office but the station manager didn’t know it. Ben overheard him talking about what would happen if he stopped broadcasting. “He’ll never quit!” said the station manager. So he did.
Of course, he couldn’t stay away. He came back to the airwaves last year in order to interview every last candidate running in the municipal election. That’s the thing about him. He was absolutely driven by the chase of the story. He always had some investigation on the go. “Oh, let me tell you,” he’d say slyly. Always some new scoop or tip.
“It’s not about the money, it’s never about the money,” he’d say. It was about the story.
When I took the job as producer of the local CBC show last year, we wanted to have someone on to comment on city issues. I invited Meisner.
He warned me it probably wouldn’t work out.
He recorded a few episodes, opining on spending issues, municipal priorities, that sort of thing.
One piece he wrote ran longer than the time allotted, and I thought there were some extraneous lines that we could do without. I emailed him to make the suggestion.
He replied, “Please do not run this editorial in any shape or form… I don’t feel it necessary to justify each and every paragraph I write.
“Consider last week’s submission to be my final column.”
He was getting paid, but it wasn’t about the money. It was never about the money.
I stand by my suggested changes, but I don’t begrudge him the decision not to be edited. He had his own platform. He had earned it.
* * *
A few weeks ago, Meisner paid his last visit to our office. Peering through the glass doors. “What’ll you have, bub?”
This time, we talked about his upcoming vacation plans.
He had asked his wife Elaine where she wanted to go. Hawaii? She said no. Mexico? Nah.
“You choose somewhere,” he says she told him.
He smiles, slyly. Here comes the punchline.
“So we’re going ice fishing in Dauphin, Manitoba!”
We talked about how much he was looking forward to it. How Elaine would like it.
* * *
A few weeks later, another breaking story is published to 250News.com. “Meisner battling cancer”.
Damn. Damn damn damn.
And of course his top priority is getting back to Prince George. “That is my town, and I owe so much.”
That’s the headline. But look at the web address. It ends with “meisner-finally-coming-home”.
He was born in Saskatchewan, started his career in Manitoba, and moved on to Toronto, Red Deer, Kamloops, and more. But Prince George was home. He loved this city. And it loved him back.
I’m seeing tributes coming in from people from all walks of life. The premier has issued a statement. The comments section on 250 News is, as always, full of voices.
Here’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to remember all the times he chose the tough questions over the easy conversation. The times he chose his journalistic instincts over money.
In these days of shrinking newsrooms and the ever-vanishing line between “journalism” and “PR”, he stood as an example. He would work for other people, but not if that meant changing what he wanted to say. He’d sooner quit. And he did, again and again. If no one would give him the platform to say what he felt needed to be said, he built it himself.
There are a number of critiques you could throw at him, but no one can say he wasn’t true to himself. And that’s no small feat.
Rest in peace, Ben. You deserve it.
That’s one man’s opinion.
* * *
I should add, I think it’s only fair that the fullest portrait of who Ben was comes from the man himself. Fortunately, the Prince George Oral History Group conducted an interview with him about ten years ago that gives you a full picture of his life and values.
You can also listen to my interview on CBC about him:
At first I was in the anti-Comic Sans camp, but I think that was just my learned, knee-jerk reaction. I mean sure, designers and the people who follow them know that Comic Sans is only acceptable for comic books and children’s messages, but when it’s one of the default choices on most operating systems, people in the wider world are only going to know it as a somewhat friendly looking font. That’s why you have the Vatican and the research team for the Higgs-Boson particle using it. Comic Sans may cause some people to recoil, but in the wider world most people don’t even know its name.
To test this, I printed two copies of the report- one in the original Comic Sans and one in the default Arial, and asked people which they preferred. The results were half and half. No one had any issues with Comic Sans. I had to explain what a “font” was to some.
I also found it interesting that the people who liked Comic Sans better (and some of the ones who preferred Arial) said that Comic Sans was “friendlier” or more eye-catching. I started thinking about how we’re always talking about ways to get people feel more involved with local government, and that one of the barriers is how intimidating it can be. There’s a lot of technical jargon and rules that the general public might not feel comfortable with.
Maybe in certain instances when you want to get people to feel involved and welcome, Comic Sans is the way to go. It’s also accessible – some research has shown that people who are dyslexic have an easier time reading it than other fonts.
Plus I think we’re hitting a turning point. Already there’s a backlash to the backlash in this debate. There have been pieces in the Guardian and Slate in defence of Comic Sans. By embracing it, the city of Prince George could really be riding that trend.
“Today, when you read a story at the New Republic, or Medium, or any of a thousand other sites, it looks great; every story looks great. Even something as simple as a competition announcement comes with a full-page header and whiz-bang scrollkit graphics. The result is a cognitive disconnect: why is the website design telling me that this short blog post is incredibly important, when in reality it’s just a blockquote and a single line of snark? All too often, when I visit a site like Slate or Quartz, I feel let down when I read something short and snappy — something which I might well have enjoyed, if it just took up a small amount of space in an old-fashioned reverse-chronological blog. The design raises my expectations, even as the writers are still expected to throw out a large number of quick takes on various subjects.”
Smart take on what online reading lacks: any clear differentiation between types of stories. For the most part, everything on a given site looks the same, unlike print where there are any number of clues about how much weight the editors/designers feel the content deserves.
That’s one thing I’ve tried to address here- some posts, like this one, have a smaller headline whereas others that I feel deserve more weight get a bigger font. It’s a small thing, but as you scroll hopefully it provides some clue about how important I feel it is.
Prince George is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. I’m ruminating on a couple of projects to mark that, and here’s one of them: compiling a list of the greatest “Prince George songs” of all time.
In my own life I’ve seen a number of great artists come and go and come again in the various local music scenes. I know that extends back to before my time, as well, so I’m hoping to get help on this. I’m going to collect top ten lists from various people who’ve been involved in the musical community over the years. I’m then going to take those compilations and create a master list.
Here’s my definition of a “Prince George” song:
1. It was recorded or written by an artist based in Prince George at or near the time of recording.
2. It is by an artist not from Prince George, but the song itself is about or inspired by Prince George.
That’s about it.
I’m hoping that if you’ve been involved in the local music scene as an artist, promoter, or fan, you’ll submit your list using the form below. If you have less than ten, that’s fine. You may rank them, if you want. Also, if you’d like to say anything about why you chose the songs, that’d be awesome.