Thursday, April 06, 2006

Our newest charity case

I'd like to want to feel like shedding a few crocodile tears over the demise of The Independent.

But I can't.

I liked the paper when it first came out. I've been an admirer of Greg Locke and his work for a long time and I looked forward to seeing his stamp on things. The original Independent was slightly edgy and fearless in taking a point of view that we badly needed locally. It even took on international issues in a local context and without losing the fact that this province is part of a larger world.

It expressed local pride without smug self-satisfied superiority, an overwhelming sense of bleeding victimhood or that local brand of annoying paranoia that says the world (feds, oil or fish companies, other provinces, historical forces - take your pick) are out to get us and keep us down.

But thanks to the editorial crew and owner that followed - Cleary, Dobbin et al - the Independent took on all those ideological millstones and proudly hung them around their collective necks.

I know I will be swimming against the current when I say that their infamous series on our role in Confederation featuring the in-depth analysis and careful research of Dr. S. Kelland-Dyer was a low point in media contributions to NL public discourse. That series was held out as an objective and respectable research-based product of investigative journalism when it manifestly was not.

In the end, it was the kind of shoddily-constructed misleading political polemic you would find in a third-rate university student newspaper hijacked by a crew of over-zealous freshman idealists out to change the world at any cost and facts be damned. It was thin on sober thought and fat on the purple articulation of long-standing grievance dressed up as analysis.

I feel sympathy for those dedicated journalists and talented photographers who lost their regular paycheck and outlet for their craft because of the closure (and you know who you are). But you will land on your feet because you have something to offer the market and the news reading audience of the province.

Maybe a bad newspaper is better than no newspaper at all. Maybe people will put up with a bad paper in the hopes that it will become better and more interesting to them over time. But clearly the reading market of the province did not think so. After all, "ran out of time" is simply short-hand code for "we couldn't get enough readers to attract advertising at the rates we need to break even".

Clearly their strategic decision to pander to the peculiar market segment they chose was a wrong one. To survive and eventually prosper they had to attract a readership who were interested in more than a political point of view repeatedly outlined in a style of vitriol and bile.

The people of the province want to read about things that are interesting and important to the main part of them and not just to the chronically disaffected.

It's too bad we don’t have more variety in the print media market. And not because the Telegram is a bad paper because it's not. Just in the last year the Telegram has broken more stories and has put more effort and resources into investigations into the provincial government (see fight over Access to Information Act and the buried polling surveys) and into City Hall (salary increases) than you would expect from them if you believed the Independent's claim that we are ill-served by a comfortable monopoly over hard local print news.

Was it the existence of the Independent which precipitated that? Maybe. In that case I hope another paper rises up to fill the role of foil to the Tely.

But that alone does not justify the Independent’s existence. How can a paper build credibility by uncritically accepting every historical complaint or unverifyable grievance as the fact of the week? How do you become truly independent when you regularly turn over the editorial page to government proxies and apologists?

In the end, the Independent was never independent at all. It was just a servile journal to a passing political affectation.

You had the chance to inform us and you blew it.

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