Good news from the media

Posted 06.10.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | If newspapers, facing a hundred new sources of news, are going the way of the Gutenberg press, and if today's young people are plugged exclusively into e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, then Quebec’s recent community newspaper convention near Montreal didn't happen.

Yet it did, and a big majority of the participants were young people. They had Facebook with them, but it didn't distract from their real focus: reading and creating newspapers. The futurologists aren't looking to the future.

Yes, the convention's workshops concerned websites, citizen journalism, and streaming video, and, yes, a lot of participants were checking their phones every few minutes, but the focus of their energy, innocence, and fresh perception came down to old fashioned ink-and-paper. Many of the prizewinners were young, as are many of the editors, graphic designers, photographers, and even publishers across Quebec.

For those of us who love newspapers, this is dynamite news.

It's also great news for our country, because strong newspaper involvement by the next generation means we'll have leadership based on facts and information. The new media around us means even more information, not less.

Television didn't kill the movies; the internet isn't killing newspapers. The mediascape is changing; we're getting multiple sources of news, and although it often seems more uproar than reporting, overall we have more information, news, facts, explanations, history, and opinions (both expert and blow-hard) than ever before.

This good news has a downside in that until new-media infrastructure reaches all parts of the country, the rural areas will be increasingly disenfranchised.

This is where we come in -- or go out. Pontiac and West Quebec newspapers did very well in the awards last weekend, but there are very large areas here still without high-speed internet or cell phone service; our small population has not attracted much radio and television either. If we didn't have good newspapers, we would be facing a very bleak future.

We've seen and used the new media, and know we can't rely entirely on our five or so legitimate newspapers to provide all the region its information and news -- with the speed and the subtleties that each medium brings. Fiber optics and transmission towers are part of today's meaning of equality. We clearly live in an unequal society, and it is the disinterest of our high political leaders that maintains our inequalities and keeps Pontiac purposefully disadvantaged. (Native people and visible minorities surely find my indignation amusing.)

The bright news remains that we are served by high-quality newspapers. For any of our community papers, supported by our struggling and small communities, to go up against the huge Montreal papers and have the judges give our efforts the kudos is heartening -- and exciting. There were urban weeklies with distribution over 100,000 and others backed by massively wealthy media corporations who were bested by our own local papers.

If we are denied high speed Internet and basic cell phone service, there is not much we can do before the next election. What we can influence and improve today is our existing media, our newspapers. They are good, but they always can be improved, and they'll get better quicker if their readers speak up.

What we can also do (partially in preparation for that next election) is make better use of what we've got: use our newspapers better, expect more, insist on more depth, and give them our moral support. Most of all, the most fruitful thing we all can do is read the papers we have. Newspapers are here to make us smarter.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.10