Are newspapers facing extinction?


A woman is reading the weekend newspaper in a coffee shop. Is this a fading pleasure?

Reading the newspaper was one of my favourite activities before the internet become a primary source of information. I miss the tactile relationship between the sheets of paper, the layout of articles and photographs and the wonderful portability of a newspaper.

Sadly, a number of newspapers will be closing in the next few months, due to declining advertising revenues and audiences accessing free information on-line. The Chicago Tribune is under bankruptcy protection, while the San Francisco Chronicle may close in April if it doesn't find a financial backer. The Baltimore Examiner and the Cincinnati Post have already shut their doors. The latest casualty is Denver's Rocky Mountain News, which ceased operations yesterday, and posted this page on its web site.

While it's not hard to argue the environmental benefits of printing less paper, what I'm most concerned about is the essential work the ink on the sheet represents. Newspapers play a vital role in democracies; no need to spell out the details. Ironically, the decline of the local papers is not related to the level of research and reporting they carry out, but rather to changing business models. So much content is available for free these days that many people have simply stopped buying the newspaper. And advertisers have spread their dollars over many other forms of media not available twenty or thirty years ago. Now, with the economic downturn, there just isn't enough money to go around and news organizations cannot cover their costs.

Lots of people don't realize that many of the stories that circulate on the internet, on the radio and on television originate in newspaper newsrooms. As the lights go out one by one in these newsrooms, that quality information we take for granted will gradually disappear and I fear we will be left with poorly assembled facts, mere headlines, innuendo, unsubstantiated reports, and "doctored" or "spun" information. I worry about the future of our communites if reliable information becomes hard to find.

It's ironic that with the popularity of the internet, some newspapers have actually multiplied their readership in recent years, reaching global audiences in some cases, and yet they have not found a way to finance their work. The business infrastructure has not kept pace.

In an essay in Time magazine, Walter Isaacson makes a case for an easy on-line subscription model to save journalism. He argues for a simple system like an i-Tunes fee to pay for the journalistic work that consumers desire.

Would this fly? Will readers be willing to pay for quality information? Everything is changing these days and we just can't predict what will work and what won't.

In some ways, the digital age is like the industrial revolution at the beginning of the last century. Now our society is being transformed by computers, electronic media and their applications. We can't tell what its shape will be until this phase has run its course.

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The Princes' Gates

This is known as the Princes' Gates, the main entrance to Exhibition Place in Toronto just west of the downtown core. The monument was inaugurated in 1927 by the Prince of Wales and his brother, Prince George; hence the name. The pillars on either side of the gate represent the Canadian provinces. The figure at the top of the arch is inspired by the "Goddess of Winged Victory," a famous Greek statue displayed in the Louvre museum in Paris.

When I decided to sketch this, it was a cold day. Fortunately, I was in the warm confines of the car.

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Confronting our collective troubles

As we reflect on the leadership of our elected officials in these times, it's helpful to contemplate the following words by famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”

We certainly know about the anxiety. Here's hoping President Obama and other world leaders confront it head-on, as Galbraith said, as we work our way through our troubles.

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Strange and wonderful remedies for your high-tech problems

Problem 1:
Q: What should you do if you accidentally drop your cellphone in the toilet?

A: Presuming you didn't flush it down the sewer, recover your phone, remove the battery, wipe it, and then stuff the phone assembly into a bowl of rice.

Problem 2:
What should you do before you take your broken PC hard drive to the repair shop?

A: Place it in the kitchen freezer overnight and try starting the drive again in the morning.

These remedies sound a little ridiculous at first blush. However -- believe it or not -- they actually have a basis in science. Paul Boutin wrote a delightful column for the New York Times technology pages last week that is full of strange fixes like these for gadget problems that anyone, at one time or another, may experience.

If you'd like to learn more, take a look at Boutin's piece. It's called "Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems." Here's the link.

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In this economy, will we see opportunities when they present themselves?

The news is so dominated by negative information on the economic front that it's hard to avoid getting caught up in the doom and gloom. But somewhere out there, these difficult times are also creating opportunities for people.

Those who've studied these things say people who seize opportunities are people who have learned not to fear the future. They don't interpret what some of us see as bad situations in the same negative tones. Instead, they seem to have the ability to set their minds on seeing how "bad news" can also open a window to something better.

Back in October, I posted a quote from Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, that still sounds relevant. He said, "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

Even though times are tough, will you be ready to identify and seize your opportunities ?

May we all find a few.



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Being alone isn't what it used to be

When was the last time you were truly alone? I mean alone as in "unplugged": away from the telephone and text messages; away from the Blackberry, Facebook, Twitter, video games, television, radio and the host of other electronic media that consume our time when we're supposedly alone?

It's really a rare thing these days to be disconnected from social media and networking tools of one kind or another. And yet, not so long ago, people enjoyed the tranquility of spending time with one's own thoughts and one's environment.

Many young people have grown up interacting with each other in the world of electronic media. What would they do if they were unplugged for a while?

Neil Swidey, a staff writer for the Boston Globe, asked that question and wrote an interesting piece which was published in the Globe's Sunday magazine. In the article, he includes a revealing comment from sociologist Dalton Conley, who says, "We've gone from an American ethic that championed the lone guy on a horseback to an ethic of managing multiple data streams... It's very hard for people to unplug and be alone -- and be with the one data stream of their mind."

(Conley is the writer of a book with a very catchy title I saw the other day in the bookstore: Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety.)

It's a topic for our times. The Boston Globe article is called "The End of Alone," and it's a good read. The newspaper also produced a short video to accompany the feature. You can see both by following this link.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to check my Facebook page and send a text message to my daughter....


Notes:

The photo of a hiker in Switzerland and is courtesy of M. Beyeler, who made it available on the stock.xchng photo pool.

More information about Conley's book is available at this page on Amazon.com.
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Labyrinths: leading you in circles for peace of mind

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Proponents of these walks say it's a practical way to clear the mind using the body's natural rhythms.

For thousands of years and in different cultures, people have built labyrinths for this purpose. A labyrinth is a system of paths with many turns and interconnecting passages. It is like a maze. However, unlike a maze, it is not a puzzle to be solved, but rather a path to be followed to the centre of the pattern and then out again.

Writer Joe Kissell followed his curiosity about stress relief to a sanctuary in San Francisco, where he took part in a labyrinth walk. He then wrote about it here. The subtitle of his article is interesting: "The twisty path to clarity."

The photo above shows an example of a medieval labyrinth. It's from the French cathedral in Chartres, the site of many pilgrimages. You can read more about that labyrinth here.

The benefits of walking to clear the mind have been promoted by many great men and women throughout the ages. I like a quote by Saint Augustine that I found on one site:
"Solvitur ambulando" -- "It is solved by walking."


Note:
The photo from Chartres Cathedral is used under a free documentation licence made available by Wikimedia Commons
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A fine hotel in the heart of Toronto

I was sitting in the downtown Toronto offices of the Canadian Press for a meeting last week and looking out the window at Le Meridien King Edward Hotel.

I could see the second and third floor above the hotel's main entrance, and I started doodling.

The King Edward is one of the grandest of Toronto's hotels. Over 100 years old, it's a luxury hotel with old world charm in the city's financial district. Mark Twain, the Beatles and Margaret Thatcher have all stayed at this hotel at one time or another.

Wikipedia has a photo of the exterior of the hotel and some interesting facts about its history. The article is here.

The hotel website is here.

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Encouraging a low sodium diet

If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease, your doctor will likely recommend a low sodium diet.  But if you think it's relatively easy to follow this advice, think again.

In our world of processed foods, staying on a low sodium diet can be a very difficult thing to do. That's because sodium is found in salt, and many snacks and other foods available at supermarkets and grocery stores are often loaded with salt, which acts as a preservative. Salt, I've learned, is used not only for taste, but also to draw moisture away from food to keep harmful bacteria away.

If you have too much sodium in your diet,  you will notice a tendency to retain water in your extremities.  It also causes a constricting of your arteries at the same time as it increases blood volume, and this is not a good thing, especially for people who have circulatory diseases, heart disease or high blood pressure.

While in some countries low sodium food is readily available, in others it's not so easy to find. My friend Ben Viccari, past president of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association,  says Canada is lagging behind in offering consumers less salty foods.  

Ben  has launched a new website to lobby for more low sodium and sodium-free options in Canada.  It's called "losode.com -- a non-profit information exchange for low sodium dieters" and it's worth a good look, even if you're one of the lucky people who may not need to be on a sodium-reduced diet at the moment.  It's a healthy practice to follow, regardless.  Sooner or later, high sodium intake will catch up with all of us.

Click here to go to losode.com

(Thanks, Ben, for the information.)

Photo courtesy of the stock.xchng
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How much of the horror of war should we show on television?

As someone who works in television news,  I wince every time my colleagues and I have to decide which images of graphic violence to allow on the screen and which ones to remove.  In North America we have some clear sensibilities about the level of brutality we show on television. Our guiding principle is to give the viewer a clear description of tragedies in the news, but not to sensationalize them. We also try to consider the dignity of innocent victims of violence and of their families. We are particularly aware of the vulnerabilities of children who may be watching the news during the day.

This is not necessarily the case in other countries. Eric Calderwood, a Harvard student living in Syria, recently spent some time observing the coverage of the conflict in Gaza by the Al-Jazeera network.  He calls Al-Jazeera's coverage "blood journalism" because of the level of violence shown on the screen. While the network's sense of editorial balance is distinctly different from those of North American media organizations, Calderwood finds some benefits to Al-Jazeera's depiction of the harsh realities of armed conflict.

The Boston Globe recently posted an essay on this topic by Calderwood. His ideas are worth considering.  

It's also a reminder that, wherever we live, we should avoid watching television news passively; we need to keep our mental filters on and our faculties sharp. Deconstructing and analyzing media messages is vital to a better understanding of the forces that shape our world.

Calderwood's essay is entitled "The Violence Network" and you can read it here.

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Hugo Pratt's graphic novels are still cool

I'm a big fan of Italian graphic novelist Hugo Pratt. The creator of the complex and popular Corto Maltese character died in 1995, but his work lives on.

In tribute to Pratt, I shamelessly practiced by free-hand copying these figures with a felt pen after re-reading his "Scorpions of the Desert" story, which is set in Italian-occupied Africa before and during the Second World War.

Pratt spent a lot of time travelling the world and was quite attentive to historic and geographic details.

Above is an Italian officer, in one of the many uniforms of the Fascist forces.

Here's a youthful recruit....



and a dangerous lady...


I had a lot of fun doing these.

Notes:

1. A short biography of Hugo Pratt can be found here, and also in a Wikipedia entry here.
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Unemployment numbers spell trouble

As the stark unemployment numbers came in last week, the seriousness of the economic downturn sunk in. What began as a mortgage crisis in the United States last year, then suddenly morphed into a global financial crisis in the last quarter, then a manufacturing crisis, with the auto sector on the brink of collapse, now threatens to become a human crisis.

As more manufacturing slows down, more people are being laid off. As the numbers of the unemployed grow, all sectors of the North American economy are being affected: retail, the services sector, travel, etc. (In my industry, television, we've seen a drastic reduction in advertising revenues, and media companies across the board have started terminating positions as revenue projections for the rest of the year are not improving.)

Meanwhile in both Canada and the United States, governments are just starting to pass stimulus packages. Will they achieve the desired effects in time? Everyone is going to be watching the economic numbers very closely. Meanwhile, families worry about making ends meet and hope for a glimmer of positive change, or at least that this steep dive will level off.

The bankers and Wall street brokerages that unleashed all of this have a lot of cleaning up to do.

Bill Moyers, the venerable journalist and documentary producer, talked about this problem on his show (Bill Moyers Journal) this weekend by recalling an earlier personal experience. Here's what he said in his closing commentary:
I had a history professor at the University of Texas - Robert Cotter - who believed the most remarkable quality of Abraham Lincoln was his empathy for people he didn't personally know. The working man. The soldier in battle. His widow and orphans.

Ordinary folks caught in the undertow of events. We could use that kind of empathy today. As Washington obsessed all week over the fate of one nominee to the cabinet, and as we watched hearings about the failure of watchdog agencies going to sleep on the job, we heard almost nothing of the people across the country suffocating in the wreckage of their lives. Some of us born in the Depression still remember the song made famous by the Carter Family singers, called the "Worried Man Blues".

"I went across that river and I lay down to sleep. When I woke up there were shackles on my feet."

The day my father was fired from his job at Manly's Appliance Store, he came walking home as if he had shackles on his feet. I still remember the look on his face. He wasn't yet 50, but had suddenly turned old, the way a lot of people look today who are losing their jobs. Their stomachs are knotted with fear as the life they had come to expect is fading fast. Not because of their own failures but because our political and financial elites rigged the economy for their own advantage.

John F. Kennedy famously said, "Life is unfair," and so it is. But it wouldn't feel as unfair if the shackles wound up instead on the well-heeled feet of Wall Street and Washington's elect. That's the change we need, the change we can really believe in.

Notes:

Read more at this PBS site for the Bill Moyers Journal. Much of the show this week was devoted to a new look at Abraham Lincoln.

Stock image courtesy of Ilko at www.sxc.hu

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The dashing Dash 8


Continuing the aviation theme, here's my drawing of a Bombardier DeHavilland Dash 8 used by Air Canada Jazz, a regional carrier. The Dash 8 is used for short takeoffs and landings and is ideal for smaller airports. The plane is a real workhorse for Air Canada in many cities across the country.

Because of the position of the wings, above the fuselage, passengers get a great view. This one was parked at the Kelowna airport last weekend.

More info here, if you're interested.

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A seaplane flight

This is a DeHavilland Otter seaplane, used by Harbour Air of Vancouver. The airline operates daily flights from Vancouver's harbour to Victoria and other cities in British Columbia. The company operates 30 seaplanes and is proud to call itself North America's only carbon-neutral airline. The company buys carbon offsets to mitigate the airlines impact on the environment. Offsets are investments in environmental projects and pollution-reducing initiatives. You can learn more here.

I had the pleasure of taking one such flight with some colleagues last week. We flew from Vancouver to Victoria Harbour and this is what it looked like from the inside.

Flying in a seaplane is like turning the clock back to an earlier time in aviation. I loved every minute of it. No door separating the cockpit from the cabin, simple seats, metal interior, no frills and quite a view!

I found a video on YouTube of the view of the cockpit during a typical takeoff. It's here.

Me drawing my luggage

I spent a lot of time Sunday at the Kelowna (British Columbia) airport during a snowstorm awaiting a flight to Toronto. The plane didn't make it in, so I spent the night at a hotel thanks to a voucher from the great staff at WestJet. While the departure was still a possibility, I passed the time watching the NFL Superbowl with a lot of other stranded travellers in the terminal. I also did a little sketching, just experimenting with perspective. This is me drawing me drawing my luggage, if that makes any sense!

Around the world in just over 80 days!


After 84 days of solo sailing, Michel Desjoyeaux has become the first person to twice win the prestigious Vendée Globe, the non-stop, round-the-world yacht race; and he did it in record time.

Desjoyeaux's boat, Foncia, beat the previous record by three days and seven hours, even though this year's route was actually longer.  He averaged just over 13 knots over the more than 28,000 miles of the race.

He received a hero's welcome upon his return to France on Sunday. The race began at Les Sables d'Olonne before the winter set in, on November 9th.

Roland Jourdain, his closest competitor, has just under one thousand nautical miles to go before the finish. Another 11 competitors are strung out along a north-south axis in the Atlantic Ocean.

Read all about Michel Desjoyeaux triumphant return at the official race website.

Notes:
Photograph of Foncia is courtesy of www.vendeeglobe.org/en
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