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Dean's Digital World
Sources 47

By Dean Tudor

Dean Tudor


Wow!! What can I say? No sooner did my last column on "convergence" appear than the news hit the fan about significant Canadian convergers (yes, I've invented a new word -- I have not yet seen it anywhere else -- "converger", meaning the merger of communications companies seeking convergence)... Suddenly I was in demand to comment on broadcast and in print: what does it all mean? I was asked. So I cranked up the ol' regrind and put forth the message of the previous Sources. I repurposed myself! Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Now if I could only convert my expertise into a Web site operation at the consultant level, I might be able to make a few million bucks out of it all...Consider what's happened since summer of 2000:

* CanWest Global Communications Corp. has bought more than 200 Canadian publications from Hollinger Inc. (136 small newspapers, 85 trade publications, and 14 urban dailies -- including a half-interest in the National Post) plus a few Web sites. Previous to this, Hollinger had been in the process of shedding most of its US and Canadian newspapers.

* BCE Inc., which now owns CTV and its related operations, is next joining Thomson's Globe and Mail to form a new media company comprising online, television, and newspaper services. The print editor-in-chief of Hamilton Spectator has been appointed senior vice-president of CTV Inc.'s news division. Previous to this, Thomson had been in the process of shedding its US and Canadian newspapers.

* Quebecor Inc. has bought Groupe Videotron Ltee. by selling 45% of itself to the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, and renaming itself Quebecor Media. It will now have interests in cable, broadcasting, newspaper, magazine, and Internet properties (e.g., Canoe.ca).

* The EU turned down the proposed AOL-Time Warner converger with EMI, citing too much control of the recording industry. With that converger gone, the EU gave thumbs up to the more senior (and long pending) AOL and Time Warner converger in Europe.

What next? CanWest could use some cable companies (Shaw? Rogers?)... BCE could use more print (one newspaper is not going to cut the mustard: maybe the Toronto Star?)...To compete against BCE and CanWest, maybe Rogers and TorStar will be allies... Every merger and converger brings with it a series of benefits and drawbacks. And that's what the regulatory bodies are looking for.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission has questioned the public's benefit derived from a AOL-Time Warner converger. But there has been no definitive word yet. To meet Canadian government policy on competition, several moves will have to occur. Because the BCE-CTV converger owns both TSN and SportsNet, it will have to shed one or the other, and SportsNet is up for the high jump since it is the weaker of the two. Maybe Rogers will pick it up... Because the Quebecor-Groupe converger now owns broadcaster TVA, it will sell its weaker Quebec network TQS... All of this stifles accusations of operating a monopoly.

The Canadian Competition Bureau and the CRTC must be sated. These convergers are not done deals. The players are tied up by regulations and the very effective license renewal procedures. Hearings will be in order for the converger to proceed, and license renewal hearings also allow for expressions of opinions. As Mme. Bertrand, head of the CRTC has said: "Are the vitality of competition and the vitality of the creative journalistic voices in the market threatened?" I think so, and I also think that no government body can do anything about it -- even if they call for different corporate structurings.

"It" has a name: repurposing. The media are on a course to cut back on expenses, and one way is to refashion or repurpose stories that were originally written in and for one medium (say, newspapers) to be transferred to another (say, broadcasting) or to a third (say, Web site). There is nothing that prohibits the transfer of intellectual property from one company to another, even if the companies are separately owned. This is all reworked content, and writers/producers are never paid equally and twice for the same thing. Along with repurposing (why not call it cross-writing?) there is also cross-promotion (content in one form of media can be noted on another form of media) and cross-selling (same ad in each media). Still, there is *NO* policy on convergers in either of the US or Canada, unlike the more progressive EU...

BUT -- convergence is not just happening to the shareholders and officers of the media. It is also happening to reporters and editors. For some time -- in the fashion of typical "economic" reductions -- there have been two- way reporters (reporters who are also photographers), and that has been extended to now include "videographers" and "videojournalists". Where once a squad was sent to cover the news for broadcast (producer, sound, camera, reporter), now there is more likelihood of just one person showing up at an event or on the scene. This is a 300% staff reduction.

One of the latest economic reductions is the creation of the "news researcher-reporter", blurring the distinction between a researcher and a reporter. Previously, a reporter could rely on libraries and news librarians to do some basic spade work. No more. The typing pool disappeared when CEOs had to learn wordprocessing on their PCs; the library pool disappeared when the reporters had to do their own document and Internet searches.

"Researching subjects or using the Internet to find information is like using the telephone or your feet to walk down to the library. It's no longer exotic. Everyone has to do it." (Duff Wilson, investigative reporter, quoted in Super Searchers in the News, published by Information Today). In the same book, Nora Paul, now Director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, said: "A good researcher is a good reporter and a good reporter is a good researcher". Researchers for newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters may also work for their Web site and webcasting, doing double duty often for the same pay. Researchers are also part of the editorial project team, joining with a computer person, copyeditor, and layout/graphics specialist.

This leads me to Robin Rowland, crackerjack news researcher-reporter, and author of the newly published The Creative Guide to Research; how to find what you want online or offline, from Career Press (in Canada, through Ten Speed Press, $24.95 CDN at better bookstores). He is currently Web producer for CBC's The National, and was previously at CBC Newsworld Online, CTV, and a host of other places. He also teaches Computer-Assisted Reporting and Investigative Techniques at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto. Disclaimer: he's a colleague of mine, and that makes him "my good friend" (as John Fraser would say), even if he quoted me only twice in his book. This is his fourth book -- an earlier one dealt with "Researching on the Internet". This one covers more ground, including libraries and archives along with the Internet.

Robin's book is written for writers who do research both online and offline (offline appears to be the new word for "libraries" and "archives"). But it doesn't matter whether you are online or offline: the research process, as he correctly notes, remains the same as before:

* focus your needs,

* organize your search (5 Ws and How),

* nail down your facts,

* evaluate/verify your findings,

* be prepared for serendipity.

He says "Good research gives you more choices". But people cannot handle more choices. He should simply have said "Good research gives you good choices", for the upshot of good research is clean, verifiable, quality (and hence) good choices -- not just "more", just "better". Unfortunately, today most young people believe that everything is on the Web, and -- worse yet -- it must all be true (or why would it be there?). Some even think that it is all free, but there are many proprietary sites that charge and that do not admit Web spider searches.

Robin deals with all of the problems of the Internet:

* lack of evaluation/verification,

* the bulk of data,

* keeping up with changes,

* lack of pre-1995 material,

He presents strategies on how to handle them. As well he goes on to give good advice on objectivity and spiralling in on data. He covers publications, Web sites, search engine sites, E-mail, lookups, pictures, libraries, archives and documents -- plus a whole chunk on interviewing techniques, especially using email. There are plenty of examples of everything, plus stories from seasoned researchers. Other worthwhile topics include: meta-searches, searching mail lists, searching newsgroups, people searches, and online dictionaries and encyclopedias. Each topic has plenty of strategy notes and stories from other researchers who have been there before you.

The book is very well-written, in an engaging style. Books like these, dealing with research, can be easy to write but really hard to keep a reader awake from page to page. Robin succeeds well in jolting, and I encourage every reporter to read and learn from it.

He still needs to work in some more details on chasing down and using public and legal documents, such as land titles, wills, divorces, bankruptcies, vital certificates, assessment rolls, balance sheets, and the like, with more examples of these. Many of these documents are "one-of-a- kind" and are unlikely to end up on the Internet due to concerns about personal privacy (another issue to cover: Victoria once put up its assessment rolls to a Web site, and then hastily took it down after complaints).

Check out his Web sites for more examples and more stories:

creativeresearch.on.ca and robinrowland.com

And while you are out there browsing, do look at the thousands of links on my *ADFREE* universal gateway/portal master index MegaSources site, which has all the search engines, lookups, breaking news, library sites, journalism sites, et al, part of a news researcher-reporter toolkit. As well, pick up a free copy of my research book Finding Answers; it's a self-extracting file as noted in the URL on my Web site at:

www.ryerson.ca/~dtudor/megasources.htm

Dean Tudor is Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism, Ryerson Polytechnic University.

Published in Sources, Number 47, Winter 2001.



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