By Dean Tudor
Journalism Professor Emeritus Ryerson University
Hello, Sweetheart? Get me rewrite!
That was the phone call made by journalists until the mid-70s,
with reporters on the scene phoning in their stories of breaking
news (a tradition begun over a hundred years before with the telegraph),
usually from a payphone. And the payphone may have been occupied
by a cub reporter from his own paper, to reserve it and also to
prevent the competition (the other papers) from filing their stories.
To everybody at that time, online meant on the landline phone.
Only the police had radio mobile phones.
There were both morning and evening papers with several editions
a day to report current news as it arrived. Reporters phoned in
their accounts of riots, elections, trials, fires, et al., and a
researcher at the paper augmented and fleshed out the details with
material from the library and morgue, or from interviews with experts
and spokespersons. Radio was limited: most announcers just read
out the news from that days paper, giving us the phrase rip
and read. Television was regarded as just a two-ton
pencil because of its heavy equipment and need for a camera
crew and producer as well as the talking head. TV was also known
as radio with pictures.
Then came the computerization of typesetting in the early 1960s,
the tape cassette in 1965, followed by the miniaturization of the
TV camera and VCR in the 1970s, the enormous labour costs and expenses
of newspapers, and the computer principally, the desktop
PCs and Apples of 1982. Todays reporter has a video cell phone,
a wireless Internet laptop, a satellite transmitter, a Blackberry...These
high tech tools extend reporters reach and sharpen their journalism.
The global village of databases, newsgroups, and websites, with
access to stories, sources and background, make their stories more
complete and credible.
And through it all - over the years -- there was SOURCES...
Publisher Ulli Diemer has asked that I contribute an overview of
how Sources has changed as a resource for journalists
and researchers over the past three decades. Something along the
lines of Sources in its context, the context
of changes in the media and the practice of journalism generally.
Published in July 2002, 25 Years of Sources
was an article in Number 50, which reviewed the first quarter
century. Founder Barrie Zwicker explained, "Its a cliché
that every story has two sides. An untrue cliché. Most have
several. The reporters challenge is digging out all sides.
Sources can help."
Here we are with Issue 59, five years after that. Im not
going to repeat that original article, but I will note that the
nature of journalism had changed dramatically during that 30 year
period, and the changes have escalated even more over the past five.
And Sources has changed with it.
The changes at Sources began with the development
of specialized information resources, such as Embassy
Row (a listing of consular reps in Canada), Fame
& Fortune (a listing of writing awards in
Names & Numbers (a listing of federal and provincial
governments in Canada). Connexions
(a listing of alternative and self-help groups in Canada) was brought
over by its founder Ulli Diemer (who became manager of Sources
in 1995, and then publisher in 1999) and the latest one, launched
in 2000, Media
Names & Numbers (a listing of print and broadcast
media in Canada). These are all available as both print, and later
as Internet computer searchable versions.
Sources is thus more than just experts. It is a pathway
directory to the essentials of democracy, making available names
and addresses of all the movers and shakers in Canada and beyond.
During this same period, journalism produced more helpful guides
and writings based on the need to be more competitive without spending
more money. Freelancers began writing the longer service piece,
for both newspapers and magazines. Television embraced documentaries,
finding it cheaper to produce them (or buy from freelancers) than
to maintain news bureaus around the world. Journalism schools began
to change their curricula to allow for more of this information-based
writing. I had developed an Information Resources for Journalists
program at what is now Ryerson University in 1982, the first year
of the PC/Apple; this course promoted the use of contacts, libraries,
reference works and computer databases in the pre-Internet years.
Sources, then only five years old, was a strong component
of that course. How else could students learn about where to find
people passionately concerned about their endeavours in any field
in Canada? I shamelessly got free copies for my students, in exchange
for a Sources house advert by myself exhorting the
use of Sources subject index. This quid pro
quo worked for many years, and Barrie
Zwicker even came and spoke to my students.
Aside: I understand that the index problem has not gone away
some journalists still dont use the index, preferring to just
browse through the book. Now, it can be a searchable PDF and a bit
easier to use. But due to current cutbacks in the media, there are
scores of freelance journalists who have to spend a great deal of
time dreaming up story ideas which they can then pitch to an editor.
The print edition of Sources is great for that use,
something to curl up with, and freelancers now browse through both
the Subject Index AND the Listings. The peek-a-boo effect of computer
searching is just not applicable here. As publisher Diemer says,
You browse through the print edition and find out about all
sorts of organizations and issues that you never knew about or hadnt
thought about as a story idea. Its the power of serendipity.
Finding what you didnt know you were looking for is often
as good as finding what you were looking for, or thought you were
Sources launched its website
in 1995. Sources was not new to computers; it had
played around with faxback responses to queries, and had investigated
CD-ROMs and other forms of database manipulation by computer tapes.
Since Sources was printed up via computer, it had
all this electronic information with nowhere to go. I had signed
on as a dollar-a-year man called Informatics Consultant
in the early 1990s, and then began writing a twice-a-year column,
which sometimes was a little out of date because of the lag in publication
times. Ah, well...
Sources registered the www.sources.com
Internet domain name in 1994, as well as www.sources.ca.
But www.sources.net went to a web marketer, and somebody
is squatting on sources.org. and sources.info. Sources.biz
is free as of this writing, should you want it for yourself. The
singular Source.com is a communication provider, while source.ca
is an office furniture supplier. The Source by Circuit City
used to be Radio Shack.
Over the past thirty years, to enhance the bottom line and to cut
costs, journalism had scaled back its competitiveness. How? Read
Some publishers have abandoned print. Thomson Learning, its last
print holding, is up for sale. They want $5- to $6-billion for the
largely textbook operation, which has been the least profitable
division for Thomson. Theyll take that money and buy more
electronic databases. Thomson will soon have only research, legal,
scientific, and financial bits of data with no or little
commentary and reportage. This movement has affected Sources
too; it has cut back on paper versions and paper deliveries, giving
away its PDF
Television and radio have consolidated. Networks have purchased
stations and other networks, cut back on news programming (NBC expects
most of its upcoming 2007 job cuts to be in its news divisions),
and merged with the Internet. Radio seems to be only music these
days, and most US radio stations are owned by one company (Clear
Channel Communications). The CBC faces continual cutbacks from whichever
political party is in power. Television networks, even the news
divisions, are driven by demographics and advertising; they see
the Internet as their main threat despite the niche marketing of
The newspaper sector in Canada and the United States is struggling
with both declining circulation and advertising revenues. Newspapers
are seen as poor investments, yet most are publicly-held companies.
Some investors want to bail out, and there are local people who
are thrilled to buy a newspaper at a distress-sale price. The collapse
of newspaper chains should encourage local news and their own local
points of views. The Baltimore Sun is being locally purchased
from Tribune Co. in the US. The New York Times is selling
the Boston Globe to a local consortium in Boston. The McClatchy
papers bought the Knight-Ridder chain and then resold that former
chains Philadelphia newspapers to a local group (one of the
group said Im having a blast). The Los Angeles
Times may be bought from Tribune Co. by local billionaires.
In Canada, Torstar may be on the block if the family ownerships
cannot agree amongst themselves. Both the CanWest papers and the
National Post have been rumoured as being up for sale for
years. Could some of the Quebecor English-language papers be next?
The Thomson family (again, a local publisher) has bought back more
control (40%) of the Globe and Mail. I have a good friend
who bought a local paper in New Mexico, and he loves it. Writer
Paul Waldie has said that there seems to be a new breed of rich
people who want to save their local papers for a modest profit or
Magazines have been on shaky ground for some time. There is declining
circulation just about everywhere. Specialist magazines have replaced
general ones, and they are all chasing after the same advertisers.
The wine and food magazines are angry at the LCBOs freebie
Food & Drink because it is a government-produced magazine
that draws ads away from the private sector. Newsmagazines have
been on a death watch for over a decade and are constantly re-inventing
themselves in order to retain subscribers. The weekly TV Guide
in Canada has recently abandoned its print version, while the television
supplements in the newspapers have shrunk considerably. Ken Whyte
has another take on Macleans magazine.
And then, theres the juggernaut...
The Internet (and its electronic predecessors) has probably been
responsible for most of the changes in journalism. The Internet
is just the graphic manifestation of the electronic version of data.
Computer tapes of information and the idea of electronic networks
have been around for the past fifty years. I can remember programming
in COBOL in the mid-sixties for a network of libraries. Weve
just moved on, where databases are on the Internet (see my last
six months ago on the Invisible Web). News sources have taken their
electronic tapes and discs and made electronic websites out of them.
Great gobs of storage space and miniaturization have created the
present state of news coverage on the Web. So has Sources
adapted, moving all of its databases to its website.
The Internet, through its speed, has changed the way we gather,
report, and present the news, and the way that that news is read.
Also, it has changed how much of the news we need, and how much
background is needed for that news so we can better understand the
why and how. There is less need for interpretation. With such sites
as Yahoos Full
Coverage, readers can find lots of information
for themselves (sidebars, photos, video, charts, and off-site links)
on cutting edge topics or breaking news.
While newspapers are declining in the circulation of their printed
matter, they are gaining new readers for their Web sites. This affects
how news reports are shaped, and the need for experts. This need
has been changing. Google has just bought JotSpot,
which introduced a new set of wiki tools for shared pages such as
spreadsheets, photo albums, web pages, and word processing documents.
Wiki tools help to develop online collaboration between people,
reducing writers need for experts even more. Unfortunately,
according to Macleans writer Steve Maich, we
are trading in authoritative and accurate for cheap and convenient.
Wiki tools tend to establish the truth by consensus of writing.
To the eyes of most people, there is little difference between a
newspaper Web site and a wiki site: the Internet is a great leveler,
bringing everyone and every user to the same degree of knowledge
or ignorance. According to Maich, Wikipedia
itself is predicated on the belief that thousands of contributors
can act as freelance fact checkers producing a reliable reference
document. A million monkeys typing away in a million years will
produce...etc. There are all kinds of bad advice on the Internet,
some of it done on purpose. Responsible freelancers need to go to
in order to get a responsible expert to clarify or comment on a
And how much is a directory like Sources needed to
find contacts and experts? For the amateurs on the Internet (news
junkies and bloggers), probably not much. But Sources
is available on the Web to all, not just to reporters and researchers.
The listed contents at Sources are just an E-mail
click away from a request for information. No more phone calls limited
to business hours (or weekends) - just 24/7 availability via E-mail,
most likely to a Blackberry Pearl.
Sources is quite open about its competition.
At Sources Select Links and Resources (www.sources.com/Links.htm)
youll find related links for many American experts plus a
few more Canadian ones. Included are other directories and indexes,
libraries, beats and subject sites, government, business, computers,
and others. Some of the expert sites include ProfNet and writers.ca.
Other new useful Sources items, ones that draw reporters
to the Web site, include a Calendar of events
(or plain HTML text at www.sources.com:81/SSOCalSimple.htm)and
the News Releases that are Google-searchable at www.sources.com/News.htm
If as a journalist you are at all interested in what the paying
customers of Sources read, then check out the freely
which lists news and sites of Select Media Relations Resources such
as the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, the Canadian
Marketing Association, the Canadian Public Relations Society, and
the International Association of Business Communicators.
The reach of Sources is enormous. Alexa (www.alexa.com),
which is the top spot for monitoring usage on the Internet, reports
that there was a daily reach of 30 per million users, and an eyeball
count of 5.6 pages per user. 99% of people stay on sources.com
and search for more data. If they go elsewhere, then they go on
to ProfNet, Sources2, Experts.com (all US sites
with US material) or JournalismNet. Some even go on to my
site! Further, Alexa reports that Sources is fast
loading, with an average time of 1.3 seconds, and lists 158 other
sites directly linked to Sources. Google reports that
750 have direct linkage.
In 2002, some 13,000 distinct users a month reached the Sources
Web page. By August 2006, that number has almost tripled to about
32,000. According to the Sources log, the August Listings were viewed
139,404 times (4,500 times a day). The most popular listing in August
was looked at more than 1,500 times, whereas the least popular listing
was looked at fewer than ten times. The News Releases were viewed
12,843 times in August (414 a day). From analyzing the statistics,
Sources feel that roughly half the people who use
the Listings and News releases do so by coming to the Sources
site directly and then searching or browsing the site, while the
other half arrive via a search done on a search engine. Some News
Releases on the Sources site turn up higher in the
Google results precisely because Sources is a highly
ranked site and so anything on the Sources site will
appear higher in Google results. Similarly, the Listings are popular
because all the expertise (names and numbers) for that source is
given on one visible page, along with its mandate and subject headings.
This is a tidier presentation for the search engines. As publisher
Diemer says, Its all part of our two-pronged strategy
(a) to make sure Sources is well-known so that people
will use it, and (b) to try to make it as likely as possible that
journalists and communicators will find Sources even
if they are doing a search on the Web and dont know about,
or arent thinking about, Sources.
Traditional news businesses have been cutting costs through the
use of the Internet. Over the past few years, we have seen the term
convergence come and go and then come again. Media concentration
is at its highest levels in the electronic world of broadcast and
Internet. All of this has meant fewer articles being written by
fewer journalists - but those few articles are being given a wider
distribution than ever before.
Consequences? Fewer journalists on staff, for one thing. And this
has to have an impact on both operating bottom lines and on requests
for experts. Instead of four newspapers writing different versions
of the same story, using different exclusive experts,
youve got maybe two versions with one being syndicated or
used down the line by other papers and one being used locally. And
perhaps with just the one expert since there is no news competition.
Many staffers have also been replaced by freelancers who enjoy low
rates of pay (for example, my rate for doing this column hasnt
changed since I started in the mid-nineties) and peanuts for syndication.
The Heather Robertson case (freelancer royalties for database re-usage)
against Infoglobe still continues in the court system, and it began
sometime in the last century.
In another context, fewer reporters are doing more stories because
the stories are shorter. Stories appear in both print and on the
Web. You can thank USA Today for that concept, back in 1982.
Writing for the Web is a lot like hack writing: be clear and concise,
forget about deep research, and keep it all to one Web page. On
an hourly basis, writers can get more stories done for the money-conscious
bosses. This means that more sources are needed for more stories
faster, and these sources need to be currently available. Advertising
supports shorter stories in both print and Web versions, since research
shows that the powerful 14 to 34-year-old age group suffers from
some kind of print ADD, and prefers shorter stories. Yet the age
group most likely to read a newspaper in print are the 65+ and advertisers
need to slant their products to that group, which makes for much
grey matter in the newspaper. A valid response by a publisher may
be to include more stories about older folk. And this has implications
More journalists and non-journalists have created blogs, which
are mainly full of opinions or unverified sightings. This has implications
for many experts since they are not being used to get their message
out, and blogs tend to take on a life of their own, especially when
indexed by a search engine. Everything appears equal in intent,
whether it is a respected news article from the Globe and Mail
or some bloggers whine. Discrimination needs to be put into
play here, and this can be a potential problem.
Another nightmare that faces media is this: Internet search engine
advertising is growing at a tremendous rate (it will overtake online
display adverts in 2006), and will overtake advertising revenue
in media sometime soon (which is why media adverts are declining
in revenue). We all use Google and Yahoo everyday; we become another
eyeball for advertisers.
Articles from previous issues of Sources address
some of these issues; check out www.sources.com/SSR.htm
Dean Tudor (www.deantudor.com)
is a Journalism Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University.
Published in Sources
59, Winter 2007.
Dean's Digital World Articles
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
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