Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dreadnought Effect May Doom Newspaper Chains like Quebecor

As she slid down the slipway on February 10, 1906, few realized the role the British battleship HMS Dreadnought was to play in the shaping the position of Great Britain on the world stage.

The Dreadnought was designed to make all existing battleships obsolete overnight. And she did. She could outfight and outrun every other ship afloat – including those in her own navy, whose previous large numerical advantage she wiped out with one stroke, or launch.

Of course, if Great Britain had not launched the Dreadnought some other world power would have. Both the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States were also building all-big-gun battleships. Naval technology was changing. Great Britain's massive navy was sunk no matter what Great Britain did.

In the end, rapidly evolving technology doomed the dreadnought class of battleships itself. The oldest remaining dreadnought, the USS Texas, launched in 1912 is now a floating museum.

The Dreadnought has given its name to a technological event of such game changing magnitude that the development levels the playing field, rendering all competitors equal. This is the Dreadnought effect.

Today newspapers are locked in a Dreadnought effect technological problem, but unlike the original Brits they have taken a different approach; the news organizations are stripping their companies of their big guns – jettisoning some of their heaviest artillery – reporters, photographers and editors.

You need look no further than Dave Chidley, one of the best photographers in the business, who was given his layoff papers about four years ago during a Sun Media-wide slashing of jobs. If Chidley should ever be picked up by a competing online news outfit and the Chidley talents are aimed against his former employer, smart money would bet on Chidley.

Paul Berton, the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press wrote:
"It is not too wild a guess (and this is really just that) that newsprint could be dead in five years, or perhaps less."
Wow! Five years and print could be gone. And what is Quebecor doing in its wisdom to ensure that it remains a major player in the news game in Canada? The amazing answer: Quebecor under the leadership of Pierre Karl Peladeau is locking out staff.

Credit: Benoit, Rue Frontenac Facebook photo

Nearly a year ago, Quebecor media locked out 253 employees. The response, according to this Magazine, "Le Journal de Montreal's journalists and other employees banded together to form the online news site Rue Frontenac.

The site’s name, cannon logo and tag line, "Par la bouche de nos crayons!" are a play on Governor Frontenac’s retort, memorialized in a Historic Minute,  that he would respond from the mouth of his cannons. A healthy union strike fund is estimated to be enough to pay employees 76 per cent of their salary for two full years—at which point Rue Frontenac may have enough advertisers to  stand on its own feet.

As Paul Berton has correctly pointed out:
"The ability to set up a website (the modern electronic equivalent of the printing press) and populate it with entries, photographs and links does not automatically make one an authority . . . "
Very true, Mr. Berton. If a news organization locks out its editorial staff what authority does it retain?

Credit: Benoit, Rue Frontenac Facebook photo

According to the National Post: Rue Frontenac "competes with the Journal now for revenue and attention. It is attracting advertisers, like TD Canada Trust and Telus. It's delivering scoops quoted by other media."

But Rue Frontenac cannot take all the credit for its successful online operation. They really should give some credit to PKP himself. PKP locked-out his staff in Quebec City and the experience gained in that labour battle is serving the fighting workers in Montreal very well.

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