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How Do You Like the New Globe and Mail?

Four seasoned journos pull no punches. We invite you to add your own reviews.

By Nick Fillmore, Paul Benedetti, Alan Bass and Stephen Strauss 27 Oct 2010 | TheTyee.ca

The views of Benedetti, Bass and Strauss are reprinted with permission from J-Source, The Canadian Journalism Project’s source for news, research, commentary, advice, discussion and resources related to the changing world of journalism in Canada.

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[Editor's note: "Newspapers 1.0 is dead," announced Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse just before unveiling his newspaper's radical redesign on October 1. Here, after nearly a month's worth of 2.0 editions, we offer these reactions from four close and seasoned observers of the Globe. Nick Fillmore's arrived in our in-box at The Tyee. The views of Paul Benedetti, Alan Bass and Stephen Strauss were first published by J-Source. Please offer your own reviews of the new Globe in the comments section after this article.]

NICK FILLMORE: NO LONGER A REAL NEWSPAPER

The new tarted-up, glossy, colour Globe and Mail is many things, but it is not a real newspaper.

It has been "dumbed up" and robbed of much of its news content.

The result is a hybrid never before seen in North America. It is some of the old Globe of course. But is also part Maclean's magazine and The Economist. It is part National Geographic, Sporting News, Vanity Fair, and Women's Wear Daily.

The front page of this new Globe often looks more like a magazine than a newspaper. It has more pages than before, but solid news stories are outnumbered by interesting but not riveting features and photographs. Many of the features are very long -- so long I can't imagine most people reading them. In addition, the typeface selected appears to be too small and may discourage people from more than skimming the paper.

In recent years papers have been told by consultants to keep stories short to attract readers -- but this Globe is no ordinary newspaper. Large, luxurious pictures abound, but they dominate some pages so strongly that the work of the paper's journalists is diminished.

Two sections of the paper have improved: The Arts Section has more depth then before, and the weekend Book Section, a long-time disappointment, has been improved with the addition of more book reviews. However, while The Report on Business has more features than before, it still totally adheres to the Globe's right-wing ideology. Lengthy features dominate the Sports section. The Travel and Style sections, aimed only at the wealthy, are the two most disgusting parts of the paper.

The theory behind the creation of this odd publication is that people will get their news about yesterday from the Globe's website, and then they'll read the paper for more detailed stories and features.

Celebrating the 'beauty of print'

Globe Editor-in-Chief John Stackhouse is proud of the new product.

"We wanted to celebrate the beauty of print," Stackhouse told CBC Toronto Metro Morning Host Matt Galloway. . .and also make it thought provoking. One of the great things about newspapers is that [they] should inspire the mind, inspire the heart. . . "

"Our passions and concerns have not changed," Stackhouse claimed in an editorial, but this is clearly not the case.

"It's Globe-lite," jokes John Miller, former chair of the Ryerson University of Journalism. He had felt the Globe needed a radical change, but now he thinks readers are "in for a shock."

Clearly this new hybrid Globe is mostly about marketing. The content is massaged more then before to appeal to an upscale demographic that has the bucks to buy the posh products featured in the glossy colour ads: Porsche, Rolex, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, etc. -- and there are a lot more ads now compared to before the changes.

Most of the journalism has a noticeable lack of edge. During the first two weeks, hardly any stories or features addressed the problems or concerns of Canadians in a down-to-earth, honest, sympathetic manner. I don't recall seeing any stories that prominently featured the views of community representatives such as labour leaders, leading environmentalists, or social activists, etc. It appears that this new Globe doesn't know the meaning of "public interest" or "social conscience."

International news overshadowed by features

The international section has been given more space compared to the old Globe. However, insightful news reporting is overshadowed by less-important features and large photographs. There are fewer international stories that some people or advertisers would describe as being "negative", such as war stories and critical environmental stories.

Three examples of stories that the Globe could have carried on one particular day in early October:

The UN's International Labour Organization issued a report stating that job shortages have led to social unrest in at least 25 countries, and it feared more serious trouble would develop. It said almost 22 million jobs are needed: 14-million in rich countries and eight million in developing nations.

The internationally recognized Environmental Justice Foundation reported it had found evidence of working conditions akin to slavery on trawlers that provide fish for European dinner tables. The investigation uncovered forced labour and human rights abuses of African workers.

While the Globe downplayed and covered only labour protests in France, other media organizations wrote about a much wider global backlash against budget cuts, describing worker protests in France, Bangladesh, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

When it comes to political, economic, or ideological views, following the dismissal of Rick Salutin, the only non-compliant voices at the Globe are occasional contributor economist Jim Stanford and freelance columnist Lawrence Martin.

New voices?

Stackhouse says that the Globe will add new journalists as it goes along, implying that there will be a greater diversity of voices. But I don't buy it. It is very unlikely that the Globe will hire any regular columnist who has views that conflict with the beliefs of its target audience.

The only new interesting voice belongs to Irshad Manji, who has been given Salutin's Friday column spot. She is a harsh critic of Islamic radicalism who often sympathizes with Israel, which perfectly fits the pro-Israeli position of the Globe and the Harper government. But even with the addition of Manji, the paper is seriously flawed because of the lack of non-conformist opinions and ideas.

The Globe has been quick to move its editorial views and political agenda even further to the right during the first two weeks of publication. Two examples:

Universal health care: Over the past few years the Globe's pro-privatization coverage of health care issues has helped convince many Canadians that the country needs to further erode its public health care system because it is too expensive. Now the paper is pushing the issue even further to the right. On the day the new Globe was launched, the paper announced what it calls a discussion -- Our Time to Lead -- to debate and provide coverage of issues it says are important for Canadians. One is entitled: "Is profit the medicine for ailing public health care?"

Universal social programs: An editorial questioned the need for universal social programs -- something that Canadians fought against the country's rich and powerful for more than 50 years to obtain. The editorial, The Welfare State in Retreat praised new right-wing British Prime Minister David Cameron for promising to cut $134-billion in government spending over the next four years, cuts that will include an end to universal child benefit payments as well as reduced payments for welfare recipients under some circumstances. The Globe editorial concluded by questioning the need for universal social support in some areas in Canada, and commented that: "Despite the current enthusiasm for universal full-day kindergarten in Canada, for instance, those scarce resources would be better directed toward low-income families."

Corporate owners have always used their papers to advance their ideological objectives, but there is something new and more disturbing going on at the Globe. In a scary, Orwellian way, the paper is now a controlled "package" that says, yes there are issues that need to be addressed, but basically, "everything is okay." The large headlines telling us to be concerned about the growth of poverty no longer appear in the Globe. Nothing is important enough to warrant upsetting or scaring anyone.

With the Internet ever-present and many excellent publications readily available, we each can build our own bank of news sources that will allow us to access plenty of in-depth, diversified news and information that will be superior to what is available in the new Globe.

Nick Fillmore, a Toronto-based freelance journalist, worked with the CBC and other media organizations for more then 25 years and is a founder and past-president of the Canadian Association of Journalists( CAJ), and a founder of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). His email address is fillmore0274@rogers.com.

PAUL BENEDETTI: REINVIGORATED, RENEWED

Leaner, sleeker and better dressed.

That's pretty much the wish-list for everyone facing a mid-life crisis. And so we meet the Globe and Mail this morning, the doyenne of Canadian newspapers, after her "makeover."

She's slimmer, about an inch narrower at the waist, but she's no runway model -- cutting at least two inches off her height.

And, like a lot of people who visit a designer, she's embraced the notion that a "splash of red" improves just about anything.

The designers have also gone for the "layered look" –- one section on glossy paper, the next on regular newsprint, with the front section and Globe Life getting the A-grade paper and Business, Sports and Auto, still printed on what seems to be regular newsprint.

Like a lot of design makeovers, the first impression is a bit jarring, but that usually passes. In a week or so, we'll be used to the new look. But it feels a bit busy. Perhaps a bit too many subheads in red, a few too many red bars and arrows with not quite enough white space on the new, smaller pages.

The photography is sharper on the glossy stock and the color promised by John Stackhouse "on every page" certainly adds a lot of zip to the morning reading experience.

Like the Economist, from which the designers seemed to have taken some inspiration, the new Globe is easier to handle and packed with stories. I'm not sure about the editorial across the top of the front page, oddly titled "Consider this", or the porthole photograph with it, but the double-truck in-depth story under the title Folio, which Stackhouse promises will appear "most days of the week", is a welcome investment in deeper, more serious reporting. The editor calls it a "Hollywood-free zone," and thank god for that.

Of course, the redesign extends to the Web, where the new look is similar, but with better use of white space. I'm not sure what this year's fall fashion colors are, but the Globe designers wisely stuck to red, black, grey and white -- the very best colors for web design. As promised, the new site is easier to navigate, with a nice deck of "Must reads" placed below the main story of the day. Interesting that Markets and Business now come before News -- no doubt a response to surveys about what Globe readers read first.

Overall, a bold move. Specific design issues aside, it's good to know that in a media world in flux, the Globe has reinvigorated, redesigned and renewed itself. Not a bad answer to a mid-life crisis.

Paul Benedetti is the Program Coordinator for the Master of Arts in Journalism Program at the University of Western Ontario. He continues to write for newspapers, magazines and online. He has never re-designed a newspaper in his life.

ALAN BASS: REPORTING STILL STRONG

I have to admit, redesigns of newspapers I read regularly always make me feel a bit uncomfortable at first. It takes time to adjust. Today's new design gives the paper a light and airy feel, but light and airy was never what I wanted from the Globe. I'm skeptical about the new formatted material, like the {consider this} on the front page. The danger with highly formatted newspapers is that they end up being driven by the needs of the format instead of their journalism. On the up side, I don't see much of a difference in the focus or the style of the reporting, which is a relief. And the website looks good, which, I have to say, is probably more important in the long run. The Globe's ringing endorsement of the future of print is charming, but deluded.

Alan Bass is J-Source's Ideas editor and a former reporter for United Press, Canadian Press and The London Free Press. He currently teaches journalism at Thompson Rivers University.

STEPHEN STRAUSS: RISKY MOVE DOESN'T DELIVER

The new Globe is a paradox's own paradox. On one hand I am much taken with the risk that the paper has made in trying to reinvent its printed persona. In the not too distant future this will either be viewed as an act of counter-intuitive genius or the Olympus of delusions. If the latter is true the redesign may well be something business schools will teach students under the heading of "look at the crazy things old businesses do when they are about to be clubbed to death by technological change."

One fears the latter for several reasons. The first is that while the paper is very much more colourful visually, most of what is deeply attractive about that colourization resides in the appeal of the ads. Simply put the writing has not been equally colourized. There is not some deeper, wiser, funnier, surprising cast to the stories. The good writers, Doug Saunders and Konrad Yakabuski for example, are still good and most everyone else is still fair to middling. Their stories remain tyrannized by their beige-turns-to-grey journalism school predictable beginnings, middles and ends.

Meanwhile, on the Web

But perhaps most important the paper still looks and feels and smells like a newspaper. What hasn't happened here is the Champagne giddiness which new versions of iPads and ebooks and laptops and the like generate. You don't have to tell people what is exciting about them a la Stackhouse's explanatory piece, because they are exciting. They are different. The redesigned Globe isn't surrounded by a nimbus of OMGs and !!!!'s because it's still a flat, serial and completely predictable newspaper.

Which brings me to my final reflection. The comments on website about the redesign there were massively negative. Some of this undoubtedly has to do with the crankiness of many when asked to change any habit, but part has to do with the fact that the Globe hasn't solved the basic problem newspapers face on the internet. This is: How do you lay out a screen full of information in a way which isn't two-dimensional? News on the internet isn't serial; it isn't flat paged, rather it is both deep and disconnected. So the design question becomes: How do you make people swim between news stories and rather than feel they are being forced to turn back and forth between virtual pages. I would suggest the Globe's web-based layout hasn't solved that problem, because if it had its on-line readers would be joyfully reflecting on how great it was to finally experience a totality of news which didn't presume the linearity of the printed page.

Stephen Strauss worked for the Globe over a 25-year period as a science writer, columnist and editorial writer. He now writes for a number of places including CBC.ca and Nature Biotechnology. As well he has been lecturing at journalism schools on the topic: Is there a future for you in journalism? During his time at the Globe he saw any number of redesigns but never a fundamental reconfiguration.  [Tyee]

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