|May was an interesting month for journalism at CanWest Global. On May 17, the corporations juvenile commuter daily, Dose, shut down its print edition after only 13 months of publishing. My brief eulogy wont be sympathetic.
Aimed at people who find their identity in the marketing campaigns of multinational corporations, Dose was the rich jock of the daily media world. You know, the spoiled kid in high school who is profoundly insecure, and therefore needs to remind himself and everyone else how cool and hip he is.
Like most rich jocks, Dose had daddys backing daddy being the CanWest Global media empire. But not even rich daddy could bail Dose out of its miserable financial failure. (Dose reportedly lost between $9 and $10 million during the year it operated.)
What happened? In addition to filling its pages with banal nonsense, Dose managed to break all kinds of journalistic taboos with remarkable naiveté and ignorance. One such move was the incorporating of advertising "integration points" into editorial content because the products Dose was introducing to its "really savvy" and "really smart" audience were "relevant," publisher Noah Godfrey explained to me in an interview in March.
Bad move? Yes, but not nearly as dumb as putting videos on the Dose website that said this "integration" was the new "gold standard" in the print world. (Oddly enough, those videos disappeared from the Dose site a few days after Fast Forward ran a story about them. Strange.)
And then there were the infamous front-page ads. Dose was eager to give "prime real estate" the entire cover to any advertiser who was willing to fork out the cash. This, Godfrey told me, wasnt selling out. Nor was it a breach of ethics. "We dont see it as an ethical issue at all," he said.
Well, ethical issues or not, Dose crashed and burned even after giving advertisers unprecedented coverage (pun intended) in the paper. The Dose fiasco shows that letting advertisers run the show doesnt always pay off. And maybe it shows that news readers are smarter and more perceptive than mainstream media-makers give them credit for.
Meanwhile, just two days after Dose shut down, another CanWest publication found itself in hot water. It wasnt advertising on the front page that got the National Post in trouble it was a front-page story that turned out to be completely false.
The lead headline of the May 19 edition of the Post screamed: "Iran eyes badges for Jews." The story let Canadians know about "a new law passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country's Jews and Christians to wear coloured badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims." The story, written by Post reporter Chris Wattie, ran beside a black-and-white photo of a Hungarian couple in Nazi Germany wearing badges that identified them as Jews. An opinion piece by Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri about the badge law ran in the commentary pages of the Post (it would later come out that the front-page story was based on Taheris piece).
But the story was false. No such law was passed. By the end of that day, the story had been debunked by scores of reporters around the world. So those reporters wrote stories about how Iranian officials were denying the Post story. The Post, meanwhile, yanked the original story from its website and posted a new story by Wattie that said "several experts are casting doubts on reports" about the fabled badge law. This story was published in the Saturday edition of the Post.
Why the Post used the plural "reports" to refer to the original story is anyones guess no one had published a story on the badge law before the Post. The story originated with the Post. There were no other "reports."
On Wednesday, May 24, the Post published a 900-plus-word apology on the second page of the paper five days after the story was discovered to be false. Editor-in-chief Douglas Kelly acknowledged that "
on this story, we did not exercise sufficient caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources." No kidding. The Post hadn't verified the story with anyone in the Iranian government, and a couple of Iranian ex-pats were used as main sources.
The Post should be commended for owning up to its mistake even if it was belatedly but its discouraging that a "national newspaper" can get away with making elementary journalistic mistakes and massive blunders. Readers deserve much better than that.