Archive for March, 2009

Change may contrast with principles

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Change may contrast with principles
By Ken Waddell
How much change can a person absorb?
That has to be a burning question in the hearts and minds of media owners large and small.
I have 40 years media experience, the past 20 being a full-time co-owner (with my wife) and publisher of two community weekly newspapers in rural Manitoba.
We’ve seen a lot of changes.
Back in the earlier segment of my 40 year association with publishing, we were typesetting by way of a headliner machine and I can’t even remember the name of the little machine that justified the text into usable, waxable strips of paper to be placed on a proof page. That was in the days of working on the University of Manitoba paper, The Manitoban. We published twice a week, 12,000 copies if I remember correctly. We had our own printing press, did our own typesetting, photography, the whole works.
In 1989, we started The Neepawa a Banner newspaper. It has grown to the point where we circulate 11,500 copies every week. Our smaller paper, The Rivers Banner has a circulation of 1800 or so. We started with the dawn of desktop publishing. Bought our first computer, a Mac Plus. It had an eight inch screen and I think it had a meg of ram and a 20 meg hard drove. My camera card exceeds that by a long way. We were one of the first community papers to adopt digital photography, full page pagination and to have a web presence. And yes, we gave it away for years but now we sell a few subscriptions.
There’s been a lot of changes in 40 years. But not so many as have come along in the last century or so of newspapers. A recent lecture by Maclean’s magazine editor-in Chief Kenneth White shows that newspapers in the 1800s used to get all their dollars from readership that is to say from paper sales and subscriptions. That has changed. Now advertising drives the industry. And that’s not without problems as the advertisers are dictating or try to dictate the editorial view of a paper. White contends that newspaper editors have become pretty timid compared to the old timers. I would have to agree. There’s not too much hard hitting about today’s editorials. That job has been taken over by the late night talk shows. If an editor said the things that Jay Leno or David Letterman have said, they would be strung up by their two typing fingers.
Editorial comment is coming now from the talk show hosts and they have been joined by thousands in the blogger world. There’s a problem though. On a blog you can any thing you want and who’s going to sue you. It’s pretty difficult to sue an anonymous blogger or an even more anonymous comment poster. It’s time to realize some basics of the old time newspapers and that is that if you are going to speak up you had better be prepared to back up what you have to say. Anonymous blogs tend to be gutless wonders. Kudos to people like Curtis Brown of the blog titled Endless Spin who puts his name and opinions out for all to see. He posts his picture, an occasional video and in Manitoba, at least, we all know who Curtis is and what he stands for. The fact that he’s way too liberal is beside the point, we love him anyway, and so we should.
All this discussion shows is that there has been a lot of changes. There’s more coming. The beauty of the media business is that it isn’t that hard at this point to get into the business.
You can start a media company just about anywhere especially if it’s largely computer and internet based. That’s the direction the media business is going. From virtual offices to You Tube to blogs to facebook, the media is open wide for all to partake.
The big question is how do you make a living at it. Or how do you sustain a corporation in the media business. Therein lies the lesson for everyone in the industry and especially for the big boys in the industry. A corporation might have whole stable of assets but if they don’t provide good content and they don’t make money, they will soon be gone. That’s something that hasn’t changed and never will. If you give people what they want and what they need in package that they understand, you will always find room for success. Some media types, both large and small have forgotten that principle.
Change is inevitable. Good changes should be embraced. Principles never change, we just keep coming back to revisit them. We should stay a while and get to know them better. Principles are good friends. Changes can be a tad fickle. We need to know the difference.

Been there, done that and it was the right thing

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Been there, done that and it was the right thing
By Ken Waddell
The Banner
Town councils of today are faced with enormous challenges. There are always increasing demands on the tax dollars. Infrastructure needs replacing, new arenas need to be considered. Health facility challenges are mounting. And tomorrow will likely bring more old challenges and some new ones.
I served as mayor of Neepawa from 1998 to 2002. It was an experience that I’m glad I had. It was very challenging but there are some things that were done back that were the right thing to do.
Towns have to keep growing. If they don’t, they die. Each and everyone of us can hearken back to the day when every little town had a store or two, a school, a couple of elevators, a couple of garages and probably a small industry. Some of those little towns don’t even exist any more. Some are only dots on the map with a handful of residents. That trend is still marching relentlessly onward except in a few cases.
Back in 1998-2002, the council attempted a housing strategy. The previous council had made some very strong initiatives. Without going into details, basically the councils of the day bent over backwards to help developers create housing. Some money was put on the table, sometimes for land, sometimes for infrastructure. It would be an interesting audit report but it would seem that every cent of town money that went into those development has now been redeemed in increased tax dollars generated from the increased assessment base. One small project recovered it’s town investment in under 5 years.
Now those projects are paying taxes every year to the town and the school board. And they will continue to do so for 50 to 100 years. Those agonizing investments and incentives in the 90s are paying off big dividends now and will continue to do over and over again.
Towns may be faced with a cash crunch or a debt crunch but we desperately need housing in our small towns. People want to live in rural Manitoba. Not all, but many people want to live in a quiet rural setting but they want decent housing, housing as good as you’ll find in an urban centre. The problem is that many town councillors in many towns are somewhat reluctant to “give” incentives. They are afraid of the public backlash. And trust me, there will be backlash. Been there, done that. But it was still the right thing to do..
Here’s the deal. Conditional incentives bring development. Development brings increased assessment. Increased assessment brings in more taxes. More taxes allows towns to at least make an attempt at rebuilding infrastructure, facilities and services.
Admittedly the cash return isn’t instant. It will take a few years to cash flow. But let’s look at another context, a personal one, not a public one. People pay into a pension plan and it may never cash flow. One could die before collecting or die before collecting all that went into the fund. That said, nobody denies that a pension plan is a good thing.
Why then would councils be reluctant to invest in housing incentives? And the bigger question is why would the public criticize councils for doing so. Everybody gets elected on the economic development theme. But as soon as some council or councillor backs a conditional housing incentive you would think that they had given away the farm. Been there, felt that heat too. But it was the right thing to do.
So as a publisher (and former mayor) I can say this to councils. Make the conditional incentive packages, get the job done. Any councillor or council that conscientiously does that will always have the backing of this newspaper.
And for the suspicious people in the crowd, those projects that were done, I never made a cent personally from them. It was the right thing to do.


kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247