Sun Media to loyal employees: “Merry Fucking Christmas!

Christmas bonus? Christmas bonus? Did anyone say Christmas bonus?

Sun Media’s message to its loyal employees Monday was “Merry Fucking Christmas, and have a happy and prosperous New Year, too! Please pick up your personal items on the way out.”

Ten days before Christmas seemed long enough, so the Quebec-based media company, which owns the wretched Edmonton and Calgary Sun newspapers, laid off 600 employees coast to coast. This is the second major round of slashing at Sun Media in as many years. In Edmonton, more than 20 got the sack, according to insiders.

If that doesn’t sound like a heck of a lot to you, you’re residing deep in the past. The local Sun paper operates on such a pathetically frayed shoestring that news coverage other than right-wing bloviating (no research costs) and hysterical crime-and-crash coverage was already all but impossible. There are weekends when there’s no one at work in the newsroom except a spavined hack desker and an unpaid intern of a particularly dull variety.

About all that’s left is the moribund rag’s functionality as fish-wrap. Frankly, one wonders why they bother.

A few weeks before, Canwest Global Communications – owner of the chronically fatigued Edmonton Journal – announced its own round of cutbacks.

Absentee newspaper chain owners have taken and taken and taken from local newspapers in Canada to the point where there is virtually nothing left. Most newspaper owners think “public service” means a revival meeting held in the rain. Edmonton, with a population of nearly a million, might as well be a city without a daily newspaper.

For years, newspaper owners invested nothing in news coverage or training, and as pathetically little as possible in salaries. They churn out homogenized dreck in centralized newsrooms in Ontario and stuff it down the throats of their few remaining readers elsewhere in Canada. (It’s actually remarkable that they haven’t yet started to hire reporters in India to cover local city council meetings by phone and cable feed. God knows, they’d be cheaper even than the pathetic sluggos they hire now, and probably more literate. Who cares if they think “spunk” is something other than a cheerful combination of grit and alacrity?) No young person with an ounce of sense would consider a career in newspaper journalism any more.

Newspapers now blame the economic downturn, shriveling advertising rates and the effects of the Internet for their troubles. Well, there’s enough truth to this to be dangerous, but the real reason is that for years they’ve been putting out a shitty, one-dimensional product and cheekily boosting their advertising and subscription prices without regard to their withering readership. (They justify it all with made-up “readership” estimates that count tattered papers lying around shawarma shops as each having a dozen readers. Yeah, right!)

“The effect was a general acceleration of a journalistic trend already evident: a trend toward more ‘lifestyle’ reporting, trivialization of news, and in extreme cases to what has been dubbed disco-journalism.” If those lines sound faintly familiar to you, you’ve been around longer than I have. They come from Tom Kent’s Royal Commission on Newspapers in 1981. Other than the fact that there’s nothing extreme about disco journalism any more – indeed, it’s standard operating procedure – and that the very idea of disco is so, well, disco, the commission pretty well nailed it.

For its part, Sun Media said Monday they want to drive content on-line so they can save on newsprint costs. Well, good luck to them. But crappy content produced by underpaid hacks who wish they were somewhere else doing something else is still crappy content. Semi-pornographic Sunshine Girls, fully a quarter of whom seem to be pulling their pants off nowadays, are only going to attract so many people to their Web site. It’s just not going to work – especially if they’re so foolish as to try to get anyone to pay for it.

The 1981 Royal Commission also made some sound recommendations, which had they been implemented, might have saved the Canadian newspaper business, or at least put off its demise by a few decades.

These included rules that would have prevented further concentration of ownership, incentives to independent investors in newspapers, guarantees of editorial freedom and tax measures to support newspapers and news services.

Instead – at the vocal urging of newspaper owners and their bought and paid for toadies on Parliament Hill – they were ignored and we got Conrad Black, David Radler, Pierre Péladeau and their odious ilk.

Now the public has cottoned on to what’s been going on and all but one or two of Canada’s newspapers are done for.

Well, cry me a river!

One can feel some sympathy for the employees, told they were out of a job on a day when it was 25 degrees below zero.

One can even feel a bit sorry for newspaper lovers who are now going to have to go out and buy a Malaysian-built laptop.

But as for Sun Media? Hasta la vista! Who the fuck cares?

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