The Mythology Of The Modern Newspaper

By July 31, 2014Issues, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. So; Abbotsford suffers from six solid years of declining building permits, housing starts and employment numbers and the Abbotsford News doesn’t share much of that information with the community (except during the rare periods when there has been an upswing in any one of those indicators).

Despite monthly reminders published by reporting organizations and Statistics Canada [Economic Indicators], the newspaper finds other things to report on leaving the relentlessly bad economic news about this City to others to report.

But an obscure Conference Board of Canada report emerges in the summer of 2014 saying that the local economy is set to experience a slight decline in economic growth from what it experienced in 2013 and the News trumpets it as a sign of economic growth. It’s like the organization has a collective instinct for avoiding bad news and knowing how to turn bad news into good news.

Buried in the report is the news that employment will drop by 0.6 percent and that the new housing market is expected to drop 13.5 percent. While the headline seems to indicate a rosy picture it doesn’t mention that the predicted growth is lower than what we experienced last year.

Come to think of it – since Abbotsford councillors have traditionally blamed bad economic news about the Abbotsford-Mission Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) on those people over in Mission (harumph) – maybe they’re the ones responsible for the growth prediction. At the bottom of the story you’ll find this nugget: “On the non-residential side, the $748-million Ruskin Dam and powerhouse upgrades, and the $40-million Silver Creek industrial park in Mission are expected to keep that sector in the positive.”

I’m not sure who they think they are reporting this information to. If you have an honest talk with a developer, a realtor, a business owner or anyone investing in the Lower Mainland, the only positive thing they will say about Abbotsford is that things can’t get much worse.

Growth is increasing at a lower rate than it was last year – that’s what the report says. Housing starts appear to be headed even further down the toilet and Mission’s public sector growth appears to be the only thing making the numbers appear positive.

The Abbotsford News is not unique in this regard. Ever since the chains bought all the newspapers in Canada, you will be hard pressed to find any bad news, especially bad economic news, in any community newspaper. They make up for it with coverage of the easiest beat in town – crime – by over-reporting it. In most towns the police generate press releases everyday but not all of them used to make it into print.

Now they all do, which leaves the impression on readers that crime is a really big problem in their community. And academics and journalists pontificate about their confusion about the fact that while crime rates have been universally going down in the Western World, most particularly in Canada, for a generation, people’s impressions tell the opposite story.

People who get their information from the internet (those under 70) are not nearly as concerned about crime in their communities as the older folks who still read newspapers.

When it comes to politics, the complete abandonment of its role as a watchdog is perhaps the saddest thing I’ve noticed about the newspaper industry in my 25 years in the media.

It has always been a mystery to me, even when I worked for the Abbotsford Times or the Abbotsford Post, why modern newspapers seem to think it is their job to make everything sound rosy and cheer on the local politicians as if they were children trying to skate for the first time.

My boss at the Abbotsford Post told me that she never wanted to see the words ‘Plan A’ in the newspaper again. It was the story of the decade and it laid the groundwork for all of the bad news this City has experienced in the last eight years. Why would you want to tell that sort of story in a newspaper …

… because someone might want to read about it …

And so whole communities end up believing that everything is rosy in their crime-ridden city, that cops and politicians are courageous public servants and that the future is so bright … you know the rest.

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