A reader sent us a link about the meaning of journalism which made us think a discussion of journalism in Abbotsford might be in order. Now that the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has effectively told the community it will no longer answer any of Abbotsford Today’s questions, and since the old media simply doesn’t seem interested in asking anyone in the power structure any tough questions, we thought it was an opportune time to open up a discussion about what journalism really is and, as a corollary, who the ‘real media’ is.

A Brief History of the Media

The modern media can be said to have emerged soon after the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. After printers’ initial fascination with the new found ability to publish porn (yes, as much as 80 percent of the stuff printed on the first printing presses was porn) printers began to distribute early versions of what would become the newspapers which ruled the media until the 20th Century.

From small double-sided sheets of newsprint covered with gossip and current events to the later full-blown newspapers which were mostly owned or run by social activists, political parties and politicians, the idea of providing citizens with regular updates on community events, issues and discussion evolved from a purely extra-curricular activity by printers with extra rolls of paper and time on their hands, to a real business model which maintained itself by selling editions of a weekly or even daily chronicle of events.

In the 20th Century, newspapers went from being partisan purveyors of party politics to more neutral (or seemingly neutral) purveyors of news, sports and lifestyle stories which made it easier to sell advertising onto their pages.

In the 1800s advertising made up less than 20 percent of newspapers’ revenue, the bulk of which came from single copy sales and subscriptions.

By the end of the 20th Century advertising made up about 80 percent of newspaper revenue and in some cases, such as the Fraser Valley’s free distribution flyer delivery model, 100 percent of a newspaper’s revenue came from advertising.

Through all of the changes in the business model, journalists have struggled with their role. Deep philosophical arguments over objectivity, fairness, professionalism and ethics have divided the trade. Even the idea of calling it a profession has caused argument and disagreement.

The end of the printed newspaper is no longer in doubt due to the nearly complete move of advertising dollars to the internet. Only flyers and some local advertising remain as sources of revenue but both are in danger as the cost of newspaper advertising increases when compared to the opportunities available on the internet. When grocery stores, big box retailers and Canadian Tire go strictly online there is not much revenue left to support a very expensive business model.

The biggest threat to the industry comes from the fact that newspapers are no longer the gatekeepers or ‘owners’ of information. Information is available for free from a whole array of sources on the internet and no one has to wait anymore until the newspaper staff can take the information back to the newspaper; put it together; print it onto rolls of newsprint; stuff it with flyers and then deliver it door-to-door.

With cost-cutting just about the only way to protect profits, newspaper staff are under enormous pressure to justify their existence and avoid losing the company any money.

Since none of the revenue for newspapers in places like the Fraser Valley comes from readers, the effect on journalism has been to make editors and publishers leery of issues such as social justice, corruption, incompetence or any of the traditional issues journalists once took on, and owners supported as a way of building readership and increasing sales.

The advent of citizen journalism and new media companies like the Today Media Group has blown an enormous hole in the monopoly local newspapers once had on the community narrative as told in its pages.

Is the APD’s refusal to talk to Abbotsford Today just the reaction of a childish and petulant police chief used to getting his own way? Does it mean anything at all in a world where the APD itself is an electronic publisher placing its press releases on its website?

Do community websites like Abbotsford Today, which seeks to curry favour with no one and has a business model which does not rely on local, self-important prima donnas, represent a move forward towards a different kind of journalism, more in keeping with the history of independent, muckraking newspapers once embraced?

Or are all the warnings correct from the old news media, the old power structure and the old men and women who derive their status and power from the impressions their fellow citizens have of them, in warning us all to only listen to the ‘real media’ who so conveniently represent their interests.

In The Need To Be Nice … And The Damage Done I argued that most community newspapers today practice permission-based journalism whereby they checked their news stories with authorized-knowers … the police, bureaucrats, chambers of commerce or any number of community leaders their newspaper has authorized them to contact for verification and quotation on issues of importance. I also argued that, in the case of Abbotsford, this has led to a complete lack of critical evaluation of the people and organizations running the community by the old media which seems more interested in telling the narrative of the power structure than in questioning whether or not the community is actually functioning properly.

In Last Call Clay Sharky reveals the dollars and cents truth behind what is going on withing the newspaper industry and delivers a scathing attack on the upper management of the industry for neglecting to share that reality with their staff, the customers or the communities from which they derive their living.

We thought this piece from the American Press Institute, sent to us by a reader, would serve as a good starting point for a discussion on just what journalism is and who Chief Bob Rich’s ‘real media’ may be.

What is journalism?

From the American Press Institute

Journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.

Journalism can be distinguished from other activities and products by certain identifiable characteristics and practices. These elements not only separate journalism from other forms of communication, they are what make it indispensable to democratic societies. History reveals that the more democratic a society, the more news and information it tends to have.


o    What makes journalism different than other forms of communication?

o    What is the purpose of journalism?

o    The elements of journalism

o    What does a journalist do?

o    The journalist as a ‘committed observer’

o    The theory of the interlocking public

o    The lost meaning of ‘objectivity’

o    Understanding bias

o    Tools to manage bias

o    Journalism as a discipline of verification

o    The Hierarchy of Accuracy

o    The Hierarchy of Information and concentric circles of sources

o    The Protess Method of verification

o    Good stories are important and interesting

o    Boring versus engaging stories – what’s the difference?

o    Good stories prove their relevance to the audience

o    Good stories have strong central characters

o    Good stories use detail

o    Good stories connect to deeper themes

o    Good stories explore tensions

o    Good stories capture emotions

o    Good stories provide context

o    Good stories surprise the reader

o    Good stories empower the reader

o    4 questions to find a focus for your story

o    3 story structures

o    8 paths to defining a storytelling approach

o    How to compose a narrative on deadline

o    The Black Box system for organizing a story


Editor’s note: For those who are new the idea of online journalism Today Media has been around since 2008 and has modeled itself on a collection of very successful internet news models. A few of those can be found below.


Boing Boing

The Tyee

The Common Sense Canadian

Huffington Post

What Do You Think?

Is there a ‘real’ media?

Is Abbotsford Today a part of the ‘real’ media?

What makes media ‘real’?

Does it matter?


Use the comments box below or send us an email at editor@abbotsfordtoday.ca.

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