When culture changes
By Jim Poling
Published June 15, 2017
There is an important anniversary in my life this month. It is an anniversary that tells more about a changed culture than my individual life.
Twenty years ago June 27 I left a daily newspaper career to become a freelance writer. I left not because I tired of the work, but because I could not stomach some of the people.
No, not the real workers. Not the gals and guys who work observing and reporting the important events of each day. They were dedicated, honest and fair journalists doing their best to inform their communities of what was happening in their lives.
Some of these folks were quirky. Some could be irritating at times, but I don’t recall working with any that I truly disliked. Or any who put profit ahead of producing a factual and balanced news report.
What I truly disliked were the new “leaders” brought into the daily news business during the late 1980s and the 1990s. They came with an increase in chain ownership; invaders with different values. They were business bobble heads from outside the news industry and bootlickers they brought with them or converted on the inside.
Their God was the bottom line and they replaced old-time publishers and others whose passion was product. For these invaders, producing news reports was no different than producing widgets. Many were narcissists who practised situational ethics, played loose with the truth, and were devoid of empathy.
Their mission was to resuscitate a failing newspaper industry through the bottom line. The result is well known: The North American daily newspaper industry is in a state of collapse.
A Pew Research Centre analysis indicates that U.S. daily newspaper circulation fell eight per cent in 2016, the 28th consecutive year of declines.
The new leaders lacked the understanding and feel for the business. They were total duds when it came to innovation. They were incapable of managing a peanut stand.
What they and other business executives did manage well were their compensation agreements and future severance packages. From 1978 to 2013 chief executive officer compensation increased 937 per cent, while a typical worker’s compensation increased 10.2 per cent. Those figures appeared in a 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute, a U.S. non-profit think tank.
What happened in the news game also was happening in other industries. Workers were tossed from windows in the push for more profit. Sell more, care less about quality.
Appliances that used to last decades became throwaways after four to six years. Commercial airline service, once a pleasurable experience, descended to cattle car level.
The new culture in the business world rewrote the social contract under which people had lived since the end of the Second World War. It was a contract that set out the mutual expectations and obligations of workers and their employers and it helped to create the economic stability of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
The culture spawned in the ’80s grew slowly but surely into what we see today. It is the culture of U.S. President Forrest Trump, his associates and their followers. It is a culture that values profit more than people.
Its theme: Everyone should be able to look after themselves. Why should society pay taxes to help pay for someone else’s medical problems? If you don’t have a great life, it’s your own fault.
Change always will be a needed part of North American culture. But not change by oligarchs and moguls who are mean-spirited mongrels.
Certainly more change will come to the newspaper industry, some of it good. Major daily newspapering will be confined to large global centres – New York, London, Paris, Sydney and some others. These global newspapers will provide us with the most important and interesting news of the world.
News from our own surroundings will come from community newspapers like this one.
The culture typified by the Trumpists will disappear, overtaken by people who care for people and who work to find goodness, even in tragedy. People like the Castlegar, B.C. family of Christine Archibald who died in the latest London terrorist attack.
“Volunteer your time and labour or donate to a homeless shelter,” the family said in a statement. “Tell them Chrissy sent you.”