newspapers and journalism

apparently someone in our office reads business in vancouver, as it came in the mail with a magazine of lists. there are lists for everything imaginable, but the one that caught my eye was for biggest newspapers in the vancouver area. they listed the top 20 vancouver area newspapers (by circulation), and here are the highlights with a few notes below.

newspaper circulation paid/free # employees
vancouver sun 203,101 (daily avg) paid 1,000 (pacific newspaper group inc.)
province 167,565 (daily avg) paid 1,000 (pacific newspaper group inc.)
vancouver courier 132,650 free 41
georgia straight 120,000 free 60
now newspaper 110,000 free 40
surrey/north delta leader 82,300 free np (40 last year)
north shore news 64,255 free 79
newsleader 61,863 free 15
the now 52,500 free np (last year 25)
tri-city news 52,296 free 65
north shore outlook 50,279 free np
burnaby now 49,000 free 26 last year
westender 46,250 free 17
globe and mail 48,245 (m-f)
68,763 (sat)
paid 30
richmond news 46,137 free 16
national post 45,923 (m-f)
46,611 (sat)
paid 7
richmond review 45,500 free 32
abbotsford news 44,223 free 125 fte
abbotsford times 42,175 free 26
advance news 38,750 free 20

and now for some basic observation:

  • of the 20 papers listed, only 4 have paying readers
  • 11 of the papers are owned by canwest global communications corp.
  • 7 of the papers are owned by black press
  • the 2 remaining papers owned by vancouver free press corp. and bellglobe media
  • 6 of the papers have less employees than they did last year, 3 have more, and the rest were the same or didn’t report
  • the national post dropped 6 positions from last year, while the globe and mail dropped 5. the paper rankings are based on circulation, so it appears canadians are reading the ‘national’ papers less. my guess is that they go online for this info. or they get enough canwest reprint in the local rags so they don’t bother with a national.
  • there are probably many other observations the acute could draw, but i am not on the ball this morning.

my conclusion is that i would never, ever get into journalism. i’ve met a few journalists and none of them seem very happy. the newspaper business has too many power games, too few resources, and too much frustration.

and the jschools keep pumping these poor kids out at a steady clip.

journalism is a profession that has many similarities to the tech industry. tim bray posted some interesting comments lately, and i think there are strong parallels.

gastown sightseeing

we’ve moved offices, and now i find myself on the corner of abbott and water, staring at the harbour centre, waterfront station, the vancouver sun building, the rail yards that i’m next to, and a big crane that is helping in the demolition of the water street parkade.

it is a fabulous view, and if i had a digital camera at my disposal at the moment i would take a photo for you.

perhaps the most wonderful part is being near the rail yards, which i love. while the sound of railcars being joined together is a bit loud, i like looking at graffiti that has made its way here from all over the country.

as well, i’m currently considering working on a monograph on the mating rituals of the common pigeon. i can see onto the roof of the building next to us, and get to watch the curious behaviour of pigeons in love (or whatever it is pigeons fall into).

while moves are never stress free, it has been a joy to move back into a busier area as opposed to the quieter industrial zone several blocks to the east we previously resided in.

perhaps one of the best parts is that i can now get to work in just under an hour, a travel record for this weary commuter.

the prime of life

this is as open a book as a 1960 publication date would allow simone de beauvoir. in it is an insightful and honest exploration of self and society through the 1930s up to the liberation of france in 1944.

the prime of life covers an enormously influential and developmental period for beauvoir, and goes into great detail about her relationship with sartre, camus, and many other french intellectuals of the time, as well as her close relationships with less famous friends and family.

beauvoir documents the growth of her independence in thought and spirit, sharing intimate details about her misgivings and epiphanies. she is an admirable figure, one that courageously sets out on a path of the understanding of self and other.

she documents with detail what life was like during the german occupation of france during the second world war, and shares diary entries from the period. we learn about sartre’s enlistment to the military, his capture by the germans, and his subsequent escape. the reader gains an appreciation of the difficulties facing the intellectual left in france at that time period, and how they worked together.

i simply cannot say enough about this book. while i always have enjoyed learning about beauvoir’s life (largely through deidre bair’s biography), it was a friend that gave me the prime of life as a gift. this is one of the most remarkable books i’ve had pressed upon me, to which i am most grateful.

simone de beauvoir is a writer with clarity and humility that fully expresses the struggles of the individual during this socially difficult and intellectually explosive period in french history. whether it is due to the numerous anecdotes, the enchanting philosophizing, or the brazen honesty, this is one of those few books i recommend with insistence.

nicholas nickleby and much gushing over dickens

my love of dickens goes back to high school. in grade twelve we read the mystery of edwin drood, dickens’ last unfinished novel. our task was to write an ending to it. what a strenuous and rewarding task. how rich the language, how thick the social commentary. regardless of the predictability of a dickensian plot-curve, i cannot help but feel enveloped by his sense of narrative and his striking turn of the phrase. he is a social satirist without equal, and i readily admire his prose. take the opening of bleak house – there is nothing its equal. if you disregard dickens completely, at the very least read the first few paragraphs of this masterwork. you cannot deny the brilliance. i am a terribly cynical and sarcastic man, and i unabashedly adore dickens.

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

how can one not disappear, consumed by the wealth of detail and voracious quality of such writing? i always have the sense that great art should invoke in me a feel of hunger, and dickens does not fail to provoke such ravenousness.

the 2002 film version of nicholas nickleby manages to succeed at bringing to screen dickens’ thick and thoughtful prose. it captures the melodrama, while honing in on the nuances that mark dickens’ writing. jim broadbent (as wackford squeers) and christopher plummer (as ralph nickleby) inspire in us such loathing, such depraved insolence, that their performances are worthy of nothing less than standing applause. they play horrible men wonderfully.

charlie hunnam embraces the righteous and loving character of nicholas nickleby in a way that has us all yelling in moral indignation. and, perhaps most brilliantly of all, jamie bell shows us the agony of young smike, a boy bashed down by both disability and love. if bell’s performance does not make you feel, then you have no heart.

while the period pieces of m’lady jane austen make us pleasantly euphoric, the social satires of dearest dickens leave us somewhat weary and warmed by the success of his protagonists and the degradation (or death) of his evil capitalists and cruel imprisoners.

this is a wonderful film to press upon anyone (especially your children), and a great success by its director douglas mcgrath and multi-talented cast. equally importantly, you witness the annoyingly adorable alan cumming do a scottish dance, timothy spall as a tenderheart, and the irrepressible (who else can own that title?) nathan lane as himself.

kingdom of fear

if you’ve read one hunter s. thompson book you have an inkling of what he’s all about. agitated, reactionary, hyperbolic. and entertaining.

kingdom of fear traces a goulash of events in thompson’s life, primarily looking at the period between the late 1970s and 2002. he rambles endlessly about various adventures he wound up in, peppered with a sense of the ridiculous and a lust for outlandish behaviour. thompson is one of those rare characters who seems to have a monstrous ego, refined eccentricities, and yet remains amusing. even when hunter lands himself in the middle of some deranged situation that appears to be entirely his fault i find myself sympathizing with him. partly because he is self-conscious of his antics, reputation, and mandate. partly because he doesn’t know how to say just say no. he knows he is absurd and likes to do dangerous things that he discourages others from trying. the very fact that he doesn’t recommend his hard-drinking, drugging, and fast-driving lifestyle is what makes him attractive to many readers. he is a self-constructed outlaw figure. he lives his own legend, while at the same time continuing to cultivate the cult of personality that surrounds him.

as a book, though, this is a mediocre document. there are some extraordinarily funny moments, such as when he starts off making an interesting point, becomes aware of how great is writing style is (thinking that he is in a groove), and then he blows it with his mind wandering into a method for killing charles manson in the instance that someone’s daughter beccame messed up with his type. this piece is brilliant in its comic buildup and hunter’s awareness of his own unraveling narrative.

largely, though, this book feels like a justification for much of his behaviour and a defense against the various allegations made against him over the years. there is much talk of god, with hunter waffling on his faith throughout. in some ways this book has the feeling of atonement, with hunter trying to shrug his shoulders with an “awe shucks” attitude.

for all the glorious moments in kingdom of fear, i would still recommend fear and loathing in las vegas for anyone trying to get hunter at his gonzo height. hell’s angels is also a great book, though written with a different purpose. hunter’s ego is in hell’s angels, but he was feigning more journalistic objectivity. it is a fun book that hints at what is to come.

in recent years hunter has become a parody of himself. his writing style has become highly repetitive, and his catch-phrases overkilled. i saw an episode of conan o’brien’s late night show a while ago in which hunter was doing his author tour for kingdom of fear. he had trouble walking up stairs, looked very dazed, but still had a great wit. i think we continue to love him because there is only one hunter s. thompson. there are many imitators, but he still exceeds them all and will continue to do so until he is long gone.

age of internet

i used the phrase ‘internet age’ a few moments ago without reflecting on its full implications and it now strikes me that in the future we may refer to the period of time from 1994 – ? as the internet age. if that is the case, what will follow it? and when will that question mark be replaced by a date?

the internet age, in its less public form began decades ago, but i think the term would best fit the era in which the internet received a much-hyped public profile. it is from 1994 onward that the internet has had a tremendous impact on (small parts of) the world.

but what are the characteristics that best represent this age?

  • increased availability and transfer of large quantities of information
  • increased availability of analogue services through electronic means
  • increased instantaneity of information and services
  • increased monitoring of the access and use of this information
  • increased commodification of information and services
  • increased illegal activity stemming from, and relating to, these structures
  • a thousand other things i can’t think of at this moment

my main questions have to do with when this age will reach its apex, what the causation will be, and the social changes (such as infrastructure shift) that will occur as a result.

a guess is that this will happen when the internet is omnipresent on a global scale, with instant access everywhere to both information and services. i’d say we are nearing that age in north america, parts of europe, and the pacific rim due to the proliferation of wi-fi devices and the expansion of broadband (and by this i mean fiber, not dsl). this perception of instantaneity will fully mesh the internet into our lives, with the use of the internet becoming an act that is fluid due to the lack of time lag. by this i mean that a user becomes unaware of their dependence on a resource when its availability is instant. for instance, consider our ability to turn on a tap and have water pour out (or the access to electricity when we plug something in). we take this instantaneous access to resources for granted, marking an age when we seem to have moved beyond it and into another phase. reality is, as with the recent blackout on the east coast, our naïve reliance on technology and infrastructures has created millions of effectively helpless beings (but that is another argument, i suppose).

to return to whatever point i was trying to make, we will be past the internet age when it is absolutely instant, thus invisible to our use of and reliance on.

next question: what will follow this age?

once the internet flows and is utilized like other utilities, that is to say instantly, we will move on to attempt to harness another resource. i would suggest this would be an increased emphasis on the exploration of our boundaries. a greater push to move outward in the solar system, a full study of the deep sea, and more rapid advancements in modifying, maintaining, and extending the biological self. i think the move to instantaneity in regards to biology will be predominant, particularly with epidemiology. this will be exciting and frightening, as disease is destroyed and constructed at a dangerously high pace – dangerous in that fast things have the obvious tendency to spin out of control quickly.

so there’s a look into my cracked and muddy crystal ball. giving any of this stuff serious thought gives one pause as to how our current infrastructures function and how society struggles to transcend basic necessity. however, the thought i always return to is: and millions of people barely have enough to eat, war rages on, and children die due to the lack of basic medical care. perhaps the post-modernized world’s obsession with so-called progress will destroy us, even though we have narrowly escaped death by nuclear age (so far).

if i had the panache of that great social historian eric hobsbawn, i would call this the age of internet.

note: i just did a quick search on that phrase and see that the internet is littered with references to it. i’m completely slow on the uptake.

that’s incredible!

watching a look back at that kooky tv show ‘that’s incredible!’

it is remarkable looking back at the early days of extreme tv. i got to thinking about why this show, while sometimes borderline nuts, never seemed to go over the edge. you didn’t see blood and guts and broken bones. people did crazy shit, such as getting bullets shot at their heads or driving a plane through the arc de triomphe or stuffing their bodies in a tiny box.

the difference between ‘that’s incredible!’ and today’s extreme programs is that the emphasis was on success, not on fantastic failure. television shows these days prey on crashing and burning, rather than on the sheer amazement over incredible acts.

i’d much rather watch a show about human potential than one focusing on the pathetic idiocy of our species. i see enough of that every day.

van dusen

there is something unsettling about abandoning your car at a parking lot, waiting alone underneath a sign that says “bus pick-up here,” and piling into a small yellow bus with a gaggle of seniors. not that i have anything against the elderly, mind you, but someone of my tender age does feel conspicuous when they’re the youngest person in the room by twenty or thirty years.

we were all headed to the van dusen garden show, you see, an event that seemed like it might be a venue where one could scope out some delicate and stunning fern varieties. i have a thing for ferns, wherein i read oliver sacks’ oaxaca journal in much the same way as one reads salacious novels or watches nigella lawson and her gastro-porn. although “-porn” is the suffix de jour, there is something plain wrong about using it to describe my simple but passionate love of ferns.

terminology aside, i was in for a brutal shock as i paid my fee and stumbled through the well-crafted maze of gardening paraphernalia and disturbingly well-manicured vancouverites. i was out of my element here. christ, i don’t even own a garden or house of any kind. the best i mange is a small apartment living room crammed with plants and books. i don’t complain about my comfortable little abode, but draw focus to how ill-placed i was among the beautiful people straight out of glossy magazines about urbanites and socialite malcolm perry’s shrewd gossip column in the vancouver sun.

the worst part of this disorienting affair was the complete absence of anything to do with ferns. apparently they aren’t fashionable right now. i missed the boat when they were last popular in the 1970s (just as i missed glam rock and early eno). damn my parents and their not having pushed my kindergarten ass into collecting and sketching rare fern species.

dejected, and cursing audibly at the crazed, consumerist septuagenarians pushing me aside to place their sweaty palms on the latest in gardening gadgetry, i made my way to the fern dell in the regular part of the gardens. this is a retreat i can trust, knowing that many sassy and spry varieties await my longing gaze and gentle touch. when the seniors approach i hiss, paw at the air between us, and blind them with my camera flash.

later, we piled back onto the bus, where i found myself again trampled and thrown aside by muscular grandmothers who pretended deafness, blindness, and whatever else would excuse their ill manners.

i would sit in my car in the parking lot for a while after this affair, feeling dirty and robbed of something special.

punch drunk love

yet another film i kick myself for not seeing on the big screen! i should have known better. i did know better. but i was busy as hell when punch drunk love came out. i remember how the visuals really made magnolia, and swore i would only watch pt anderson films in the theatre.

what can be said about this one? it succeeded at firmly raising my blood pressure for 95 minutes. and i mean this as a compliment. adam sandler is viciously real as small-time entrepreneur barry egan. barry has seven older sisters and has serious personality problems. while he has immense confidence in some regards, he has profound anger management issues (was this character a dry-run for sandler’s later work with jack nicholson?). barry is so mentally screwed up from having so many sisters intrude on every aspect of his personal life that he doesn’t trust anyone. he is evasive and, ultimately, destructive.

it is always a good bet to have a comedian play a dark character. look at jim carey in cable guy (a film that was unecessarily slagged). comedians seem to know how to pull up all that vile stuff and put it to good use. they are introspective and thoughtful. at least the good ones seem to be. i’m really glad sandler was given a role worth his skill. it’s about time.

emily watson is wonderful as lena leonard, who is nearly as fucked up as barry. she too suffered at the intrusive hands of too many siblings. and she had to endure a name like lena leonard. no wonder she doesn’t have a problem with the disturbing pillow talk adam sandler uses. she’s just as likely to dish it out herself, her capacity for inter-personal relationships also slightly damaged.

rounding out the cast are luis guzmán and pt anderson regular philip seymour hoffman. guzmán does a nice job as barry’s lackey, adding some wonderful naive-style humour. seymour hoffman, on the other hand, delivers a typically great performance as a total creep who drives the plot of the film along.

the first thing i thought after watching this was how smart it was for anderson to make a break from his ensemble casts and get back into the heads of a few select characters as he did with hard eight. i think punch drunk love displays how anderson has finely honed his skills over the course of the past several films. anderson regulars came through again: jon brion’s off-kilter score and robert elswit’s typically solid cinematography helped make this film carry the right tone for its subject matter. was it jeremy blake that did those tasty colour fields that transitioned between scenes? my oh my those were delicious.

i’m excited as hell to see what troubled characters under tremendous strain he comes up with next. anderson is one of the few directors who could even make me write a sentence like that.