in Culture

The Globe and Mail’s $1.7 Billion Folly

Much ink, digital or otherwise, has already been spilled about The Globe and Mail’s recent redesign. The end product mirrors a great deal of what the San Francisco Chronicle did last year with its redesign; a long-term contract with Transcontinental, a set of new digital printing presses that would permit glossier stock, a smaller form factor, and colour on every page. The end product is definitely beautiful. But that’s like complimenting your neighbour on his fine new team of horses when the Ford Model T is already revolutionizing transportation.

You have to understand where I’m coming from: I love newspapers. I don’t just mean that I love the incisive, in-depth reporting, the dispatches from afar, or the intellectual and enlightened arguments that grace the editorial and op-ed pages. In addition to those things, I love the form factor, the medium, and the physical, tangible processes that go into producing a printed paper. The typesetting systems. The printing presses themselves. And, in bygone days before full-page desktop publishing was possible via Quark XPress or Adobe InDesign, the layout tables. The waxer and the utility knife. The 72dpi screens you had to apply to printed photographs in the darkroom. I could wax (no pun intended) for hours on newspaper nostalgia, and you should remember that I’m only 32. I accept that I’m an anomaly among my peers. Why else would I get up at 2 a.m. and drive to Vaughan just to see the Toronto Star’s MAN Roland press in action?

Finally — and I realize this is a long preamble — I’m a subscriber to the Saturday Globe and Mail. I also receive the Sunday New York Times, which definitely provides more than enough reading for seven days. So I am someone who wishes the business model weren’t broken and that the future is in print.

But Im sorry to tell Philip Crawley, and John Stackhouse, and David Thomson: you guys are wrong. Dead wrong. The future of print isn’t bright. Like you, I do believe journalism has a healthy future, but unlike you I don’t believe it’s going to be tied to a specific medium. Sure, the state of journalism, and investigative, current-affairs journalism at that, probably needs to get worse before it gets better. Why? Because it necessitates divorcing something our society needs — good journalism — from something our society has no further need for — communication using dead trees as a medium. There will be pain, but the longer we defer it, the worse it will get. Failure to adapt means winding up like the Rocky Mountain News or the New York Herald Tribune (whose former offices on West 40th St. in New York, incidentally, are now occupied by one of the most innovative new journalism schools, CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism).

There’s one last thing for me to say. After reading Toronto Life’s profile of the redesign, I have but one comment: the Globe under Crawley doesn’t sound like the kind of place I’d want to work. You do not reinvent your business by employing someone with a “pugnacious temperament” (read: asshole). You need to have someone at the helm who can work constructively with employees to revitalize the place, not to bully them into submission for a Napoleonic adventure into Moscow. In short, you need a real leader. In the end, that will be far more damaging to the Globe than the $1.7B folly.

(Watch the funerary video for the Rocky’s final edition, if you haven’t already. It really will break your heart.)

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