Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Subjects

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"Ad wrap"

“Ad wrap”

Running a fledgling online news operation on a subscription basis is not without its challenges but it has some big benefits — I don’t have to fill my pages with “sponsored content,” my entire front page will never be given over to an advertisement and I do not have to print stories in which my employer announces that its “media operations” are “no longer core” to its future.

The Cape Breton Post has done all of these things in the past couple of weeks and I have real sympathy for the journalists who work there.

I’ve criticized the Post for turning its front page into an advertisement before and been informed, for my troubles, that it was not the front page I was looking at but an “ad wrap.” That’s as may be, but it’s an “ad wrap” masquerading as the front page and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise.

Sponsored content — stories paid for by advertisers but dressed up to look like regular news stories — are a plague on the industry, albeit one that has been with us for some time now. I don’t like “clickbait” stories much either, but I think most readers know a story headlined, “You won’t believe what [insert name of former child star] looks like now!” is not the work of a reporter at your local paper. The “sponsored content” stories are sneakier. Their effect, ultimately, is to sabotage readers’ trust in your publication — fool me once and I’ll be suspicious about everything else I read in your rag. (I wanted to link to the one I read in the Post recently but I can’t find it. UPDATE: I found it.)

As for the story about the Post‘s owner, the headline was:

Transcontinental: media operations good for society

And then the sub head:

No longer the core of printing, packaging business

Transcontinental CEO Francois Olivier said, “We think that the assets that we own in publishing play an important role in society.” But that role is, “less important that it used to be in terms of the size and relevance of importance for Transcontinental’s profitability and long-term growth prospects.”

Moreover, the company, which laid off over 100 workers last year, sold or closed papers in Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada and cut its advertising staff, intends to continue cutting costs while “accelerating its shift to digital publications.” And, although it made a profit of $196.3 million last year, it’s trying to get the governments of Canada and Quebec to help fund this shift.

Shorter version: Newspapers are important to society but they don’t make money, so we’re closing and selling and digitizing and downsizing them and we’d like government assistance to do this because newspapers are important to society.

Jesse Brown, media critic and host of Canadaland, has been beating the drum about this for months now — if the federal government chooses to “help” media in Canada by providing assistance to media conglomerates like Transcontinental, it will be rewarding them for what they’ve done to our local newspapers; rewarding them for gutting newsrooms and introducing sponsored content and running full, front-page advertisements.

And yet, if Transcontinental doesn’t get government assistance, does it ax its “no longer core” media holdings? And where does that leave us? I pick on the Post a lot, but I know the value of a paper of record — I consult old issues whenever I want to research events on Cape Breton Island. I would love to finish with a constructive suggestion for solving this problem, but I’ve come to the end of my sentence and I’ve got nothing.

Maybe somebody reading this can send along a few suggestions. I’d happily print them.


Navigational Aids Revisited

I may be the only person in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality who cares about this, but I can’t stop wondering about the navigational aids (or lack thereof) in Sydney harbor.buoy

You know the story: the harbor dredge, completed in 2012, made the harbor deeper and rendered some of our existing navigational aids unusable. Luckily, the dredge had come in under budget so we had $2.5 million to spend on new aids. But the Coast Guard told us those new aids would cost us something like $3.4 million. And so, instead of getting new navigational aids, we let the Port of Sydney Development Corporation, under the watchful eye of its “temporary” board (the Mayor and a bunch of councilors) start spending that leftover money on “business development.”

But I keep wondering: if we were prepared to spend $2.5 million on navigational aids, doesn’t that suggest we need those navigational aids? Or are they simply decorative? The marine equivalent of pink lawn flamingos?

The CEO of the port board, Michael Merritt, never responds to any of my queries, so I knew there was no sense asking him.

Instead, I asked the Canadian Coast Guard if the lack of new navigational aids was posing any sort of problem for marine traffic and I received an answer from Stephen Bornais, a communications adviser with Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

Here is the Coast Guard’s response to your questions.

Sydney Harbour has a marine Aids to Navigation system currently in place, a combination of fixed and floating aids maintained and operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. As is the usual practice, some of the floating aids will be removed prior to the ice season. They will be returned to the harbour in the spring.

As well, vessels entering and leaving Sydney Harbour come under the control of the Coast Guard’s Marine Communications & Traffic  Services centre operating from the Canadian Coast Guard College in Westmount NS. Staff at the centre provide 24/7 traffic services via radio coverage in the harbour.

For more information on MCTS please follow this link

As well, vessels meeting certain criteria are required to take a pilot on board when arriving at or departing from Sydney Harbour as it is a compulsory pilotage area. Vessel masters have navigation equipment on board the vessels including radar, depth sounders and electronic charts which will also assist them with navigating in the area.

As to the new system that will be installed to complement the  dredging project, under a Memorandum of Understanding the Canadian Coast Guard signed in July 2014 regarding the construction and operation/maintenance of a new Aids to Navigation system in Sydney Harbour, Coast Guard undertook to operate/maintain the system once it was completed and commissioned.

Coast Guard remains committed to the MOU.

First, did you note the reference to “ice season?” I hope Barry Sheehy and Albert Barbusci of Harbor Port Development Partners did, because they’re telling everyone our port is ice free.

Second, did you see an answer in that answer? I didn’t. I still don’t understand whether the new navigational aids are necessary or if not having them in place poses any difficulties to marine traffic.

So I asked for clarification, and Bornais has promised to get back to me.