It seems fitting that the day the morning news carried an item about the last print edition of the Yellow Pages, Business in Vancouver Media Group has decided that my days of paid commentary are over. So this is my last Business in Vancouver column.
News outlets no longer have to pay freelance contributors because they can get more than they need for free. As a co-founder of BIV Media Group in 1989, back when it was just a “weekly newspaper” (“What’s a weekly newspaper, Grandad?”), I completely understand the business survival principle of not paying for something you can get for free. (I have also learned that nothing is as expensive as what you get for free, but that’s a discussion for another column – oops, for whenever, whatever…)
The day I got this message was also the day the Vancouver Sun printed a prepared speech – undoubtedly supplied free – by the B.C. finance minister in the space where tough-minded editorials used to roam.
“We’re all going over the cliff,” was how a now-retired senior editor at the Sun explained the demise of print media to me. “We just want to be the last ones over.” The editorial death rattle of paid placements, handout articles and backroom payments from unknown sources is hard to miss, notwithstanding the great work from the dwindling number of paid journalists still at their screens.
The struggle for survival clouds the print media air like wildfire smog, flames leaping from online algorithms delivering sliced and diced demographic segments to advertisers with a surgical precision unimagined when we started BIV all those years ago.
The good people paddling against this relentless stream of change do gallant, heartfelt work, but they just can’t stem the flow. It’s not their fault. I remember a column I wrote many years ago triggered by an artist’s image of seemingly endless rows of piles of newspapers, each pile marking a space where a tree had to be slaughtered to make those papers possible. All that pulp, all those printing presses, all those trucks, all that fossil fuel, to tell me less than Twitter can flicker in a second, to deliver my attention to advertisers Facebook, Google and others know with dangerous intimacy, replenished every nanosecond from a cloud somewhere. What was yesterday’s magic is today’s wallpaper. Those algorithm-driven feeds know exactly where every target buyer is, precisely what they’re looking for, where they like to buy, what they’ve bought in the past and what they paid for it.
Ninety-nine per cent of revenue growth from digital advertising in the U.S. last year was captured by Facebook and Google. They own the relationships between sellers and buyers, and all the related data. They don’t need me, or BIV, or any other “conventional media” outlet to keep that revenue flowing. They’re in another orbit – our new universe – and we’re all spinning around them now.
Truth be told, during my summer break I had been thinking that maybe, after 28 years, I’d been chirping long enough to make my world views known by now, that it’s OK to let go this long-loved habit and move on to something else.
I will always be grateful for my privileged position all these years as an owner, then former owner, in getting my views published and paid for without having to stand in the lineup of free contributors grabbing at the BIV megaphone.
Mostly I will be grateful to everyone who cared enough to read what I wrote over these years. Thank you so much. I hope it helped somehow. •
Peter Ladner can be reached on Facebook, Twitter (@pladner) and Linkedin.