From Criticism to Bullying

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Guest commentary on the demise of The Independent

There's been a fair bit of discussion in this blog - and the comments section - lately about The Independent.

This should not be surprising, given that this is a blog about media, and The Independent worked hard at being controversial.

Some of the comments have been critical, and yours truly has been accused of being biased against the paper (which, for the record, is not true, though I have criticized the editor several times for what were, in my view, legitimate reasons).

Kerri Breen is a fourth-year sociology major at Memorial University and the Editor of The Muse. She is a regular columnist with the Scope, and Arts Bureau Chief of Canadian University Press (CUP). I know that she has strong opinions about The Independent, many of them favourable, so I invited her to write a guest commentary about the paper.

She kindly complied.

Here is what Kerri Breen has to say about The Independent:

I'd raise a glass to The Independent, but it seems inappropriate to sip champagne. I'd really need a cold Dominion Ale. With a side of hard tack.

That's my main issue with the paper.

It conveyed this hackneyed, tourist-friendly idea of what this province is about. On a superficial level I found it a little tacky and alienating. From a journalistic perspective it was sketchy and artificial.

But enough has been said about the Indy's Newfoundland-sterbation recently. I'd prefer to talk about some of the positive aspects of the paper to balance out the discussion.

I've been reading the paper religiously since before the arse fell off her the first time. If the paper recruited and retained me, a poor student, as one of its 4,000 subscribers it's not because I was indifferent about it.

Part of me loves The Independent. Even if I disagree with some of its content, even if I think its editorial bent cast a shadow over the good work that was also being done there, and even if I think its advertorials could be more explicitly marked as such, I looked forward to it every Friday. It gave me something to chew on all weekend.

It sounds corny and romantic, but now that it's gone I realize that I've become attached to the paper, its investigative coverage, its regular features, and its diverse personalities.

All of those constituency allowance expenditure breakdowns were a good read, even if they were criticized as being too focused on one party. The youth panel on the future of the province was a neat idea. So was the investigation into where Danny Williams' salary goes. Then there's the breast cancer story, though there's contention about whether the paper actually broke this story. More recently, The Independent's interviews with Amanda Power's parents made for truly great, character-driven stories. The fact that they got these interviews blows my mind. Now that I won't be receiving a copy tomorrow, I'm wondering what I'm missing out on.

Just last week I found myself asking a friend, "Did you know Pam had her baby?" Though I read The Globe just as much, I don't exactly make conversation about their columnists. I don't know them like I know The Independent's, if you know what I mean.

You could also tell that the people working there were incredibly passionate not just about the stories they were writing, but about the paper itself. The fact that they all stayed until the bitter end is evidence of that. Maybe they fed off of each other's energy.

And as one of my colleagues pointed out in an earlier comment, The Independent has given journalists of my generation a chance, and not just as freelancers. The last three summer reporters were all recent ex-Musers. So is photographer Nick Langor. (Full disclosure, two of my friends worked at The Independent recently).

Nothing is perfect. And I understand the importance of media criticism. In fact, I agree with a lot of what's been said about the paper, but not with the tone of the discussion. I'd even call some of it bullying.

The worst part is that this bombardment of criticism came at a time when morale at the paper was probably at its lowest. Maybe in the eyes of many of this blog's veteran journalist readers I'm just young, soft and not even qualified to be giving this commentary, but I think that fair criticism requires empathy, respect, and even the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

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Recent comments

  • Craig
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Well said, Kerri. It's great to see there are intelligent, passionate and compassionate young journalists coming up behind us geezers. It is a shame about the Independent. It was a beautiful paper, visually, and had some great contributors and staff, if a lot of untapped and sometimes misused potential. If I had had the money, I would have made an offer. You could sense the paper was getting close to establishing a permanent niche. Two or three key personnel changes might have vastly improved the news and political coverage and also saved money. With 16 people on the payroll, it had too large a staff for a start-up.

    It is a shame. But full marks to everyone involved for trying so hard and coming so close, and I include in that statement the founders. It was quite an achievement. The paper will be missed. Hopefully, the lessons of its example won't be lost on those of us in the business so that the next time someone tries it they will embark on a surer financial and journalistic footing.

    Craig Westcott
    The Business Post