Friday, November 28, 2008

Onward! Ben Knight's blog turfed from Globe and Mail

Now former Globe and Mail blogger Ben Knight let his biggest fans know directly--his popular On Soccer blog has been killed* by the Globe and Mail. Knight says the decision will be reviewed in the spring, but for now he is busy looking for an independent location to launch his own blog, which he plans to call Onward!--The Ben Knight soccer blog.

Ben's voice has been a big part of the Canadian soccer scene for several years. His work for was 10 times better than the crap they post there now always a must read and he took his unique "fan first" style to the Globe.

The stupidity of this move isn't surprising. The Canadian media industry continues to bury its head in the sand and ignore the changing reality of media. In times like these, papers like the Globe should be expanding their web coverage and embracing the more casual and fan oriented voice that you find online, rather than nickle and diming little freelance contracts like Ben's.

* It was unclear from Ben's post whether the whole blog is being shut down, or whether the Globe is going entirely in-house with it


Amrit Ahluwalia said...

Most media services are having to hack huge numbers of jobs due to the smashing our economy's taken in the past few months (see: CanWest).

The Globe's probably finally feeling the pinch, and if I was running that paper, the first thing I'd cut would probably be the freelance blog contract.

It probably wasn't anything malicious, but unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, such decisions have to be made.

Duane Rollins said...

It's conservative thinking and it will kill the industry.

The way to get more advertising is to get more readers. The way to get more readers is to have more original content. Therefore cutting content, reduces the amount of readers which reduces the amount of money to be made through advertising.

So, then the all-too predictable Canadian media reacts to the situation by cutting even more editorial jobs and the cycle continues.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

It's a sad day for Canadian soccer coverage; I've always been a huge fan of Ben's work and thought it was great that the Globe recognized his talent. I dissent with Duane's comment a bit, though; more unique content does not necessarily mean more readers, and more readers does not necessarily mean more advertising dollars (especially with web-only stuff on newspaper sites, which is often only minimally ad-supported). That's why you see all the job cuts lately: newspapers haven't lost significant readership in the last few months, but they've lost advertising revenue just because businesses have less to spend on advertising (and it's much easier to justify cutting an advertising budget than cutting a job). It's tough to argue that newspapers should expand when they're losing money left, right and centre. I agree that this cut is in the wrong place, though.

Amrit Ahluwalia said...

Okay - so, just to be sure I'm getting this right:

In order to avoid going bankrupt, companies must spend more money... yes?


Unfortunately in times like this, all industries are forced to cut the fat and concentrate on the meat. Sure, having some fat adds flavour and juices, but at the end of the day the meat can't suffer in favour of the fat, otherwise you have a really shitty dinner.

I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of advertising the Globe gets isn't from the football blogs. I could be proven wrong in the next few months, but at the end of the day they have the most comprehensive football coverage in Canada.

Any fan who stops reading the Globe's coverage on football because of the loss of one blog is hardheaded and nothing more. I doubt they'll lose too much readership.

Duane Rollins said...

As an aside, I'm not sure businesses in Canada have less money to spend. I think they think they have less money to spend. Which then, ironically, does give them less money to spend. If you follow.

The biggest problem with the Canadian economy is psychology.

Duane Rollins said...

Editorial content--all of it--is the meat. The ad staff like to remind reporters that advertising "pays their salary." Yeah, well, without editorial the ad people don't have a product to sell, do they?. So, it's a chicken and egg argument.

You are also making the mistake that the Globe is cutting editorial "fat," like Ben's blog, to divert money into more important editorial budgets. You can bet that this is part of a blanket cut that will see every part of the paper and website lose content. I don't imagine there were too many senior management positions cut--on either side of the business.

@Andrew - yes 1+1 doesn't always = 2. But 1-1 never = 2.

Amrit Ahluwalia said...

All editorial content is not meat. Blogs are opinion pieces. They are fat. If all editorial content was equal meat, we'd see blogs in type-face in the newspaper. And all sections would rotate the front page. And on and on.

We like blogs, they provide us with insight, but at the end of the day you can start a blog anywhere and talk about anything on them. But they are not the steak, they're the fat cap.

My God I'm hungry.

Duane Rollins said...


Three years ago you wouldn't have got an argument from me. But, it ain't 2005 anymore.

Actually, with respect, of course, I'd suggest you're making more of a 2002 argument. Those that matter in the industry in this country are probably thinking 1990.

John Edwards said...

So, what exactly is the business case for keeping Knight there, then?

Does his blog draw advertising to the paper that it wasn't getting already?

Frankly, if I want to find "more casual and fan oriented voice", I'll turn on the radio or read an independent blog.

I think the place for the Globe, the Star, etc. is to provide something better than that. (Not that I think Knight's blog was that, although I can't say I read it often.)

Amrit Ahluwalia said...

Nono John, this argument is too 2002. We need to make ourselves more 2009 chic.

I meant to ask - how would I go about doing that? Does it involve a new hat? I like hats.

Also, I didn't realize the nature of supply, demand, cost and revenue had changed so dramatically since 2002. Ah well, silly me.

Anonymous said...

The Globe is considered to be one of the more corporate-minded media outlets in Canada. That's basically business-world code for being very focused on the bottom line.

The paper's been cutting a lot and will stop at nothing to nickel-and-dime the people who work for it. Ever since the place fell into the hands of the Bell Globemedia consortium (which is now CTVGlobeMedia) a little less than 10 years ago, the Globe's culture has changed -- unfortunately, not for the better.

As much as I loathe the idea of using turn-of-phrases like the Good Old Days, the Thomson Corp. ownership were truly halcyon days for the paper and its writers. Not anymore. The bean-counters run the show now and the higher-ups have seemingly no desire to fight for their writers. I mean, look what happened to Jan Wong. Her career and reputation have been ripped apart by months of open warfare against the Globe management.

The biggest problem the Globe faces now is two-fold: on one hand, the Globe is an immensely profitable paper but, like every other newspaper operation in the Western World, its profit margins are shrinking. Shareholders aren't going to tolerate that, especially now with the economic downturn. So where do you cut costs to please the real owners -- shareholders -- of the paper? The low-hanging fruit, namely freelancers and low-cost but also low-read sections (soccer may be culturally relevant in Canada, but it's a million miles away from the viewership of hockey sites on the Globe's web site).

Thing is, and this is the irony of the situation, is that the so-called untouchables at The Globe -- Big Thinkers like John Ibbitson, Wannabe Big Thinkers like Christie Blatchford and the paper's Business/Politics sections to name a few -- are so full of expensive, long-term employees that have gotten far too comfortable in their vaulted positions. The Globe's roster of columnists is the single-greatest expense of the paper in terms of the people, not the operational aspects.

Unfortunately for The Globe, they're caught in a real Catch-22 situation with such a huge and costly roster of columnists. If you cut some of them to put more revenue behind, say, expanding and promoting the Globe's web site, what's the trade-off? Lost readers? A decline in the print subscriber base? On the other hand, how do you generate even more revenue via the Web, which still doesn't exactly roll in the dough during good times, let alone the economic (and advertising) slowdown that's already here. It's a no-win.

The Globe's going to have to make some very tough choices in the next five years. The print edition is dying a slow, painful death. The readership base of the print edition is not growing and is dying off, quite literally, because almost no one under the age of 35 subscribes. The paper reads and feels like a corporate propaganda broadsheet. It has done a rotten job of adapting to the Web era -- for God's sake, it was the year 2000 before they finally built a decent web site!

If the shareholders continue to tighten their grip over the Globe's financials, you can rest assured that columnists will be getting cut soon enough, or at the very least shifted into far-less expensive "freelance contracts" that they pushed on Leah McLaren when she became too expensive relative to her writing output.

Anonymous said...

Duane, I also have to address your comments earlier about the Conservative Thinking in the newspaper business.

The problem is that shareholders are inherently risk-averse. They also tend to be, based on my experience in the industry, very short-term in their thought processes. Many of these people are aging investors that cried foul when the paper eliminated its print-edition stock listings, for God's sake. Almost none of them have a clue about how the Web works. They see dollars and cents and get advice from people like Phil Crawley -- a businessman not exactly known for his willingness to dole out the dough for the product. This is the way it is. It's also the norm and not the exception, particularly in Canada.

From a business case perspective, what you're saying is completely true. Almost everyone among writers would agree with you. The problem, however, is that being creative, investing money into the paper's sections and offering up original, provocative content is not only very costly, but also potentially bad for catering to the paper's core market base: Baby Boomers and older.

It doesn't take much to realize that two characteristics that makes your admittedly forward-thinking perspective impossible. These two core markets are not only highly resistant to change of any kind, but are also very resistant to using new technology. The Globe had an outcry among subscribers when they shifted over to colour front pages, of all things. This is an affluent, educated group of subscribers, but they're also very stubbornly resistant to any kind of change.

Again, comes back to Catch-22: if you make some big changes and invest in strong, original content, what's the cost benefit? But if you don't start making changes, will the vicious cycle of decline-and-cut only get worse? The paper's in a holding pattern right now because, quite frankly, no one has a clue on how to make money off digital properties.

Duane Rollins said...

What he said.

And @ Amrit - Sarcasm doesn't make your argument stronger. It only makes me what to ask your opinion on this subject after you've spent a year working in rural Saskatchewan (if, in fact, you do want to get on this sinking ship) for $22,000.

Anonymous said...


As someone with lots of experience in newspapers and journalism as a whole, I can tell you that your perspective on what matters as worthy editorial content is ridiculous. You clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Your ideas would get you laughed out of any newsroom.

Let's get something clear: not all media organizations are the same. There are financial realities every organization must face, true, but how an organization handles change beyond their respective control has as much to do with a specific corporate culture and the circumstances surrounding it.

CanWest is cutting from its newspaper operations not just because of "supply-and-demand." CanWest has an enormous debt load that CTVGlobeMedia does not -- cutbacks are the only way they can financially afford to keep the Post running, as an example.

Part of this problem has to do with exactly the kind of wrong-headed suggestions you're offering: cutbacks are easy for accountants to justify on a piece of paper, but they have direct consequences to the quality of a product. The only way any publication can survive nowadays is to make it worthy of purchase; an entire generation of those 30 and under have grown up in a culture of free content.

Why in the world would any of them buy a newspaper full of wire copy, recycled celebrity gossip and other half-baked, one-source fluffer pieces when they can get all of that, faster and for free, online? The only reason newspapers like The Post even exist today is because those of a certain era -- Boomers, seniors -- have bought newspapers out of habit. That's all it is. Once that gravy train starts to run out, it's Game Over for the Post and Globe if they keep doing things the way they are.

If you keep cutting a newspaper's operations, you're running a business on borrowed time. That's the bottom line.

Two of the world's finest magazines -- yes, magazines! -- learned this lesson early on. Harper's and the New Yorker have both seen their subscriber base increase significantly over the past decade. How? Because they have a strong, distinct voice, quality writers, excellent content, terrific, innovative web sites and have done things exactly the opposite of what bean-counters would do. And remember, the New Yorker is owned by Conde Nast -- an NYC-based, tough-as-nails corporate behemoth that would be far more inclined to cut a publication like The New Yorker if it wasn't doing what it does best. Harper's is a Foundational model, for God's sake! Based in America! Imagine trying to run a publication in America based on *that* model. But we Canadians can't even make a newspaper work?

Get more informed, Amrit. Newspapers aren't like selling widgets or computers.

Amrit Ahluwalia said...

Duane - Sarcasm is a strong response to assholery. If you're going to accuse me of thinking in the past, fair enough, but back that statement up. Why am I thinking in the past? Back up your allegations.

At "someone who has lots of experience in newspapers" - then you should know that having the balls to put your name behind your publication is important. There's a difference between a magazine and a newspaper. A magazine puts spin on the news, a newspaper reports it. Stories should not have spin, that's what editorials are for. If you're arguing that the very nature of news should be changed, fair enough, argue that.

But at the end of the day, the people who invested in the business did so to make money. If they're not, they'll cut. That would be basic economics. An unfortunate reality of our times, but a reality no less. Credit to people like Duane who are willing to do what they love for next to nothing, but more often than not, the people who make it happen aren't willing to take a bath.

sager said...


Every story is going to have spin, no matter what, and I have to laugh like hell that any educated person can still believe in the objectivity myth. If you honestly believe that, you have either never met a journalist or you are a journalist.

Do I give everyone a fair shake in my reporting? Of course. But I'm not neutral emotionally, because I'm human being.

Duane Rollins said...


We like blogs, they provide us with insight, but at the end of the day you can start a blog anywhere and talk about anything on them. But they are not the steak, they're the fat cap.

There is a certain dismissal within that statement -- that because “anyone” can write a blog about “anything” that they are somehow less worthy than other sources of information. That’s something you would have heard in a newsroom three to four years ago. Then, the strategy was to basically ignore blogging in the hopes that it would go away.

It didn’t, so the big papers took the next step. They started blogging themselves. They still haven’t gone all the way yet. Their “bloggers” are just there reporters given more responsibility for (usually) the same pay. The results are mixed. Some, like Wilner or Smith here in Toronto, are brilliant at it. Others, are mailing it in.

To me, the next logical step is for the major media organizations to start hiring people to only blog. Blogging has its own voice (one I still struggle to find). The best people to blog for major media are those bloggers that have shown themselves to be able to attract an audience on their own. In the US, some of the more progressive organizations are going this route. It’s slow to catch on in more conservative Canada.

Ben’s blog was in that model. He was hired to do nothing more than blog. To me, major media is going to continue to lose readership if it doesn’t adjust to the new realities of media that have been literally forced on them by readers. Cutting something like Ben’s blog is a step back in my opinion.

If print media continues to shrink itself it will eventually disappear altogether. Today is not a time to be conservative. It’s a time to go at things balls out.

But, don’t worry. What you are advocating for is what will actually happen.

Duane Rollins said...

*their reporters. God, I hate it when I make a typo in the comments...

Anonymous said...

He's a great writer. I like it better when he wrote about lacrosse, though. That sport needs all the credible, intelligent voices it can get.

Ben, if you read this, the lacrosse community misses you.

Anonymous said...


I do have the balls to say what I say and speak intelligently about what I'm informed on. You clearly have no clue what you're talking about. As much as I want to avoid a flame war on here, you need to stop talking and listen.

Read this sentence closely: newspapers are not like selling computers.

Newspapers are in the content business. Without content, the newspaper's worth nothing. Ask yourself this question: if a computer company released a computer that was of poor value for the money, had inferior hardware and no utility beyond what other computer companies are selling, would you buy it? Clearly not.

Newspapers are a distinct business model. They sell content, which attracts advertisers who pay for access to those readers' eyeballs. Newspapers don't make money on newstand sales. They make money on advertisers being interested in buying ad space. What's the point of running a newspaper if you can't attract advertisers?

Cutting is the death spiral the newspapers are engaged in.

For the record, I know certain people in the industry read this blog and I'm not interested in putting my name on here because my opinions are controversial and I'd like to keep my already-precarious job.