Mother Earth News article: The truth about vegetarianism

I’ve been a subscriber of Mother Earth News for a while now and a reader of the magazine since I was a kid. I’ve always appreciated the thoughtful and interesting articles in it and this month’s issue has an interesting story called “The Truth About Vegetarianism.”

The story is based on the 2009 book The Vegetarian Myth. I’d just like to say that I don’t have anything against vegetarians or vegans. I understand why they do what they do.

I haven’t read the book yet, only the article, but it seems that the author is really interested in delving into the nature of the modern factory farming agricultural system. Lierre Kieth, a former vegan, suggests that the vegetarian path is not going to accomplish the goals that most vegetarians seem to have. These reasons include tend to revolve around health, protecting animals, helping feed the hungry and not participating in factory farming.

All those are honourable goals, but is being a vegetarian really going to accomplish them? Avoiding meat for health reasons, particularly if that meat is coming from the factory farm process, is quite sensible. I’m not going to go into those reasons, but I certainly understand them. I would prefer to consume naturally raised animals instead of genetically modified, steroid and anti-biotic injected, confined and often diseased animals.

I would also prefer to eat fruits, vegetables and other food products that aren’t genetically modified, coated in pesticides and herbicides or contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. Coli. Is that too much to ask? Apparently to factory farmers, it is.

Keith covers a broad range of topics in her five-page summary published in Mother Earth News, dealing with food security and factory farming. I tend to agree, from the reading and research I’ve done in the past, that these are far more serious issues that being a vegetarian is not really going to adequately address.

It is not easy to break the factory farming cycle, but we’re beginning to see rumblings among citizens that indicate people are becoming fed up with the crap we’re being fed, both from agribusinesses and politicians. I certainly don’t blame the small farmer who’s being driven to the edge of bankruptcy by what is a fundamentally corrupted food system.

The popularity and awareness of farmers markets has really increased in recent years. I’m not sure if gardening has as well, but I hope it has. We really do need to examine the relationship between what we eat and where it comes from to our personal health and the health of our land.

If you’re interested in your health, your family’s health and the health of agriculture, this article would be a good start. I’m definitely going to be picking up the book.

Different direction for media organizations?

With all the predictions of the death of the mainstream media, it’s amazing to think it’s still around. Blogging and Twitter, apparently, will replace mainstream media, or so some would have you believe.

I’ve been a member of the mainstream media and I’m now a blogger. I’m on Twitter. The lines between media and social media are occasionally blurred.

I don’t buy into the hype saying that blogging and Twitter will replace the mainstream media.

We still have radio, books, magazines, newspapers, television, etc. Nothing replaced them. New forms of media have simply changed them. They all still have their place in the media landscape.

Mainstream media is changing

In the summer of 2009 I heard an interview with David Black, CEO of B.C.-based Black Press; apparently it’s Canada’s largest newspaper chain with more than 150 newspapers. He’s still expanding his newspaper empire. Puzzling, considering how many are claiming the media is dying.

What does he know that the pundits don’t? He knows is that the media is not dying, but is changing. Technology has driven the change and the recession has accelerated it.

Small local papers will be around for a long time and some lessons can be taken from them. The biggest advantage they have is that they have a local focus and I believe this will be the primary advantage of successful newspapers in the future. Citizens want to know what is happening in their community and local media still is one of the best ways to do so.

Today the media landscape is littered with wire copy. It’s cheap and easy filler. It has its place and is important in finding out what is happening around the world. On a daily basis, local news tends to be most important to readers. So what’s the best way to get that local news?

The future of newspapers: new form of media organization

The first step would be to form a co-op and everyone in the company is going to earn the same amount. Everyone’s going to be equal, have the same vote and be an equal partner in the organization.

Co-ops aren’t exactly new, but it’s not a common model for media organizations. Journalists typically aren’t a particularly entrepreneurial lot. CHEK TV on Vancouver Island is a fairly recent example of an employee owned station. I believe it’s a corporation, but it’s a similar idea.

Maryland allows social or benefit corporations with California and Vermont possibly following their lead. It essentially allows a corporation to have social goals as one of their primary goals, and not just profits. It could possibly allow a corporation to survive a hostile takeover by a larger, richer media organization seeking to reduce competition. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like this in Canada.

Second, the newspaper would be entirely online. Traditional newspaper and broadcast media are increasingly finding life online, but it’s different, and not as lucrative (yet). By not having a paper version, operational costs are kept much, much lower. One of Black Press’ key advantages is its ownership of presses. It’s expensive and creates many difficulties. While traditional newspapers will still be around, online publications will be the key to the media’s future.

Third, it would be ad free and would be completely subscriber-based. Yes, the dreaded paywall. The idea is to have the newspaper be strictly focused on journalism and not on advertising. The logic is it would be a publication free of any perceived advertiser bias. Those who aren’t subscribers would be allowed some limited views of stories. Partial views of stories would also be allowed in Google News.

I think that people would be willing to subscribe to a quality newspaper free of any perceived bias from advertising. You might not cover the entire market, but could find a sufficient number of subscribers interested in quality journalism that could make the online newspaper a go.

Details: using Edmonton as an example

I’m based in Edmonton, and here’s how I can see it working. According to 2001 census figures, Edmonton has 265,000 households. Now, and including the surrounding area (Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Leduc, etc), let’s roughly estimate that at 400,000.

Let’s give journalists a healthy wage of $50,000 each. Using the Edmonton Journal as an example, there’s approximately 90 people in its newsroom and production (estimated).

With an all-online edition, 40 people for an online only, daily publication, to start would be reasonable.

The total payroll would be $2 million. Allowing an extra 50 per cent for overhead such as office space, libel insurance and other costs, you would be looking at an annual budget requirement of $3 million. Seems like a lot, but without ads, how do you do it?

Well, how much would a subscriber be willing to pay? Getting the Journal every day costs $256 per year. Not bad, but would someone be willing to pay $100 per year to get ad-free news delivered to their inbox, online, iPad and to their smart phone? I think they would. With GST that would be $8.75 per month for daily news, or 29 cents a day. (Seattle Post Intelligencer is all-online now and I’m curious how well they’re surviving.)

With a $3 million budget and $100 per subscriber needed you only need 30,000 subscribers. That’s only 7.5 per cent of the households in the Edmonton metro area.

As of March 31, the Edmonton Journal had a paid circulation of 125,589. Readership is estimated at 268,900 to 458,000. The assumption with readership is that there are multiple people reading the same paper.

So, what happens if there are 60,000 subscribers? This would mean revenue of $6 million per year. There are a couple possibilities here. It would be wise to create a reserve of working capital for the operation, but then what? The excess earnings could be distributed to those in the co-op as a dividend. It could be donated to charities.

More importantly the newspaper could expand its coverage and team. It could begin to invest more in investigative journalism. These days the trend is to cut newsrooms, not expand them. Investigative journalism has suffered at a time when North American citizens need it most.

Should there be ads?

It’s certainly possible to produce a quality newspaper, online or otherwise, without ads. I’m sure there’s a large chunk of the newspaper audience that hates the ads. I think it would be a big selling feature for a lot of people. If readers know they’re getting a quality product with honest reporting, that’s also a big selling feature. That’s not to say that just because you have ads you can’t trust the reporting.

People do read the ads in newspapers, no question. Some people pick up newspapers for the ads. Many small community papers seem to be little more than something to hold all the flyers that get delivered.

If an ad-free online newspaper were to be started, it would certainly leave room in the marketplace for competing newspapers to offer space for ads. What would the potential audience think? Good question. Before a venture like this got started, it would certainly be wise to do a great deal of market research to confirm that there would be demand for it. Or maybe an “if you build it, they will come” approach could be in order.

Beyond one city

This model can easily be expanded to more than one city. I can see something like this spreading across Canada and elsewhere. With a common look and content management system for the web, you could brand the network and pull in news from everywhere into that network. It could function as its own wire service.

Ad-free news from across the country, and maybe the world? I would definitely subscribe to that. Surplus funds from larger locations could be used to help new “bureaus” get started in other locations and bring them into the co-op. Once one location was successful, the goal would be to self-fund the entire organization.

If you were an unemployed journalist, would you rather sit at home on EI, or get back to work? If a group of journalists were suddenly laid off at a major paper and got a settlement package, why not pool those resources and start a publication like this? Take a risk! I think it would be more than fair to repay those who funded the organization with surplus funds the organization generated.

Would it work?

I believe that this is a realistic model for future newspapers and helps to solve the problem of shrinking the newsroom as a way of increasing profits. I think that employees would be even more committed to the success of the organization because they share in its successes. It works for companies like Lincoln Electric and Westjet.

I would like to hear your thoughts on whether you’d be interested in investing in something like this, would subscribe to it or why you think it may or may not work.

Killing the CBC

cbc-logo-kramerIt’s a dream come true. A perfect storm, if you’re Conservative. Killing the CBC is something I’m sure they’ve all pined for for years.

Now the ironically-named Heritage Minister James Moore is saying that the CBC is on its own, not unlike all the other media organizations in the country. Facing a shortfall of $100-200 million (according to what I heard on CBC Radio this morning) CBC is going to have to make some really difficult choices.

It’s not made any easier when the “Heritage Minister” throws out mixed signals saying that the CBC shouldn’t be competing with private broadcasters (stop chasing revenues and eyeballs). It makes it rather difficult when, to survive, they have to go after ad revenue and get high ratings on TV programs in an effort to maximize their revenue.

It’s almost, gasp, entrepreneurial. Isn’t that what the Cons are all about? No, it’s the Cons speaking out both sides of their mouth, or with forked tongue, or more likely both. If the CBC is going to stop competing for ad revenue, they need adequate government funding to do so.

The Cons can’t say that they don’t support subsidies to business because, well, they do. You can call them incentives or whatever you like, but it’s still government money. There’s nothing wrong with it if it’s fulfilling the wishes of Canadian citizens. Hell, we subsidize banks and oil companies. We probably subsidize many other companies that are likely big donators to the Cons. Maybe the CBC should make some donations to them as well?

I am pretty middle of the road when it comes to politics. My ideas span the political spectrum.I can reconcile NOT wanting gun control but wanting socialized medicine. I can find many apparent contradictions in my views. Life isn’t a Liberal or Conservative dichotomy.

I like the CBC. I listen to CBC Radio every single day. I watch CBC TV less often. I am on the CBC website every day. I get a lot of news online. I value the CBC as do a large portion of Canadians.

I don’t want to hear ads on CBC radio, as do the majority of listeners. I don’t need statistics to know that. I don’t listen to commercial radio much because I get less information than I do on CBC. So, if they chase ads to survive, they’ll be competing with private broadcasters again. Hmm.

CBC should get an adequate subsidy to continue operating. It is one of the institutions that helps to unite the country, and God knows, this country needs institutions like that. I’m sure our Prime Minister doesn’t much care, knowing how fond he is of Quebec.

No, layoffs at the CBC would make the Cons quite happy I’m sure. It would be one less news organization fully capable of holding the government to account; less resources overall means less investigative reporting. It’s precisely at this time we need a strong media organization that is capable of reporting on our government. And they can do it objectively.

Unfortunately private mainstream media organizations are in very difficult circumstances right now. You can bet that investigative reporting is the least of their worries when they’re trying to keep their heads above water. Should we subsidize them also? That’s the subject of another post, I think.

If you love the CBC, you should let your MP know that you want them to continue to receive adequate funding to continue as is and that the Cons should help them with their current budget shortfall. Write your MP, write the Minister, write the Prime Minister.

I will be voting in the next election for a party that supports the CBC.