A Service PieceThursday, May 02, 2013
Few in our present world understand how journalism works. They do not understand how magazines and newspapers earn money. And even fewer would ever appreciate the almost absolute objective manner in which Walter Cronkite read the news on TV.
We know that CNN is not doing well in attempting to give a balanced view of news. Those on the right in the US gravitate to Fox News and those on the left to MSNBC. Neither of those are objective. You tune in to what you want to hear. My Rosemary and I want to listen to Rachel Maddow because we are lefties. We do not watch any Canadian news on any Canadian TV channels. I get my Canadian news on CBC Radio when I drive. The most serious bit of journalism, particularly of journalism that few others tend to tread is The Debaters. They are funny but they discuss topics untouched by most other media.
Rosemary and I read the Vancouver Sun (delivered) in conjunction with our NY Times (delivered every day). I tend not to read news on the computer because I find that there are very interesting stories (as an example) on the Sunday Style section that I might otherwise miss if I look at the on line version of the paper. On the other hand I do understand that I lose out (but I don’t because I have a free subscription to the on line NY Times) with slide shows particularly in the excellent Friday edition of the arts. There is a separate one (not in the film, theatre, TV or dance) that is all about museums, art galleries and exhibitions.
Having worked for magazines and newspapers before the advent of the everything is free on the net journalism I have a bit of an edge (and inside one) on how those magazines and newspapers of that past paid salaries and made money, enough to pay printers, delivery with enough left over to make a profit.
There was always supposed to be a separation between the editorial side of a publication and the side of sales where salespeople went out to sell adds.
I remember meeting a young and idealistic journalist called Les Wiseman. He was just out of UBC and believed in that sacrosanct division between journalism and the selling of ads.
I remember walking with him one day in the early 80s to a lighting store on Burrard and Davie where he was going to have a look (and I was to photograph) a light fixture made to resemble the Starship Enterprise. He was going to write about it in what in those days we used the euphemistic term of a service piece. A service piece was supposed to look like journalism, independent journalism and the writer would write (most seriously) about the best light fixture for your home. I remember telling Wiseman, “What’s next, track lighting?” He became very angry and I seem to recall that he punched me.
It became evident to all of us in the particular magazine (Vancouver Magazine) that the service piece was important in getting ads. More ads meant room for real journalism. It meant articles (Rick Ouston was one of the contributors to this sort of thing) on the health (or not) of our local newspapers. Article on track lighting enabled the magazine to run stuff dear to Wiseman’s soul.
I worked for such a magazine. It was called Achievers and it was a copy of what was then Vancouver's most expensive magazine (I worked for that one, too) which was called Nuvo. As an example Nuvo published a story on diamonds. The South African company De Beers sent the magazine editor on a junket to South Africa. The company then provided the magazine with beautiful photographs of diamond making and of diamonds. The article was an exclusive one.
In real journalism, those who are interviewed are never paid nor do they pay. The exception all these years have been exclusive interviews given by rapist, or kidnap victims, etc.
At about the Starship Enterprise time we knew and even participated in travel junkets. In these junkets, Los Angeles publicists gave Vancouver writers complementary tickets to travel to LA (hotels included, etc) and then these writers would attend press conferences with famous movie actors or directors. The deal was to place your tape recorder (with other journalists’ tape recorders) on a table and then you might get to ask one or two questions. You would then publish in Vancouver “Exclusive interview with Harrison Ford.”
Is it a coincidence that both the Vancouver Sun and the NY Times on a given day will have reviews of the same films? Globalization has helped standardize the news. It is all mostly the same (except of course Rachel Maddow or Maureen Dowd).
All the above, yes, all the above, is but an overture for the justification for plunking photographs of two lovely women wearing glasses.
It was early in the 80s when I was dispatched to take photographs of people wearing glasses sold exclusively in a very fashionable store on Robson called Optique 2000. This was not a fashion shoot (I was deemed not to have the talent for that sort of thing) but a service piece. I enquired if the magazine would pay those who posed with the glasses. I was told, emphatically, “No.” I had an idea. I convinced two very beautiful exotic dancers to pose for me. They did and I was very happy with the pictures as was the magazine art director, Rick Staehling.
But for months after I was asked by all sorts of people where I had found my models. I was mum about it but secretly proud that we had pulled it off successfully.
Lumps to the throats of strong men