Wednesday Night #1377

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We have the great joy of the presence of our son Marc and his brilliant wife Jean from Singapore. Sadly, this is the last week of their summer holiday in Québec. We hope that you will be with us to enjoy their company and observations – no doubt a tour de force that will lead us down many paths including advertising, media and the Internet. A propos, there are major changes in NYT business coverage that would indicate that management is not quite as gray as has been said.
We are just emerging from 4 days of bucolism (well, why not?) and gracious hospitality of family and friends in Charlevoix, which is still the most beautiful part of Québec in our unprejudiced eyes, despite the benefits (or not) of the largesse of its current MLA in terms of infrastructure construction. We were reminded of the days when Church parking lots were paved immediately before elections to encourage congregations to vote the right way.
We neither saw, heard, nor read a single news item until we were on our way home and thus were spared evolving events in favour of at least two developments of consequence — the opening of the ‘crisis talks’ in Zimbabwe (we remain highly skeptical) and the capture of Radovan Karadzic, who (surprise) had been living all along under the noses of the authorities. The world economy appears to be no further recovered than when we left; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still hot items. The U.S. campaign potshots continue, but with evidence of moderation and some surprise (which we do not share) that Senator Obama is conducting himself intelligently in Iraq.
Beijing’s final preparations for the Olympics continue to be critically scrutinized –
Bunker mentality as Beijing readies for Games– by all and sundry (just wait til it is Vancouver’s turn) amidst last-minute controversy over EPO tests. Putin, Bush and Sarkozy are heading to the Beijing Olympics, while Stephen Harper, Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown will stay away, what, if anything, does this tell us about the Harper/Bush relationship???
Locally, we note that Mr. Harper has not yet called the Westmount by-election and presume that it is because it is somewhat useless to campaign when almost everyone is away for the summer holidays, or planning for them. We are encouraged by the CanWest story about Christie Digital that bears out The Princess’ thesis that Wednesday Nighters tend to underplay the inventiveness and contribution of Canada’s small business sector (Comment #2)
Finally, we were absolutely delighted to learn last week of Louise Roy‘s appointment as Chancellor of l’Université de Montréal.
Links to some possible topics
TRADE ministers, hoping to make a breakthrough in the interminable Doha round of global trade talks, will gather at the World Trade Organisation’s headquarters beside Lake Geneva, on Monday July 21st. Their aim is to agree on a plan for liberalising trade in farm products and industrial goods, and to look for signs of compromise on services.
As Loan Giants Are Inspected, Bush Prods Congress
Bank examiners from the Federal Reserve and the Comptroller of the Currency are inspecting the books of the nation’s two largest mortgage finance companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as the Bush administration prods Congress to approve a plan that would enable it to inject billions of dollars into the companies.

Peace talks in Zimbabwe
… whether the opening of negotiations was a staged showing of cooperation under international pressure, a sign of the opposition’s weakness or a real path toward peace remained unclear. The opposition said it got much of what it demanded before engaging in substantive talks: a commitment to end political violence and the participation of international bodies in the mediation process. But given Mr. Mugabe’s unbridled exercise of power during the election season, he enters the negotiations with the overwhelming upper hand, analysts said. Few expected him to yield any significant ground now.

Radovan Karadzic captured after 13 years
Captured war crimes suspect was living in Serbia’s capital Belgrade and practising alternative medicine, Serb officials say. Background from BBC and Wednesday-night.com
When Barack Obama accepts his party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency at the Democratic convention in Denver next month, his image will be displayed on giant screens at Mile High Stadium by digital projectors made in Kitchener, Ont. Christie Digital’s projectors – highly engineered cubes of optical technology that sell from $20,000 to $100,000 apiece – also have been used at the Academy Awards, and are exported from Canada to cinema chains around the world as movie theatres discard their traditional projectors in favour of new digital equipment.
Beijing Olympics: City bans half its cars and Investigation questions EPO tests
The [New York]Times is about to dramatically expand its business coverage online, gradually introducing a slew of pages on subjects including the economy, energy, small business, personal finance and enterprise technology, according to Vivian Schiller, senior VP-general manager of NYTimes.com. Built on the model of DealBook, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s popular blog for the business section, each one will include original reporting and commentary from a dedicated staffer, news aggregated from elsewhere, relevant tools, e-mail newsletters, mobile applications and more. More

The Report


Singapore

To Canadians, Singapore may conjure the vision of a repressive city-state that invokes the death penalty for a number of crimes including drug use, and heavy penalties for chewing gum, that does not recognize freedom of assembly, and that prosecutes opposition politicians for statements that may be construed as defamation of character, but would be normal public statements in Ottawa or Québec. If there were gatherings of the nature of Wednesday Night a permit would be required which in the case of Wednesday Night would likely be refused.
This would be only a partial picture of the remarkably successful state that has achieved impressive economic prosperity, is in an evolving process and offers citizens and residents many benefits including a safe, crime-free environment, superb quality of life, and financial rewards for those who contribute to the economy.
While accepting that it is the government’s prerogative to maintain capital punishment, to outlaw and harshly punish drug use or other crimes for the greater good of society, – the harsh measures imposed for drug use mean that kids don’t do drugs, they do not have that peer pressure, and they don’t steal -, the generally restrictive ambiance affects many aspects of life, and especially the media.
The government has recognized that this is an issue and that human capital is the single most important driver of the economy. There is now a concerted effort to manufacture creativity. A number of programs exist to encourage people to operate outside the strict boundary, but still within the accepted boundary. This, naturally poses a number of dilemmas.
While there is unfettered access to the Internet, the press is heavily censored. Of all nations of the developed world, Singapore has the least open media [according to Reporters without borders, in 2006, it ranked 146 out of 168 countries in terms of freedom of the press], leading to an environment where according to at least one (Singaporean) critic, creativity has been stifled along with the entrepreneurial spirit and risk taking.
In order to understand what to Westerners appears a paradox, one must take into account the evolution of Singapore. Only forty years old, it is not a democracy, but a small country run by a father and son team with strict paternalistic controls, but otherwise with comparative personal freedom. Prosperity has made it a very lucrative place for investors.
It is a fun place, very cosmopolitan, with 25% of the population composed of expats, and life is agreeable for the great majority of the population that obeys the rules.
The changing world, however, has created challenges for the future, especially in the education system which until recently was designed to produce professionals, with little or no interest in fostering creative talent. Can Singapore change sufficiently quickly and radically to meet those challenges? Today, the government is trying to shift the education system in order to reflect world shift in emphasis on creativity by encouraging more independent schools, but the people are resistant, clinging to the tradition that their children be doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. When eventually, the people adopt the government’s philosophy, there comes another question. Will the authorities be able to stop the new impetus, before the creativity problem becomes a political problem?
Italy, for years the ‘sick man of Europe’ has demonstrated the flexibility to succeed in the new Europe precisely because of what were previously deemed its shortcomings.

Media matters

In the western world, the historic diversity of goods and services offered to the public by smaller independent entrepreneurs has been succeeded by big box stores each providing a greater variety of goods, but with fewer differences between the stores. This development has adversely carried over to the print and broadcast media and the music industry (you can no longer expect kids to walk into a store and buy 12 songs because they want one song), exacerbated by the variety and ease of access of the electronic media, and in Québec, by the diminishing Anglophone readership of English print media. [Some point out that the decline in readership of newspapers like the Gazette is countered by an increase in vibrant, smaller, targeted publications and remind us that the municipality of Westmount supports two weekly newspapers.]

Internet versus print media
Advertising is the key to media financial success – and while the ‘publishing’ cost is lower, it is almost impossible for an Internet site to target its audience, thus depriving most sites of the same revenue stream as print or radio and TV media. Even Slate.com has relatively few ads.
The effect of electronic publication goes beyond the financial to the intellectual. In a critical look at the decline of U.S. papers, Chris Hodges points out that a major difference between printed and electronic text is that the former is generally read and absorbed, whereas electronic text is usually scanned quickly for information or data . Generally, print media readers absorb concepts, sometimes even thoughtful analysis. This behavior relates not only to news media but perhaps more importantly to educational material, so much of which is delivered electronically to students. Is human intellectual capacity declining in tandem with the decline of print media?
An exception to the foregoing is in the financial world. Only the Internet (Bloomberg) and some highly specialized television news (CNBC) deliver the timely news of global developments that is required by international investors in order to respond to market reactions. The print version is only good for after-the-fact analysis, although at least one Wednesday Nighter swears by the International Herald Tribune and FT (both of which are available on line).
For some, advocacy is best accomplished through print media; a politician, or someone in authority, pays more attention to a newspaper in the hand that mentions his or her name and illustrates the subject with a photograph of a real person who has suffered an injustice. [But, it is hard to deny the global power of the online petition like Avaaz] For others, there is a question of accuracy – news on the Internet is too often posted in the interests of immediacy, before facts are checked.
Conclusions
The generation that has grown up with electronics wants fast news clips, leading to a decline in news analysis. The print medium continues to survive because the mechanism for online reading has not as yet caught up with the printed page. Readers under 25 absorb information in a totally different manner than do their parents and grandparents. They are intelligent, they have highly developed multi-tasking skills – they can divide and concentrate at an unbelievable rate – and they think differently. Advertisers and the information media, if they are to survive, will have to adapt to this reality.

Although it is Man who has conceived and created technology, technology changes us,- it is not neutral-, in the manner in which we process information and can, if we permit it, restrict the manner in which we view the world.

The markets
Recent sudden shifts from financials to oil to soft commodities and back make it impossible to predict what will happen next, other than a bumpy road and continued unease.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1377"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson July 30, 2008 at 8:18 am · Reply

    Ad Slowdown Crushes Some, Leaves Others Unscathed. What Gives? (Silicon Alley Insider)
    It’s been a dismal year for ad-supported businesses, but not everyone is getting hurt. Those worst off are (a) exposed primarily to the U.S. ad market, and (b) have the most print and TV in their portfolios. Who’s not getting hurt? Those heavily weighted in growing, international regions. And industries benefiting from the shift of dollars away from traditional media — such as digital, search, marketing services, and PR.

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