Monday, December 07, 2009

James Howard Clears Out November, Part II

Why so serious?

Yes, we're now a week into December, and as such it is about twenty below outside. I'm quite fine with this! It is Winnipeg, and it is December, and last December this city was a frozen hell. So anything keeping our windchill above minus thirty is fine as far as I'm concerned!

Yeah, how about that weather, look what a great writer I am. On to some actual content!

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but -- geez, that could be the blog motto at this point -- you know I love you, but you're beginning to get a reputation for being a little... low-rent, let's say. A little money-grubbing; a little cheap.

Folks do seem to understand that times are tough for the newspaper industry all around, and that's why you had to cut the Sunday paper. Replacing it with an alternately-branded Sunday paper that they had to pay for? Little less goodwill for that decision, but hey, if you need the money.

And cutting the Monday paper back to a three-section, maybe-fourty-page installment, with advertisements taking up the clear majority of the available space? Not very impressive, no, but then I guess you couldn't have kept the Sunday paper and ran On7 on Mondays instead. That would have just been silly.

You can see how the ol' Free Press isn't quite driving on a full tank of goodwill, at the moment, and with subscribers already on edge I suppose the little things just become more noticeable. And so it was that I received an email, a week or so ago, from a household of longtime Free Press subscribers who just couldn't help but notice a change in their new "Weekend Edition" of the Saturday Free Press.

One week their paper arrived with the staples missing out of the TV guide, and they dismissed it initially as a one-off. The staples were still missing in week two, which raised some red flags -- then a third week passed, and a fourth, so after the first month of this they sent an email to Bob Cox expressing their frustration.

Canceling the Sunday paper as a drastic but necessary step to stem the tide of financial distress and navigate the new economic climate? Okay, that's one thing. Looking at the bottom line and honestly deciding that it's time to cut back on staples? That is cheap, son. That is some Ebenezer Scrooge shit right there.

To his credit, Cox responded to their inquiries, but he didn't exactly win them over with his explanation: the TV guide was switched to a larger format to cater to older readers, you see, because older folks can't read so well. This was apparently an actual request from the readerbase, so no problem there so far. But then the bigger format meant they had to use a different machine, and apparently they never bought a stapler for that machine, so they're kind of up the creek.

He conceded that the staples have been a concern for multiple readers, but concluded by suggesting -- not that they'll buy a stapler, and not that the staples are for sure coming back -- he concluded by suggesting that they're looking into how much it would cost to add a stapler to the new machine.

That... really doesn't help, does it? That explanation actually makes everything seem dumber, the longer you think about it. (I'm putting aside for now the immediate knee-jerk reaction of "AW, THEM BOOMERS AND SENIORS RUININ' EVERYTHING, WHY THEY GOTTA DO THAT". We'll save that for another conversation, one on the environment or the economy or pensions or the health care system or something.)

If you knew you were expanding the size of the TV guide, why didn't you expand it to a size that you can put staples into? You send On7 out stapled every week, so why not print the TV guide through whatever machine puts that size out? And then I looked through some back issues and couldn't help but notice that a lot of the advertising supplements included in the paper are quite blatantly stapled; what's the deal with that? Are you printing those through a different machine from all the other machines? Why not print the TV guide at one of their sizes? Or is all the commercial printing done off-site, like each business just rolls up at headquarters with their flyers already printed and stapled for you to send them out? The Canadian Tire guide's got some nice staples in it -- you should ask them if you could borrow a stapler!

But don't worry, readers; they aren't too cheap to give out the staples, they're just too cheap to have... bought the... stapler. There's, uh, there's clearly a world of difference there.

While I'm on the subject of reader mail and unimpressive local developments -- I got a message from a fellow who recently drove into the States and back, and he wanted to notify me of a Winnipeg advertising campaign that he'd noticed popping up along the I-29.

Culture on Every Corner is a local marketing initiative that apparently involved eight Winnipeg non-profit arts organizations, four local design agencies, and a budget of about $60,000. Now, it's actually not too bad, from the looks of things -- and certainly a step up from the usual promotional efforts we've had to put up with around here -- but I must note that I do find the choice of introductory photo to be a little, er... suspect.

Yeah, wow. Looks like quaaludes are the hot gift item this holiday season.

Can you imagine what this pictured conversation would actually sound like? Man, there's a short story waiting to happen.

Likewise, I'm sure there must be a really funny story behind the process meeting that led to that signpost there.

"Okay, guys! We need to draw up a definitive list of the qualities that emphasize Winnipeg's cultural superiority over all the other cities in Canada! What does Winnipeg have?"
"Theatre! Good! I'm gonna write that one down on the board. What else?"

Interesting choice of venue for the promotional shot, too, isn't it? Listed on the photoshopped sign in the picture: "Chamber Orchestra", "Museum", "Opera", "Theatre", "Ballet", "Symphony", "More Theatre", and "Art Gallery". Actual establishments portrayed in the picture: the Radisson Hotel, the Dominion News convenience store, and some unused storefront. And the knowledge that this scenery shot would have been taken directly in front of the Avenue Building is probably somebody's idea of a joke.

But, anyway, best of luck to them. When the aforementioned reader had very kindly emailed me about the site, I had told him that I would sit on it for now -- partially because it looks like an okay site, but mostly because it wouldn't have the opportunity to wear on me unless I'd have to put up with it every day.

And of course, within a week of me saying that, guess what I see on the side of a city bus? Sure enough -- these two jokers in this picture, laughing in the haze of their blurry, mythical Winnipeg where oddly-shadowed floating signs direct them to cultural institutions.

Fine. You want to talk about the culture on every corner? I've got your culture right here.

(You'll note that a couple of these images will have snow in them, while most of them won't; I took them in the span of a few days, during which time there was a snowfall that threw off their consistency completely. But fortunately for me, the big news story at the time was Google Street View rolling out their hilariously inconsistent gallery of Winnipeg photos -- so let's just pretend I stole them from there, because it's funnier that way.)

I've been working in the west side of the Exchange District for the past few months now, and every time I walk to and from work I can never help but notice all the different, er, expressions of creativity and artistic integrity along the way.

Some of it is highminded and intellectual.

Some of it is... not.

And some of it masterfully straddles that balance between really clever and really stupid just so.

But, mostly, the two camps fight.

And that, as sort of a tangent, is when you start to understand how extravagantly useless our Mayor has been in the years since his reelection. One of his campaign promises -- his actual, legitimate, I'm-not-even-making-this-up promises -- was to correct the traffic lights in this city, and instead he actually made things worse by installing photo radar cameras and then specifically going in and rigging the lights to ring up more ticket money. (Mind you, that's only according to a retired police officer -- but that guy was only a traffic cop for ten years, so what the hell would he know.)

And another of Mayor Katz's visionary, big-thinker campaign promises was an anti-graffiti action plan -- I'm not even kidding, this was the platform he got re-elected on -- and he couldn't even get that right. I swear, all he promised were the simplest little things, and even those were beyond his reach; he promised to curb graffiti, and now even the graffiti is covered in graffiti.

The taggers are increasingly running out of places to put tags. Either that, or the graffiti removal in this town is so laggard that the other graffiti artists draw over it just to try and change things up around here. This is what we've come to.

Good thing the Mayor banned the sale of spraypaint to minors, though, huh? Think of how much better you feel knowing that you're only seeing the graffiti of mature, responsible adults!

But, now, to be fair -- surely, surely, knowing that the Mayor's stated mandate is to combat graffiti, there's no way he'd let this stand if he could actually see it. Right? These pictures clearly must have been taken in well-cloaked out-of-the-way trouble spots, because our Mayor is a serious Mayor and his City commands the utmost respect of its youth. By cracky, if these hooligans and ruffians were leaving their marks in obvious spots -- why, the City would crack down on them and clean up their act lickety-split!

Just what kind of negligent owners would let their derelict property come to this?

It... I... it...

Go away. Just... just go away. They've broken my spirit. Go away. I have nothing.

Oh, lord, Winnipeg.

Welp! Anyway. I think that's everything from November that I'd wanted to mention, so it's good to get all that out of the way! Now I can move on to other items of pressing importance, and in particular I have some interesting historical local material that I'm really looking forward to sharing with you guys.

Just... as soon as I can get it open.


some other chris said...

Truth be told, I was one of the readers that complained to get a larger TV guide. Not because I'm old and can't read, but because the grid format was useless. The program names were truncated down to be meaningless -- f'rinstance, half of the listings for Food Network read "Chef".

Of course, my request wasn't for a bigger print size, it was to dump the grid and go back to proper listings...

(It's still useless at the larger size, IMHO, especially in the weekday listings that show as "Various Programs". Make an effort, Freep!)

Anonymous said...

On7 isn't stapled lol

unless somehow i've been buying the unstapled version.

James Howard said...

Seriously? Wow, that's weak. That is weak.

Couldn't they print it Uptown-sized, then? I know they print Uptown from the same location, and I know at least the last time I checked Uptown still had staples in it. I'll grant I made the assumption, perhaps erroneously, that On7 and Uptown are the same size; that's the risk I take by not buying it, I suppose.