Dear editor: there is a life after palooza

There is something reassuring about the ritual of fetching the Hamilton Spectator from our doorstep each morning and having a quick browse through the local news. And we really want to support our local paper-- but Sexapalooza has made it tough.

Yep, after running banner ads all last week for the consumer show, there is an article this morning on Sexapalooza complete with photograph. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it, but we find this sort of thing hard to laugh off. We'd be sorry to drop the Spec, but it's tiresome childproofing it every day. We stopped subscribing to home delivery of the Globe and Mail years ago for that reason.

Last month, Canada’s Globe and Mail had a report about female sexual response. The headline seemed to indicate that it was about relationships; one of those the-way-to turn-on-your-wife-is-to-wash-the-dishes articles that I like to read in order to gloat, because my husband is the type who cheerfully shares the burden of housework.

When I clicked on it I was surprised– not so much by the fact that it was a very technical article about physiology, but by the accompanying photograph. It was a picture of the female scientist who conducted the study. Behind her was a television that displayed a screen shot of what was quite evidently hard-core pornography.

I’m only too grateful that I was reading the Globe online and could click off quickly before any of my kids saw it. Imagine if you purchase home delivery of a newspaper that arrives every morning at six. One morning, your nine year old pads downstairs before anyone else is up. He opens the front door to fetch it and look for the comics to enjoy with his Weetabix. Imagine what a world of possible images he may wade through in order to find what he’s looking for.

Does it not occur to the editors of newspapers that this could well be one of the reasons for what appears to be their imminent demise? The failure to uphold what we used to know as community standards may turn out to have been a very large failure indeed. It is one reason why our own household does not receive any of the big dailies at our door. When the Spec comes we pitch the classifieds in order to avoid making the numbers in the phone sex ads immediately available to those in our home who have a normal level of childish curiosity. How effective can classified advertising in papers be when parents across the country (we can’t possibly be the only ones) are pitching it out?

Even in the main body of the local paper, I’ve had to remove pages -- one story about pole-dancing for fun and fitness comes to mind (did we mothers protect our daughters from the Pussycat Dolls for naught?), as do various items about the more questionable goings-on of some movie stars. Really, is there any reason to print days-old news about what they were doing with whom at which club? Those who are interested can find it online at TMZ or Perez Hilton. My little ones don’t need to see it before they go to school.

And if I’m interested in local news without having to take the scissors to what I’m reading, I can find it online, too– not only in the online Spec. Raise the Hammer, a locally run web magazine, is an excellent source of local Hamilton news, run by volunteers, with no ads right now. (Declaration of interest: Like the Spectator, they sometimes publish my commentary.) I can read about both Canada and the world from any number of online sources, mainstream and not, with the benefit of Mozilla’s Adblocker and No Scripts.

It’s not that parents like me object to advertising in itself. It’s just that when we’re surfing in the kitchen and kids are around, we have absolutely no confidence that the ads and pictures popping up on even mainstream publications will be appropriate for young eyes that may be peering over our shoulders.

Which leads to the question: how can a publication effectively market itself as a vehicle for advertising if the advertising is going to be blocked, or if a page containing advertising won’t be visited online because of its content? Just today I found out that a smaller version of that Globe and Mail photograph I mentioned above is still up on another page on their website. That’s one page I won’t be clicking on for a good long while, now -- not until I’m pretty sure that obscene picture isn’t up anymore. A page like that may get a lot of clicks from unsupervised twelve year-olds, but they don’t make household purchases. I, on the other hand, do.

I agree with MercatorNet’s Brian Lilley when he writes that we need the professional approach of trained journalists and the daily publications they run. To be sure this is preferable to an online wild west of biased reporting and special interest commentary. But perhaps part of the remedy for struggling media is for journalists, editors and publishers to see themselves as not only guardians of the truth, but guardians of the truth for future generations.

They can be writers of history who recognize the role they play in shaping the hearts and minds of young people and who take that responsibility seriously, by taking real care of their content and advertising. If they do this, maybe more readers will be willing to take them seriously as a whole again, instead of cancelling subscriptions or selectively reading only what suits them and blocking or discarding the rest.

Michelle Martin writes from Hamilton, Ontario.


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