The day after Thanksgiving. No, wait. Thanksgiving.

November 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm | In business, social_critique | 3 Comments

Today is Black Friday. It has for a long time been the start of the Holiday shopping season, and, went the thinking, if retailers could get shoppers into stores today – the day after our Thanksgiving holiday – they had a reasonable chance of getting “in the black,” that is, having a profitable season.

Black Friday was supposed to be a kind of litmus test that would indicate whether consumers were willing to spend enough in the remaining days of the holiday season to bring up retailer profits (or whether there would be any profits at all).

Well, that’s obviously all gone out the window because now some stores are opening on Thanksgiving. In a seemingly continuous non-stop race to the bottom, Thanksgiving, which had a certain magic about it because it was non-religious and non-gifting (i.e., not linked to shopping),  is now removed from that privileged place of non-consumption. Instead, it’s more and more a day like any other: Go forth and shop.

As one 18-year old Thanksgiving shopper put it while standing online with a pal at a suburban Chicago mall, “Thanksgiving dinner is over…  And there’s nothing else to do.” (source) I seriously expected her to say, “Thanksgiving dinner is so over,” that is: we’re not doing that anymore.

Which brings me to another pet peeve: the so-called politically correct crowd that gets its kicks from pointing out that white settlers screwed the indigenous population, that this happened at “the original” Thanksgiving, and that therefore all Thanksgiving festivities are a sham if not outright a white man’s plot to keep injustice alive.

I have news for you, dear Leftie comrades of mine: you are the latter-day stirrup holders of the bourgeoisie, except now you’re holding the stirrups for the oligarchic disrupter class. Your corrosive criticism of Thanksgiving as a “white man’s” holiday that somehow represents the oppression of Native populations is the hand that reaches across an ever-diminishing Thanksgiving gathering table to shake the hand of today’s ultra-capitalism.

Hey, if Thanksgiving is just a sham, if Thanksgiving isn’t actually the nice holiday we were told it was, then why not turn it into a day like any other? And so the capitalist disrupter smiles, sits down to his fully-larded table, while the rest of us are harried into ever-greater sacrifices …for the effing economy!

Excuse me while my head explodes.

To whit: yesterday I read an article in one of my favorite news sources that claimed it was ok to shop on Thanksgiving because the economy needs it. (source) Who is this “economy” and why does it need my blood? Ok, that’s a silly rhetorical question because of course I know why it needs my and your blood. But really? This is the best case the writer can make? It was also interesting to me, an immigrant twice over (first to Canada, then to the U.S.) to see the author, who was born in the U.S. but is of Indian extraction, born to immigrant parents, bolster her case this way:

Some countries actually embrace the US system of more work, less pay. Multinationals especially deal with large variances in different countries’ holiday calendars. Their solution often is to offer a more liberal number of personal days so employees can pick and choose the holidays of importance to them. In countries such as India—which, like the United States, has a polyglot of faiths and cultures across its workforce—some state governments have been trying to limit the number of official holidays. [emphasis added]

Well, if you don’t celebrate any religious holiday, I’m fine with that. But Thanksgiving was never an expressly religious holiday – it has nothing to do with “polyglot[s] of faiths and cultures.” It was simply a holiday: a day to stop, cook a good meal, sit down together, break bread, be peaceful (just for a bit), and give thanks. That’s all.

But now, here we are: in all, Thanksgiving has been “exposed” by my Leftie friends as a vile white man’s holiday whose origins lie in the oppression of Native populations; youthful “innovators” tell us that the economy needs us to go shopping; and “disrupters” of all stripes tell us that we live in an age of extreme personalization, whether it’s in the Quantified Self movement or our social media personae, so why shouldn’t I pick and choose the holidays, too? I mean, isn’t social media all about creating my tribe, man, that ultra-personal self-expression of mine that’s just about the effing same as everybody else’s, except I can spend personalized money on mine? If I’ve got my tribe, why should I bother with something as corny (and destructive to our holier-than-thou 1%-enriching economy) as a non-gifting, non-shopping, boring old dinner-based holiday? (And by the way: if everybody is off in their personal and personalized tribe, there will be no more unions, and without unionized bargaining power, there will be more oppression of people, irrespective of whether their skin color is white or brown or black or anything in between. Continue to splinter into tribes, children, and The Man will eat your effing lunch.)

As for the argument that shopping shopping shopping consumption consumption consumption is absolutely necessary to keep the economy going, ask yourself what kind of economy we’re enabling. Heck, back in the day that swine Henry Ford at least made sure his workers made enough money to buy a family car. Today’s equivalent industry moguls? Not so much. (see this) We’re all in love with the Creepy Crawleys of Downton Abbey, worshiping their wealth and “glamor.” But even they took better care of “their” workers than the Waltons of Wal-Mart do.

Was tun? you may ask. Well, there is Buy Nothing Day, although I have to admit it always sat the wrong way with me (not sure why).  And there’s the buy local movement (see Katrina Scotto di Carlo’s excellent talk at Portland Oregon’s Creative Mornings).

Beyond that, it’s up to government and law makers to create protections for workers. Not sure however that there’s much to be done about the sheeple who take advantage of all the glorious opportunities to buy ever more junk no one (not even they themselves) need.

Do you have a pet?

March 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm | In business, health, victoria | Comments Off on Do you have a pet?

I spent today at the USANA Cross Regional Conference in Vancouver. Lots of engaging, interesting speakers who spoke about the wellness industry and a changing economic landscape that makes individual entrepreneurship and business ownership increasingly important. The event continues tomorrow – more on that in a bit.

First, though, I want to tell friends in Victoria BC about a USANA Lunch + Learn event that my team is hosting this Monday (3/28) from noon to 1pm at Chinatown’s Eco-Design Gallery (17 1/2 Fan Tan Alley): Pet Nutrition with Guest Speaker Cari McCune.


(click image to open PDF invitation)


This is bound to be a fun and informative event, presented by someone who’s passionate about animal health and welfare. As always, it will be followed by a delicious lunch catered by the Dan Hayes, aka the London Chef.

I’m sending this to my Victoria friends, but with the Vancouver conference happening right now, I got a bit behind in getting this information out. So here’s the thing: if you’re in Victoria and want to attend this Monday’s Lunch+Learn, you must RSVP to me by 5pm tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon. Click through on the invitation for details. You’ll note there’s a cost involved, but I’m extending two invitations to attend as my guest – I’m looking for two people who are really keen on preserving (or restoring) their pets’ health. Leave a comment, send me an email, get in touch if this is you! Invites going out on a first-come basis! 😉

Back to Vancouver and the USANA XRC (Cross Regional Conference): tomorrow morning’s session is open to the public. I’d love to see some of my Vancouver friends there.

Details available on this PDF flyer, but briefly, tomorrow’s open-to-the-public morning session, “A Commitment to Excellence,” starts at 10am and goes to 12:30pm. It’s happening at the Vancouver Convention Centre in the East Ballroom A-C. There are four speakers, including Mark Wilson (Executive VP of Sales) and Dr Tim Wood (Executive VP of R&D).

You will be entertained and informed, believe me. So stop by tomorrow morning, text me on my mobile (we’re Facebook friends, right?, so you have my number), and say hi!

Dying Downtown Victoria BC Part 3

March 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm | In business, dying_downtown, land_use, victoria | 10 Comments

Welcome to the third in a series of now three posts about Victoria BC’s dying downtown. Read the first one here (3/21/11) and the second here (3/22/11).

As you can see in the second post, one of my commenters on Facebook remarked that for her, that stretch of Fort Street isn’t really downtown. I answered that it is officially a part of downtown – it’s in the Harris Green neighborhood. Also, my photos included the 700 and 800 blocks of Fort Street, and if that’s not downtown, nothing is.

I would argue that if people don’t think of it as “downtown,” it’s because it doesn’t look like a downtown.

To prove my point, take a look at the photo below (let’s call it Exhibit A):

I’ll have a lot to say about this scene in just a sec, but first, allow me to show you the other six already-empty or endangered storefronts on that same stretch of Fort Street, except this time the south side of the street (my first post in this series looked at the same blocks on the north side of the street).

Once again, we start at Fort and Cook Streets, heading east (this time on the south side of the street). First, a clothing boutique (which used to be in the 700 block of Fort a while back) is closing:

Next up, a high-end antiques place. The owner has had the building on the market for a while – don’t let the faux Tudorbethan decoration fool you, this is a plain cinderblock box. It’s just the front facade that has been prettied up:

Right next door is a real disgrace: the ex-Little Piggy, which has been an empty eyesore for going on years now:

Again, the Tudorbethan facade is just tacked on. The building itself is nothing much – and has been on the market for a while.

Alright, heading further east, we hit the 900 block where a new building recently completed. One retail space has been leased, but the other is still waiting for a tenant. At least this is a quality building (but rents are therefore accordingly steep, tough for indie businesses to enter into):

Leaving the 900 block behind, we’ve now crossed Quadra Street and are continuing toward Blanshard. On this block (800) we see a couple of holes:

And, same block:

Finally, in the 700 block (between Blanshard and Douglas Streets), the tacky frontage shown in the first photo that headed up this entry:

As you can see, if you compare my first Dying Downtown Victoria BC entry and this one, the empty storefronts exist on both sides of the street, and the 900, 800, and 700 blocks in particular are by any definition downtown.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Let’s take another look at the picture I started with:

Look at it. What you see here is what is basically a tiny little lot with a tiny little structure on it – one can’t even deign to call it a building – which in any other market would be bulldozer bait. This is a one-story thing – it houses two retail units: one of them happens to be rented out at the moment, while the other one has gone bust and is empty. …And will probably stay that way for a long time.

Now, in any  normal world, this structure would be torn down and developed because it’s right downtown, it’s sitting on incredibly valuable land. But instead, what we do here in Victoria, is we allow a one-story waste-of-space space waster to continue existing downtown.

So what should the city do?

Well, how about this?

Instead of enabling property owners like the one who owns the property in this picture to continue propagating this kind of decay downtown, why not say to him or her, “You know what? We’re going to put tax incentives in place so that you can develop this property. Forget about height restrictions, you can go as tall as you can need to make the numbers work, but let it be known that we are going to hold your feet to the fire for a real quality product. It has to be a total quality product. You don’t have the height restrictions, you don’t have the density restrictions, so in exchange you have to include rental components and on the street frontage you have to include retail spaces that are specifically affordable for local businesses. So. How about this, Mr or Ms Developer? You build something that’s anywhere in the 15- to 20-story range, or whatever it takes to make the numbers work. Your building is on a very small lot, so you have only a tiny footprint to work with. So the top 4 to 6 stories could be given over to duplex-style penthouse condos that you can sell at a premium, another 3 to 5 stories below the top 6 floors could be smaller condos, while everything below that is given over to rental, including market rental and a healthy percentage (30%?) of subsidized rental. And, as mentioned, at street level, we have retail. Ok, Mr or Ms Developer, go and make those numbers work. See what you can come up with. See how tall it has to be, and then get back to us and we’ll make sure it moves through the approvals process, pronto.”

That’s what I would do, and that’s my advice to the City. And I won’t even charge a consulting fee.*

…Although, if someone wants to hire me in some such capacity, I’m available… 😉

Furthermore, if you did that with one site, other bulldozer-bait sites in the vicinity would also get the message and finally get developed.

Maybe, just maybe, if our downtown actually looked like one and if people could actually live there once again (we currently have fewer people living downtown than we did in the early 1970s!), we’d begin to treasure it. But as long as we have asinine restrictions that not only keep the built form low but also depress the entire ecosystem of the city, as long as we have councilors who cling to some weird notion of low-rise density, and as long as we have NIMBYs in the surrounding neighborhoods who scream blue murder because a highrise is going up downtown, we will continue to create market conditions that are inimical to human economic life downtown.

Dying Downtown Victoria BC followup conversations

March 22, 2011 at 10:55 pm | In business, dying_downtown, land_use, victoria | 3 Comments

Yesterday’s post (Dying Downtown Victoria BC) generated a fair bit of comment on Facebook. I decided to take screenshots of the comments and post them here. (However, since I haven’t had time to ask the people who commented whether they were ok with having their comments taken from Facebook’s walled garden into the open access world of the blog, I erased their names.)

First, a friend “shared” my link to his page, which produced the first comments string, below (with names erased in yellow). This is followed by the comments posted to my Facebook page (names erased in blue).





^ That’s from a friend’s page.

Below, comments from my page:






FYI: about a year or so ago, I had a most interesting chat with a retired City Hall employee who had worked his way up from literally digging ditches for the City as an 18-year old to going into engineering. One of his hobbies was researching land titles. From what he told me, I got the impression that the city doesn’t have a real data base on who owns what (which was echoed by a woman who tried to find out from City Hall how many rental units there were in Victoria: the City couldn’t tell her). Anyway, my contact was quite insistent that a lot of property is in family hands and hasn’t changed ownership in several generations. The heirs can make more money sitting on half-empty buildings, charging high rents for the storefronts, than they would if they tried to redevelop their properties (or even sell them). The tax structure is set up to make it more attractive to hold and let decay than to develop. Add to this the mania we have about height restrictions and not allowing density, and perhaps a pattern emerges…



Dying Downtown Victoria BC

March 21, 2011 at 8:26 pm | In architecture, business, dying_downtown, johnson street bridge, land_use, scenes_victoria, victoria | 12 Comments

If downtown Victoria BC storefronts were teeth, this city would need a new bridge.

…Oh, wait. That’s a bad joke (see posts tagged with Johnson Street Bridge)… We are getting a new bridge. But as the following photos will show, what we really need is economic revitalization.

This afternoon, I was walking down Fort Street to Monk’s at Fort and Blanshard. I passed one empty storefront after another – just on one side of the street, just on one street, just on three-and-a-half blocks.

This is what many parts of downtown Victoria look like.

We start at Fort and Cook Streets, the northeast corner, before we head east on Fort St. (we’re traveling on the north side of the street).


We see 1090 Fort St, and there isn’t just one empty storefront, but two.

This is Kona Coffee Shop – or rather: was. Now gone.


Next up, same building:

This used to be a hair salon. Even a hair salon can't survive here?


Next up, in a small, low building a few doors down:


Charles Baird Antiques – closed


The next one’s demise (just a few doors down) was new-to-me:

Plenty Epicurean Pantry will be closing next. 🙁


Nearly next-door to Plenty (ironic name) is the Korean specialty clothing boutique that closed earlier this year. The sign claims that someone new is taking over, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Right now, the place is empty and bereft:


Specialty knits boutique – closed earlier this year.


Ok, we’re still in the same block (1000s), and here’s another place that has been sitting empty for months and months:


This used to be a niche home decor store. Has been empty for months. No new takers.


Ok, we now come to the 800 block of Fort St. (The 900 block on the north side of Fort is mostly surface parking lots – next to Lund’s – and a grassy trash-lot in front of View Towers. So, there are only a few stores in that block anyway…)


Seeing that this one is closing was a shocker: it's a Korean grocer, next to a French butcher. Why is it closing?


A couple of doors down, there’s the carpet place, which recently started claiming that it was closing. Probably just a ploy, but I thought I’d include this to replace Marvan (in the 1100 block of Fort, on the south side), which is closing, sadly:

I'm guessing this store isn't really closing. It's just a cheap ploy to convince rubes there are deals to be had.

The alleged going-out-of-business carpet store did take over (in a most unattractive manner) an empty storefront next door – yes, another one, and it has been empty for …what?, years now?

The ex-Miroirs home furnishings store, an empty storefront for months upon months, currently being used by the carpet store two doors up (the carpet store that's claiming to go out of business, too)…


Now we’re in the 700 block of Fort. I can’t even remember what this store used to be – but it’s empty, and will probably stay that way for ages…

Empty storefront in 700 block of Fort St.


And next door to the above, the former Cairo Coffee Merchants, defunct:

Cairo Coffee Merchants, closed, empty, …for how long?

Ok, that was depressing.

It never fails to amaze me that Victoria is full of attractive neighborhoods, bounded by gorgeous scenery that’s unparalleled.

But go downtown, and you have to wonder why Victorians hate their city so much that they let it die.

Note: this post is the first of a series of three – it just kind of happened that way. Part 2 is here and part 3 is here.

Will you still love me if I sell what I love to use?

January 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm | In business | 3 Comments

Not since a high school summer job have I done anything connected to sales, and I hemmed and hawed mightily over how I could incorporate something as new-to-me (that’s a kindly way of saying “alien”) as network marketing or direct sales into my life.

But incorporate it I have, even if I’m not yet sure how to express it. So bear with me…

Over the past five+ months, I’ve become a dedicated (and I mean dedicated) user of Usana products: the Essentials (nutritional supplements), the Sensé skin and hair care line, and a variety of the diet and energy products. They’re all great – and I’ve benefited a lot from them. I feel better, more energetic, haven’t been sick for yonks (even though I’m around people who are), and look pretty good, too, imnsho. 🙂

Ok, so I’m a fan. I love the products.

But can I sell them? Can I reach people who want to sell them?

The DNA of network marketing is that you “clone” yourself: you find other people who want to sell the product, too. Instead of opening bricks-and-mortar stores, you and your friends and like-minded allies are the sales force. Can I clone myself?

It’s a system that does work – if you can do it. Frankly, I’m still figuring it out. And keep in mind that I’m simultaneously trying to re-style my intellectual thinking cap, too …while popping those amazing supplements, of course! Meanwhile, at the back of my head there’s my inner Adorno, the über-critic bemoaning my capitulation to sales and capitalism. Like, this is news that I’m a capitalist? No, of course not. But inner voices are funny that way.

Here in Victoria we have a fab team of people who use and sell the Usana line. It’s really a team-like, cooperative effort, and we host monthly events (the lunchtime “Lunch & Learn” and the  “spa” evenings). This month, heading into the new year, we’re doing a Reset Challenge. The team put together a great information flyer (PDF), and I wrote a little blurb about it on my other site (the one that has been “under construction” for months and months – I plan to change that this year, promise).

I can unreservedly recommend the entire Usana brand.

There. I said it. And I’m selling it, too.

What about widgets?

July 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm | In business, creativity, futurismo, green, ideas, innovation | 3 Comments

I go to my local YMCA a lot, and every time I’m there I think about energy use: how much energy I could be generating, how much I’m using, how much others are using.

My “plus” membership entitles me to use the sauna and steam room, and I get towel service, too (yes! – love that, because it means less shlepping and less laundry at home!). I use the steam room regularly – since we’re having an unseasonably cool summer it’s welcome, even in July. However, the ladies change room has poor air circulation, and in the summer (even a cool one like this) it gets hot in there. Furthermore, every time we users open the doors to the steam room or the sauna, the escaping hot air contributes to heating the changing and shower area, and the upshot is that the Y is running additional oscillating fans in our change room.

So, to recap: the steam room uses energy, the sauna uses energy, the blow dryers provided by the Y use energy, and now the fans – meant to give the illusion of cooling all this heat that we’re producing through our energy use, also use energy.

Meanwhile, when I’m upstairs on the elliptical trainer – along with scores of others on treadmills, stationary bikes, stairmasters, and rowing machines (it’s a pretty swell facility!) – I could be generating energy, couldn’t I?

Which brings me to…



I’m in love with shiny new technology products (even if I can’t afford them), and long ago drank the Kool-Aid regarding social media platforms and the importance of ‘markets as conversations.’

But lately those things have begun feeling “bubbly” – that is, not too-too solid enough. Today, the spouse sent along an article by Andy Grove, How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late. In my mind, Grove’s arguments tie in with Jeff Rubin‘s criticism of globalization, and they also relate to what bothers me when I’m at the Y thinking about energy use.

It’s all about what we’re making (another social media platform that lets us communicate?) and where we’re making it (if it’s not another Foursquare, is it a widget and who will scale it?). As Grove observes:

Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs.

When I think of energy use at the Y, I’m thinking not of platforms that let me tell you what I think about energy use at the Y. I’m thinking of widgets that would make it easy to measure energy use, for example, so that it becomes less risky for individual users (home owners or building managers) to install efficiencies. The next step – staying with Andy Grove’s call to arms – means thinking about what happens after some tinkerer in a garage invents a measuring device. Where does it get manufactured, and who gets to be employed doing so? Jeff Rubin argued that the cost of oil will eventually force countries like the US to re-introduce manufacturing at home because it will just get too expensive to ship raw materials from one continent to another, and the finished product to yet a third.

While I sweat in the steam room, I might think about what it would mean to have efficient “air curtains” installed just outside the steam room and sauna doors – air curtains that capture the escaping heat when doors open, and recirculate that heat for hot water use. But how or why would anyone install such a thing – even if it readily existed, although you could adapt and reverse engineer the air curtains that some stores use – without having widgets or gadgets capable of calculating, predicting, and (most importantly) measuring, to provide immediate feedback to calibrate energy use? If you don’t have the feedback (measurement), it’s just …hot air!

As I blogged a while back in Creating Value Through Sustainability, Eric Hespenheide said it best: “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”

We’re desperately ignorant most of the time of our energy use, if we bother to think about it at all. I’m pretty sure I’m a weirdo in taking three consecutive Bikram yoga classes and then stopping because I thought the energy footprint of that type of yoga is outrageous. (And I also thought the hot room was a gimmick.) Doing hot yoga, you need to be clean (showered) before you start (hot water, towels, soap) because even incipient bad BO is going to knock out the others as you start to sweat like mad. After the class, you need to launder whatever you wore (no way you’re wearing it again unwashed) and you need to shower again (more soap products, more hot water, more towels/ laundry). The amount of energy needed to heat the yoga room to the required temperature is crazy, as are the HVAC requirements (unless you very quickly want a moldy building). (And incidentally, where do the Bikramites and others get off doing competitive yoga? Maybe I’m missing something…)

But enough of yoga and sports.

We need to measure what we use. “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.” To do that, you need tools.

Who’s building the tools? On a big scale?

Manufacturing today takes place elsewhere, not in North America. Grove again:

The job-machine breakdown isn’t just in computers. Consider alternative energy, an emerging industry where there is plenty of innovation. Photovoltaics, for example, are a U.S. invention. Their use in home-energy applications was also pioneered by the U.S.

Last year, I decided to do my bit for energy conservation and set out to equip my house with solar power. My wife and I talked with four local solar firms. As part of our due diligence, I checked where they get their photovoltaic panels — the key part of the system. All the panels they use come from China. A Silicon Valley company sells equipment used to manufacture photo-active films. They ship close to 10 times more machines to China than to manufacturers in the U.S., and this gap is growing. Not surprisingly, U.S. employment in the making of photovoltaic films and panels is perhaps 10,000 — just a few percent of estimated worldwide employment. (source)

I bet any tinkerer in his/ her garage working out the kind of measuring widgets I’d like to see every homeowner and building supervisor have at his/ her fingertips is going to end up getting the widgets manufactured in China, too. Just read Grove’s section on Advanced Batteries to see where we’re heading. He argues that “abandoning today’s ‘commodity’ [battery, or television] manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow’s emerging industry.” That is, innovation needs an ecosystem – and we’ve got a pretty good one on the social media platform front, but it could be looking better when it comes to widgets. If you drop in on your local gym, you can even see that for yourself.

Job markets

June 22, 2010 at 11:20 pm | In business, just_so, victoria | Comments Off on Job markets

On June 20, the local paper (Times-Colonist) published a fascinating letter-to-the-editor by Reed Kirkpatrick, Connections everything in this job market. Kirkpatrick’s letter was a rebuttal to an earlier June 13 article by Maclean Kay, Rooting for the promised labour shortage. Kay’s somewhat rambling article eventually focused on a recent prediction about a coming labor shortage, and included (on page 2) the following bit:

Victoria’s job market is breathtakingly tight and what is available tends to be scandalously low-paying — I found an ad asking for a chef with 10 years’ experience and offering $10 an hour. Victoria is also an infamously cliquey town; if you don’t know the person who posted the ad, you’re probably not getting the job.

That’s not to say networking isn’t important or worthwhile, but there’s networking and there’s something more like employment incest.

“Employment incest” – that’s an excellent turn of phrase! Kay ends, however, on an optimistic note: that “an influx of well-trained, educated, talented job seekers” will be a “healthy correction” of Victoria’s job market.

Will it? Can it?

Kirkpatrick’s letter takes issue with Kay: been there, done that, he seems to be saying. He goes back to 2002 (incidentally the year that I moved back to Victoria) to describe a Times-Colonist initiative of publishing a “Jobs Wanted” section during that period’s 7% unemployment rate labor market. He describes how, in 2001, the BC government had laid many people off, which flooded the labor market with …um, “well-trained, educated, talented job seekers” (to use Kay’s words). And who got jobs in that climate? The well-connected:

Realizing that as an independent consultant I would experience difficulty in finding work, I contacted a number of professional people from the Jobs Wanted section. Eventually, we incorporated a business: our bread and butter would be bidding on government contracts. After submitting a number of unsuccessful proposals, we opted for a “debriefing.” I vividly recall being informed “your company had the best proposal but we had never heard of you.” I interpreted this to mean that we were not sufficiently connected.

I’ve heard the same thing from quite a few people. Jobs are also described in such narrow terms that if a candidate is missing even one qualification, s/he is eliminated from the pile of applicants. There’s no chance of taking a risk with a new hire, no expectations of being able to learn on the job.

Kirkpatrick’s letter ends with the kind of realism that Thomas Hardy might approve:

The reality is that many skilled professionals are already here working as cleaners, taxi drivers, housekeepers and security guards. Unconnected, their professional lives have quite literally faded away.

I could add to that stories of people who are connected, but it doesn’t matter: if the jobs aren’t there, they aren’t there. End of story.

…Unless you do that classic “reinvention” thing, which is a very popular thing to do around here. People want to live here for the lifestyle, for the natural beauty, but they can’t work in their careers – so they opt to reinvent themselves in new careers. This sometimes results in amazing creative journeys – or not. In usually means downsizing/ earning less money, too.

I’d be interested to know what other people have observed in their communities and cities.

A bit more on Salim Jiwa’s talk at Social Media Club Victoria

May 29, 2010 at 10:56 pm | In advertising, business, media, newspapers, web | 3 Comments

When Salim Jiwa left his job at the Vancouver Province after a 30-year career in journalism, he didn’t leave his career behind. He instead took the insights he had accumulated – especially in his last years at the Province while heading up its digital media efforts – and started his own online news outlet: Vancouverite.

Last Tuesday (May 25) Salim Jiwa shared his experiences with us at Social Media Club Victoria: I blogged about one aspect of Jiwa’s talk that night (journalism-by-press-release), but Jiwa touched on so many other aspects as well.

First, to recap: “Print media faces extinction,” and the habit of picking up a physical newspaper is gone (or going). By the time a story reaches print, it’s at least 10 hours old, so why bother reading it half a day late? Newspapers used to function on having “exclusivity” (exclusive access to a story, exclusive coverage of a story): this is no more. News-makers (governments, public offices, organizations, businesses) have hired ex-journalists, top of the line pros, who write the organization’s press releases, which are completely press-ready. The journalist who pieces together a story is effectively sidelined: now the “source” writes its own story (huge ethical implications and questions around free press here, too).

At the same time, old-style journalism programs at university continue to prepare journalism students for careers that don’t actually exist anymore. But still they crank ’em out (this reminded me of the conversation I had with Jon Beasley-Murray in the comments thread to my first post on Northern Voice 2010 – about the immorality of producing “workers” for jobs that are gone).

During the Q&A, I mentioned recently hearing of a New York City-area university program that combines journalism and computer science – and here (courtesy of a memory jog via google) are the details: New dual-degree master’s in journalism & computer science announced at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. See also Wired’s coverage of the new program. It all reminds me a bit of Ryan Sholin’s 2007 advice (10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head) coming to fruition. Take, for example, Sholin’s item #6: Reporters need to do more than write. The new world calls for a new skillset, and you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot. Columbia U is jumping ahead even of this: the program doesn’t just teach journalism students to use Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point-&-Shoot, but is supposed to teach them to write software programs with which to address journalism-specific needs.

At Vancouverite, Jiwa single-handedly does what a traditional newspaper does with four to six people. Must be a lot cheaper to operate, yes? Well, an online outlet is definitely more agile and leaner than a mainstream outlet, but in both instances, the underlying question remains: What’s the business model and can it sustain the operation? Mainstream newspapers have seen ad revenue die away, but making [enough] money to make an online news operation fully viable is also very difficult.

If I understood correctly, the numbers are sobering: even with 25,000 visits (unique page views) per month, the money generated through ads hovers around $500 to $600 monthly. (I’m open to being corrected here – perhaps I completely misunderstood, but if I didn’t, sobering it is.) Udate/edit: I’m way off on my remembered numbers: as Salim notes in a comment to this post, Vancouverite “averages about 80,000 to 120,000 visits per month – not 25,000″ – and, in spite of those numbers, even with “80,000 to 100,000 unique visits per month, click ads can produce less than $200 per month.” Very sobering numbers. /update

During discussion, we briefly touched on the question of hyper-local reporting and selling ad space specifically to local businesses (different than generic google ads), which in turn could generate more revenue. It seems to me there are some significant roadblocks here, though: how much would local businesses be willing to pay for online ads, if they’re already either (1) drawing enough business through established local custom (the “we don’t need to advertise, our customers know where to find us” mentality of successful local niche businesses), or (2) generating enough word-of-mouth traffic through social media (earned media)? If you’re so cool that your customers tweet about you, why should you pay to advertise anywhere?

The funding model seems somehow unmapped: terra incognito.

I’d argue that in both cases (traditional media and new online/ digital media) we’re also talking about making accountability journalism viable (that’s Clay Shirky’s phrase). We know that in print media/ traditional media it’s dying. Where is it going online? I found myself balking a bit at the suggestion that “bloggers” aren’t accountable, although I have to admit that there are a bazillion bloggers out there and obviously not all of them will desire to be “accountable” in a traditionally professional journalistic sense. Add to this another twist: I try to be “accountable,” yet I never consider myself a journalist. I’m a writer, blogger, citizen. When I feel especially fat-headed, I might think, “oh, when I grow up, I want to be a public intellectual – wheeee!” Never a journalist, though.

It’s a bit of the Wild West – or Revolutionary France, before the Thermidor.

Exciting times, no matter what we call ourselves – or what others call us

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