'Nini' youth - not in school, not working - symptom of a failing country

Parents have to buy uniforms; government doesn't have to buy desks
You know a problem has become critical when it gets a snappy name.
Like the �ninis� in Honduras, young people who �ni trabaja ni estudia� - neither work nor go to school.
About 24 per cent of Hondurans between 12 and 24 aren�t in school or working, according to the latest numbers. That�s a problem on many levels. Many youths with nothing to do get into trouble - gangs or petty crime or early, ill-advised relationships. (About 25 per cent of births are to women, or girls, under 18.)
And the country�s future prospects are blighted when such a huge portion of the population lack education and opportunity. Some 582,000 youths are in the �nini� camp.
A government official focused on the economic consequences - without a skilled or educated population, Honduras won�t move toward greater prosperity.
The political and social damage is just as significant. Educated people, literate, numerate and with problem-solving skills, are much more likely and able to hold government to account, participate in political life and bring social change to a country that badly needs it.
Not that the Honduran school system is producing people with those skills. It�s accepted that the education system is dismal. Schools are overcrowded and often in disrepair, teachers poorly qualified, the curriculum is outmoded and basic supplies are lacking. The education ministry can�t pay teachers on time or manage the system. (It has now been decreed that all students will learn English, ignoring the fact that there are almost no teachers capable of providing the instruction.)
It�s not just anecdotal. The Human Sciences Research Council assessed math and science skills knowledge in 45 countries, using Grade 8 students in almost all countries and Grade 9 students in Honduras. 
Honduras was in the bottom three countries, with South Africa and Botswana. In the U.S., 68 per cent of Grade 8 students reached at least the intermediate level in math and science. In Chile, 23 per cent met the standard. 
In Honduras, only four per cent. Only two students in a class of 50 reached the intermediate level in skills fundamental to competence in today�s world.
The country claims a literacy rate of 80 per cent, but in Copan Ruinas the only store that sells books offers a handful of titles aimed at tourists. Bodega Gloria put in a small magazine rack about six weeks ago, the first in town. People might be able to read, but they don�t.
The poor educational quality is probably one reason kids don�t go to school. Some families want children to help around the home or work or look after younger siblings. And it�s hard to make an argument that education opens the door to economic opportunity when jobs are so scarce.
Education is impossible for many children. Rural coverage is scarce and transportation - except on foot - non-existent. Only 15 per cent of rural students have access to education beyond Grade 9; for many Grade 6 is the highest level practically possible. About 10 per cent of the school-age population has no access at all, according to a 2010 study by the Honduran Commission of Human Rights.
And fees and strange extra charges - despite the fact that education is supposed to be free - are huge barriers for poor families. Uniforms, for example, are mandatory, and kids whose families can�t afford them stay home. There are levies for school maintenance and supplies and graduation ceremonies - even from kindergarten. Grade 6 grad fees can add up to $50; about 50 per cent of Hondurans live in extreme poverty and a wage of $6 a day isn�t bad.
That also means that many families have to choose one child to attend school, while brothers and sisters stay home, or quit early.
A generation ago, the nonfunctioning education system mattered less. Beyond some agricultural exports, Honduras was a closed economy. People stayed in their villages and practised subsistence farming.
Honduras, for better or worse, is part of an international economy today. Subsistence agriculture can�t provide for a larger population (and is seriously threatened by climate change, with projections of 30-per-cent corn crop losses in some regions within a decade).
About 582,000 ninis in Honduras equals a huge wasted opportunity, and a potentially destructive force. 
The country has a big portfolio of problems. 
But fixing the education system, and providing real access, need to be at the top of the list. Unless today's kids get a decent education, the country's future is bleaker than it needs to be.

Razor wire, guns and crime: Judging risk in the big city

Spent the weekend in Tegucigalpa, which almost always gets me thinking about crime in Honduras.
It�s hard to avoid. The small hotel we use is in a nice residential area. The architecture is quite interesting - kind of mid-20th century modern, except with a lot of stone and traditional Honduran materials.
Of course, it�s hard to get a good look. Houses are walled and driveways are blocked by sliding steel doors. The views of the houses are marred by the circles of razor wire - one, two, sometimes three rows high along the tops of the walls. The truly security conscious add electric fencing. (The best business in the city has to be the razor wire franchise.)
It does not encourage a sense of safety for a wandering pedestrian from Canada. 
But I do wander, though only in the daytime and without any possessions. (The Cuso office is a nice 15-minute walk, but I always take a taxi because it would be foolish to attempt it with a laptop.)
A big problem for any hope of a tourism industry in Honduran cities is that it�s just so hard to judge risk. In our first couple of visits to Tegus, as people call the capital, we were extremely cautious. That reflected our reading and the in-country security briefing, which focused on appropriate responses to all the bad things that could happen. (If approached by a robber, avoid eye contact, move slowly, don�t get too close and hand over everything. Be sure to have some money so you won�t make him mad. I spent the first few days ready to throw my money at any vaguely dangerous-looking stranger.)
Now we walk fairly freely, though some neighbourhoods and streets are clearly no-go zones.
We also look a lot less like potential victims. In the first months, we were anticipating danger in a way that might have invited it. As I walked toward the centre of town Saturday, a young Honduran asked me for directions. I looked liked I knew where I was going and was comfortable. 
But most tourists look less certain. And they tend to stand out - there just aren�t that many visiting foreigners. Fish swim in schools in part because there�s less risk of an individual being chosen by a predator. 
For a North American, Tegus can be unfamiliar in an intimidating way. There�s the razor wire, and the armed guards or security bars at stores. (The photo above is a typical corner store.)
The traffic is chaotic and horns sound constantly. The city was founded in 1578 and streets are narrow and twisting, with small sidewalks. Buildings are often crumbling. That�s most striking in the centro, where many of the office buildings, even the big ones, look half-abandoned, with peeling paint and rust-stained walls. 
The pedestrian mall downtown
There is a pedestrian mall leading away from the main square, but vendors with everything from shoes to toothpaste to antibiotics spread on the ground likely detract from the tone the city planners were seeking.
Yet there is charm. The setting is superb. Tegucigalpa is nestled in the hills, with houses climbing the steep slopes and a Coca Cola sign and 30-metre statue of Jesus looking down on the centre of town. There�s are historic buildings - the national art gallery is good and housed in a 400-year-old convent. (Though it was closed for a while this year because there was no money to pay staff.)  
Of course, the real victims of insecurity are Hondurans, especially the ones who can�t afford razor wire or security companies or taxis or gated communities and guards. (More and more neighbourhoods in San Pedro Sula and Tegus are gating their communities and hiring guards, even if it means blocking public roads.) There is no public transit, and the private bus and rapidito services are sketchy and robbery a risk. 
In fact, the 1.3 million people who live in Tegucigalpa live in two different worlds. The poorest live in shacks and eke out a desperate living. But there are malls more opulent than any I�ve seen in Canada; the newest has an underground garage with sensors in each parking stall and lights overhead - green shows a space is vacant, so shoppers don�t have to drive up and down the rows. By one measure of inequality - the relationship between the average income of the richest 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent - Honduras is the third most unequal country in the world. The richest quintile have an average income 30 times greater than the poorest. Canada�s ratio is 5.5.
Maybe that�s part of the problem. When the people with power can insulate themselves from the problems of crime and insecurity, they don�t feel any urgent need to fix them. 
Footnote: Again I stress most of the country outside the two main cities is as safe as Canada and Hondurans are keen to welcome visitors. Copan Ruinas, Tela, Utila, Lago de Yojoa - there are spectacular places to see. Come on down.

A smarter way to deal with Honduran migrants

The flood of Hondurans trying to make it to the United States has become crazy.
Honduras is opening a diplomatic office in the border city of McAllen, Texas, joining Guatemala and Mexico in trying to deal with the migrants.
Since Oct. 1, the U.S. Border Patrol has arrested 20,000 Hondurans trying to make their way to America to work. That�s more than 70 a day, every day of the week. The new Honduras office will help handle the deportation paperwork (and look after shipping the remains who died trying). The costs for all involved are huge.
The deportees get bundled onto airplanes and flown back to San Pedro Sula at the rate of about 600 a week. Many turn around and start the journey again.
And those are just the people who get caught. Remittances from Hondurans working outside the country - mostly in the U.S., and mostly illegal - were $1.5 billion for the first six months of this year. 
That�s about 16.7 per cent of Honduras� GDP. If the money stopped flowing, GDP per capita would fall from $2,260 to $1,890. (GDP per capita in Canada is just over $50,000.)
Arguably, the best thing that could be done to improve life for Hondurans in the near term would be to allow a lot more workers into Canada and the U.S., in a much safer way.
The journey now is incredibly dangerous. A main route involves crossing Guatemala and southern Mexico and piling on to La Bestia, a freight train, riding on top of and between cars. Gangs demand $100 from each passenger at stations along the line. People are killed and kidnapped. 
Hondurans keep on making the trek. The U.S. immigration office estimates about 105,000 Hondurans leave for the U.S. annually.
It�s too much to expect open borders. But the U.S. has sure gone a long way from the Statue of Liberty�s �Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free.� 
Canada is no more welcoming, as David Suzuki�s recent comments that the country is full indicate, although there are few hundred Hondurans in the country under the temporary foreign worker program.
The money sent back from the U.S. keeps families afloat. Farming families buy land; people fix their houses and start businesses. 
And, based on an anecdotal sampling, my impression is that Hondurans come back from the U.S. with new skills and attitudes that help them start and build businesses. 
That might reflect the kind of people who choose to head off to America in the first place. But it might also show that many Hondurans come home once they have achieved their goals, bringing attributes that strengthen their country.
My four grandparents set off for Canada because they didn�t have opportunities in England. They were welcomed a hundred years ago. Today, they wouldn�t be allowed into the country.
There are legitimate concerns about the effect on the employment market of even foreign workers, legal or not, and worries about criminal elements.
That�s about it in terms of pragmatic issues. People living off the grid aren�t big consumers of government services.
The best solution, or course, is to deal with corruption and crime and poor education and all the barriers that keep Hondurans from building better lives in their own communities.
Meanwhile, coming up with a way to let Hondurans spend a few years in Canada or the U.S. to support their families, accumulate some capital and see new ways of doing things might be a good way to support this country.

How to save newspapers

I�ve painted a grim future for newspapers in the last few posts.
So what can be done?
One option for companies is to cash out. Cut costs, raise rates, make as much as possible for and then sell the assets and walk away. 
But let�s assume owners see value in the brands. Postmedia took in $830 million last year and generated positive cash flow. If newspapers can slow the revenue decline, trim expenses to fit a new model and find new audiences, they might have a viable, though much smaller, future.
First, newspaper managers have to admit they�re in big trouble and the business model is broken. Denial and delay kill companies. 
That means planning for a future without a printed product. Postmedia likely spent about $210 million last year printing and distributing newspapers - about one-third of operating expenses. The same information could be delivered online or through mobile devices for a tiny fraction of that amount. Maybe print papers will survive. But I doubt it, and it�s foolish not prepare for the alternative.
And that also means planning for a future with much less revenue. Newspapers, in their heyday, faced limited competition and benefited from barriers to entry.
But in the online world there are countless competitors and new ones emerging every day. Revenues are going to be lower. That means coming up with a new business with a much smaller cost base. (The Seattle PI, online-only for three years, has a 12-person newsroom.)
Second, newspapers have to figure out the distinct things they can offer to attract and retain readers. Newspaper websites are still a grab bag of content, at their base not much different from the print versions of two decades ago. A little entertainment, a little world news, a lot of local coverage organized along traditional lines.
But there are lots of great entertainment sites, and fine places to get world news. There is no reason for readers to go to their local newspaper website.
If newspapers don�t figure out what they want to offer, they can�t cut costs intelligently and ensure their most valuable coverage is protected.
Third, they need to experiment. When I left the Times Colonist for Honduras in 2011, we had the traditional newsroom cake and I got to offer advice. What we�re doing isn�t working, I said, which gives a great freedom to test bold, new experiments. There is little to lose. Try wild things.
Where are those experiments? Lay copies of Canadian daily newspapers from today and 15 years ago down side-by-side and they are eerily similar, despite the dramatic loss of readers. Look at newspaper websites across the country and you find sameness. 
There are small interesting efforts. The Vancouver Sun has developed useful information databases as way to be more valuable to readers. The National Post has decided opinion and analysis are its strengths.
But mostly newspapers have continued with a uniform model that has been in trouble for at least 15 years. Postmedia�s 10 newspapers could test different content, or ways of getting people to pay. They don�t.
What experiments are worth trying?
� A truly overwhelming emphasis on key local content is an obvious approach to test. That would mean making sure all resources are focused on community coverage that matters most to readers. Anything else just wouldn�t get done.
  • Focusing on context and commentary, while creating stars, is worth trying. If a newspaper has the best political columnist, or a specialized reporter, then he or she needs to be promoted as a big reason to read. Newspapers have done a lousy job of selling the quality of their people. And when news is shared in Twitter within minutes of it happening, maybe context and commentary are things people will pay for.
  • It would be good to see a newspaper experiment with being a deep information resource. Report the political news, but also post the videos of the scrums and the tapes of interviews, the key documents and the Hansard transcripts and comments from other media. Put the city council agendas and the video feed of the school board meeting online. Create crime maps. See if people value more raw material.
  • Some paper should try the celebrity/scandal/outrage model, although I�m not sure it would work in Canada.
  • La Presse�s experiment in planning for a paperless future is worth watching. It�s spending $40 million to develop a totally new product for tablets. There is a separate newsroom with about 100 people working on the project. 
  • A newspaper based on reader-generated content would be a good experiment. One of my old employers is launching four community newspapers in Liverpool, and content will come almost entirely from readers. Trinity Mirror has hired 20 community content curators for its papers to handle readers� photos and stories. People spend time reading each other�s work on Facebook; why not on a newspaper website. (Especially edited and properly presented.)
  • Someone should try a premium product - a brand extension - at an extra cost. Promise special information, hire a staff and charge readers. (Crikey, an interesting Australian experiment, offers news and analysis and has found a niche, with some 16,000 paying customers.)
I�d bet on local, commentary, stars and reader-generated content and make determined spending cuts on anything that didn�t support those areas.
But what�s needed are dozens of experiments, driven by a mix of desperation and hope. And not just in content in presentation and delivery.
The clock is ticking. 
Footnote: Aaron Kushner�s experiment with the Orange County Register is one of the boldest. He bought the paper and has spent heavily adding newsroom staff and content, counting on readers to pay much more for the paper. The experiment is not likely to be duplicated in Canada.

How I killed newspapers, Part Three: The bad news

Newspapers will find a way out of these bleak times, some journalists maintain.
Here�s hoping. But the situation is grim and there�s no clear path to a viable future. 
I like newspapers and believe they�re important on many levels. 
But they are in big trouble.
Two years ago, RBC Capital Markets started �following� Postmedia, Canada�s largest newspaper company, and issuing reports for investors. 
RBC�s first report set a target share price of $14. That valued the company at $635 million, much less than the $1.1 billion Postmedia paid a year earlier for the newspapers from Canwest, then in bankruptcy protection.
Last week, RBC knocked its target price down to 75 cents. That values Postmedia at $34 million - barely one-twentieth of the value the bank set two years ago. 
One good question is how RBC�s researchers could have been so spectacularly wrong. Any investors who relied on the bank�s advice two years ago would have lost a lot of money.
But the main point is that RBC�s analyst has decided Postmedia faces a bleak future and has no convincing plan to turn things around. It�s valuing the 10 daily newspapers, on an operating basis, at about $3.5 million each. (That doesn�t include balance sheet items like real estate.)
All newspapers face similar challenges. They are shedding circulation and revenue at alarming rates. Postmedia, as a true newspaper company, happens to provide public reports that offer a good look at the industry�s core issues.
Postmedia�s strategy is to cut costs, try to get more revenue from readers and hope some better approach to the business will be found. (Or at least that�s my translation of CEO Paul Godfrey�s statement on the quarterly report: �We will continue on this path, transforming a traditional media company into one that leverages future opportunities with a structure that supports a new model.�)
It�s a reasonable short-term strategy. But RBC is probably right not to see it as a solution.
For starters, it�s hard to cut costs fast enough these days. Postmedia, like other newspaper companies, is reducing staff, chopping publication days, centralizing production and looking for savings in every area of operation. It launched a �transformation� program last fall that aims to cut expenses by 15 to 20 per cent by 2015.
But revenue fell 7.4 per cent last year, and is down 9.3 per cent in the first three quarters of the current fiscal year. Those losses wipe out the gains of the transformation program. 
And last month, PwC forecast the Canadian newspaper would see a continuing revenue losses of almost 20 per cent over the next four years. The cost-cutting targets are already much too small.
Getting readers to pay more is a reasonable goal. North American dailies kept newspapers� cost low, because more readers made advertisers happy. In 2005, a Statscan study found, circulation provided only 17 per cent of revenue for Canadian newspapers. Postmedia hopes it will be 50 per cent in future, compared with 25 per cent today. (One way to reach that percentage is through falling ad revenues.)
Paywalls - ways of making readers pay for online content - are a key part of the strategy for Postmedia and other newspapers. Online readers will get a few free articles each month, then be forced to pay a subscription fee or be cut off.
It�s a good way to buy some time and bring in a little extra revenue. For some newspapers, it�s a sound strategy. The New York Times or Wall Street Journal offer unique content to an audience that�s willing to pay. (In part because people aren�t paying - they are charging their online subscriptions to their employers.)
But after years of free information, why would people be willing to pay for the content of most newspapers? What would convince people it�s worth paying for a local newspaper website? How much would they pay, and how - by the article, or by month, or on a contribution basis? (Postmedia�s approach has been disappointing. With 10 papers, the corporation could try different paywall approaches, including pay-per-article, or different levels of access. Instead, it has imposed a common model.)
So far, paywall revenue is not enough to fix the business model. And there is the obvious problem in reducing costs and content just when you�re asking people to pay for what was once free. 
The Vancouver Sun, for example, just cut about 15 per cent of staff through buyouts. There is no arguing with the need to cut costs. But the departures include David Baines, the skilled, experienced reporter who exposed investment scams and regulatory incompetence, Scott Simpson, an exceptionally knowledgeable energy reporter, and Craig McInnes, whose columns were smart, fact-based and untainted by conventional wisdom or cheap contrariness. 
It�s hard to ask people to pay more when you are giving them less.
Or when you haven�t thought through what you are selling. Postmedia wants to save money by sharing content on things like fashion across the papers.
But there are scads of good fashion sites, local and global. If there is no local element, why spend money on fashion coverage at all? Why would any reader pay for a generic fashion coverage from a Canadian newspaper group?
The hopefulness of newspaper stalwarts is heartening. But it is also a bit reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, insisting his chopped off arm is �but a scratch.�
What can be done? Next, enough with the gloom and at least some ideas. 

How I killed newspapers, Part Two

OK, I didn�t really kill newspapers.
But my career began when newspapers were doing extraordinarily well, and continued as they did less and less well. For much of the time, I was in newspaper management. So I�m hardly blameless.
Looking back, it�s amazing how many mistakes we made.
In my early days at The Red Deer Advocate, we published two 96-page newspapers in the run-up to Christmas. Advertisers needed to use the paper, and we benefited. (The paper made lots of money, circulation was increasing and we were adding newsroom staff every year.)
A chunk of that advertising was from big grocery and department stores, which would buy six or eight pages of advertising at a time.
Then the stores thought of a cheaper way to reach readers. They printed flyers and pay us to insert them in the newspaper. Eight pages of actual ads might have cost them $7,000. The flyer would cost about one-third of that.
The newspaper industry didn�t like flyers, naturally. One response was to charge high rates to insert them in the paper. (Arguing in part that the charges were justified because being part of the newspaper added value.)
So other businesses charged less and grabbed the business, especially community newspapers that were emerging, in many markets, as strong competitors.
Newspapers were nicely profitable in those days. Revenue was strong and subscribing to your local paper was practically an act of citizenship. Technology was reducing labour costs. The days of a reporter typing a story and then having editors hand the copy to a higher-paid composing room employee who would type it again to produce the type were ending.
But there were already warning signs of trouble ahead, and not just from low-cost competitors. Any research showed newspaper readers skewed old. The younger people were, the less likely they were to pick up the paper. We made small and ineffective efforts to reach them, but mostly told ourselves they would grow into our products. And readership fell, for almost all papers, year after year.
The world changed much faster than we did. Newspapers were slow to experiment with the Internet and online distribution of news and information. We watched as Craigslist scooped away classified advertising. (A double blow that meant lost revenue and one less reason for people to read the paper.) 
And we never really worked at understanding how people�s information needs - and sources - were changing. In the mid-90s, when I was at the Times Colonist, we did a research project on readers� needs and interests. After polling and focus groups, the consultant reported people in Victoria had very low news needs. They just weren�t interested in news as much as they were in working in their gardens or sailing. That�s partly a reflection of Victoria�s population, but I suspect they were in vanguard in terms of their attitudes toward news. Around the same time a young woman told me she didn�t need the media because if something important happened, someone usually told her about it. That attitude, amplified by a flood of information, is increasingly present.
There were certainly a few efforts to tinker with the product. But not many. And few sustained, bold experiments. (The National Post was innovative when launched, but hardly a bold new direction for newspapers.)
Why? I�d suggest four big reasons.
First, newspapers were a �mature industry.� Ian MacDougall, a consultant whose work involves corporate lifecycles, warns that stage brings the risk of complacency and an environment where innovation or even raising problems is discouraged. Short-term financial results take priority over long-term growth.
Second, corporate ownership brought a focus on short-term results. Corporate managers needed to report growing quarterly profits, or investment analysts would write bad reports, shareholders would sell and stock price would fall. Investing in research or new products doesn�t get much support in that kind of environment. And the response to any drop in revenue is to look for quick expense reductions, even if that risks long-term damage.
Third, many papers - most larger papers - had costly, inflexible union agreements, signed when times were good. National advertisers, for example, began sending completed ads for publication in the 1970s so they had control of the way they looked. Union contracts gave some composing rooms jurisdiction over all production. So, as a compromise, compositors typeset and made up versions of the ad, which was then thrown in the garbage. The Vancouver Sun and Province quit accepting inserts last year. The union contract called for mailroom staff to be paid more than $90,000 and �stuffers,� who put the flyers into the papers, to be paid the equivalent of more than $60,000 a year. 
And, fourth, many people in the industry at every level were delusional. I started writing about newspapers after after a lively exchange on Twitter, which was started by a tweet from a journalist that �you can't beat your daily newspaper for value... less than a cup of coffee... ante up, folks.�
We kept telling each other what great value we were and how much people needed us, even as they were sending the opposite message. And, in many ways, we still are.
So what will work? That�s another blog post.

How I killed newspapers: Part One

Found myself in a lively Twitter exchange today about the future of newspapers, sparked in part by Postmedia�s grisly quarterly report.
Things look bleak for most newspapers. Postmedia is Canada's largest newspaper company. Its report set out the problem. Revenue - ads and circulation and digital - was down 9.4 per cent on the previous year. Expenses were down 9.1 per cent, thanks to a big cost-cutting drive. Based on those numbers alone, next year�s financial performance will be worse, and the next year worse still.
Circulation - the number of newspapers sold - is down by 14 per cent in the quarter. Some of the decline reflects the decision to kill Sunday papers in Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary, which were judged money-losers. But that�s still a huge loss in readers.
Postmedia newspapers have been losing about five per cent of their subscribers a year. Which means a paper can shed 25 per cent of its customers in a little over four years.
Newspapers once sold themselves as mass media. Buy one ad, in the 1990s, and you had a chance of being seen by more than two-thirds of the adults in a mid-size city. (Numbers were higher in small communities, lower in big ones.) Now an ad might reach 50 per cent of the population in a mid-size city. Advertisers will pay much less - or find a more targeted media.
When everyone read the paper - or it seemed that way - there was pressure to subscribe. Otherwise, you might not be in on the next day�s conversation at coffee break.
And, of course, fewer readers means less circulation revenue.
Paywalls and digital subscriptions were supposed to help address the problem. It�s not a bad short-term strategy to pull in some revenue. But the early evidence is that - for almost all newspapers - the hope that people�s payments for online content will come close to covering the bills is delusional. (Which is the subject for another blog post.)
Postmedia has tested paywalls and introduced them in all its papers. The quarterly reported noted 100,000 people had signed up as digital subscribers. But it didn�t disclose how many were existing print subscribers, who would pay nothing, and how many were real, new, revenue-producing online readers. Which means there were not that many paying customers. Companies like to share successes.
Overall digital revenues - online ads and subscriptions - were up 2.2 per cent for the quarter. 
That�s not good. The corporation lost $21 million in �traditional� revenues, and gained $500,000 in new digital revenues. Postmedia management has been pitching a �digital first� strategy, counting on double-digit revenue growth to help offset print declines. It hasn�t happened.
That�s a fairly bleak look at the industry. 
But we haven�t even got to one of the big problems.
Michael Brown, then the slightly scary head of the Thomson Corporation, talked about the virtuous circle. Newspapers would invest in the product and get more readers and advertisers, and use some of that revenue to make the paper even better, and on and on. (Brown made the decision to sell off Thomson's newspapers in the mid-90s.)
Now, the focus is on cutting costs. And the chosen approach involves reducing the quality of the newspapers, which will mean fewer people will buy them and more cost reductions will be necessary. The opposite of Brown�s virtuous circle is the death spiral. Why start paying for a newspaper as it cuts content?
Doom and disaster aren�t the inevitable outcomes. 
But they aren�t a bad bet. It was hard to see anything in the Postmedia report to shareholders that hinted at a strategy to build a sustainable business based on providing news and information in Canadian cities. 
Many Postmedia papers - like the two in Vancouver - are still operating with crushing cost structures. The  contracts were freely negotiated by both sides in the good old days. But paying a semi-skilled mailroom employee $90,000 a year, as the business crumbles, is folly. 
It�s not a pretty picture. But there is a powerful argument for the importance of newspapers, or at least news organizations that pay competent, trained people to report what�s going on, and offer commentary. That is not a slag on bloggers and citizen journalists. (I am one.) But there is value in having a paper that will stand behind you when you are sued, or come up with a cheque every week while you check out stories and gain understanding of issues. 
But the industry isn�t responding in a way that shows it understands the crisis. That is consistent with at least 30 years of failure in responding to change. 
That�s tomorrow�s blog post. (The post title - How I killed newspapers - is tongue in cheek. But I did work in the biz during the years of decline, for many of them as a manager. It's hard not to feel some blame is in order.)

Where have all those post-Olympic tourists gone?

The mass protests in Brazil are big news down here. In part, Brazilians are mad that the government is spending billions to host the World Cup and the Olympics, and don�t buy promises of economic benefit.
B.C.�s post-Olympic tourism stats support the protesters� skepticism.
The promised increase in visitors didn�t happen. In fact, two years after the Games British Columbia actually lost ground as a tourist destination.
In 2007, B.C. had 4,837,000 international visitors, 26.9 per cent of the Canadian total. The numbers plummeted in 2008 and 2009, not surprising given the global recession and financial crisis. International visitors increased slightly in 2010, fell in 2011 and inched up 1.1 per cent last year.
The number of international visitors in 2012 - 4,220,000 - was 13 per cent below the 2008 total.
And B.C.�s share of the total visitors to Canada was 25.9 per cent - the lowest in  at least seven years.
You can rationalize changes in the raw numbers, pointing to external factors.
But B.C.�s tourist visits aren�t just flat-lined. They�re declining. The Games impact has been non-existent.
That�s not surprising. How many British Columbians decided to visit Turin after watching the 2006 Games?
But in selling the public on the Games, the government promised big benefits. It commissioned a study in 2002 that predicted the Games would result in 1.7 million to 2.7 million additional international visitors between 2008 and 2015. That�s at least 200,000 per year.
Those were among the benefits a contribution from taxpayers equal to some $450 per person - kids included - to pay for the Games.
And the promise of tourism increases has turned out to be entirely empty.
Those Brazilians have good reason to be worried.

International visitors

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