media cutbacks

Pity poor Marshall McLuhan.

The man achieved greatness and inadvertently thrust greatness upon generations of would-be intellectuals proud to parrot his words of wisdom. Alas, though celebrated and admired during his lifetime (if not so much for his hippie musical-comedy project The Medium is the Massage), the philosopher experienced a death that was not all it could have been. See, the media guru chose to leave this world Dec. 31, 1980. And, as writers, editors and readers alike well know, it is accepted practice for public figures to expire no later than mid-December. Deadlines being what they are, celebrities owe us at least that much; to hang on longer is to tarnish the hard work that goes into compiling those year-in-review magazine and newspaper features.

To media, a year — long believed to comprise 365 days — is in effect about 330 days. Tops. One might think a good time to summarize a year just passed would be, oh, January of the following year. Not so. By January, last year is so last year. Hence, year-enders depend on the conviction that nothing of significance ever happens around Christmastime. If it does… sorry, you should have timed it better. I mean, just look at what’s going on in the news: it’s as if Christmas means nothing to those Israelis and Palestinians. But no matter. To all intents and purposes, the year 2012 is now officially closed. Please enjoy your retrospectives. And thank you all for playing.

Hell, you can almost hear the finishing touches being placed on those glossy reminders of the year just ended. Indeed, some have already arrived. First out of the gate this year was Macleans, which is to be commended for getting its “Newsmakers 2012” issue into eager readers’ hands before the end of November. That’s an entire month sacrificed in the name of beating the competition to the punch. Too bad, pesky Middle Easterners. Ditto, Kate Middleton. After all, Princess Kate had time to alert Maclean’s editorial board to her condition; so, it’s her loss. As for those other newsmakers, well, should Justin Trudeau utter any more quotable quotes (and let’s face it, he’s doing so even as you read this), there’s always next year.

So, media fans, we’ll just have to write this month off, the better to prepare a nice, colourful keepsake you can return to year after year. Perhaps at the end of each decade, Maclean’s can compensate for this omission by putting together a “Decembers in review” issue. Mr. McLuhan would be proud. In the meantime, jazz legend Dave Brubeck’s mug is nowhere to be found among the roll-call that brings the 2012-in-review issue home. Lincoln Alexander, who left us in October, appears to have checked-out just in time. Bill “Jack Duckworth” Tarmey did not.

Think of it, if you like, as an illustration of society’s increasing thirst for immediacy. Wait ’til next year to consider the events and achievements of this year? Hey, we’ve already waited 11 months! Haven’t we suffered enough? Frankly, an efficient magazine would have summarized the year last March, if not earlier. Of course, if this is about a combination of instant-gratification and short attention-spans, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would want to look back at the year still very much with us. Who cares what happened last summer? Stop living in the past!

Regardless, we can take solace in the fact that the long wait for year’s end is over. And if Maclean’s editors have any regrets about a two-page tribute to Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi‘s efforts to “position post-revolution Egypt as a model of regional stability,” hey, it made sense at the time. (The time, presumably, having been the few hours between Morsi’s brokering a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, and his announcement that he is now above the law. The headline calls Morsi “an unlikely peacemaker.” Hard to argue with that one. As for others profiled, most are likely to still be relevant come year’s actual end. Lance Armstrong is still in disgrace. And Carly Rae Jepsen is still a star; though, again, we still have nearly four weeks left in 2012. That’s a long time in teen-sensation years.

And so we await a glut of year-end summaries, due to come our way in the coming weeks — though none, of course, will arrive later than Dec. 31.

Presumably, summaries by the town criers of 406 AD included a mention of the Vandals’ year-end invasion of Gaul. On the other hand, perhaps American soldiers would have chosen a date earlier than Dec. 31 for a 1775 invasion of Québec had they realized nothing more of value was slated to happen that year. Defect, in retrospect, had already been assured by the tabloids’ production schedule. And with that in mind, let us consider whether media have an obligation to hazard a guess as to how a year should turn out. OK, so your deadline precludes an analysis of 12 full months’ worth of events. Should that stop you from including December’s developments in your complete guide to the year? Perhaps a better approach would be to report on what ought to happen, and then — being media and all — getting out there and making it happen. Why not report that Nickelback called it quits this month? Or that U.S. politicians joined forces to ensure the nation/world will avoid that fiscally cliffy thing. Or that Stephen Harper was visited Christmas Eve by three ghosts — let’s say, the Ghost of Foreign Policy Past, the Ghost of Immigration Present and the Ghost of Environment Future — and adjusted his policies accordingly?

If it’s in print, the media can make it happen. Or, at least, they can put a full 90 per cent into the effort.

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