The Shags, Whose Conservation Status Is “Of Least Concern”
What night collector conveniently forgot her bag of demons on the neighbour’s roof? Cackling softly over the stick tool of 4 a.m., loosening the drawstring with clothy knee and elbowings, they’d pop out shaking the dregs from their hackles, consumed by evil laughter, ahistorical croaks, benthic creaks, then shrieks and howling underscored by homuncular medieval babies in sotto voce, declamations via voice prosthetic, robot pet sounds, and I lay there cursing them, the whole family, though I had nothing to be up for. On vertebral rock near the Caiplie Caves, like shreds of an outline or shadows freed of their circumstances, they dry their wings, eyes closed, faces to the sun. Centre of no universe, they have the run of the great ancillary. Though likely they figure quite largely in the imagination of the sand eel whose peripheries they torment. As their shouting did mine, wee hours in the silt of my own habitat before the chicks fledged, presumably, the parents moved on. And I missed them then, as one does the thing loved best when not around.
There’s another poster, with a different prophesy, taped for all to see on a wall in the Star’s newsroom. It’s a visual representation of the digital readership, broken into twelve distinct subsets of humanity. Beside each type is a number indicating its total percentage of the Star’s audience. And beside that number is an analysis of their “digital propensity to pay.” It’s all part of amarketingbased strategy to train reporters on what part of the Canadian public their coverage may soon need to cater to. Among the types of humans Star reporters now understand to be the desired readership: the “wise elders” (older, culturally active, and generous with their money), who represent 9.7 percent of the audience, and “future managers” (socially progressive up-and-comers with large media appetites). Less appealing in the modern era are the “lunch at Tim’s” crowd (socially conservative bargain hunters) or, worse, the “hillside hobbyists” who, at 11percent of the Canadian audience, have strong traditional values, live largely outside the urban centres, and have almost no willingness to pay for any online news whatsoever. But the Star still needs more data to make sure it is producing the type of journalism that the algorithms say meets the desired readership’s wants as well as their needs. The Sports and Life pages that once brought in countless ads for anything from soap to hockey skates might soon be gone, replaced by more content from the likes of Dale and any other reporters the Star can nurture from within its own ranks to replicate his success. Boynton insists the Star still adheres to the Atkinson principles, but he speaks with less affinity for the journalism world — of which he has been a part for just over a year — than he does for the data-driven industries in which he spent the last three decades. He says he’s reinventing Torstar from its core, calls the Star a “hero brand” — a type of company drawn to powerful convictions and that markets itself as inspirational, like Nike — and considers Dale one of its many assets whose work appeals to the customer whom Boynton places at the centre of the business. “One of the things on the Star brand that customers are passionate about is politics, and US news, and Daniel happens to be in the epicentre of both.” To hear Boynton talk, it becomes clear that some readers — which he calls an “old-school journalism term” — will be left behind. “Not everybody’s equal,” he says, as he describes the “hypertargeted execution” the Star is now following. “Name me a company that thinks all people are created equal. Name me a company that chases everybody. Name me a successful company that is all things to all people.” What about “the paper for the people”? The promise appeared on the first edition, which now rests in his office, passed down to him from generations of publishers, encased and shielded from the sunlight like some copy of the Magna Carta. He laughs. “That’s just a slogan,” he says. “That’s not a real business strategy. This is a real business strategy.”