Email Bob Cox

  • Why pay for the Free Press? Because good journalism doesn't come cheap

    04/3/2015 9:30 AM

    The Winnipeg Free Press is about to start asking readers of our digital content to pay for it and readers are justifiably asking why they should do so.

    We try to answer that question every day with unique, well-researched, concise content that tells you what is really going on – as opposed to the flood of information and misinformation flowing all around us every day in the new-age world of infinite media.

    Example No. 1 is the work done this week by our reporters to debunk a story widely reported in other media on a Facebook page that seemingly showed its racist views on natives and was "liked" by thousands, supposedly proof positive of deeply entrenched racism in Winnipeg.

    There were interviews with native educators, community activists, university professors and others on the development, with appropriate disgust expressed by on-air radio folks.

    The only problem, as Mary Agnes Welch explained in a column, is that the Facebook page was a fake, a deliberate effort to defame a young woman who has been the target of a nasty cyberbullying campaign seemingly organized by one man. The "likes" came from outside North America, meaning they were probably purchased.

    This was not further proof of Winnipeg's racist heart. Yes, racism is a serious problem in this city. But the suggestion that there was widespread support for this particular Facebook effort was false.

    Free Press editors posted an item on this on our website on Wednesday afternoon, after Mary Agnes and reporter Melissa Martin spent many hours and used their considerable expertise to get to the bottom of it.

    Work like this does not come cheaply. It's easy to react instantly to items on social media, report what they say, interview people for reaction, take it all at face value. It costs money to have a robust, serious newsroom that provides comprehensive coverage and digs behind appearances to find the truth.

    That is what the Free Press provides. We have the largest newsroom in the city. Many of our staff have decades of experience in their fields. They have a depth of knowledge and skill that can be gained only in a strong news organization that supports them year in and year out.

    That support comes in many ways, not the least of which is our ability to stand behind stories. We are regularly threatened with lawsuits, and often served with statements of claim over what we have published.The current list includes a suit over stories that we did on a person who misrepresented his qualifications in dealings with multiple sclerosis patients and one from a man upset about the way we reported on criminal charges against him. If they had their way, we never would have told these stories.

    Standing behind stories, doing work that readers never see, costs money too. But we could not be the news organization that we are without defending what we report.

    Advertising revenues are an important part of our business model at the Free Press, but we have always needed readers to contribute as well.

    The digital world is no different. Advertising alone cannot pay the bills. Many of the web's most popular sites are, in fact, still operating on venture capital in the hopes of getting enough visitors to make a profit eventually.

    We provide a specialized service – news and information about Winnipeg and Manitoba – that will never attract the hundreds of millions of page views needed to build an advertising-supported revenue base of a substantial news organization.

    So we are asking readers to pay online, starting later this month, as editor Paul Samyn has explained in recent articles.

    Ask why and I'll point you to the content that we publish every day.

    Bob Cox is publisher of the Free Press.

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  • Maple Leaf making tracks in Sweden

    01/23/2015 12:14 PM

    If you are alarmed by the yellow and blue symbols that seem everywhere since the arrival of IKEA in Winnipeg, you can take comfort in the fact that a similar invasion is  happening on the other side of the ocean.

    The maple leaf seems everywhere in Sweden, the land that gave birth to self-assembly furniture -- on boots, hats and pretty much any article of clothing you can imagine.

    My daughter now proudly wears a pair of winter boots with a red maple leaf stamped on the side of the sole, purchased on our recent trip to Sweden. It's a model known as "Brandon," though the store clerk had no idea the name refers to a city in western Manitoba.

    My older daughter, who attends university in Sweden, was browsing in a local shop this week and found a throw pillow designed to look like a letter sent by "Canada Air Mail" from Winnipeg, dated 1930.

    She says the maple leaf is one of the more common -- and cool -- symbols you see in the country.

    A lot of this is due to the success of a company called Canada Snow.

    Unheard of in Canada, this firm makes footwear and outdoor clothing accessories. It's headquartered in the sleepy west coast Swedish city of Varberg, which is much better known as a summer holiday spot for Swedes who want to lie on the beach and swim in the ocean.

    Canada Snow's designers have made good use of a map to name their shoes after various Canadian cities, from Kenora, Wawa and Surrey to Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax.

    Winnipeg has its own footwear as well, a yeti boot with a maple leaf attached to the side.

    A cute toque with a red maple leaf on its front goes by the name of "Hamilton."

    Canada Snow also carries a line of what it calls "curling boots" that are thick-soled and lined with lamb fur.

    As you guessed, they have nothing to do with the curling we do in Manitoba, and will not be making an appearance in a curling rink here any time soon.

    Perhaps the "coolest" thing about some of the Canada Snow boots is that the tread on the bottom of the soles is in a pattern of maple leafs. So while Swedes trek through winter, they leave our national symbol stamped in the snow. Take that, IKEA!

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  • Lesson of Charlie Hebdo: Support Many Publications

    01/12/2015 2:34 PM

    It is ironic that the terrorists who murdered staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week gave life to a publication that had been dying.

    Often overlooked in the coverage of the terrible crimes aimed at the freedom of expression is the fact that the satirical Paris weekly was barely surviving.

    Yes, it had a rich history of breaking every taboo and bravely facing the fallout – firebombing, death threats, etc.

    But its circulation had dwindled and by last November it was asking for donations just to stay open.

    Public apathy was a far greater force than the antipathy of any group offended by the cartoons published weekly in the magazine.

    Indifference might have triumphed had terrorists not taken up guns.

    On Wednesday, three million copies of this week’s Charlie Hebdo will roll off the presses.

    Two things are certain – they will contain cartoons of Muhammad and they will be snapped up by a public eager to declare again: "Je suis Charlie."

    The terrorists’ guns ensured that the magazine’s message will multiply around the world.

    Perhaps everyone trying to get a copy and holding up signs in support should remember what might have happened without the guns.

    It’s important to stand up for the democratic right to free speech, as millions have.

    It’s also important to defend this right in a real way, not by a single purchase of a special issue, but through regularly supporting and reading publications.

    Sure, the Winnipeg Free Press is in that category and you could dismiss this as a self-interested pitch. But I’m talking generally, not specifically.

    Buy any publication, any newspaper, any magazine, that will help to inform you about the world, be it what is happening in your back yard or anywhere else.

    Help keep the publications that practice free expression healthy.

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  • This year proved good journalism can change my life

    12/22/2014 8:56 AM

    As 2014 ends I’m reflecting on this as the year that Time magazine changed my life.

    It’s a testament to the continuing power and reach of traditional news media that I say this. It wasn’t Facebook or Twitter or even Instagram that had an impact, but the good research and thought-provoking work of professional journalists in a well-established MSM outlet.

    So what happened?

    As 2014 dawned I was overweight and under-fit, a middle-aged man slowing down and doing less. One day I found myself in a waiting room and started thumbing through an edition of Time, which featured an article titled Lift, Squat, Repeat: Inside the CrossFit Cult.

    It was a takeout on CrossFit, a form of functional fitness training that has exploded in popularity in the past decade. CrossFit includes many different forms of exercise, but is best known for its short, super intense workouts that leave you flat on your back, staring at the ceiling and feeling like you want to throw up.

    Part of the article dealt with how some CrossFit athletes become so obsessed with the regime of lifting, lunging, jumping, squatting, skipping, rowing, running, pulling and pushing that they exercise themselves right into the hospital.

    My first thought: "I’ve got to try this."

    So I located CrossFit204, which is near Polo Park and is the closest CrossFit box to my house (gyms are called boxes in CrossFit-speak). The next Sunday morning I met Mike Warkentin, founder of CrossFit204 and managing editor of CrossFit Journal, the bible of the functional fitness movement.

    Soon I was in a class swinging a kettlebell over my head, squatting with the kettlebell clutched in front of my chest and jumping from a prone positon on the floor into an all-out sprint to the other end of the gym – without any rest between movements.

    Under the guidance of a single trainer, people at a wide variety of fitness levels and ages were doing the same workout at the same time, working with partners, pushing themselves hard and supporting one another like I’ve never seen in a traditional gym.

    It was challenging. It was fun. I was hooked.

    It takes commitment to join a CrossFit box. You have to go through, and pay for, a training program called an "on ramp" to learn some of the skills needed for classes that can range from Olympic lifting to running around the block with a 25-kg jug of water balanced on one shoulder.

    Then you have to start showing up for classes with workouts with names like "Fran" and "Karen" that include terms like AMRAP, EMOM and junkyard dog. They leave you thinking: "I don’t even know what this is. How on earth am I ever going to do it?"

    The first thing I learned is that I had to relearn everything, even things as basic as how to do a pushup properly or how to skip rope.

    The second thing I learned is that CrossFit is not dangerous. The trainers are highly skilled. They chart your progress. They check for injuries. They won’t let you do a movement incorrectly. They show you how to do the mysterious workouts and tell you what scale to use – a workout involving pushups typically has some people doing them from the floor, others from their knees and maybe even someone pushing off against a wall.

    Very quickly I became fit. I found that with the right training I could run and jump like I could 20 years ago. I lost some weight and then started following CrossFit guidance on nutrition and diet. The scale that used to push 200 lbs. now reads 170.

    None of it would have happened if it hadn’t been for good old-fashioned journalism, opening my eyes to something going on around me that I had not been aware of.

    So as we approach 2015, that’s what I’ll celebrate. Have a Happy New Year.

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About Bob Cox

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.

"Rejoined" is a better word for it, because Bob first worked at the newspaper as a reporter in January 1984. He covered crime and courts for three years before getting restless and moving on to other journalism jobs.

Since then, his career has spanned four provinces and five cities. Highlights include working in Ottawa for the Canadian Press covering Prime Minister Jean Chrétien during his first term in office, and five years at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, first as national editor and later as night editor.

Bob grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but has spent most of his adult life in Western Canada in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton.

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