LaPointe hypes consultation
August 18th, 2014
Kirk LaPointe, formerly managing editor of The Vancouver Sun, is the NPA candidate for mayor in the upcoming civic election in Vancouver. He’s also Editor-in-Chief of Self-Counsel Press, a venerable book publishing imprint since 1971. We invited him to share his thoughts on publishing, politics, technology and the future.
When I last looked up from my screen, pretty well everyone had an opportunity to be a journalist of some sort. This is largely for our good. Technology has given us the equivalent of a printing press or a broadcast outlet, and even if we are still at the nascent stage of digital journalism, the possibilities render us breathless.
In an era of abundance, though, the pressure is on to differentiate when there is so much near-duplication. Standards matter more to journalists and publishers when so many can chronicle the same events and gather the same information. Gathering and presenting facts always have been important, but the provision of meaning is emerging as a much more valuable function for journalism. Lots of dots out there, so journalism needs to connect them. Context matters more and more in this sea of data.
If good journalism is about serving a community’s knowledge needs, then its success depends on identifying jobs to be done. Which is why a publisher like Self-Counsel Press strikes me as more valuable in this climate. At its most ambitious, SCP is practicing the new journalism: helping someone do something, finding a pragmatic solution, usually saving time but always saving money in the process. With so much see-it-for-yourself content on the Web, is it any wonder we have many more do-it-yourself people emerging? Still, they need help.
Self-Counsel has been alive for almost half a century. Like all publishers, it appeals to the large segment of society that likes to read. Unlike some, though, it is not about escapism, fantasy and fiction; it is about taking control of a challenge, about flexing a cerebral muscle group and knuckling down to get the task completed, and about finding a new success inside yourself in the process.
Thus, if journalism is about identifying jobs to do, Self-Counsel is about doing those jobs you identify. We publish mainly financial and legal titles, but this autumn you find us expanding into the environment, immigration and information policy. The possibilities for this self-helping, solution-seeking field can also, like the technological advances upon us, render us breathless.
Our books are quaint antidotes to the distracting, bottomless well of the Internet. I hear regularly from skeptics of our company that the information we publish is widely available on the Web. Which is true, if you want to spend dozens and maybe hundreds of hours searching, sifting and satisfying yourself with little or no guarantee what you’ve read is authentic, verified or applicable. SCP is about focus and application, not surfing and clicking.
In the end, a great journalist once told me, we will be supported for editing. We will be the information assistants who comb through the haystack and find the needle. A passion to learn and do isn’t always a passion to research and evaluate, so we submit to experts with credentials.
That is what Self-Counsel authors do. They have spent time to save you time. They stand behind what they have found as professionals. They confer credibility and they build a covenant with the reader, just as a good newspaper or broadcaster would.
Our value proposition, then, is the creation of new forms of literacy and facility in economics, justice, conservation and citizenry that flow from our titles on everything from filing for divorce to filing a freedom-of-information request. The public sphere is awfully big, now that we have the Internet, but we have plenty of room for quality as we gallop ahead with quantity. We want to fill that space.
Lately, of course, my own focus has doubled. Within weeks of arriving at Self-Counsel, someone took me for lunch and asked if I’d be interested in running for mayor of Vancouver. I half-expected someone to come out from behind a wall and point to the hidden camera; that still might happen, I suppose, but it would be a little late now to call it off. The election is November 15.
I am the candidate for the Non-Partisan Association. It’s an interesting name for a political entity, but it suits me. I’ve never been a member of a political organization, and I’ve parked my biases to the best of my ability in my three-plus decades of journalism.
The organization I now run (temporarily, if I lose) in politics is strikingly like the organization I help run (temporarily, if I win) in publishing: serving the community, trying to solve problems, staying practical and grounded. I love that space.
For anyone looking for how I can apply my career to my ambition, here are some clues:
— I have fought for transparency in government, so I want to deliver on that.
— I have found the greatest success in collaboration and consultation, so I want to ensure that.
— I know the value of the arts in our identity and economy, so I want to reinforce that.
— I know the life-changing importance of sending schoolchildren home for the summer with a bag of books, so I want to commit to that.
Those books for the summer as a child for me usually came from the library, and without them I would not have acquired the language of writing, nor the confidence of storytelling, nor the path to management and now public life. Way back then, cities cared much more about their libraries, and I hope I can do something in an age of Kindle to rekindle our connection to the old-style library (the new-style library being Starbucks/WiFi).
I have spent a little time around the field of literacy and gained grand respect for those who bring the skill of reading to life in a life. A reader as a child might become an SCP reader, and doer, as an adult.
I have spent my career asking questions. Now I can find answers. I have pointed to problems. Now I can find solutions. Public service, whether in journalism or publishing or public life, is about that.