By Colby Cosh - Sunday, September 23, 2012 - 0 Comments
In January, the Globe and Mail appointed longtime editor and correspondent Sylvia Stead its first “public editor”. What say we pause right there, before we go any further? The job of “public editor” is one most closely associated with the New York Times, which has had five different people doing the job since it created a post with that title in 2003—soon after the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. The function of the public editor at the Times, as the title suggests, is to advocate for journalism ethics, fairness, and proper practice on behalf of the paper’s readership, dealing with concerns and challenges as they arise.
To that end, the Times—quite naturally, one would think—has always recruited people for the job who haven’t been associated with the Times for their entire adult lives, but who do have some knowledge of journalism and non-fiction practice. The first Times public editor was Daniel Okrent, a legendary book and magazine editor. The new one, Margaret Sullivan, has been associated with the Warren Buffett-owned Buffalo News since 1980.
The Times is probably careful about this because it created the “public editor” job in the wake of a serious credibility crisis. It could ill afford to choose somebody who had grown up in the Times cocoon and was an irrecoverable permanent hostage to old friendships, work relationships, and office politics. In fact, it would be fair for you, dear reader, to ask the question “Why would you?” Why wouldn’t you hire someone with some independent standing to represent the public, if you were serious about it?
Well: those last six words bring us to Ms. Stead’s remarkable papal bull, published Friday, concerning Globe columnist Margaret Wente. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
Was a Globe front-page story featuring its new owner’s prized asset a conflict of interest?
Last Thursday, the big front-page story in many North American newspapers, from the National Post to the New York Times, was the primary elections in the U.S., where Tea Party candidates scored stunning victories over established Republicans. The Globe and Mail also covered this, but left its prime real estate—the spot above the fold—for a story on a global university ranking, in which a handful of Canadian schools placed in the top 200. (The University of Toronto finished 17th.) The article’s third paragraph reveals that Times Higher Education, the body behind the ranking, has partnered with Thomson Reuters. It does not reveal that Thomson Reuters is the most high-profile asset of the Woodbridge Company Ltd., which had just announced a deal to buy the newspaper.
Thursday’s front-page story followed a shakeup of the Canadian media landscape. Both Woodbridge and BCE Inc. had been shareholders in CTVGlobemedia, but as part of the new deal, BCE said it would acquire 100 per cent of broadcaster CTV Inc., and Woodbridge would get an 85 per cent stake in the Globe and Mail, with BCE retaining the other 15 per cent.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 12:48 PM - 14 Comments
Friday’s big American media story was the resignation of Washington Post weblogger and conservative-movement specialist Dave Weigel, who came under pressure when gossips obtained some of his tart-tongued and borderline nutty private e-mails to Journolist (a controversial private online club for young liberal media personnel which itself collapsed amidst all the chaos and poo-flinging). By a weird happenstance, Canada’s most remote, reclusive correspondent actually knows Weigel slightly. In February 2008, at the peak of the presidential primary campaigns, I spent a week slouching around the Washington offices of Reason, the libertarian magazine where he then worked.
Weigel was one of the more interesting figures in that scene: trained more conventionally in “traditional” journalism than other Reasonites, he was the detail-oriented data guy in the newsroom, par excellence. If somebody needed to know whether Tom Dewey won Illinois or how big the Pennsylvania congressional delegation was, it was pretty much fifty-fifty whether they’d Google it or Weigel it. My impression of him was that he was sarcastic, a little tightly wound and, not improperly, conscious of his own cleverness. He’s a type of person I find it pretty easy to get along with.
Weigel’s personal politics—liberal? Left-libertarian?—were not on display while I was there. I’m sure his bosses, Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie, knew of his views at least in a general way, and I’m equally confident that they didn’t really care, because he was doing good reporting for them, as he did for the Post. Ideological media enterprises in Reason‘s category need to have someone with the “right” philosophy holding a golden share and making editorial-line decisions. But with that condition met, they can find tasks for anybody who is prepared to be fair and inquisitive.* For all I know, Reason‘s Radley Balko, who covers paramilitary excesses in policing and incompetence in the U.S. justice system, might be earnestly in favour of eugenics for Uzbeks. Would this somehow alter the (immense) value of his reporting?
Weigel is interested in movement conservatism and well-informed about it, so Reason handed him an oar and got him underway with his career of documenting its weirder fringes. It should not be a fatal problem that he privately loathes movementarian robot Republicans, unless some evidence of persistent inaccuracy can be shown in what the man publishes. And Weigel’s published journalism has held up to counterattacks pretty well everywhere he has worked. It seems somewhat cowardly of the Post to have asked him to step down for reasons completely unrelated to what appears under his byline, especially in the face of what constitutes at least a misdemeanour attack on his privacy.
After all, why can’t there be a critic/observer of Palin-Beck conservatism who hates much of Palin-Beck conservatism? Who, frankly, reports on anything for any length of time without developing some contempt for it? Isn’t it possible to argue that it should be a prerequisite rather than a disqualifier?
Weigel did commit enough technical infractions against fairness to feel the need to issue an apology on some minor points before he resigned. And one extract from Journolist did raise concerns about his fundamental ability to be fair: commenting on the Massachusetts special Senate election, he told fellow list members that “pointing out Coakley’s awfulness is vital, because…unreasonable panic about it is doing more damage to the Democrats.” I would consider such narrative-framing for the sake of a party interest (as opposed to an ideological preference) a problem even for an opinion columnist, let alone a beat reporter. (Weigel’s work for WaPo was poorly specified, but certainly somewhere on this spectrum.)
“Fairness” means being hypothetically prepared to attack any party or person; I figure if you want to be a partisan hack, you should go be one, and work on the supply side of the quote machine. But that’s one slip amongst many thousands of words, and I am not sure anyone at all could survive the level of scrutiny to which Weigel’s private conversations were subjected. The Post‘s failure to defend him seems dangerous to its practical ability to create and sell interesting journalism.
*(These outfits can end up more diverse intellectually than “objective” news organs; in any place where explicit opinions and “biases” are suppressed, it becomes easy to end up with a homogenous nicey-nice liberal workforce whose members never challenge each other. The letters “CBC” might have magically appeared just now in your mind’s eye upon reading that.)
By Philippe Gohier - Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 3:37 PM - 4 Comments
In case anyone thought Gesca was bluffing when it threatened to shut down La…
In case anyone thought Gesca was bluffing when it threatened to shut down La Presse and Cyberpresse on December 1 unless they strike a cost-cutting deal with the union, managers at the paper are stepping up the pressure this week. According to TVA, there’s already a plan in place to cease operations and—this is truly the first sign of a looming journalistic apocalypse—reporters will apparently be asked to turn in their BlackBerrys some time next week. Workers are scheduled to meet with the union on Saturday to clear the air—and, presumably, begin panicking.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 3:40 PM - 12 Comments
The Globe and Mail came up with a plan for surviving the newspaper revolution. It didn’t include its editor.
Phillip Crawley is standing in his downtown Toronto office showing off the Globe and Mail of the future, which looks very much like the Globe and Mail of the present—only smaller and somewhat shinier. This is the 18-inch-wide by 21-inch-deep prototype of a new format slated for rollout in the fall of 2010. The Globe’s CEO and publisher is particularly stoked about the new capacity to run colour on coated stock where desired, reflected by the many mocked-up high-end ads, among them a full page for the jeweller Tiffany & Co., whose serene blue background portends a lucrative oasis in the parched advertising landscape. Finally, he says, the Globe will be able to offer advertisers heat-set colour with the timeliness of a daily 24-hour deadline, rather than the weeks required by magazines: “That’s a significant advantage.”
So captivated was Crawley by the technology that he signed an 18-year, $1.7-billion printing deal with Transcontinental Inc. in August 2008, minutes before the economic downturn decimated advertising sales and 24-hour news cycles were replaced by Tweets. In the current print media landscape the commitment seems a high-stakes gamble by the self-anointed “Canada’s National Newspaper”—either the 21st-century equivalent of investing in state-of-the-art buggy technology at the turn of the 20th century or a shrewd counterintuitive vision of how people will still want to read news two decades hence.
The news about newspapers of late has been bleak. Earlier this month, the New York Times Co., beset by losses, hired Goldman Sachs to sell the Boston Globe, which it acquired in 1993 for US$1.1 billion. The money-losing San Francisco Chronicle, with whom Transcontinental signed a 15-year printing contract in 2006, is on the brink of being shut down or sold. Respected outlets such as the 146-year-old Seattle Post Intelligencer and 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News have shifted operations completely online. In late May, the Newspaper Association of America gathered top executives in Chicago to share ideas about how to preserve traditions of newsgathering in a digital age. Last week, the association reported that newspapers are increasingly being read online, a platform they have yet to figure out how to monetize: the number of unique visitors to U.S. newspaper websites grew 10 per cent in the first three months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. (Similar statistics aren’t available for Canadian newspapers but anecdotal reports suggest a similar trend.) Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 12:00 PM - 2 Comments
Our News Hall of Fame hasn’t inducted anyone since 2001
Canada’s News Hall of Fame (yes, there is such a thing) is a collection of engraved plaques shaped like single quotation marks. The location has changed quite a few times over the years, but these days the wall display can be found hanging in a swank hotel in downtown Toronto. In the basement. In a room that is locked most of the time. Even if someone did happen to stumble across the exhibit, he would have a tough time figuring out exactly what it is. The sign, CANADIAN NEWS HALL OF FAME, is missing a few letters.
It reads: CANADIAN NE ALL OF FA E.
Something else is sorely lacking: new members. The shrine that is supposed to showcase the country’s most renowned and respected reporters—names like Gordon Sinclair, June Callwood, Knowlton Nash, and Austin “Dink” Carroll—has not inducted anyone since 2001. “One prefers journalists who don’t take life too seriously,” says Peter Worthington, founding editor of the Toronto Sun tabloid and himself a Hall of Famer. “But I do think it’s a pity. We all know people in this business who are somewhat special, and the trouble is when they die or retire, they’re forgotten.”
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 10:20 AM - 2 Comments
Newspapers around the world are in free fall, but B.C.’s little-known media baron has a model that just might point the way to the future
Rocki, by all accounts, was a good dog. A boxer with a winning personality, he was a fixture for 11 years in the Oak Bay Barber Shop. Oak Bay is a well-heeled suburb on the eastern edge of Victoria, B.C., and the location of Riffington, the oceanfront estate of a newspaper mogul named Black. David Black. Well, Rocki up and died last month and Black, being a regular customer of the barbershop, so informed the editor of the Oak Bay News—one of the 150 newspapers in Black’s growing empire. That’s right, a growing newspaper empire.
The editor wisely took the hint. That old newspaper adage about it only being news when “Man Bites Dog” may be true if you run a big city daily, but it doesn’t apply in Black’s world, and certainly not in the twice-weekly Oak Bay News. Rocki was accorded a sweetly eccentric send-off to dog heaven in the next issue of the News, complete with a picture of barber Glen Coxsford looking bereft. The headline read “Rocki goes down without a fight,” and you can bet it was the best-read story in the paper.
By Peter C. Newman - Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 9:00 AM - 5 Comments
Drowning in debt, Canwest still suffers for the loss of its visionary founder
In the fall of 1999, Izzy Asper—Canwest’s founder, animating spirit and autocratic warlord—finally surrendered official command to his younger son, Leonard (while staying on as executive chairman). His 35-year-old heir hosted a private family dinner to celebrate the occasion. “What will this mean for me?” the freshly minted president and CEO asked, looking around the table, then answered his own question: “Nothing,” he said. “I will always get in the last words, ‘Yes. Dad. No. Dad. Right away, Dad.’ ”
Nearly a decade later, as the world has turned into an economic killing field, Leonard misses the affirming echo of his father, who had a million miles on his meter and seemed capable of handling any emergency. Izzy died in 2003 but his last deal, the purchase by Canwest Global Communications Corp. of Conrad Black’s newspaper chain, buried the Winnipeg-based company in a catacomb of debt—$4.1 billion—from which it never emerged. That debt, added to later financial obligations, has dragged the entire media empire to the very brink of insolvency. As Maclean’s went to press late Tuesday night, Canwest was still locked in negotiations with its lenders, searching for some way to restructure, without tearing the company apart.
By Paul Wells - Monday, April 27, 2009 at 6:35 PM - 16 Comments
Newspaper circulation in the U.S. continues to collapse. “Now at a record rate.” Kind of a good news/ bad news day for Rupert Murdoch: His Wall Street Journal is the only top-25 paper to gain even a sliver of circulation over last year; but his New York Post loses one-fifth of its circulation in a single year.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, March 16, 2009 at 2:47 PM - 7 Comments
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer prints its last edition tomorrow. But it’s not shutting down: it will continue publishing online — the largest American newspaper to go paperless to date. But stay tuned: the San Francisco Chronicle may be next.
By Andrew Potter - Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 9:06 AM - 0 Comments
I love newspapers so much I work at one. It gives me no pleasure…
I love newspapers so much I work at one. It gives me no pleasure — and causes considerable anxiety — to wake up each morning and hear about layoffs, losses, bankruptcies, and so on in the industry. Things are looking so bad it is starting to make my previous ambition to be an academic look like a smart career move. In short, I stand to lose a lot if this business craters and my employers stop employing me.
But does society have anything to lose if newspapers disappear? That is, will democracy suffer if people are no longer able to get their news from ink printed on a flattened tree? I highly doubt it.
Smart people believe otherwise. Continue…