Nevermind that 62,000 oilpatch workers lost their jobs last year. Or that 31,000 Alberta construction workers are predicted to hit the unemployment line this year. Or that suicide rates in the West rose 30%.
Termination Tuesday’s big national story was that the presciently-named Postmedia under President for life Paul Godfrey fired 90 employees and announced plans to merge the newsrooms of: The Vancouver Sun and The Province; The Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun; the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, and; the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun.
Even the Prime Minister, who obviously likes journalists a lot better than oil workers, was pretty sad but not so sad that he’s likely to intervene. Nor is the Competition Bureau, which showed not the slightest whiff of concern when it approved Postmedia’s purchase of Sunmedia, making it by far the nation’s largest publisher and giving it carte blanche to do what it did: eliminate competition in newsrooms.
The demise of these titles, some of which are rich in romance and history, is indeed cause for a moment of wistful melancholy and of course no joy can be found in the troubles of others. The removal of a man or woman’s work is devastating financially and emotionally. But this news, while unsettling to those involved, should have come as no surprise.
Newspapers have been in palliative care for many years now and for the most part are managed by executives possessing all the swashbuckling artistry and elan of your average undertaker. Oh, sure, some papers still have the appearance of life but 568 years after young Guttenberg invented the moveable type printing press . . . It. Is. Over. To paraphrase the New York Times, The King is dead.
It was a helluva good run for well over half a millennium, with print’s staggering finish accelerated in Canada by a number of circular follies, beginning with foreign ownership restrictions that paved the way for consolidation of ownership and the comical CanWest fiasco which in turn led to having most of the nation’s newspapers owned and directed by – you can’t make this stuff up – foreigners. To wit, distressed debt fund operators in New York whose sole interest has and continues to be, as David Olive of the Toronto Star put it a year ago, “picking the carcass clean.”
What piques our instinct for irony, however, is the hand-wringing about the “loss” of journalistic competition. Applying the usual caveats and exceptions, Canada’s media has for years lacked anything resembling a vigorous intellectual cut and thrust let alone a modicum of gravitas. Nor have we stood breathless and often aghast at its take no prisoners battles for our hearts, minds, loyalties and eyeballs. Rather, it has conducted its affairs with an overwhelming obsequiousness to conformity, building consensus over coffee or beers on the essence of the day’s events and, when occasionally aspiring to rugged individualism, meekly succumbing to the intimidations of risk-averse editors who feared to wander from the warm embrace of the oh-so mushy middle.
Apart from the Suns in their impetuous youth and a brief Renaissance under Conrad Black’s proprietorship when editors such as Ken Whyte and Neil Reynolds were released to battle what Lord Black referred to as the “overwhelming avalanche of soft, left, bland, envious pap which has poured like sludge through the centre pages of most of the Southam papers for some time,” the hallmark of Canada’s journalism has been the herd-like uniformity of its mindset.
So, while no joy is taken in saying this, there is little prospect of bewilderment when a herd is led to the slaughter.
Nor does the Prime Minister quite have it right when he sighs (sadly) that journalists are vital to democracy.
Yes, they can be useful within it but they are not the essence of its vitality. Journalism is a craft which no matter how noble and at times even glamourous, no more invented democracy than it did Nazism or Facism or Communism, all which many of its practitioners served with distinction at publications similar to Pravda. What is vital to democracy; what distinguishes it from totalitarian regimes is neither journalists nor journalism.
Democracy thrives based on its ability to maintain a profound belief in the unfettered dissemination of ideas through freedom of speech and its articulation in a free press. In this, journalism and the many who plied its trade did indeed play a key role in the capturing, recording and dissemination of information, ideas and opinions. At times they have even participated in the development of the same but for the most part, they have been democracy’s hewers of wood and drawers of water, fetching and carrying – occasionally with great courage and innovation.
Good and faithful servants many have been but their duty was always to accumulate and circulate through finite technologies that are now redundant. All have been replaced by a much more powerful, far more democratic congregator and disseminator bereft of timorous gate keepers and their agitated manipulations.
Soon there will be no more presses and therefore no more need for anything other than their freedom as a metaphor. Democracy will instead thrive or founder on its willingness to maintain a free and open Internet.
Yes, the King is dead. Long Live the King.