When I was born, well, quite a while ago, R.B. Bennett was Prime Minister of Canada, Herbert Hoover was President of the US, Ramsay Macdonald was Prime Minister of the UK, Simon Fraser Tolmie was Premier of BC, and Louis Taylor was Mayor of Vancouver, my natal city. From then until March 28, 2016 the Vancouver Sun and Province were in our house and, when it was alive, from 1933-53, the News Herald as well. I delivered the Province as a boy, was a proud member of their Tillicum Club and sneered at members on the Sun’s Sun Ray Club with Uncle Ben.
I am not going to spend much time today complaining about the newspapers’ inability to deliver quality. That’s a given and I’m not sure that they would deny that. There’s not enough money, they say, and, not being in the business, I can’t argue with them.
I do know that some very bad things have happened in recent years. At the time I was in government in the 70s and right to the end of the 20th century newspapers held politicians tightly to account and by and large they were pretty even-handed.
BC papers quit doing their job
Something happened just in time for the Gordon Campbell government. Almost instantly upon election, Campbell brought in a catastrophic energy policy which was certain to ruin the environment and ecology in a great number of rivers and put BC Hydro into a perilous financial bind.
The situation was tailor made for the Vaughn Palmer of yore and we all waited for it to happen. He was the man who by diligence and biting journalism brought down the Glen Clark government on the “fast ferry” issue in the 90s. He was relentless and it showed – he’d expose Campbell too! We waited and waited and it hasn’t happened again to this day, 14 years later. The Vancouver Sun, which always prided itself on the holding governments to account, has given the Campbell/Clark incompetents a free ride, starting with Campbell being tossed in jail for drunk driving.
It was soon clear that the two papers were going extremely easy on the Clark government’s trance over LNG. I often think of what would have happened if this were 35 years ago with Webster, Nichols, Fotheringham, Burns, Wasserman & Co prowling the corridors of power. What in hell had happened since?
Then there was an article in the Vancouver Observer that caught my eye because it quoted the publisher of the National Post, flagship paper of Postmedia, making purring sounds about the Oil industry.
A little bit of googling and it became evident that the fossil fuel industry was getting even better than a free ride. As is now well known, Postmedia, which includes the Sun and the Province, entered what I indelicately call a mutual masturbation pact with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) while the Province became a partner with Resource Works, a gathering of the usual industry suspects dedicated to promoting Woodfibre LNG, a potential environmental nightmare.
Knowing this, if you cast your minds back a few years, it explains the almost total commitment of the Postmedia papers to the fossil fuel industry.
But that didn’t do it for me – after all, it was the old gambler’s cry, “The wheel may be crooked but it’s the only wheel in town”. There was nowhere else to go.
More than one wheel in town
I thought some more – what was obvious was that both papers are boring. Not just boring – put to sleep boring. There’s nothing to look forward to anymore. Readers want to grab the newspaper to look for news and find that both papers are identical and, in fact, if you get the Globe and Mail, you can often see three identical stories in one morning in three different newspapers.
Then it sank in: there was more than one wheel in town after all, I just had to get off my duff and look!
Where once I waited for the papers, now, first thing in the morning, I look at BBC, CNN, CBC, and CTV on my computer and in less than an hour have a good overview of the major news and several stories to return to after breakfast. Moreover, I have infinitely better sports coverage than I would ever get in the newspapers. The short conclusion is that the Sun and the Province don’t really cover politics in a meaningful way anymore and they never were any hell on other news which I now get on my iPad. They just had Luann, Rex Morgan,The Other Coast…
A few will be missed
I’m going to miss a number of columnists, particularly Pete McMartin, Daphne Bramham, Stephen Hume, and Ian Mulgrew. I’m sure I can find them online as well as Luann, Rex Morgan and The Other Coast – the only comics I care about. When the finance minister of the Mair/Conway-Mair household asked if I could justify the cost of these newspapers, I had to confess that I couldn’t. They’d just become two ever-diminishing sheafs of paper which arrive on my lap at breakfast time that I had become used to.
I’ll continue to get the Globe and Mail, although that isn’t much better than the other two. With the exception of the BC columnists, especially Mark Hume and Gary Mason, I only scan the big kids from the big smoke. With one or two exceptions, they seem afraid to be controversial and are, well, boring. They’re sooooo Central Canada and joined at the hip to the Establishment.
Blogs help fill the void
The problem of how to fill the void remains. What does the ordinary person who grew up with newspapers do now that they are so bad. So far, we’ve just gone on buying them but that will end sooner or later. There are lots of options on the Internet but they’re a lot more trouble than just sitting back with a coffee and opening up your newspaper wherever you want and flipping around as we had always done. We’re going to have to make adjustments.
What’s this going to look like? Many of the large newspapers have online editions – will they be enough to fill gap? And there are newcomers that often tend to be one or two issues only and many of those are excellent but they don’t completely satisfy the news junkie.
Locally, there are good general information sheets such as The Tyee, and for environment and politics, I mustn’t forget The Common Sense Canadian. For politics over all, iPolitics is excellent and if you are more of the left wing bent, rabble.ca is probably what you want. There are lots of very good newsletters.
Modern news asks more from the reader
I’ve gone on for a bit now and all I’ve done is scratch the surface and piss off a lot of people who wonder why I didn’t mention them. The point is that news no longer comes in nice cosy packages where you can buy a house, a car, read the sportspage, get a girl or a boy or something in between for entertainment and then read for what passes as news. One has to travel about quite a bit.
This bother has no doubt kept the traditional newspapers on life support. The Internet alternatives aren’t easy for lots of folks. But our kids, the new generation of news junkies, aren’t nearly as troubled by the loss of the friendly newspaper as the adults in the family are. In fact, most couldn’t care less. This is where the newspapers are really in deep trouble. If your business hasn’t got a future generation of customers, it hasn’t got a future.
Nobody wants to pay
There really is no point in trying to assess blame. My own feeling is that they wanted to change but couldn’t figure out how. The last major change I can remember was back in the 1960s when the London Times took the advertising off the front page and replaced it with news. Most newspapers in the world essentially look the same.
The big problem for the Internet’s so-called “newspapers” is, of course, that nobody wants to pay for them and content is difficult to keep out of reach – the Catch 22 being the more you put up barriers, the less it’s read.
If I had to make a guess – and I suppose I must– we will carry on with the scads of publications, all the way from trade publications, religious tracts and sports sheets to some whole ones that throw in the news and politics as we are accustomed. We, the public, will get used to that because the new “public” is now about 15 years of age and quite acclimatized to popping all over the Internet to find what they want. Moreover, they can read off a screen where this old fart is easily discouraged by them.
Adjusting just fine
All I can tell you is after two weeks without the regular newspapers, I’m doing fine. I’ve found my favourite comic strips and it’s easy. I get my news from my iPad every morning as I have for some time because I knew I wouldn’t get it in the newspapers. I’m finding that the adjustment has in large measure already been made and I didn’t realize it. It’s nowhere near as bad as quitting smoking, something a heroin addict many years ago told me was much more difficult to quit than hard drugs.
The good side is that I feel cleaner not giving money to newspapers on the take from the fossil fuel industry, which are also deep up the anuses of right wing governments and the greed-ridden polluters that support them in exchange for helpful laws.
I suppose that if an old troublemaker like me can make the dramatic change of tossing away his newspaper, the rest of the world will also adjust and, as it always has, keep spinning on its axis until we blow it to bits or render it uninhabitable.
The trick, as with most things, is overcoming inertia, which I’ve finally done. It feels fine and keep asking myself, why the hell did it take so long?
Now, off to the ‘net to find Luann, The Other Coast, and tiresome old Dr. Rex Morgan.