Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside

Rafe: It’s the end of the newspaper as we know it…and I feel fine

Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside
Nine-year-old newsie and his 7-year-old brother ‘Red’ – 1915 (Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine/Shorpy)

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.

Rafe Mair is calling out BC's mainstream media columnists, like Vaughn Palmer (pictured here) for their sloppy journalism on BC Hydro's financial troubles (photo: Weekday on KUOW).
Vaughn Palmer (photo: Weekday on KUOW).

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?

Unholy alliance

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.

Rafe- Canada's biggest newspaper chain has sold its soul to oil and gasA 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.

I like Zero Hedge because it expands into larger items and also environmental publications such as  EcoWatch and DeSmog Blog.

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.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

15 thoughts on “Rafe: It’s the end of the newspaper as we know it…and I feel fine

  1. As many would know (or not) my bent is transit and transportation and the Vancouver Sun has never written an honest story about light rail, since Bill Bennett and Grace McCarthy forced the obsolete proprietary SkyTrain mini-metro on the region, in a shady deal with the Province of Ontario which at the time, owned the rights to the unsellable ICTS/ALRT mini-metro system.

    Since that time, the Vancouver Sun has written nothing but “puff’ pieces on transit or worse, printed spin from BC Transit/TransLink’s masterful spin doctors as if they were news.

    So my premise is,”If the Sun is nothing more than a propagandist for SkyTrain, then what other news stories they are propagandist’s for?”

    The Sun has now ceased to be a newspaper, it has now become the party organ for the BC Liberals.

    If you tell a SkyTrain lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The SkyTrain lie can be maintained only for such time as the provincial government and Pacific Press/Post Media can shield the people from the political, economic and/or transportation consequences of the SkyTrain lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the provincial government and Pacific Press/Post Media to use all of its powers to repress truth, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the SkyTrain lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the provincial government and Pacific Press/Post Media.

  2. The Vancouver & National Observers are in my opinion two of the best news sources out there. I quit the daily newspapers about 10 years ago because I found that they were too right wing and didn’t report some stories that were relevant to our province & country. The web is a where you find good journalists & bloggers who actually investigate not just spew irrelevant bs!

  3. Where do we start?
    From The Province having more advertisements than actual “news” to The Sun and its endless love fest with Realtors and reigning political parties.
    They’ve done it to them selves and when the last “fish wrapper” printing press goes bust in Vancouver….I for one wont miss a beat…
    Would the last person to get laid off in the Pacific Press building at 200 Granville please turn out the lights?

  4. I feel your frustration.I haven’t read a newspaper in years.There was a day when I was a newspaper junkie.The Province,The Sun and The Toronto Globe and Mail are basically rubbish.And remember the pathetic coverage about the lead up to the war in Iraq by the New York Times [Judith Miller,John Burns,Thomas Friedman,Michael Gordon etc.].

    I do subscribe to The New Yorker,Harper’s,The Atlantic and Rolling Stone.Matt Taibbi has written some enlightening and funny pieces about Wall Street in Rolling Stone.Unfortunately The Walrus and Maclean’s do not stand up.I had high hopes for The Walrus as an initial subscriber.

    And what about CKNW?Yeah … top dog.Maybe just a … dog.

    1. I read The Economist and occasionally MacLeans ( I’ve been pleasantly surprised).

      Newspapers are good for catching drops of dirty oil when I change my filter…….

  5. I always loved opening a paper in the morning before I started my day. I really enjoyed it.

    However, the final straw for me me was the editorials last October before the election. You all know of what I speak. The blatant support of Harper with complete overlooking of the facts, it was just enough for me. I cancelled my subs (I got both Province and sun for years) day or two after I read those editorials. I thought it was just a temporary boycott… however, here we are 6 months later and I really don’t see myself going back.

    1. Dave, what’s even worse is not even the biased news coverage but the question that finally trumped all the others – what the hell are they leaving out or “cleansing”? The BCH – IPP story ate at me because I knew how serious it was and going to get from experts yet not a word from The Sun or Province. Having watched and admired Vaughn Palmer so long I knew this was his meat, yet not a word. I don’t blame Vaughn, it’s easy for me to criticize because I always had a good job in a law firm waiting for me.

      Dave, when I cottoned on to the deal the Province had with Resource Works and then the massive formal written mutual love-in between Postmedia and rhe oil industry I was simply overwhelmed by my own naivete as much as their disgraceful betrayal of journalistic principles. I, too, waited too long.
      I can honestly say that while I miss having writers like Pete McMartin, Daphne Bramham and Ian Mulgrew coming to me instead of having to find them, I not only don’t miss the papers I feel like the kid that finally made a clean breast of it and confessed to his Mom that he stole candy from the store. I really do feel better!

  6. I agree that the two local papers are mostly garbage, but I do love the many columnists that previous commenters have named. And on top of everything else, The Province is also promoting farmed fish in their food section where they call it “local salmon” and it appears they are aiming this garbage towards the new immigrants based on how they write about it. That is just plain bad and I hope that the restaurants that participate in this know that we are not stupid and can see right through it.

    The Vancouver Sun edited out the two most important parts of a letter I wrote against port expansion, one part was about the fact that the port is a development enablers for engineering and construction firms and the second part was that jobs over environment really looks good when you see coverage of workers going to work in China with masks and watery eyes, basically that we have already sufficient space. I guess the Vancouver Sun didn’t want to embarrass Port Metro Vancouver.

    I agree that it is easy to finally wean oneself off papers, it is just more of a habit now rather than something interesting. Thank you for the heads-up on good blog reading.

  7. I cancelled my subscription to the Province a year and a half ago when they started running videos from Resource Works as editorial content on their website. I haven’t missed it a bit!

    1. Hell, I not only don’t miss them, I was given the family job of googling the comics we miss and found the ones they used to carry, like the Wizard of Id and BC, just to name two. What larks! To Jim Bennett, I prefer non fiction so hardly miss the papers. And Deb, you’re right, I should have mentioned both the Vancouver and National Observers which do an excellent job.

      To Terry, Marjorie was, along with Webster and Fotheringham were the toughest of the lot and make the present bunch, who are admittedly in jail, on a par with those who write the weekly Church bulletin. In fact, the latter are more fun and often better writers. I am the very proud owner of 3 original signed Norris caricatures and he was superb!

      I do miss the “social” columnists and Greg Douglas in the Sun but google gets the job done.

  8. When I checked your preferred alternatives I was not surprised that you prefer some of the same ones I subscribe to… although I gave up on rabble.ca… too far left for my limited time spent reading. One you didn’t mention, so I will, is National Observer ( http://www.nationalobserver.com/ ) Check it out or if you already have, add a thumbs up or down, in your opinion.

  9. Can’t resist mentioning Marjorie Nichols…and Len Norris always had great insight, with a gentle touch.

  10. Geezzz Rafe…. why not kick em while they’re down? The daily newspapers I mean…. Well they sure ain’t what they used to be are they?

    It’s possible someone could put out a newspaper today and start from scratch in my view. Give its readership some in-depth investigation of some issues, report the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers exist (sorry .. couldn’t resist this humour just for you)….acknowledge some interesting news and events taking place outside Canada…. pay some attention to democracy (i.e. existence of House of Commons and the Legislative Assembly)…. Give fuller coverage to presenting facts on the state and future of our environment….

    Anyhow….I agree with your sentiments on this…but if you don’t subscribe you won’t know what they’re NOT reporting…and therefor not be able to hold them to account!

  11. Well put Rafe! But isn’t the plural of ‘anus’ ‘ana’ or ‘anum’? Maybe ‘A$$holes?

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