Web Exclusive: No longer a real newspaper: New Globe betrays Canadians

The new tarted-up, glossy, colour Globe and Mail is many things, but it is not a real “news paper.”

It has been “dumbed up” and robbed of much of its news content.

The result is a hybrid never before seen in North America. It is some of the old Globe of course. But is also part Maclean’s magazine and The Economist. It is part National Geographic, Sporting News, Vanity Fair, and Women’s Wear Daily.

The front page of this new Globe often looks more like a magazine then a newspaper. It has more pages than before, but solid news stories are outnumbered by interesting but not riveting features and photographs. Many of the features are very long–so long I can’t imagine most people reading them. In addition, the typeface selected appears to be too small and may discourage people from more than skimming the paper.

In recent years papers have been told by consultants to keep stories short to attract readers–but this Globe is no ordinary newspaper. Large, luxurious pictures abound, but they dominate some pages so strongly that the work of the paper’s journalists is diminished.

Two sections of the paper have improved: The Arts Section has more depth then before, and the weekend Book Section, a long-time disappointment, has been improved with the addition of more book reviews. However, while The Report on Business has more features than before, it still totally adheres to the Globe’s right-wing ideology. Lengthy features dominate the Sports section. The Travel and Style sections, aimed only at the wealthy, are the two most disgusting parts of the paper.

The theory behind the creation of this odd publication is that people will get their news about yesterday from the Globe’s website, and then they’ll read the paper for more detailed stories and features.

Celebrating the ‘beauty of print’

Globe Editor-in-Chief John Stackhouse is proud of the new product.

“We wanted to celebrate the beauty of print,” Stackhouse told CBC Toronto Metro Morning Host Matt Galloway. ” … and also make it thought provoking. One of the great things about newspapers is that [they] should inspire the mind, inspire the heart … .”

“Our passions and concerns have not changed,” Stackhouse claimed in an editorial, but this is clearly not the case.

“It’s Globe-lite,” jokes John Miller, former chair of the Ryerson University of Journalism. He had felt the Globe needed a radical change, but now he thinks readers are “in for a shock.”

Clearly this new hybrid Globe is mostly about marketing. The content is massaged more then before to appeal to an up-scale demographic that has the bucks to buy the posh products featured in the glossy colour ads: Porsche, Rolex, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, etc.–and there are a lot more ads now compared to before the changes.

Most of the journalism has a noticeable lack of edge. During the first two weeks, hardly any stories or features addressed the problems or concerns of Canadians in a down-to-earth, honest, sympathetic manner. I don’t recall seeing any stories that prominently featured the views of community representatives such as labour leaders, leading environmentalists, or social activists, etc. It appears that this new Globe doesn’t know the meaning of “public interest” or “social conscience.”

It is unlikely we will see any investigative journalism in the new Globe that will probe and help combat the underlying social problems and income disparity in the country let alone investigate Western-style corruption and cronyism in business or look into how the rich and powerful have distorted the tax system to have it serve their own interests.

International news overshadowed by features

The international section was given more space compared to the old Globe. However, insightful news reporting was overshadowed by less-important features and large photographs. There were fewer international stories that some people or advertisers would describe as being “negative”, such as war stories and critical environmental stories. Stories that didn’t fit into the Globe’s idea of what is fit to print were left out or presented in a low-key manner.

Three examples of stories that the Globe could have carried on one particular day in early October:

  • The UN’s International Labour Organization issued a report stating that job shortages have led to social unrest in at least 25 countries, and it feared more serious trouble would develop. It said almost 22 million jobs are needed: 14 million in rich countries and eight million in developing nations.
  • The internationally recognized Environmental Justice Foundation reported it had found evidence akin to slavery on trawlers that provide fish for European dinner tables. The investigation uncovered forced labour and human rights abuses of African workers.
  • While the Globe downplayed and covered only labour protests in France, other media organizations wrote about a much wider global backlash against budget cuts, describing worker protests in France, Bangladesh, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

When it comes to political, economic, or ideological views, following the dismissal of Rick Salutin, the only non-compliant voices at the Globe are occasional contributor economist Jim Stanford and freelance columnist Lawrence Martin.

Stackhouse says that the Globe will add new journalists as it goes along, implying that there will be a greater diversity of voices. But I don’t buy it. It is very unlikely that the Globe will hire any regular columnist who has views that conflict with the beliefs of its target audience.

The only new interesting voice belongs to Irshad Manji, who has been given Salutin’s Friday column spot. She is a harsh critic of Islamic radicalism who often sympathizes with Israel, which perfectly fits the pro-Israeli position of the Globe and the Harper government. But even with the addition of Manji, the paper is seriously flawed because of the lack of non-conformist opinions and ideas.

This is not a real newspaper

Everything considered, I have to say that this new Globe is not a real newspaper for two reasons in particular: First, because of the paper’s pro-corporate, neo-Liberal ideology, it refuses to publish many important stories because they don’t fit the Globe’s vision of the way the world should be.

The Globe has been quick to move its editorial views and political agenda even further to the right during the first two weeks of publication. Examples:

  • Universal health care: Over the past few years the Globe’s pro-privatization coverage of health care issues has helped convince many Canadians that the country needs to further erode its public health care system because it is too expensive. Now the paper is pushing the issue even further to the right. On the day the new Globe was launched, the paper announced what it calls a discussion–Our Time to Lead–to debate and provide coverage of issues it says are important for Canadians. One is entitled: “Is profit the medicine for ailing public health care?”
  • Universal social programs: An editorial questioned the need for universal social programs–something that Canadians fought against the country’s rich and powerful for more than 50 years to obtain. The editorial, “The Welfare State in Retreat” praised new right-wing British Prime Minister David Cameron for promising to cut $134-billion in government spending over the next four years, cuts that will include an end to universal child benefit payments as well as reduced payments for welfare recipients under some circumstances. The Globe editorial concluded by questioning the need for universal social support in some areas in Canada, and commented that: “Despite the current enthusiasm for universal full-day kindergarten in Canada, for instance, those scarce resources would be better directed toward low-income families.”

One Canadian who must be very pleased with the Globe’s embrace of right-wing ideology is Stephen Harper. Harper barely clings to power with a minority government and the support of about 35 per cent of the public. The Globe occasionally slaps Harper on the wrist, but seldom takes the Conservatives to task on major issues–one exception being the proroguing of Parliament. However, this was not unique as many Canadian papers also criticized the government.

The Globe is quite satisfied with the way the Conservatives are running things but, if it cared about the welfare of the majority of Canadians and if it were disturbed by how the fabric of the country is being torn apart, it could bring Harper to his knees within six months.

Corporate owners have always used their papers to advance their ideological objectives, but there is something new and more disturbing going on at the Globe. In a scary, Orwellian way, the paper is now a controlled “package” that says, yes there are issues that need to be addressed, but basically, “everything is okay.” The large headlines telling us to be concerned about the growth of poverty no longer appear in the Globe. Nothing is important enough to warrant upsetting or scaring anyone.

On the front page, under its masthead, the Globe’s slogan says: “Canada’s national newspaper.” So the public won’t be confused by what they are reading, and so they won’t expect too much from this hybrid, perhaps it should be changed to: “This is not a newspaper.”

Old Globe was the best of a bad corporate lot

I have long been critical of the Globe because of its blatantly biased news coverage and its pro-corporate, free enterprise agenda. But the old paper was still Canada’s leading news outlet and the main touchstone for news and information. It has long been known as the ‘paper of record.’ While I strongly favour the creation of public funds to pay for publicly responsible media, as is being done in parts of Europe, including Norway where five such dailies exist, the old Globe was by far the best of a bad corporate lot.

So the important question is whether this new Globe can follow in the footsteps of the old one and be an important and influential news source.

The answer has to be a firm no.

The sleek paper and the beautiful pictures may dazzle some people–particularly those who don’t read very much–but the paper’s apparent lack of empathy and its unwillingness to address important issues in a fair manner will almost certainly damage it’s credibility.

While nearly all mainstream media is being battered by free online news sites, gadgets such as BlackBerrys and iPads, free dailies, and because of the loss of advertising to companies providing services on the Internet, the Globe had been doing fine, according to Stackhouse.

“We’re doing very well. We’ve just come off one of our best years ever,” Stackhouse told CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning. “We’ve had a significant increase in print revenue. Our circulation is growing at about five per cent over the past year … . We see a fairly strong future for print.”

In the U.S., the Wall Street Journal is thriving because of its financial and business niche. Here in Canada, it seems to me that the old, not-so-phony Globe had an important niche–its presence and impact as the country’s national newspaper.

Thomson family abandons ‘newspaper of record’

Unfortunately, by aiming the new Globe toward a high-end audience and dramatically altering the content, the Thomson family, has abandoned its’ “newspaper of record”, the country’s only national newspaper. The Thomsons bought back most of the shares in the Globe in September 2010, but the sale must have been “in the bag” for some time and the family was likely in favour of the major make-over for some time.

With assets of $19 billion, the Thomsons are the 20th wealthiest group in the world and by far the wealthiest family in Canada. In view of such astronomical wealth, perhaps the family could have published an upgraded, higher quality version of the Globe, even if the paper might have to return a profit of less than the 20 per cent the industry has come to expect.

After all, patriarch Roy Thomson, who died in 1976, amassed his first billion by squeezing exorbitant profits from dozens of small newspapers in one-paper towns. Having worked for a Thomson chain newspaper for $32.50 a week in the 1960s, I speak from personal experience.

The family is spending a wad on its new, risky venture. They had already pumped millions into the paper’s design and planning before getting the new project off the ground. They signed a $1.7 billion contract to print the Globe on new, state-of-the-art German presses for the next 18 years. And there is the cost of publishing parts of the paper with glossy paper.

Instead, the Thomsons could have made a different kind of business decision–one that would have been much better for the country. They might have come up with a way of having the Globe continue in its role as an important national institution. Perhaps they could have leveraged a small part of their fortune to re-build and reshape the old Globe and not turn it into a coffee table display for the rich. One key first step would have been to re-hire the many reporters the Globe has fired in recent years, thus returning the paper’s newsroom to its earlier capacity.

Media corporations can’t be trusted

I can’t be sure why the Thomsons and their business advisors went for the big, flashy project. It’s impossible to know with most corporations, let alone one owned by the secretive Thomson clan. The strange and eccentric David Thomson, the third generation family corporate head, has wasted millions-of-dollars when over-bidding to win a single cherished painting, but he usually relies on business advisors to make hard-nosed decisions in other matters.

Even though our only national newspaper is hugely important to the public, decisions about the Globe’s future are made privately. Obviously, as we have seen from past experiences, media corporations cannot be trusted to do what is in the public interest.

So what can people do to show their displeasure about what is happening at the Globe?

I’m guessing when I estimate that as many as 500 people sent protest letters and emails to the Globe when Rick Salutin was fired. However, the Globe was not impressed. None of the letters was published, and Executive Editor Neil Campbell wrote to one concerned person that the letters were obviously part of an organized campaign and the paper would not respond to such tactics.

Upon learning about Campbell’s reaction, I thought to myself, when several hundred largely left wing people complain to the Globe, it’s a conspiracy and unworthy of acknowledgement. If 500 people wrote in to complain about the treatment of Israel on some issue, would that also be ignored as a conspiracy?

Perhaps 200 or more people cancelled their subscription to the Globe because of the Salutin affair. While even 5,000 cancellations won’t make much difference to the Globe, many more people still may choose to cancel their subs and boycott the paper as their personal, indignant response to the creation of a publication that, while flashy, has many weaknesses.

With the Internet ever-present and many excellent publications readily available, we can easily do without this new Globe. We each can build our own bank of news sources that will allow us to access plenty of in-depth, diversified news and information that will be superior to what is available in the new Globe.

Nick Fillmore, a Toronto-based freelance journalist, worked with the CBC and other media organizations for more then 25 years and is a founder and past-president of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), and a founder of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).

Comments on this article welcome at: fillmore0274 [at] rogers [dot] com

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