Sunday, October 28, 2012

(No.217) The Globe and Mail's slobbering journalism

"The Globe and Mail's slobbering journalism"

by Alastair Rickard

Growing up in Ontario I saw my father and mother read the Globe and Mail daily newspaper published in Toronto ( its origin dated from 1844 and the founding of The Globe by George Brown). Wherever we lived it arrived by mail. When I began reading a daily newspaper it was, of course, the Globe. If my parents read that paper it must be (I thought) the best newspaper.

As years passed and I began reading other English language newspapers in Canada and later on from the U.K. and the U.S. I had decided for myself, before the Globe began vigorously promoting itself as "Canada's national newspaper", that it was our country's leading English language daily -- and it still is (although not as superior as its editors seem to believe).

Wherever I am in Canada the paper I always try to obtain first among the papers I like to review each day is the Globe. Having said that the Globe (like the CBC) often makes my teeth ache with its self-regard. As indispensable as the Globe is to me as both a Canadian nationalist and a news junkie, its precious correctness, self-righteous editorial posture and superior tone sometimes makes even a loyal reader like me gag.

Rick Salutin, one of my favourite columnists, for many years wrote a weekly column for the op-ed page of the Globe. He does the same thing now for Canada's largest circulation daily, the Toronto Star. [A personal point of disclosure: I've had op-ed pieces published in both papers.]

In a recent Star column (Oct. 26) Salutin described the Globe as having the New York Times as its "parental model". He also said it has a "curiously querulous" tone and is currently characterized by "an ambiguous mix of arrogance, self-doubt, insecurity and superiority". I think Salutin's view is perceptive.

In announcing recently the Globe's institution of a $20 a month 'paywall' for readers to climb in order to gain access to its digital content (following the lead of the New York Times) its editor-in-chief John Stackhouse referred to the paper's high standards. Not long before, in referring to Globe columnist Margaret Wente's occasional mistakes involving attribution of sources and quotes ( a matter that had been pursued obsessively by a University of Ottawa professor in her anonymous blog), Stackhouse indicated that Wente, because of her occasional lapses, had not met the Globe's high standards.

Wente, an excellent columnist, is one of the band of superior Globe columnists ( led by Jeffrey Simpson, Eric Reguly, Andre Picard and John Doyle) who form a core strength and competitive advantage for the Globe. If Wente, whose column disappeared for awhile as penance, wasn't thrown under the bus by the newspaper's editor-in-chief she was certainly marched to the  bus terminal for a long look.

Stackhouse's smarmy references to the Globe's high standards and his claim that having "the country's best journalism remains our daily standard" would be easier to swallow if they were rather less selective and did not co-exist with certain hypocrisies.

On Oct. 1, 2012 David Mirvish, a Toronto theatre owner and producer and major Toronto daily newspaper advertiser, made an announcement that was treated by the Toronto media (especially by the Globe and the Toronto Star) as if the second coming was about to occur on King Street in downtown Toronto.

Indeed the event seemed carefully prearranged with the media. Mr. Mirvish's big news was his plan to build three 80+ story condo towers in the heart of Toronto. To accomplish his grand vision:  among other things the Princess of Wales theatre would be demolished.

Downtown Toronto has seen population density increase steadily and by more than 400% in just the past five years. As anyone who lives or works or regularly visits downtown Toronto knows, it is approaching gridlock. Only the credulous or the foolish or the self-interested are likely to actually believe that the city needs the kind of additional high density in the heart of the city that would be imposed by such massive development and by similar proposals now emerging from developers like Oxford Properties.

Still, both the Globe and the Star dove with unseemly haste into the pro-Mirvish tank almost as if his announcement was the key to the kingdom they wished to inhabit. Both papers followed up their jounalistic slobbering over the Mirvish 'vision' for 'his' section of downtown Toronto by moving quickly to begin publishing articles and columns supporting both this massive sort of development and making the case for the desirability of still higher downtown density.

The two Toronto dailies' theatre critics helped lead their respective parades. They couldn't wait to support Mirvish's grand vision and the demolition of one of the city's leading theatres. Reinforcing my opinion of his independence as a critic only Robert Cushman of the National Post among the major theatre critics opposed the demolition of the Princess of Wales theatre to make way for the Frank Gehry-designed Toronto version (times three) of London's infamous 'gherkin' ( AKA the Swiss Re tower).

Cushman wrote (Oct.6) "I'm less shocked by the plan [for the towers] than by the cavalier reaction of some of my fellow theatre writers who claim that to shed tears over the loss of the Princess of Wales would be sentimental. My objections aren't sentimental; they're practical."

I welcomed the return in 2010 of control (and greater editorial independence) of the Globe and Mail to the family of Lord Thomson. It was a control that had been acquired in 1980 but one that had been submerged in the corporate entity Bell Globemedia in 2001.

I hope that the sort of journalistic boosterism by the Globe which has been the subject of this column does not reflect some misguided editorial impulse to curry favour. As for the Star's editorial motivation, perhaps Torstar board chair (and a leading Toronto booster) John Honderich whispered in the pear-shaped ear of the Star's publisher.

I expect to return to the subject of corporate media pretence in a future column.




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