Sic transit gloria mundi … Globe and Mail, a ‘writers’ newspaper’ no more or a national one either, cans two great columnists

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PHOTOS: This was the way into the Globe and Mail back when it was located at the unfashionable west end of Toronto’s Front Street. The door was moved. Apparently the “writers’ newspaper” behind it didn’t come with it. Below: Fired Globe columnists Tabatha Southey and Leah McLaren (Photos: Twitter).

Many of Tabatha Southey’s columns made readers laugh out loud. They certainly had that effect on me.

Some of Leah McLaren’s images, once read, could never be unseen. Her columns could also prompt a laugh or two. Case in point: “The joy (and politics) of breastfeeding someone else’s baby.”

Both these qualities are hallmarks of writers whose words readers love to read. Great writers, in other words, as we used to say back when newspapers actually cared about that kind of thing.

So, of course the bureaucrats who now run the Toronto Globe and Mail have decided to skid them both! reported this latest development in the continuing unraveling of the Toronto daily that once upon a time could get away with calling itself “Canada’s National Newspaper” on Thursday.

This is only part of the sorry tale of the failing Globe, of course, a publication that is managing the decline of the newspaper industry by turning itself into a boutique regional business piffelsheet and a website specializing in tiresome neoliberal bloviations, quite unlike Ms. Southey’s frequently progressive commentary. Never mind the best way for a subject to be truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate, eh?

The Globe of 2017, in other words, is a far cry from the “writers’ newspaper” it was back in the days it was known as “the Good Grey Globe,” located down at the unfashionable end of Front Street west of Spadina, where its excellent corps of sandal wearing copy editors had memorized its own quirky stylebook.

Now, judging from its ephemeral, mostly digital presence, the Globe has no copy editors. But, by God, it has colour!

Remember, newspapers nowadays aren’t really run by journalists. Most of them haven’t been for a couple of decades. The guys making the decisions now are mostly accountants and business school types with a specialty in marketing. (How’s that working out?) Plus, of course, they are mostly guys.

The ones who implement their orders are just corporate bureaucrats – and that goes for newsrooms as well as advertising departments. If you imagined otherwise, you’ve watched too many movies. (Some of them, probably, were filmed in the Globe and Mail’s appealingly grungy newsroom. Never mind. It’s not like that any more. They’ve moved.)

Writing stuff that’s funny risks offending readers. Bureaucrats just hate it when that happens. Writing stuff that’s way out there – as Ms. McLaren certainly did in her weirdly compelling yarn about Michael Chong’s baby – means taking the risk readers will think it’s, well … really weird. Never mind that the weirdest stories are also often the best ones. Bureaucrats hate it when that happens too.

Most editors would rather run something allegedly funny by, say, Dave Barry, now 70, the Miami columnist who used to be a staple of Canadian daily newspapers. His stuff came over the wire marked “HUMOR.” If someone complained – which they rarely did, because it was anodyne stuff – an editor could blame the wire service. Also, of course, Mr. Barry was a man. So on both counts, there was no way some editor would have to explain why he ran a story about a columnist trying to breastfeed someone else’s baby! Or why he deleted it.

Ms. Southey and Ms. McLaren, obviously, are both women, and as we saw when Postmedia laid off editors here in Western Canada two years ago, it seemed to be talented women who went over the side while the survivors were bureaucrats in pants whose main talent seemed to be, in Ms. McLaren’s memorable phrase, “appalling jargon-filled memospeak and a complete lack of human empathy.”

Je digresse, but Ms. McLaren’s parting shot at the editor who fired her is a shining example of what the Globe used to demand of its journalists. “We abhor gobbledygook wherever it may appear – in government, business, sport or academe – but don’t hesitate to report its presence,” commanded E.C. Phelan in the 1976 edition of the Globe and Mail Stylebook.

I don’t know the demographics of the canned writers who made up the Globe’s “freelance footprint,” but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turns out there’s a pattern here. In fairness, as the masses on Twitter couldn’t resist repeatedly pointing out, the Globe did keep Margaret Wente, notorious for her plagiarism, but reliably conservative and never intentionally funny. Of course, Ms. Wente is staff, not a freelancer, so she would be harder to sack. It’s a union shop, don’t ya know? Plus, she’s been around for a long time, so I imagine she knows where a lot of the bodies are buried.

Meanwhile, in the week before we learned Ms. Southey and Ms. McLaren had been sent for the high jump, we were informed the Globe’s minions are axing the paper’s Atlantic Canada print edition – thereby surrendering any claim to be Canada’s National Newspaper. Then, on Tuesday, we were told the Globe would be dropping sections devoted to covering the arts and sports.

We should probably be grateful the Globe kept at it as long as it did.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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