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

Posted on September 02, 2017, 2:54 am
7 mins

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!

Canadalandshow.com 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.

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

  1. Murphy

    September 2nd, 2017

    The important thing is that Margaret Wente can keep churning out her plagiarized tripe.

    Reply
    • Greg Hooper

      September 2nd, 2017

      Agreed. Someone on twitter said the trending news item was “Why is Wente still employed there?”

      Reply
    • September 2nd, 2017

      And still they have no shame. No wonder they’re now better known as “The Mop and Pail”.

      Reply
  2. Chris

    September 2nd, 2017

    Referring to Leah McLaren as a “great” columnist is a bit of a stretch, and I suppose a useful demonstration of “different strokes for different folks.” I detested her horrid attempts to channel Sex and the City in the late 90s and noted from a distance that she’d bought some kind of hobby farm in the 2000s because she fancied herself some kind of city wise country bumpkin. My most recent attempt to read her column found her essentially using the Globe’s ink to post a real estate ad for her home. From the beginning hers was the worst kind of navel-gazing “look at ME!” writing and it won’t be missed even from an otherwise moribund newspaper.

    Reply
  3. Jim Clarke

    September 2nd, 2017

    I could comment at length, I suppose, since I live in Toronto, read the Globe, and think you’re probably right. But I’ll just say that my reading this blog regularly must confirm that the Globe doesn’t cover Alberta politics well enough.

    As a young person, in the sixties, I used to read Richard J. Needham’s column — on the Letters page, no less — and was sometimes horrified by his negative view of his employer. But he’d have agreed with you too.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      September 2nd, 2017

      Kinder words have never been spoken about this blog or its blogger. Well, only once, when a commenter said my poem about deconstructing the West had been touched by the wings of Apollo. But Rasputin J. Novgorod, who was still hanging around the Globe when I passed through those grimy halls, indeed, I’m pretty sure I was there the day he retired, was not that far from the god of music in my estimation. So thanks. DJC

      Reply
      • Val Jobson

        September 4th, 2017

        We didn’t get the Globe & Mail on our farm near Calgary, but my dad had Needham’s Inferno, which I loved, and later I got another of Needham’s books of columns.

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          September 4th, 2017

          Somewhere on my bookshelf is a tattered copy of Needham’s Inferno. DJC

          Reply
  4. brett

    September 2nd, 2017

    We noticed a huge difference when we moved to the west coast and then to Calgary from Toronto. We stopped reading the Globe on a regular basis. It was then, and still is a Toronto centric paper no matter how hard it tried to be national.

    We only read it if we pick up a copy in a hotel or airport lounge. National Post is going/has gone in the same direction. We can read the newswires on line…we don’t have to buy a hard copy. We have stopped taking the paper here in Calgary because it is of such poor quality other than perhaps one of two columns. Sad really.

    Reply
  5. Greg Hooper

    September 2nd, 2017

    “Toronto’s national newspaper.”

    Reply
  6. Neville

    September 2nd, 2017

    Which two “great” columnists have been axed. The two you mention were never anywhere near great.

    Reply
  7. Lars

    September 2nd, 2017

    Well, that smooches the poodle. Reading the Globe after supper (yes, I know, how Daddish) is one of my reliable daily pleasures, and there aren’t a lot of them any more. so we’re losing arts coverage.
    They’ve been at this for some time. I recently recovered an old section of the Globe that I’d squirreled away back in the 90s – it contained the obituary of a long-ago boss of mine – and noticed that it was physically larger than the current paper. And it has seemed for some time to me that I was paying more and more for less and less newspaper anyway. But what choice is there here in Calgary? Read Dumb and Dumber (Herald or Sun)? Read the Post? I’d rather be uninformed than misinformed.

    Reply
  8. David

    September 2nd, 2017

    It will be too bad if the Globe and Mail continues down the road towards journalistic pablum. I thought for a while they had done a fairly good job of reversing their reputation as a grey, boring paper with insightful and sometimes witty writing. Although I should have realized that time has ended before your post, when I recently read a column by another similar columnist I enjoyed in the Toronto Star.

    The Globe and Mail still seems to have some good national coverage, or at least better than what is in the local Journal/ Post news/Sun papers. Also, some days their business “section” is down to half a page or one page, so I suppose if you want any business news you have to go to the Globe and Mail still . Of course, very little local business news in the Globe and Mail, but I haven’t seen a local business story in the Journal in the last six months either and I have been looking every day.

    I suspect some of the newspapers that are in better financial shape will slide into irrelevancy over the next few years, the ones like the Post group that are already in shaky financial shape will probably slide into insolvency instead. In the end we might be left with the Toronto Star as English Canada’s only remaining and therefore by default “national newspaper”.

    Reply
  9. Doug

    September 5th, 2017

    Digitization is only part of the cause of the demise of these newspapers. The other part is their embrace of neocon views. Even the old Globe, as a Conservative rag, still carried the information that all persuasions could then interpret from their own positions. But lately the newspaper seems to be earning, more than before, the title ‘Cloak and Veil.’

    Reply

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