Chill the champagne! Market-fundamentalist newspaper owners primed for infusion of taxpayer cash!

Posted on January 30, 2018, 2:09 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: The Canadian newspaper industry celebrates the coming of tax subsidies from the federal government. Actual Canadian newspaper publishers may not appear exactly as illustrated – in this case, by Jean-Francois le Troy in 1735 – but readers will get the general idea. Below: Federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly (Photo: Province of British Columbia) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Put the Dom Perignon in the chiller!

The Trudeau Government is on the verge of opening the spigots to pour public cash into our country’s flagging, mismanaged newspaper industry.

This will be done in the name of serving democracy and helping the brainiacs who drove the once flourishing industry into the ditch cope with the travails of a couple of decades of digitization.

It will do nothing for democracy, of course. There’s never been much that’s very democratic about the Canadian newspaper industry, notwithstanding a lot of self-serving propaganda to the contrary.

As for the digital age, as has been said here before, nobody had more warning of the extent and nature of the coming digital revolution than the Canadian newspaper industry, and it turned the wrong direction at every step along the way to its current disastrous destination.

I just hate to find myself on the same side of any issue as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, but if there was ever a time for it, this is it!

Obviously, there are appropriate ways for governments to deal with epochal disruptive technological change such as that wrought by the digital revolution. They don’t involve handing over big tax-supported subsidies to obsolete industries run badly by, irony of ironies, market fundamentalist ideologues!

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Quebec newspaper last week he was, in the CBC’s words, “preoccupied” with the “financial crisis” facing Canada’s incompetently run, consistently far-right mainstream media.

As a veteran of 30 years or so in the activity known as print journalism, I can’t think of a worse use for our tax dollars than subsidizing an industry that has proven time and again it doesn’t have a clue in a carload about how to deal with the challenges it faces.

Newspaper publishers across Canada have been engaged in a furious lobby for months to get tax-funded respite from the consequences of their own incompetence, and incompetence it is. Now it appears they have succeeded.

Newspaper owners will doubtless promise to deliver just a little bit more than their current formula of crime, crime, and more crime, plus anti-NDP propaganda provided free by the shills at the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and my new pals at the CTF, but don’t count on it ever actually happening.

At this juncture, we need to remind ourselves of the wise words of Shannon Rupp, writing in 2016 in The Tyee and quoted in this space before: “I don’t believe there’s anything worth ‘saving’ in for-profit publications that run bloggers-cum-floggers, plagiarists or shills for advertisers. Or the ones that do things like un-publishing journalism that offends advertisers. Or who run free articles by self-promoters. Or that promote health-threatening products – homeopathy, for example – because an advertiser buys editorial.”

You can count on it that if newspaper owners get their hooks into this dough nothing much will change about the incompetent way they do business, except that if it ever runs out they’ll ask for an extension. Postmedia will go on mismanaging its newspaper empire, paying its top executives huge bonuses and shipping cash south of the border. They’ll never give up the appalling human resources practices that have bedevilled their newspapers since the Southam Family sold them off.

Likewise, don’t imagine for a moment this will extend the lives of community papers in rural Alberta or similar venues. Nor will it motivate Ottawa to impose the sensible concentration-of-ownership and Canadian-ownership rules that could have saved the industry.

Never mind the rosy tales of Journalism’s Role In Democracy you’ve been reading about online lately, often penned by former mainstream reporters who ought to know better. Nothing much except staff cuts has happened since the days in 1988 when I toiled on the Globe and Mail’s copy desk, willfully defying the orders of a senior editor that we all write the pro-free-trade, pro-Brian-Mulroney headline on any story to mention the topic, no matter what it said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP government – principal victims of Postmedia’s unrelenting campaign of vilification against progressive policies and politicians – really should pick up the phone and call Mr. Trudeau and remind him about this.

Last week, a spokesperson for Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said government funding for publications needs to be updated for the digital age.

What do you want to bet this doesn’t mean any help for wee entrepreneurial bloggers and the like who have actually made a success of digitization.

It does raise an interesting question about my former employer, Canada’s former national newspaper, which has been hiding more and more of its largely redundant and derivative stenography behind an impenetrable paywall.

If we taxpayers are paying the Globe’s tab, will we still have to pay extra to peek behind the green curtain? (Answer: Undoubtedly yes.)

Jason Kenney sworn in, Doug Ford eyes run for two jobs at once; chutzpah defined

In other political news yesterday, Jason Kenney, principal beneficiary of Postmedia’s unrelenting anti-NDP campaigning and hero of the Western Canadian branch of the right-wing rage machine, was sworn in as the Honourable Member for Calgary-Lougheed at the Alberta Legislature.

At a speech to supporters soon thereafter, the United Conservative Party leader drew on his vast reserve of chutzpah to attack the deferential and occasionally timorous NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley for its supposed “anger machine.” He promised a new era of “civility and respect for our democratic institution – including our opponents.”

Your blogger wasn’t there, seeing as he was wearing blue jeans yesterday, and neither was former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, the only missing UCP MLA. Mr. Kenney’s mom and Bernard the Roughneck, however, were.

Speaking of this same quality of sheer effrontery and impudence, in Ontario former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford has announced he will be running for the suddenly vacant position of Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader. Mr. Ford is also running to follow in his late brother Rob’s footsteps into the office of mayor of Toronto. I for one see no reason why he shouldn’t occupy both much diminished offices at once!

In The Joys of Yiddish, author Leo Rosten (1908-1997) defined chutzpah as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

14 Comments to: Chill the champagne! Market-fundamentalist newspaper owners primed for infusion of taxpayer cash!

  1. Edwin Mundt

    January 30th, 2018

    Subhead names wrong Ford.

    Otherwise, a great write-up.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 30th, 2018

      Thanks to you too, Edwin. I can hardly blame the copy editor for the headline, can I? DJC

      Reply
  2. Chris

    January 30th, 2018

    Your headline says Rob Ford is running twice. Not to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t think Rob is running anywhere right now.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 30th, 2018

      Thank you, Chris. I fixed it as soon as I saw this comment. That said, I wouldn’t put it past Rob Ford to run again from wherever he is … or Ford Nation to vote for him! DJC

      Reply
  3. J.E. Molnar

    January 30th, 2018

    Two Royal Commissions and a Senate Report later, all warning about the undesirable pitfalls of concentration of media ownership and pretty much ignored by governments of the day, has resulted in putting Canadians at the precipice of journalistic disaster and financial indebtedness.

    The Postmedia property in Windsor, Ontario is forcing its employees into strike action. The union voted 97% in favour of strike action on Sunday to back up contract demands to avoid concessions to benefits, pensions, vacation time and eliminating retiree provisions/benefits. Postmedia executive pay increases in 2017 amounted to 33 per cent and the chair of the joint union council says this was done while Postmedia was laying off workers, cutting, closing newspapers and “buying people out all on our backs.”

    Financially kowtowing to the will of huge media conglomerates will not fix the media crisis in this country. “Too big to fail” should not apply to newspapers and banks.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/windsor-star-vote-in-favour-strike-1.4507944

    Reply
  4. Mark

    January 30th, 2018

    Count me down as in favour of federal support for the news industry. Rather than spouting anger principally derived from the current political orientation of many newspapers, it would be more logical for you to look instead at countries that publicly support their newspapers and see the quality of public discourse there. To wit: France, where newspapers are publicly funded and where you see an actual current of left-leaning thought in public discourse – a country with multiple socialist leaders in recent history – and a journalistic tradition that includes left and right aligned papers. That is the more likely outcome of public support in Canada. Let’s look at institutional design and evidence rather than supposition about your 1990s-era poor experience at a few papers. Over the medium term, I suspect that public funding will result in a realignment in our media landscape to something with more diversity in voices, not less.

    Reply
  5. Albertan

    January 30th, 2018

    Another neoliberal throwing-of-the-money to the Big Corporate Newspaper Friends? Note also, that the Trudeau election promise of the phasing out of the $billion/year subsidies to the oil and gas industry, has not happened. So much for free market enterprise which the right wing claims to love so dearly. But then the Liberals, traditionally, do social democrat promises during election campaign and then continue with right wing qualities once in power.
    In this day and age of ‘fake news,’ and whether certain news even gets covered at all, it is perhaps prudent to also be a reader of blogs like this, Susan-on-the-soapbox and outlets such as The Tyee, The Guardian and The Leader Post, etc. where often, news is called, perhaps courageously, ‘the way it is’ and is not, following what appears to be the nudge-nudge-wink-wink relationship with certain governments.

    Reply
  6. David

    January 30th, 2018

    Some interesting topics today. I am not against the Government helping the print media stay alive, but if it were up to me there would be some hefty conditions – a big one would be on market concentration. Any company that had over a certain newspaper market share (perhaps between 40 to 50% in a community) would not be eligible. The Sun/Post et al would then have to decide whether they wanted to be a monopoly and sink or make some big changes.

    Kenney’s civility pledge was kind of interesting and almost humorous given how he has behaved in the past. Sandra Jansen might want to ask if it extends to her and if it extends to Kenney’s minions. I suspect it will be the first promise he breaks as the leader of the opposition. A betting person might want to set up a pool on how long this one lasts – probably to be measured in hours or days, not months.

    Also thought provoking that Doug Ford has expressed interest in a little renovation (or is it a demolition) project – the Ontario PC’s, that would be one of the Conservative Parties that currently supports a carbon tax. Personally, I always found Doug to be the less charming of the Ford brothers. I think there are reasons his brother succeeded in becoming Toronto mayor while Doug did not, but I get the feeling Doug’s ego is not smaller than his brother’s. I understand the Ontario PC’s are talking about subjecting him to a rigorous vetting process. I wonder if that includes drug testing or perhaps that was only a problem for his brother. Ford might actually have a shot at it – he has some appeal in suburban Toronto, which still seems wary of the more social conservatives, even after some others changed their position on abortion and forsook pre-marital chastity.

    Reply
  7. Randy Fiedler

    January 30th, 2018

    Will any guarantees be made by recipients of such subsidies to stop cutting staff and other resources? Will democracy truly be served through more in depth, investigative pieces? Will more independent voices arise in print? Unlikely is the answer to all three. I heard my publisher and managing editor dismiss the Web in the early to mid 90s as just a passing fad then clamour for digital content a decade later. Another decade passed and older hands like me took our buyouts and ran. And even when content was sorely needed and photography was the easiest, least expensive way to fill online space in a society grown visually sophisticated and truly interested in stellar photos, most papers hewed to the staid and solid greyness of words by reporters of limited skill and with ever shrinking time to work. They reap what they have sown. Sadly, mostly very bad newspapers will get this money along with the very few good ones.

    Reply
  8. Expat Albertan

    January 30th, 2018

    I think we will soon see a new definition of chutzpah when Postmedia papers will undoubtedly criticize the Trudeau government for wasting taxpayer dollars on newspaper subsidies, all the while conveniently failing to mention to their gullible readers that taxpayer dollars are subsidizing the very fishwrap they are reading. Bank on it, kids.

    Reply
  9. David Bridger

    January 30th, 2018

    Private business is all in favour of government staying out of their business. They are solidly right wing then. But when the going gets tough those same people line up a the trough for government getting involved in their business to the extent of dishing out welfare to them.

    They are very much against welfare payments to anyone except themselves. Everyone loves socialism when they are the beneficiaries of government largesse.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      January 31st, 2018

      Some of us are old enough to remember 70s-era federal NDP leader David Lewis, and his tag line: “corporate welfare bums” … I guess some bad ideas never get old.

      Here’s a thought: instead of corporate welfare to Postmedia, how about a publicly-owned newspaper, like a print version of the CBC … oh, yeah, print is out of fashion, but I mean something that would go into uncompetitive news markets (meaning every one that isn’t Toronto) and offer an alternative point of view.

      Reply
  10. Lars

    January 31st, 2018

    I believe that you’ve mis-spelt Melanie Joly’s name in the figure caption.

    Reply
  11. February 1st, 2018

    What is this? Communism??? You either make it on your own or you fail. If you can’t sell newspapers anymore you’re going to have to find another industry to monopolize.

    Reply

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