Canadian Commentary: Media and Culture

Media Miscellanea

February 1999

The Star and the Sun

About a year ago, I speculated on how amusing it would be if the separatist Pierre Pelardeau took control of the Sun newspaper chain. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that, after his death, Pelardeau's sons would be welcomed by the Sun as a saviour!

The reason for this astonishing turn of events is of course that they rescued the Sun from a fate worse than separatists - the wishy-washy liberal Toronto Star. The Star's failure to take over the Sun is widely seen as a setback, but, in fact, the Star has come out of the whole mess with the best possible result (even if it achieved this accidentally). It was hard to imagine the Star running a right-wing tabloid while pretending to compete against it, let alone a series of tabloids across Canada. What the Star was really after was papers in its own image - the local, southern Ontario broadsheets that the Sun had taken from Southam in exchange for the Financial Post. In the end, the Star picked these up from Pelardeau as a compensation prize, without having to sell any assets to get them, leaving the tabloids to be run by an organization that knows them inside out. This outcome is, essentially, what the Star wanted in the first place, without any of the pain of trying to absorb tabloids.

For once, the outcome of this media manoeuvering is good for Canada. The Sun will be a strong newspaper chain, and now that the Pelardeaus are in charge, it might actually revert to being populist rather than the Conservative/Reform version of Pravda, when Paul Godfrey eventually retires. The absorption of the business-oriented Financial Post by the Conrad Black's national newspaper is no loss. Most importantly, the Star now becomes a truly viable media group, leaving at least one media chain in Canada that is not blatantly right-wing (even if it remains confined to Central Ontario). Now all we need is for the Star to start expanding and truly challenge Southam.

The Globe and the Post

It's hard to tell how the Globe/Post battle is panning out. People do seem to be reading the Post, but whether they are simply the people who used to read the Financial Post is hard to tell. From a downtown Toronto perspective, the Globe remains the paper that is hard to find on the newstands after 5:30, while there are plenty of Posts around, which is a good sign for those of us who love the old paper despite its manifold flaws.

The impact of the new competition on the Globe is mixed. The Post still looks better, but this is largely because it has almost no advertising, which is a bit of a Phyrric victory. The Report on Business has benefitted hugely from losing Terence Corcoran - his replacement, Eric Reguly, actually does research, finds interesting topics, and looks at issues from a broad, thoughtful perspective! He's still right-wing, of course, but at least he thinks about it.

The one tragic and imcomprehensible turn of events at the Globe, however, is their decision to move the editorial page back to somewhere in the middle of the newspaper. I have read a dozen newspapers around the world, and the one thing that always stood out with the Globe was the fact that its editorial page - the heart of a newspaper - was always instantly findable, providing a real anchor to the front section. In all other newspapers, it was in some vague middle space that made it seem like an afterthought. Why the Globe would choose to revert to this frustrating system is beyond me.

Feb. 20, 1999

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