The fourth estate as third world

After spending five years in politics, I wanted to get back into journalism, but no one would have me. I was seen as potentially too partisan. I might taint my stories with party propaganda. So I joined the Bank of Nova Scotia as director of public affairs. After two years, I was dry-cleaned and became business editor at Maclean’s just as the newsmagazine was going weekly in 1978. Ottawa had passed Bill C-58 which meant that the cost of advertising in the Canadian edition of Time was no longer tax deductible.

Suddenly, that ad revenue became available for Canadian publications, thereby making possible more journalism jobs in Canada and more Canadian content. I was among twenty new employees added at Maclean’s, bringing the editorial staff to seventy. According to Editor Peter C. Newman, because of the increased frequency, annual distribution of subscribers’ copies jumped from nine million when he’d arrived to thirty-three million when the magazine went weekly. That step by the federal government did not cost the Canadian taxpayer anything.

Today, the state of print journalism is parlous: layoffs and buyouts seem to occur daily. The current government’s answer is not as imaginative as in the past nor does it come as cheap. Instead, Ottawa wants to set up a $595 million fund to hire journalists for the same outfits that pay executive bonuses while populating newsrooms with interns. Or sell dozens of local papers to each other and immediately close some of their new holdings. Such behaviour does not deserve special treatment,

There is more merit in the novel approach being taken by La Presse and the Globe and Mail where deep-pocket owners have established charitable foundations so tax-deductible donations from the general public can help pay reporters’ salaries. At the Globe, the Thomson family has recently invested $20 million in a newsroom that must rank with the best equipped (and offer the best views) of any in the world. As for the government slushfund, no thank you. Is the free press really free if millions of dollars in aid flows from the very government about which it writes?

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