A problem with the media?


We regularily receive complaints about other newspapers. On page five there are two. Sometimes this may be a form of complement, although I'd prefer a simple pat on the back. What can we do at this little paper with our four or five thousand readers? We refer some to the Quebec Press Council, but more is beyond our mandate. We won't assault another paper, nor undertake investigative journalism to uncover rights and wrongs. "You pays your money, and you doesn't get your choice," said poet ee cummings.

Stop paying your money, I guess. Look for another source of news. The complaints are most often against the big dailies with their impressive technology, colourful and weighty wads of newsprint, and powerful ideological agendas. Anyone who has travelled abroad must marvel at the quality of newspapers in the capitals of nations much poorer and less educated than our own, compared to our capital's fare.

There was a spike in complaints about coverage of last weekend's globalization protests in Ottawa (five!). Many reports--including radio and tv--seem to come directly from the police stations or from the offices of prime-minister hopeful Paul Martin; both sources, at best, refer to the police snatch squads and their technological intimidation as a benign outing or bizarre sporting event. Our Post's reporter filed a story which must have been written on another planet, compared to the corporate media.

The defense used by the overweight media is that they print what people want to read, and their success proves this. Who can argue with success? NADBANK can. That's the service which measures media readership. Their 2001 report notes, for example, that in Montreal The Gazette has lost 26,400 readers per week since last year. La Presse lost 82,100, and the Journal de Montreal, 35,700. This decline in readership for the dailies runs right across the country. The media corporations blame the free dailies, the internet, rising illiteracy, lack of time, etc., etc. for killing their readership. Really? The homogeneity of news reporting, the shift to a political evangelism much to the right of Canadians, the incredibly bland and pompous editorial sections, not to mention the steady growth in emotional fluff and titillation--none of this causes declining readership?

Maybe the corporations are right. Maybe Canadians are bamboozled by design, colour, and sentimentalism; content's a bother. I would hesitate to say so, but we Canadians have had difficulty in separating variety from choice; as long as there are umpteen brands of soap, we have "freedom of choice". As long as we have newspapers produced by corporations X, Y, and Z, we have a free press. Freedom, as defined by X, Y, or Z Inc.

NADBANK tells me newspapers are killing themselves, confusing style and sop with content and analysis. We small community weeklies also often ignore the function of the press as a social force, when we dish out the social gossip, platitudes, cute photos, and amusing incidents, all in the name of "hometown journalism." Where do we live, in gated mental rehab centres? My simplistic view also tells me we Canadians are responsible for our loss of an uncompromised, informative, and stimulating press. We seem satisfiable with mediocrity as long as it looks good. And so our free press keeps freely pushing the edge of mediocrity further. Until we don't have newspapers, although they may look similar. George Orwell and the doomsday writers would feel vindicated.

Fred Ryan is publisher of Quebec's Aylmer Bulletin, West Quebec Post, and the Pontiac Journal. He is also a director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

Copyright © 2001 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.01