Central Canada’s National Newspaper
Outside the Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal axis, The Globe and Mail's coverage is largely lightweight
On October 23, 1980, The Globe and Mail launched its national edition, quoting publisher A. Roy Megarry: “There probably is not a better time in Canada’s history for a national newspaper to emerge. With the constitutional debate, with regional aspirations growing ‘and with demands for more autonomy from the provinces, there is a greater need than ever for a newspaper to carry the opinions and perspectives of each region from one part of the country to another.”
Six years later, the Globe has failed to achieve these goals-a conclusion voiced by more than a dozen senior journalists interviewed for this article, and supported by an examination of the national edition’s contents during the month of September, 1986. Only the Report on Business (ROB) has effectively covered events and issues from coast to coast. In every other area-its editorials and columns, its news, arts and sports coverage-the Globe displayed a bias expressed by J. Patrick O’Callaghan, publisher of the Calgary Herald: “The tongue with which The Globe and Mail speaks is glued to a jaw in Toronto.”
In September, 1986, 18 of the Globe’s editorials concerned Ontario issues. Only two centred on Quebec, three on the West and three on the Atlantic region. Frequently, when commenting on events beyond the Toronto/ Montreal/Ottawa axis, they displayed a lack of sensitivity to regional concerns and suffered from lack of accuracy. Several Alberta journalists mentioned in this regard an editorial that appeared last August 18. Headlined “Of Debt and Taxes.,” it questioned elimination of the Petroleum and Gas Revenue Tax (PGRT) and asked why Ottawa, then facing a $30-billion deficit, should be forced to act alone while Alberta “will add $405-million to its $12-billion Heritage Savings Trust Fund this year [S]ince the oil price collapse, Alberta has raised not one tax from its citizens to aid the energy industry… [and] has made no significant move to reduce provincial spending, which is about 30 per cent higher per capita than the average of other provinces.” The editorial claimed that Alberta enjoys both the country’s lowest provincial tax burden and one of its highest disposable family incomes; suggested that the province was not doing enough to help itself; and, after quoting two editorials from provincial newspapers, expressed sadness that “adults cannot debate issues of national policy without resorting instantly to shrieks of separatism.”
These views were effectively rebutted by a letter published on September 10. Its author, Dr. R.L. Mansell, a professor of economics at The University of Calgary, pointed out that Alberta’s contribution to federal revenue “has continued to be grossly out of proportion to its prosperity, population or the benefits it receives from national policies.” He stated that Alberta’s per capita income “has always been significantly below that in Ontario and British Columbia and, in fact, has remained within a narrow band around the national average since the mid-sixties, the total revenue collected in Alberta has always greatly exceeded total federal expenditures (including transfers) in the province.” Mansell wrote that Alberta had continued to pay the PGRT despite an unprecedented decline in privately held wealth, and despite massive layoffs and record losses in the oil and gas industry. He concluded by noting that a comparable tax had yet to be levied on “rents associated with the production of hydroelectricity in Quebec or.. .manufacturing in southern Ontario.”
Often, Globe readers must wait for letters such as Mansell’s to receive “the opinions and perspectives of each region.” Worse yet, “Of Debt and Taxes” was riddled with errors that could have been avoided by a phone call to Kevin Cox, the Globe’s Calgary correspondent. When contacted by the Ryerson Review of Journalism, Cox said that “the editorial people in Toronto work totally apart from the correspondents. They never consulted me on that editorial and they got their facts wrong.”
Nor do the Globe’s columns facilitate reasoned debate. According to Ralph Hedlin, a contributing editor of the Edmonton-based weekly newsmagazine Western Report, “There is no modifier between extremes in The Globe and Mail’s analysis. It’s either far too brown-nosing or too hostile. This is a consequence of not understanding. For example, Orland French (the Globe’s provincial affairs columnist) told Albertans this past summer what to do with their natural gas policy, but his background was polluted with errors.”
French and his colleagues are defended by Norman Webster, the Globe’s editor-in-chief: “Our provincial and municipal columnists travel to other provinces; the opinion columns look at issues affecting the rest of Canada.” But throughout September, French wrote 14 pieces on Ontario politics; two others dealt with federal politics, and only one-his coverage of the tribulations surrounding New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield-concerned another province.
Indeed, the Globe’s only regular voice from the regions is Lise Bissonnette’s column on francophone issues. “Her column is good,” says John Dafoe, editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. “But the Globe needs columns from other regions too. I’d like to see more from the West that dig deeper into western issues and how national policies affect us.” Dafoe may wait in vain. Two years ago, the Globe axed just such coverage. In Webster’s words: “We were getting 12 to 15 columns a week that ate up space the news could have occupied. The correspondents were spending so much time on their precious columns, they were neglecting the news they should have been covering. We were getting weak columns instead of strong news.”
According to Dafoe, however, strong news tends to get lost in the shuffle: “Some stories are missed due to the pressures of news from central Canada.” Twelve Toronto articles in September were assigned front-page placement. Some were arguably of national significance. Others were not, such as the story about a Metro Toronto teacher who-after being ruled surplus -received $45,000 last school year to mostly clip newspapers.
In the words of Walter Stewart, the author and press critic, “The Globe’s national coverage is massively inadequate. If you look carefully, the national logo is followed by news that’s not national in any sense. They boil the national stuff down into a couple of columns” (see “Coverage Breakdown”). Many national stories are, in fact, Canadian Press briefs three to five square inches long that convey only the bare bones of a story. On September 15, a Liberal call for cuts in Alberta’s natural gas exports was allotted four square inches. On September 22, a four-square-inch brief described how British Columbia’s Sechelt Indian band had approved a referendum on self -government.
Again, Webster disagrees. “Our editorial content is hefty,” he says. “Content analyses indicate that we run as much national material as newspapers in metropolitan areas of the country. We give a lot more national coverage than ever before, and go out of our way to cover the regions.” His defence is echoed by publisher Megarry: “Our [total] editorial staff has increased from 237 in 1978 to 288. The size, staff, and budget have increased enormously since we started the national edition.”
(Size, however, is relative. At an average 38 to 42 pages in September, the national edition pales in comparison with its Metro Toronto counterpart which ran between 60 and 75.)
As might be expected, the Globe is most successful when covering urban centres in which staff reporters are based. The national edition utilizes 21 domestic correspondents, ten of whom report from the Ottawa bureau. “The Globe’s political coverage in Ottawa is good because they’ve recognized that they can rely on Canadian Press for news per se, and are allowing correspondents to get into investigative and analytical reporting,” says Stephen Kimber, a Halifax freelance writer and journalism instructor at the University of King’s College. “For example, they broke the Sinclair Stevens story.”
Quebec is well represented, with one correspondent in Quebec City, three (one of whom is primarily concerned with arts) in Montreal, and three regular freelancers. Vancouver has three reporters also-one for news, one for the ROB and a third for arts (who tries to cover the Prairies arts scene as well). Three more correspondents are located in the Prairies-a Calgary reporter (Kevin Cox), a news reporter in Edmonton and another in Winnipeg, who must, however, cover both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The absence of a bureau in Saskatchewan irks observers there. “From our point of view, the Globe sure as hell isn’t a national newspaper,” says Dave White, director of the University of Regina’s School of Journalism and Communications. “A national paper should have a bureau in every province.” Webster remains unconvinced: “One correspondent for Manitoba and Saskatchewan is, adequate. We can’t have this neat little package where there’s a staffer in every province. You have to consider the news flow.”
The Atlantic region is allotted a mere three freelancers and one correspondent, Robert Martin. “I have to monitor four provincial legislatures [including, remarkably, St. John’s] as well as get the other news,” he says. “I get out of Halifax and into P.E.I. and New Brunswick about once a month.”
When Martin first arrived at the Halifax bureau in October, 1985, it had been empty for some three months during which time the Globe relied on Canadian Press and freelancer Deborah Jones. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon have no correspondents at all, and consequently receive, except for flying visits from Matthew Fisher, even less coverage than points south.
Currently, the Globe is adding four more ROB staffers in Toronto. The only bureau slated to open, reflecting a long-standing emphasis on foreign affairs, is New Delhi in April, 1987. As well, Webster is considering placing a cultural reporter in New York sometime this year. Meanwhile, domestic staff is spread too thin and subject to short postings. According to Assistant Managing Editor Colin MacKenzie, an average posting is three years. “The people the Globe sends out here are like visitors,” says Ted Byfield, publisher of Western Report. “It takes five years to understand what things look like from a western perspective.”
“I see great gaping holes in their coverage of the Prairies,” says Fred Cleverley, an editorial columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press. “They throw in the odd story to keep the natives happy in the boondocks.” Last September, the Globe carried a total of 14 Saskatchewan stories and briefs, five of which dealt with the provincial election. Western stories ignored during this period included Saskatchewan’s Rafferty dam project; Regina’s new airport building; the reorganization of Winnipeg city council; and an internal review of Crown corporations ordered by Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley. Only three stories appeared on the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. When a native group refused to participate in constitutional talks to be held in Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit), the Globe carried an eight-inch brief that did not examine the reasons for their withdrawal.
Nor did the situation improve for eastern Canada. “The Globe does not have extensive coverage of the Atlantic region,” says Harry Bruce, a prominent Halifax writer. The national edition bears him out. In September, for example, it ignored the expected unveiling of a $50-million small business program known as Operation Bootstraps, partially funded by the federal government, but implemented by private industry. Also absent was a story on Nova Scotia municipal leaders banding together to fight high insurance premiums. “The Globe covered the charges against Premier Hatfield well,” says Walter Stewart, “but there’s been nothing on New Brunswick since -such as why it’s the only province with a balanced budget.”
As well as regional correspondents, the – Globe has national beat reporters, who are expected to add a broader perspective. “We have beat people in environment, law, medicine and science,” says Webster. “They used to report on things from a Toronto focus. Now our legal reporter will phone across the country for the ramifications of a case. When our environment reporter covers water or forestry it’s the whole of Canada.” In September, however, environmental stories dealt almost exclusively with central Canadian concerns. In the medical/legal arena, on September 15 the Globe reported the recommendation by a coroner’s jury that alternatives to blood transfusion be sought for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This, it said, was “a first in Canadian history” causing exultation among Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ontario. The piece did not mention how, if at all, these events might affect religious objectors in other parts of the country.
Examination of the Globe’s arts coverage reveals an even more profound bias toward central Canada, with the exception of Vancouver. Throughout September, the entertainment section was filled with stories on fine art, music and theatre from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver. This does not trouble Webster. “We send critics from Toronto to cover major musical and theatrical events in the West,” he says. “We give more national coverage to the arts in places like Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina than any other paper, but of course we have more coverage of Toronto.” Granted, Toronto is a bastion of the arts-but a look at September’s pieces indicates a virtual wasteland lying between those cities in which cultural reporters are stationed. Only eight stories of appreciable length emerged from the Prairies. From Alberta came a profile of author Aritha van Herk, a story on the Banff Centre and another on the filming of a horror movie in Edmonton. Winnipeg was accounted for by coverage of the country music awards, the need for a Canadian country music capital, a performance art show called the International Intermedia Performance Festival, and CBC Radio’s campus rock mu$ic program Night Lines. Only one Saskatchewan story appeared-a profile of playwright Kathleen Nouch. All other coverage consisted of briefs. The Atlantic provinces fared even worse, with only two items of significance-one on the plight of Annapolis Valley residents about to lose CBC Radio service; the other on actor Don Harron (a Maritimer only by association and adoption), who was then celebrating his 50th anniversary in show business at the King’s Playhouse in Georgetown. Thus Harry Bruce describes the Globe’s eastern Canadian arts coverage as “pretty feeble. I’d like to see them do more.”
Unfortunately, Webster does not plan to place cultural reporters in either the Prairies or Atlantic Canada.
Nowhere is a Toronto emphasis more blatant than in the Globe’s sports section. Throughout September, its pages were filled with Toronto teams and personalities. “The Globe is hometown booster for the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and Argos,” says Winnipegger John Dafoe.
Regina’s Dave White goes a step further. “There’s a condescending attitude toward western sports,” he says. “When Saskatchewan was in the bidding for a National League hockey team, the Globe was full of put-downs. The Calgary Herald’s O’Callaghan agrees: “A western sports reporter is a vital need. When the Oilers or the Flames play at home, the Globe doesn’t even get their scores into the next day’s paper.” The Globe’s Kevin Cox says that he could keep a Calgary sports reporter busy full time, given the 1988 Winter Olympics. Forced to cover too many bases, he admits that he was late in writing an article dealing with the fiasco surrounding advance Olympic ticket sales: “I didn’t have the inside contacts at the Calgary Olympic Committee. A sports reporter could get them. He’d have time to follow the Flames, do the profiles I’m supposed to be doing.” According to Norman Webster, last fall the Globe did in fact consider such an addition, but has since abandoned the idea.
The only section of the Globe’s national edition that provides diligent regional coverage is, as stated earlier, the ROB. It manages to monitor with authority every sector of the economy: energy, mining, fishing, agriculture, manufacturing and financial services. “Their business coverage is very good,” says Harry Bruce. “They did a much better job on the Nova Scotia Savings ‘& Loan Company trial than did the local papers.” The Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer considers the Globe’s reporting of the lumber tariff dispute to be excellent: “They have correspondents in Washington, Ottawa and B.C. contributing to coverage of this issue.” The Globe is often first to give extensive coverage to regional business stories, such as PetroCanada’s involvement in the downfall of Lochiel Explorations Limited. This is because of superior staff and un- I stinting allocation of resources. ROB I reporters are on the scene in every corporate head-office city (Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver), and have a mandate to explore the surrounding regions as well. Feature stories in September included coverage of a Northwest Territories resident who outfits expeditions to the North Pole, an examination of Newfoundland’s Come-By-Chance refinery and a profile of B.C. miner Orville Baker, a “20th-century Klondiker with a listing on the Vancouver Stock Exchange.”
September also saw a great many general interest features such as stories on shopaholics, executive kidnappings and the economic cost of illiteracy in the workplace. All this is bolstered by the monthly Report on Business Magazine. Director of Marketing Mike Soliman claims that this attracts 18,000 to 22,000 extra readers on the days it’s published. Not content with such accomplishments, Webster plans even more columns, features and analysis in the daily ROB, which Soliman considers “the key strength of The Globe and Mail.”
Still, the success of one section in five does not justify the title “Canada’s National Newspaper.” To give the Globe its due, however, the very attempt to provide a national forum in a country so bewilderingly diverse as Canada commands a certain respect. Besides, the paper’s international reportage has long been recognized as outstanding by any measure. Its best writers are nurtured and encouraged to pursue individual excellence, with results that are plain to see. On the other hand, the national edition is simply not, at present, what it claims to be. That goal is perhaps within its reach, if only the time and money expended on business coverage were applied to other areas. In the words of Peter Desbarats, dean of the University of Western Ontario’s Graduate School of journalism, “I hope that what we see in The Globe and Mail today is just the embryo of what the national edition will become.”
by Leah Bradish
Forth-year student at the Ryerson University School of Journalism. Currently working on the Ryerson Review of Journalism.