Jocelyn Bell
No Comments

The British Are Coming, The British Are Coming

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

How Fleet Street stormed Front Street and colonized The Globe and Mail

On a cold night in Ottawa last October, a hundred people packed the National Press Club theatre to meet The Globe and Mail’s editor, Richard Addis, the new general in the bloody newspaper war against the National Post. The room buzzed with anticipation. So far, most of the war had been fought with biting columns, front-page scoops and conflicting ad and circulation figures. But tonight the 43-year-old British editor, imported to run Canada’s oldest national newspaper, emerged to share his vision for the Globe.

Addis and his deputy editor, Chrystia Freeland, walked onto the slightly raised stage and took their seats behind a desk. Six feet tall and thin, Addis looked like an adolescent who shot through puberty but had yet to fill out. The straight brown bangs that fall across his right eyebrow were continuously flicked back with a boyish head jerk. Pulling his speech from the inside pocket of his grey suit jacket, Addis swiveled nervously in his chair and began reading in a snooty BBC accent as Freeland looked on.

“No one in my whole life has ever paid a cent to hear anything I had to say before and I hope that anyone here who has paid $5 won’t mind if I pay you back directly after this talk,” he began, earning a few chuckles.

Midway through his speech, Addis began comparing Canadian newspapers and launched a grenade across enemy lines. “As a reader, I have a huge range of choice every morning in Toronto… the wonderful Globe and Mail: a highly credible newspaper full of good writing. The National Post: unreliable, obsessive, vulgar.”

For the National Post reporters in the audience, it was a familiar insult. Globe editors had been dismissing the Post ever since its inception. “Tell us what you really think of the Post,” someone said soon after the floor opened for questions.

“It’s wrong about nearly everything,” Addis responded. “It gets stories wrong. You can’t believe it anymore. Nobody believes it.” Although Addis was having fun, he was also partly serious and the crowd could tell. National Post reporter Andrew McIntosh, for one, wasn’t about to let Addis get away with it.

“You guys ignored, dissed, humiliated and dumped on a story of mine about Chretien,” McIntosh said, sounding annoyed. He was referring to a story the Post broke in January 1999 about $664,000 in federal aid going to a Quebec businessman who bought a hotel from the prime minister, and Hugh Winsor’s dismissive column published in the Globe a week later. “Then you jumped on it. And now you’re actually investigating. If we’re so inaccurate, why are you matching story for story on that subject?”

Addis tried to charm his way to safety. “This must be because you are an extremely good reporter, so you’ve managed to pull – “

Interrupting him, McIntosh snapped: “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

A flustered Addis took another question from the floor.

“So you don’t regard the Post as a worthy opponent?” a woman asked.

“I haven’t even thought about it like that really. It’s a nice – it looks nice. It’s quite pretty.”

Finally a tall, bearded man with a booming voice rose in the shadows and struck his target dead on. “You want the Globe to be known for its accuracy. You just made a statement that everything in the Post is wrong and you can’t even give us one example. Could you or your deputy come up with one example?”

“Well, we don’t – We’re just trying to be polite,” Addis sputtered. “We don’t want to, uh, rub salt into the wounds here. But there probably is an example.”

General Addis had gone to battle with no more ammunition than boyish charm and inflated pride. At best, it was a shaky introduction to the Ottawa media. At worst, the hotshot Fleet Street editor, imported to take over the Globe because no Canadian was deemed sufficient, had made a blunder worthy of an amateur: he’d walked into a room of journalists and lobbed a serious accusation at the Post without even the most rudimentary preparation. Was this the clever, savvy, strategically brilliant newspaperman? The journalist against whom no Canadian could compete?

Richard Addis is one of four editors plus a publisher imported from Britain to the Globe since October1998, when the National Post destroyed the Globe’s comfortable claim as Canada’s only national newspaper and turned Toronto into the most competitive newspaper market in North America. Beautifully laid out and fun to read, the upstart was the opposite of the Globe, in almost every way. It caught readers’ eyes with big, striking photographs, gorgeous women and an airy, modern design. Silly and smart-ass stories ran on the front page alongside alarmist headlines and columns that boiled the blood of left-leaning readers. It quickly became a newspaper that was talked about.

Prior to the Post’s arrival,the Globe had been the paper of the chattering classes, routinely upheld as the icon of Canadian journalism. It was the paper of record that gave readers serious, sober news in a level, understated way. Its headlines and photos were quiet and small. It took arts as seriously as it did national and international news and politics. It assumed a Saturday readership that included intellectuals and thinkers. It didn’t revel in gossip or personal testimony and its columnists wrote about issues, not about their own lives. Sometimes the paper was boring and stuffy, which earned it the nickname “the old grey Globe,” but somehow it suited the Canadian personality to have a paper that was earnest and dull.

All of that would change. Faced with a rigourous competitor, the Globe had two choices. It could fight back by emphasizing its own character and traditions or it could remake itself into a paper with a wider and younger appeal. Adopting the latter strategy, Thomson handed the Globe over to British talent. Stuart Garner, a Brit who has been running Thomson’s soon-to-be-sold newspaper division out of Stamford, Connecticut, hired Phillip Crawley, a former colleague and fellow Brit, to be president of the Globe in October 1998. Crawley was promoted to publisher and CEO in mid-1999 and began replacing the paper’s senior editors with Fleet Street journalists. Review editor Simon Beck joined the Globe in May, followed by Addis and Freeland, an Alberta native who left Canada as a teen to study in the U.S. and Britain, made her mark at the Financial Times of London and had never worked in the Canadian media. In January, Nigel Horne was imported from London to run the Report on Business magazine and Broadcast Week, and to consider starting up a weekend magazine.

“We were looking for people who are used to doing daily battle for the news and sources and information,” Crawley explained. “The criteria was to look in places where you have a competitive marketplace. And that means we’re probably focusing on a relatively small number of major newspaper centres where there is a real battle. London is obviously one.”

But running a newspaper like The Globe and Mail isn’t only about battle experience. The Globe has a character, a personality, a soul. A Canadian cultural institution, it has a core readership of loyal subscribers who’ve been shaped by the paper and have grown up associating themselves with its viewpoints. Now, for the first time in its 156-year history, the Globe is in the hands of non-Canadians. The Brits who have taken on the Globe as their latest project know very little about this country and have only their best guesses to rely on – gut feelings and news judgement developed in a country and a culture very different from this one. They’ve already altered the paper’s character in the race to beat the Post, and they seem unconcerned at the prospect of alienating core readers to draw in a different, larger crowd altogether. But that’s precisely the point. The question is whether or not the British influx will spell the end of The Globe and Mail as we’ve known it.

Nowhere in the Globe have the differences between British journalism and Canadian journalism been more apparent than in the dramatic changes to the Saturday paper. In March 1999, when William Thorsell was still editor-in-chief, associate editor Sarah Murdoch was responsible for the Focus and Books sections as well as the Commentary and Facts and Arguments pages. But Focus was her baby. In nine years, Murdoch had developed Focus into one of the most highly regarded sections in the Canadian newspaper industry. A typical Murdoch Focus section would tackle the flaws in the supreme court or the codes of conduct in warfare on its front and anything from Japan’s foreign policy to gardening tips on the inside pages. It wasn’t an easy read but it was almost always worthwhile. Its writers regularly won National Newspaper Awards and the section got top grades in reader report cards.

But Crawley wasn’t satisfied with the section. The short and wiry publisher, who has been described as tough but respected, asked Murdoch to tone down the public policy and politics pieces in favour of what he described as “a bit more variety of material.”

“He explained that readers want to have ?foon’ on the weekend,” Murdoch recalled, mimicking Crawley’s northeast England accent that makes book rhyme with fluke and number sound like noom-bah. She made the changes and the section started to have a softer appeal. For example, one piece, with the headline “No Place for Anger,” was about a young woman’s search for her long-lost father ending in “tears and triumph.” But it still wasn’t what Crawley was looking for. Murdoch and Crawley were either on different wavelengths or he didn’t communicate what he wanted. In any event, the changes she made would prove to be too little too late.

By May, Crawley had recruited Simon Beck, a 38-year-old Londoner he’d known for 15 years. When Beck graduated from Oxford University, Crawley hired him as a trainee reporter for The Journal in Newcastle-on-Tyne, then rehired him eight years later at the South China Morning Post. At the Globe, Crawley made Beck director of editorial development in charge of overhauling the Saturday paper. As someone who knew little about Canada, Beck would, in a few months of conducting feasibility studies, determine what Canadians wanted in their Saturday paper.

What happened next depends upon whose story you believe. Crawley says Beck gave Murdoch “advice and assistance” throughout the summer and that she continued in her position until the end of August at which time she left the Globe on good terms when she accepted a standard company buyout package offered to several senior employees. Just about everyone else says Murdoch was shoved out.

Problems between Murdoch and Crawley came to a head in late June when she published a Canada Day picnic menu on the front of the Focus section. Crawley is said to have thought it was too light. The following week, he put Beck in charge of Focus and Murdoch was left to manage her other sections. Without Focus, Murdoch didn’t have a job she cared about.

All these Brits were treating us like we were lazy, incompetent and stupid,” Murdoch said. “They felt they knew everything and we knew nothing about putting out a newspaper. It was very demoralizing. Phillip has said over and over that it’s still going to be a Canadian newspaper because only a few percent of the people are from Britain. But the Brits are the people who are calling the shots.” At the end of August, Murdoch left the Globe to become editor of the National Post’s Saturday Review section.

A month and a half before Murdoch’s departure, a memo from Phillip Crawley appeared on every desk. Richard Addis would be the new editor to replace William Thorsell. Reporters started typing his name into their database system. Within minutes the newsroom was snickering. The British newspapers hadn’t spared Addis and gossip about his personal life wasn’t hard to come by. Addis had toyed with the idea of becoming a monk and wore a brown monk’s habit around Cambridge University in his school days. There were reports of an extramarital affair. And during Addis’s three-year tenure as editor of London’s Daily Express, a mid-market tabloid, actor Tom Cruise won a six-figure libel suit against the paper after it ran a story on how Cruise and actor Nicole Kidman married to mask their homosexuality. The database search also made reporters fear for their jobs. Several months after arriving at the Daily Express, a cost-cutting measure imposed by the paper’s owners forced Addis to fire 80 staff members on a single day. Asked whether he found it difficult, Addis was reported to have likened it to clearing out an old sock drawer.

Two days later, another memo circulated. Someone named Chrystia Freeland would be the new deputy editor, number two in the newsroom, sending reporters rushing to their databases again. Older staff were threatened by her young age – she was only 30 – and younger staff were threatened by her experience. Freeland had been a Rhodes scholar and a correspondent for the Financial Times of London, first in Kiev, Ukraine, then in Moscow where she was the bureau chief. Since 1998, she’d been the national news editor of the Financial Times before landing her job at the Globe. How could she have accomplished so much at so young an age?

The day after the Freeland announcement, another memo was circulated, this one a sarcastic joke written to look like another hiring announcement from Crawley:

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Allistair Buffet to the position of inter-departmental editor, effective this fall. Allistair will be an outstanding addition to our editorial team. He is 17, and a native of Manchester, England, where he regularly reads several daily papers. He is also the captain of his Catholic high school’s rugby team, and attends church regularly. He once freelanced a photograph of Princess Diana to the Daily Express. Though he has never been to Canada, Allistair received a grade of 88 percent on his high school history final exam. The course included several chapters on the colonies.”

Jokes aside, newsroom morale took a nosedive as reporters wondered how it was possible that in Canada, a country with so much good journalism, the powers at the Globe couldn’t have found somebody else to be its editor. Addis may be a good journalist, but “that doesn’t get over the fact that he’s English and knows fuck all about this country,” said one senior reporter.

“I think in any other country if a foreigner were appointed to lead the leading newspaper there would be an inquiry,” said another senior reporter. “You can’t imagine a German or a Belgian being brought in to edit Le Monde. The Brits have had foreign publishers before. But it’s not quite the same as being editor. I don’t care what Crawley says. It is different. I think it’s appalling.”

Biting columns claiming that the Globe was being subjected to a British invasion appeared in the Toronto Sun, The Toronto Star, the National Post, Maclean’s and even in Rick Salutin’s column for the Globe. The Star’s Richard Gwyn wrote that although Canada may have needed Brits to lead its institutions 50 years ago, “for the Globe to reach back to the past now is to admit that it doubts itself….The paper no longer has a niche, a distinct constituency, within Canada’s print media universe.” In Maclean’s, Anthony Wilson-Smith wrote: “The Globe has no top figure who connects with people – other than Fleet Street types seeking a better life across the pond.” In Salutin’s column, published on August 12, 1999, he wrote: “I’ll utter two Canadian words: John Turner…. Doesn’t it seem odd to have people running a paper here who won’t twig to the name instinctively if it comes up at a meeting? Alan Eagleson? Gordon Pinsent? Meech Lake?”

Asked what he thought of the British Invasion flak, Crawley grimaced and called it a “nine-day woon-dah. If we were importing boatloads of Brits, yes of course it would be an insult to Canadian journalists. But we’re not doing that. Richard’s skills are in terms of applying professional standards, being as sharp as we can be in a competitive battle. So all right, he’s not going to pass his first-year exam in Canadian history at this stage. But I don’t require him to do that. I don’t think that’s actually the most important thing.”

Even if British journalists are attuned to professional standards and competitive strategies, it’s debatable whether their experience is useful in Canada. “Brits think of national newspapers in terms of British national newspapers,” said National Post editor Ken Whyte. “But this isn’t Britain. It’s a different market. It’s a much trickier thing.” In Britain, 12 national newspapers go head to head every day. In Canada, two national papers compete against each other and various metropolitan dailies in cities across the country. Britain is densely populated and exists in a single time zone. The Canadian market is small and spread thinly across six time zones. In Britain, politics, business, and culture are concentrated in London. In Canada, business is concentrated in Toronto, while very different political battles are waged in each of 10 provinces and three territories, and a definition of Canadian culture depends on whether you’re standing in Cape Breton or in Nunavut. Sex and sensationalism rule on Fleet Street, making British newspapers highly entertaining. Canadian newspapers are like a plateful of vegetables: they won’t make your mouth water, but you need to eat them anyway.

Other differences were described by Martin Newland, the National Post’s deputy editor who was imported to Canada from Conrad Black’s Daily Telegraph in London. “In Fleet Street there are hundreds of agencies up and down the country firing in news and pictures for you. You don’t have to look. So the skills are in what you choose and what you exploit, the skill is in who does it best. Here there’s absolutely fuck all. Reporters believe they have to go out and get stories. And for me, that was an eye-opener.”

All of this may have been lost on Crawley. He told a columnist that he doesn’t think there’s anything peculiar to the Canadian industry in terms of what makes a good newspaper.

Addis first met most of his staff shortly after his arrival in August. Getting the newsroom onside was clearly going to be a bit of a task. Throughout the summer, Frank magazine, the satirical biweekly, had devoted four times as much space to ridiculing Addis, Freeland, Beck, Crawley and the Globe as it had to any other news organization. Furthermore, Globe reporters and editors considered themselves a tough crowd who weren’t to be won over easily. Yet Addis’s introductory speech left most reporters with a favourable impression.

“My vision for the Globe is decidedly not a down-market one of screaming headlines and page three girls. I profoundly respect the view that the Globe is about the important things in life,” he said. “While I don’t think we should ever set our sails by the wind that comes from the Post, we should admit that it does do some things right….It is winning credit for being bright and fresh and new…. Set against this the Globe often looks so forbidding. Despite the improvement that came with the introduction of colour, we somehow still have the problem of ?the great grey Globe’ – as grey as a prison wall, someone I know described it.”

Addis’s vision became reality when a redesigned Globe and Mail appeared on Saturday, October 16 – only six weeks after his arrival. Gone was the old Focus and Books section. Books became a tabloid and Focus became a weekly one- or two-page spread in the front section of the Saturday paper.

Saturday, a new section covering arts, people, fashion, design, food and drink, got the most reaction from readers. The first Saturday section front page featured the couple who produced the TV movie adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (what could be more Canadian?), but it was the inside pages that riled up readers. Columnist Leah McLaren’s musings about cell-phone manners occupied the top of page three, and columnist Robert Mason Lee pontificated on penis size. The Urban Decorum feature explained how to perform a two-cheek air kiss complete with pictures, much to the bewilderment of those of us who aren’t that chi-chi. Another article used a survey to compare the frequency of sex among five different couples, and a two-page spread of colour photos in the centre of the section was a direct imitation of the Post’s Avenue centrespread. It may have been ?foon’ to read but many readers expressed their dismay in letters to the editor.

“Please, I beg you, stop ?improving’ the Saturday paper. I have traditionally read The Globe and Mail because of its unabashedly highbrow analysis, not because of any desire to peruse Robert Mason Lee’s penile ruminations,” wrote a reader from Whistler, B.C. “Dropping Focus and replacing it with Saturday spoiled my Sunday-morning reading treat and left me with the feeling that the Saturday Globe has become little more than a broadsheet tabloid,” wrote a reader from London, Ont. “Please return to the previous format and keep your competitive advantage. The Globe does not have to join the ranks of news-lite,” wrote a reader from Montreal.

Beyond the Saturday section, readers found that the essential character of the paper shifted throughout the fall. Its traditional conservative politics took a baby step to the left. Left-leaning columnists like Salutin and Naomi Klein became regulars in the front section while Jeffrey Simpson, the old-school conservative who for years had been anchored on the editorial page, was moved off it and onto the Comment section. Reporter John Stackhouse spent a week on Toronto’s streets as a homeless person to produce a four-day series on homelessness. And the spokesperson for the Seattle protesters got to speak out against the World Trade Organization in the Comment section.

Readers also watched the sober paper become more sensational. Business magnates and high-ranking politicians were no longer immune to invasions of privacy. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson made the front page on October 1, 1999, when a Globe reporter discovered that her estranged daughters would not attend her inauguration. Searing letters to the editor the following day accused the Globe of becoming a tabloid. Low-life crime also gained new importance in a paper that once considered its purpose higher. The Just Desserts trial – concerning a local Toronto murder that the Globe barely considered news when it occurred six years ago – warranted a special pullout section last December.

While the Globe was sometimes still the dependable paper of record, its editors exhibited embarrassing lapses in judgement. When Clarkson gave her speech from the throne on October 7, the Post ran the entire speech whereas the Globe only ran excerpts. When convicted killer Karla Homolka tried to use the courts to get temporary release from prison into a halfway house, the Star’s coverage ran over four pages and the Globe was the only paper in the city to miss the story altogether. Robert Fulford, an eminent cultural critic for whom the Globe had seemed the perfect medium, found that his column, which had been anchored on the front of the arts section until September 1998, was being bumped around the paper. Finally he got fed up and left for the National Post in December 1999. Meanwhile, the Globe adopted many of the Post’s quirks, including big close-up photos, an obituaries page, skyboxes promoting inside stories above the masthead and columns running on the front page alongside funny little stories with no news value.

It wasn’t old, it wasn’t grey, but was it still the Globe?

Not according to John Miller, author of Yesterday’s News: Why Canada’s Daily Newspapers are Failing Us and professor of journalism at Ryerson. “The Globe is doing a lot of unGlobe things,” he said. “It is obviously making a decision to go after a younger, hipper audience. And I think it’s very risky for the Globe to do that. This is turning it into a different kind of paper. They’re going to alienate their core readers. The first rule in the newspaper business is don’t mess with the franchise.”

A month after the redesign, a dozen editors sat in a boardroom at the Globe planning their Remembrance Day issue. At the head of the heavy wood table, Addis perched so far up in his seat that his chair tipped forward. A Comment piece written by a war vet called “Why I Won’t Wear A Poppy Tomorrow” had caught his enthusiasm. “It’s extremely good for a number of reasons. It’s got a very striking headline. It’s written by someone who knows what he’s talking about. And it’s counterintuitive. This is a very good model.” Many of the Globe’s core readers didn’t agree. Remembrance Day was being exploited to shock Canadian veterans, rather than honour their sacrifices. They sent indignant letters telling the editor they would wear their poppies with pride.

Later in the meeting, Addis found himself on unfamiliar ground when the topic of hockey arose. Alexei Yashin had broken his contract with the Ottawa Senators, and Addis launched into a series of questions until he understood the issue. “What’s the sensible view? Do you have sympathy for the Russian? Is it a good issue? Are you getting your blood up?” Someone suggested asking Alan Eagleson, the disgraced founder of the NHL Player’s Association, to write a Comment piece. Addis asked the question foreshadowed in Salutin’s column: “Who is Alan Eagleson?”

A few weeks earlier, on a Thursday night in November, I faced Addis across a shiny black table in a meeting room near his office on Front Street. I asked him how he’s approaching the task of learning about Canada. He said that while running a national newspaper helps, he also reads three or four Canadian papers per day, has made Canadian friends and has done some travelling outside Toronto.

“I think in a year’s time I might do quite well on a Canadian general knowledge quiz,” he told me. I’d come prepared and seized the moment.

“What’s the difference between Moosehead, Moose Jaw and Moosonee?”


“No. Moosonee,” I said.

“Ha ha. I thought you said Mussolini. Just spell the last one? Moosonee?” He flicked his hair back with a quick head jerk and thought.

“The answer is – ” he took a long pause and stared at the table between us. “The answer is I haven’t got a clue,” he said, with a smile.

But then something clicked.

“Moose Jaw’s a place. Moosehead is a beer. And Moosonee? A native tribe.”

“Moosonee is another town.”

“Oh!” he said, snapping his fingers. “You see I don’t know very much yet. But I guessed two out of three.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nineteen + 2 =