Journalism was always the career I wanted, almost from the time I learned to read and write, and I was fortunate to get into it while still in my teens. I became a reporter, amnist, and editor, worked for several newapapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star. I covered sports, politics, organized labour. I enjoyed my work, most of the time, because the managing editors and publishers gave me a lot of freedom and rarely rejected or censored my reports.
But that was several decades ago. I'm glad that I'm not a working journalist today. The concentration of ownership-with a few large companies now owning most of the big newspapers as well as the major TV and radio networks-has terribly degraded both the quality and integrity of the media in Canada. Canadians are being woefully ill-informed by the papers they read and the broadcasts they watch and hear.
Let's take just one sector as an example: labour. Back in the '60s and '70s, into the '80s, almost every large newspaper had a reporter who specialized in labour-management relations. Wilf List covered labour for the Globe and Mail for an amazing 35 years. I wrote a labour column for The Toronto Star for 18 years, and several other papers also had labour columnists as well as labour reporters. Conventions of the Canadian Labour Congress and most of the larger unions attracted a dozen or more reporters.
Today, I'm not aware of any paper that has a labour reporter on staff, much less a labour columnist. Most union conventions get no press at all. Coverage of a labour-related story (usually a strike) is left to general reporters with little or no knowledge of unions, union history or structure, collective bargaining, labour laws, or any other aspect of labour relations.
The same dearth of proficient journalists is evident in other fields-with the notable exception, of course, of business affairs. Most papers have whole sections devoted to the activities of corporations, and detailed business reports proliferate on the TV stations. Keeping their big advertisers happy is the main concern of today's media owners.
Obsessed with making profits instead of enlightening the public, the media moguls have ruthlessly slashed their editorial personnel. The journalists who remain (or who have recently quit in disgust) are not a happy crew. Some of them aired their frustration at recent hearings of the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, which is looking into the state of the Canadian news business. Here are a few extracts from their testimony.
Christopher Waddell, former Ottawa bureau chief for The Globe and Mail: "When I started in Ottawa in the mid-1980s, Canadian Press had a bureau of about 36 people. It has half that number now and probably does less than half of what it used to do. CBC-TV had about a dozen reporters in its Ottawa bureau, now it has half that-despite operating a 24-hour news channel in addition to everything it did before."
Joe Matyas, reporter at The London Free Press: "If you could have looked at the Free Press 15 years ago, you would have seen that we had 152 people in the editorial department. Today the number is 77. We no longer have reporters assigned to labour, social services, agriculture, consumer affairs, religion, the environment, and other areas of interest, as we once did."
David Beers, former editor with The Vancouver Sun: "Amidst the moldering morale in the Sun's newsroom, I managed to do some good work with good colleagues before being fired a month after 9/11 when I wrote about the need to protect free speech in frightening times.
"The experience confirmed for me what I already knew-that Vancouver is a heartbreaking place to be a dedicated news reporter, news editor, or news reader, because a single company owns the big papers, the big TV news station, and many other media properties. There is simply not enough competition to keep the owner honest. And by honest I mean dedicated to informing readers rather than pandering to advertisers or to political allies. …