News across the Border: Associated Press in Canada, 1894-1917

Article excerpt

The connection between large international news agencies and their smaller national counterparts was a key characteristic of the international news system that emerged in the late nineteenth century. This article examines the tensions between these unequal partners by considering the early relationship between the Associated Press and the Canadian Press, which was Canada's domestic news agency. Canadian publishers were uneasy about their reliance on AP, but they considered it indispensable and believed a direct relationship gave them more influence over the news they received. AP believed its own interests were best served if the Canadians overcame their differences and formed a functioning national news organisation. Paradoxically, the AP-CP relationship helped create an important institution of Canadian nationality even while cementing its subordinate status

The connection between international news agencies-few in number, large and powerful-and their smaller, more numerous national counterparts is a fundamental characteristic of the international news system that took shape in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their interaction has often been controversial, with frequent charges that a form of information imperialism is at work.'

Yet as Oliver Boyd-Barrett and Terhi Rantanen pointed out, the smaller domestic news agencies that came into being as essential parts of this system were not merely "Trojan horses for globalization": the vehicles through which the perspectives of London, New York, and Paris were disseminated throughout the world.2 To borrow Benedict Anderson's influential formulation, national news agencies also played a central role in creating the "imagined communities" of national identity in the different societies they served.3 Furthermore, their relationship with the international agencies was reciprocal in important ways: through arrangements for the exchange of news with national agencies, for example, the big news agencies could cover much of the world without having to pay the whole cost of newsgathering.4 The international news system was thus characterized by a varying balance between domination and subordination, between global homogeneity and national self-expression. By examining the balance that was struck in different cases, the groundwork can be laid for a better understanding of the system as a whole. In particular, it seems likely that when countries with marked economic or cultural similarities were involved, the relationship followed a different pattern than it did when they were substantially different in these respects.

The relationship between Associated Press-the dominant American news agency in the nineteenth century and one of the world's most powerful from the 193Os onward-and Canadian Press, the Canadian domestic news agency, offers an excellent opportunity to examine this interplay. This article examines their connection between 1894, when AP signed its first contract to provide service across Canada, and 1917, when Canadian Press came into existence as a functioning national news agency. Throughout the period, Canadian publishers were uneasy about what they saw as an undue reflection of American perspectives in AP's news service. Yet they also considered AP indispensable and recognized that a direct agency-to-agency relationship would give them more influence over the news they received rather than less. AP, meanwhile, believed that its own interests would be best served if its Canadian allies overcame the regional tensions and competitive pressures that stood in the way of their forming a functioning national news organization. Paradoxically, the AP-CP relationship resulted in two things at once: it created an important institution of Canadian nationality and cemented its subordinate status.

Beginning in the 185Os, the news service of New York Associated Press was distributed in eastern British North America (renamed Canada after 1867) by telegraph companies: first by the Montreal Telegraph Company and after 1880 by the Great North Western Telegraph Company. …