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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pack Journalism at the Toronto Globe and Mail?

There is a remarkable columnist at the venerable Globe and Mail called Christie Blatchford. Her columns are ones that I often find myself disagreeing with because they are, for me, too adulatory of the Canadian military in its mission in Afghanistan. However, it is a tonic to read her because her tone is so different from much of the rest of the paper. The Globe has always aspired to be the New York Times of Canada: a bit of the newspaper of record, combining a voice of authority, with dispassionate reporting of the Canadian and international scene, and voilĂ , you have The Toronto Globe and Mail.

Blatchford, on the other hand, writes lively, if sepia-toned descriptions of the military, the Canadian working class and their lives. She does it, I think not to illustrate any particular larger issue or point of view, because she conveys an attitude of world-weariness with it all. It can be a bit trying, even grim, but it is one that keeps me reading her day after day.

Since coming back to Toronto last year, I note that the Globe, like many other papers are in a deep quest for relevance with a younger demographic. So far, that search has not deformed its essential journalistic purpose. The Globe, like so many others is going through a period of deep financial dislocation with no obvious solution. Yet the paper conveys a relevance with a deep if slightly paternalistic affection for this country.

Blatchford comes from a more populist journalistic tradition. She has more of a tabloid feel than for the Olympian ways of the Globe. She was lured away from another newspaper, the National Post - a paper that is now in severe financial distress, and one that was once owned by Conrad Black. The now disgraced financier is serving jail time in Florida for fraud and obstruction of justice. The Post has been taken over by CanWest Global, a media company that is, itself, in receivership. Never a dull moment in the Toronto media scene.

But back to Blatchford: the Globe under the editorship of Ed Greenspon lured her away from the Post. Greenspon was fired earlier this year and replaced by John Stackhouse, a longtime Globe editor and former foreign correspondent, who, it is said, has less time for Blatchford. But Blatchford has her defenders inside the paper, including the publisher. So my guess is that Blatchford is safe, for now.

Blatchford has been a relentless defender of the Canadian military. But the army has recently been accused by former Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin of handing over suspected Taliban fighters to be abused and possibly tortured by Afghan authorities. Blatchford has raced to the defense of the army and has attacked Colvin's reputation in her column.

Other journalists and columnists in the Globe have shown that Colvin is the victim of a possible smear campaign by the government in Ottawa. (The Afghan mission is not overwhelmingly popular with the Canadian public). Blatchford today responded by hitting back at her detractors (she doesn't name them) but another respected Globe columnist, Jeffrey Simpson in his column today, is clearly not a fan of Blatchford. And Blatchford is standing by her point of view in her column today as well.

It is a classic media food fight: from my perspective as a reader, Blatchford is on balance, good for the Globe because of her different perspective. Newsrooms are too often, repositories of like-minded individuals who can easily be caught up in pack journalism. Blatchford may have missed the mark in attacking Richard Colvin and she could undoubtedly be helped by stronger editing.

But women - especially high profile women in newsrooms - are too often targets in the predominant male culture. I hope Blatchford isn't another.

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