By Frank Moher
The Vancouver Sun and the Province, like Liza Minnelli,
may be most notable for the fact that they’re still around at all. Now
on their umpteenth owner, once subject to a federal Competition Tribunal
investigation, unhappy bedmates with unions that eat steroids for breakfast,
they have become the grandes dames, woozy variety, of Canadian journalism.
As former Province reporter Marc Edge recounts in this less-than-edgy history
of Pacific Press, the corporate conjoined twin created by their 1957 amalgamation,
Vancouver’s sister dailies were, during one particularly nasty 11-year
stretch, shut down fully five times by strikes or lockouts. By the end
of the eight-month contretemps in 1978-79, their unions had even taken
to fighting with one another.
The Pacific Press story is a fascinating combination of big-city labour and management practices with bush-league economics. Vancouver, for reasons that probably have more to do with intellectual sleepiness than size, has never been able to sustain two profit-making dailies; significantly, when the Province’s circulation began to rise in the mid-’80s after its conversion to a tabloid, the Sun’s dropped, and both have since lost readers to who knows what. Unfortunately, Edge’s primer in how to run a money-losing monopoly could use some of the concision his old editors would no doubt have forced upon him. He tells us that it is “much more an ‘economic’ history than a ‘journalistic’ history”, but, in fact, it’s a bit of everything: academic dissertation (which is what it started out as), tribute to old-school journalists, number-crunching case study, and anticorporate polemic.
This makes for some good anecdotes. We learn that the Sun scored the first postrevolution interview granted by Fidel Castro by sending its fashion editor to charm the Cuban leader, and that noted dandy Allan Fotheringham left the paper because one particularly obtuse editor from down east instituted a ban on freelancing. Then there was the time a couple of union leaders took a couple of union members out into the back alley and enforced solidarity with a two-by-four. But in the end, and like its namesake, Pacific Press: The Unauthorized Story of Vancouver’s Newspaper Monopoly is a gangly construction: too big, and simply divided too many ways.