I received your second letter, but
am not using it. I would have cut off debate after your first letter, but,
of course, I have to use what HQ
tells me to use. Unfortunately, we have space for only about 20% of the letters we receive and try to vary the writers.
Vancouver Sun Letters Editor
From: Marc Edge
Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2002 6:10 AM
Subject: my letter
Did you receive my letter of last
week? (appended) Do you intend to run it, or is it held under seige in
the Church of the Nativity? If you do
not want it, I will send it to the Georgia Straight. Please let me know.
Editor, The Vancouver Sun
In addition to quibbling over the
definition of “co-operatively owned daily newspaper,” CanWest Global vice-president
for strategy Ken
Goldstein in his letter of June 5 (Author's book belies his words) makes a point that is vital to understanding the current newspaper ownership
situation in Vancouver. The success of the Toronto Sun, while not a classic “start up” daily in that it replaced the Toronto Telegram (which
was closed by its owners in the midst of collective bargaining as a ploy to shed its unions), led to the demise of the Natural Monopoly Theory
of Newspapers, on which Southam relied for federal approval to enter into the otherwise-illegal Pacific Press partnership in 1957. The theory
sought to explain the gradual disappearance of newspaper competition starting in the 1920s by pointing to the natural preference of advertisers
to patronize a town’s largest daily. The Toronto Sun’s success as a colorful tabloid, and its duplication in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and
Winnipeg, proved there was room in a market for a differentiated daily newspaper product that appealed to a younger demographic, and thus
attracted advertising. As a result, Southam converted The Province to tabloid format in 1983 in an attempt to improve its financial fortunes, with spectacular success. Now that the Natural Monopoly Theory of Newspapers has been repealed, shouldn’t the right of the former Pacific Press
(now Pacific Newspaper Group) dailies to operate a joint monopoly which has served historically to keep daily newspaper competition out of the Vancouver market be similarly revoked?
Marc Edge, Ph.D.
Letters' space hijacked
Richard P. Taylor
Thursday, June 6, 2002
Israel Asper is clearly extremely
defensive with regard to mounting criticism of his CanWest Global organization's
domination of the Canadian
media and his use of its extensive reach to promote his religious and political affiliations.
No longer content to waste valuable
editorial space on his all-too- frequent propaganda incursions, he is now
sending in his heavy armour,
in the form of Ken Goldstein, with his (rather more than the maximum 200 word) diatribe, in an illegal occupation of valuable column inches
normally reserved for genuine readers' letters (Author's book belies his words, Letters, June 5).
Does Mr. Goldstein's war of words
with Marc Edge represent a temporary occupation of the letters column or
the beginnings of a permanent settlement, with genuine readers' letters
treated as collateral damage and herded into an ever-shrinking refugee
camp appearing periodically in
perhaps the Entertainment section?
Richard P. Taylor
Author's book belies
Wednesday, June 5, 2002
A May 27 letter from Marc Edge, "The
deck is stacked in favour of media owners," took issue with a number of
the points raised in
my May 24 commentary, "Newspapers' dwindling role belies fears about monopolies."
Mr. Edge's letter does not challenge the statistics that show there is a greater number of media choices available to Canadians than ever
before. Instead, he attempts to discredit with his own claims about historical fact.However, Mr. Edge's "facts" are open to debate in one
case and incorrect in another.
Mr. Edge takes issue with my claim
that The Winnipeg Citizen (1948-49) was the first co-operatively owned
daily newspaper. But he
ignores the sentence that describes the type of co-op it was: "They sold shares in the co-op door-to-door." The Winnipeg Citizen was
a consumer co-op, with shares sold to member-readers, each of whom would have one vote in the co-op's affairs regardless of the number
of shares they owned.
Mr. Edge argues that the first co-op
paper was The Vancouver News-Herald, which started publishing in 1933.
There is no question that
there was employee ownership and an element of the co-operative spirit in the early days of the News-Herald. But Mr. Edge has not
established that the paper was a full co-operative. We do know, from Mr. Edge's book (Pacific Press: The Unauthorized Story of
Vancouver's Newspaper Monopoly) and from other sources, that, by the 1940s, the News-Herald had been taken over by outside investors.
In his letter, Mr. Edge refers to
"a second attempt at starting up a co-operatively owned daily newspaper
in 1964, the ill-fated Vancouver
Times." Not only is that inaccurate, it is contradicted by Mr. Edge in his own book. The Vancouver Times was started in 1964 by a local
entrepreneur, William Val Warren. Mr. Edge tells us that Mr. Warren "controlled the Times board of directors through his ownership of all
6,000 Class B shares of the company, which gave him the right to appoint three of the seven board members and hold the deciding vote as
president." Mr. Edge's description of the Vancouver Times in his book is inconsistent with the structure of a
Mr. Edge's letter then goes on to
criticize the argument that, instead of calling on government to interfere
with editorial policies with which
media critics disagree, those critics should have the guts to start their own paper. He says that the financial disaster of the Vancouver Times
in 1964-65 convinced critics of media ownership that it couldn't be done.
Again, his own book contradicts him,
when he describes how the Toronto Sun was able to manage "so successful"
a start-up against
established papers in 1971, six years after the Vancouver Times folded.
Executive vice-president and chief strategy officer of CanWest Global Communications Corp.
The deck is stacked in favour of media owners
May 27, 2002
Ken Goldstein's column from CanWest
Global head office in Winnipeg (Newspapers' dwindling role belies fears
about monopolies, May
24) displays such ignorance of historical fact as to cast serious aspersions on his arguments in favour of concentrated ownership of Canadian
media. If Mr.Goldstein knew anything of newspaper history in Vancouver, where corporate concentration of media ownership reached the
dizziest of heights decades ago, he would be aware that the first co-operatively owned daily newspaper in Western Canada, far from "the
world," was not the Winnipeg Citizen he studied as an undergraduate, but the Vancouver News-Herald. Formed in the early 1930s by
journalists from the closed Vancouver Star and Vancouver News, it nurtured such talents as Pierre Berton and Jack Scott and came to
boast the highest circulation of any morning newspaper in Canada west of Toronto. Its acquisition by Thomson Newspapers in the early
1950s spelled the end of daily newspaper competition here, as the soon-to-be-named Lord Thomson of Fleet sold the renamed Herald in
1957 to Southam, which closed it to remove competition for the newly-formed Pacific Press.
A local backlash against the Pacific
Press monopoly resulted in a second attempt at starting up a co-operatively
owned daily newspaper in
Vancouver in 1964, which saw the ill-fated Vancouver Times born. The financial disaster that ensued, with the Times closing less than a year
later for lack of advertising revenue, convinced many that to challenge such an entrenched market power as Pacific Press was fiscal suicide.
Thus, far from not having "the guts to try to start their own" newspapers, critics of media ownership concentration have the brains to realize
that this would be folly, as the deck is stacked in favor of monopoly owners as a result of federal regulatory failure to foster competition by
allowing monopolies like Pacific Press to dominate a market.
The fact that Mr.Goldstein is able
to spread such specious arguments in favor of CanWest's dominance of Canadian
media on the pages of
a majority of the country's major dailies is made much more dangerous by the fact they will likely remain uncountered by missives such as this,
which will doubtless never see print on your pages. This brings up the real peril of concentrated media ownership, which is not financial power
but political. The ability to set the nation's agenda for discussion and favor one set of views over all others is what makes the ever-increasing
dominance of the country's media by a privileged few extremely dangerous, especially when the latest owner of the majority of Canada's press
has shown such a proclivity for using its newspapers for political, as opposed to journalistic, purposes.
Newspapers' dwindling role belies fears about monopolies
Friday May 24, 2002
Special to the Sun
WINNIPEG - In 1948, a young woman
named Peggy started working as a journalist at a new, upstart daily newspaper
Winnipeg Citizen. Peggy's story, and the story of the newspaper, provide an interesting perspective on the debate about media voices
and media ownership.
The Winnipeg Citizen was the world's first, and only, co-operatively owned daily newspaper. The paper was supported by three main
groups -- organized labour, supporters of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (forerunner to the New Democratic Party) and
supporters of farm co-ops. They sold shares in the co-op door-to-door. Each group wanted a newspaper that would reflect its views.
In the late 1940s, just about everyone read a daily newspaper. Many people read more than one, to the point that combined circulation
of Canadian dailies was greater than the total number of households in Canada. Radio was important, but the number of stations was limited.
There was no Internet, no Canadian television, no cable or satellite TV, no pay or specialty services, no VCRs, no DVDs. The world of
media was much less fragmented, and Canadians had far fewer choices than they do today.
So the Winnipeg Citizen started publishing on March 1, 1948, to provide an alternative voice to the other two Winnipeg dailies, the Free
Press and the Tribune. Peggy was hired to be the paper's labour reporter. She had graduated from United College (now the University of
Winnipeg) and recently married. Peggy and her husband rented half of a duplex in Winnipeg's north end, not too far from the Citizen offices.
The story would be unremarkable, except for what happened next. The other half of the duplex was occupied by a well-known north
Winnipeg political figure and his wife.
In a classic example of guilt by association, a number of the labour leaders who were backing the paper came to the Citizen's management
and asked that Peggy be removed from the labour beat -- because of the politics of a person living in the other half of the duplex! The paper's management reassigned Peggy to write radio reviews and general features.
The Citizen went out of business on April 13, 1949. Ironically, when it ceased publishing, a Winnipeg labour leader remarked that one
of the reasons the paper failed is that union members didn't buy it. Many years later, in 1980, the Winnipeg Tribune also ceased publishing.
That was one of the events that spurred the Kent Commission inquiry into newspapers. Subsequently, a new daily newspaper was started in
Winnipeg -- the Sun -- which is now part of the Sun Media (Quebecor) chain.
By 1980, however, the world of newspapers was dramatically different than it had been in 1948. Daily newspaper circulation was down to
less than two-thirds of households. Television was ubiquitous and there were far more radio stations. The VCR was about to take off as a
household entertainment device. Today, the fragmentation of the media market is even more pronounced. Canadians almost everywhere can
receive dozens of television channels. Contrast that with the 1950s, when for most there was only the CBC.
The lack of concentration today is clear whether one measures potential reach or actual audiences. Today, among English-language TV
services, CTV, Global and CBC all have the potential to reach most Canadian households, although their actual audience shares (among English-speaking Canadians) are, respectively, 18, 15 and seven per cent. (The data come from the Canadian Radio-television
Telecommunications Commission and include conventional and specialty services.) There are numerous other conventional and specialty
services that can also reach millions of households.
With the Internet now in more than half of Canadian households, that also means the potential reach of any medium that is on the Internet
is equal to more than half of all the households in Canada. For example, the number of Canadians who have registered to receive the New
York Times online (575,652 as of December 2001) is greater than the average daily circulation of any Canadian daily newspaper.
Newspapers are still important, of
course, but the combined circulation of Canadian dailies today is equal
to about 44 per cent of households.
So even the largest owner of daily newspapers in Canada -- CanWest Global Communication Corp. -- has a combined daily circulation
equivalent to only about 15 per cent of the households in the country. Compare that with 1950, when the Toronto Star alone reached 12
per cent of Canadian households.
In other words, in a media market that is more fragmented than ever, even large companies like CanWest and Bell Globemedia (CTV) have
much smaller shares of total audiences than would have been the case 20 years ago. In the face of fragmentation, media companies are
attempting to re-aggregate the fragments in order to sustain economies of scale. But the combined audience shares rarely total what single
media outlets had in the past.
So the "concentration" claimed by
some media critics simply doesn't stand up to an analysis of either potential
reach, or of the audiences
that are actually reached.
It's also interesting that those same critics have never tried to do what was done in Winnipeg in 1948, or again when the Sun was born --
start a competing newspaper. In 1948, those that criticized the established papers had the guts to try to start their own. Today, the critics
seem more interested in signing petitions asking the government to intervene in the way other people's newspapers are edited.
That is just one more example of how the media market of today bears no resemblance to the media market on that day in 1948 when
Peggy walked up the stairs to start her job at the Winnipeg Citizen. So what happened to Peggy after she was reassigned from the labour
beat? Well, she wrote some radio reviews and book reviews. But most of her attention was on the feature assignments she was given.
Those assignments helped to hone her writing skills.
In 1949, Peggy and her husband left Canada for a number of years (he was an engineer who worked on overseas projects) and she turned
her attention to writing novels. Peggy was her nickname, of course, but her full name appears on her novels -- Margaret Laurence.
Ken Goldstein is the executive vice-president and chief strategy officer of CanWest Global Communications Corp. Many years ago,
he wrote his undergraduate thesis on the Winnipeg Citizen.