07 January 2008

Wasting precious space in The Globe and Mail

As an inveterate reader of The Globe and Mail (persevering even through the new year's 25 per cent price increase), I am struck by the contrast between two types of articles.

The first is exemplified by Stephanie Nolen, African correspondent for the Globe. Nolen's articles carry wonderful stuff. She brings Africa to your doorstep with useful information and keen insights into the continent and its peoples, the very thing discerning readers look for in attempting to understand the world they live in. A two-time national newspaper award winner for international reporting, she has been commended for her "creative brilliance, humanitarian compassion, personal courage and the relentless pursuit of truth that combine to make much of what [she] writes vivid and urgent for her readers."

And then, by contrast, another kind of article, exemplified by much of columnist Christie Blatchford's work. Here we find a writer rambling on about why her dog won't sleep with her any more, ranting petulantly against a judge she doesn't like, or indulging in maudlin pieces about how cuddly our troops are. Not that I blame Blatchford for this. She is what she is. I blame the Globe for wasting space on this fluff.

As the number of newspapers has shrunk over the years, space has become increasingly precious. There are hundreds of writers out there who are capable of writing witty, well-researched, literate material on issues of substance who would give their left arm to fill some of that space. Wasting it on shallow writers writing frivolous material is irresponsible. I realize the first priority of newspapers is not to inform, nor to provide democratic discussion, but rather to peddle advertising and maybe this fluff does that. But there's a place for stuff of that calibre and it's in the tabloids. The serious press bears the responsibility of serving as public forums in this democracy of ours, and when fluff displaces news and intelligent discussion, democracy is not served.

Not that there isn't room for lighter material in the daily paper. God knows, news, or at least what the media decides is news, is heavy enough. A good example of what works is Michael Kesterton's "Social Studies" in the Globe. The section itself isn't overly spacious and offers a variety of very short pieces, some funny, some absurd, some intriguing, spiced up with delightful mini-cartoons, for a delicious, light-hearted break from the heavy stuff. And then of course there's the cartoon page, a pleasant and perennially popular interruption of fantasy and whimsy, and not to forget John Allemang's brilliant and wickedly satiric poems in the weekend Globe. Fun does have its place in the pages of the daily press.

But the filler I'm referring to above is not fun, not funny, absurd, intriguing or creative. It is self-indulgence and little more. It is space that could be much better used. The serious news pages should be serious.

As an example of what the Globe and other papers might do, I offer for consideration one of the most popular sections they offer -- the letters-to-the-editor section. Here
a bit of democracy intrudes. Ordinary citizens get an opportunity to have their say on issues of the day. What a great favour the daily press would do for democratic discourse if they dropped their weaker columnists and expanded both the space for letters and the number of words letter-writers are allowed.

No doubt the daily press could come up with other innovative ideas to set a higher standard for themselves. As for the tabloid trash, leave it to the tabloids.

1 comment:

  1. You're so right on this Bill. I believe the G&M sought out Blatchford for no other reason than to bleed some readership from the Spot. Her work is dreadful and an irresponsible waste of the paper's resources. I finally became so fed up with it I just cancelled my subscription, no minor decision for one living in this part of Vancouver Island.