Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Sad State of Canada's Newspaper Industry

Does anyone still read the newspaper? Well, yes. And furthermore, "I no longer subscribe to the Toronto Star; in its place I read" doesn't count. I'm about to present the top 25 newspapers in Canada by circulation, but I admit that the print circulation matters less and less - and as such it's becoming more and more difficult to gauge the relative 'power' of these papers.

And yet it matters more and more. For two reasons: first, in the past decade or so, Canada's newpapers have undergone an amount of consolidation that ought to be frightening to everyone who believes that news matters and that newspapers have a lot of influence over opinion and policy. Particularly in light of point two: in the past decade or so, Canada's newspapers have undergone a rightward shift that is just as shocking as the Canadian public's acceptance of the shift is. For a country that cherishes social democratic values, havng a mass media so thoroughly consolidated on the right side of the spectrum is worrying indeed. Let's run down the list and take a look at the ownership and political orientation of Canada's biggest newspapers. The results are eye-opening.

1. TORONTO STAR: Canada's best-selling newspaper might be shedding readers like a lizard sheds its skin, but it's still on top in Canada (for now). Flagship of the mighty Torstar empire, it goes back to 1892 and has retained a pretty partisan Liberal affiliation.

2. THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Toronto-based, the Globe and Mail spends a lot of effort presenting itself as 'Canada's national newspaper'. Dating, in one form or another, all the way back to 1844, the Globe and Mail today is the flagship of the dysfunctional CTVglobemedia 'empire', which oddly enough is part-owned by Torstar at the moment (its owndership might revert back to the Thompsons, though). The Globe's rightward shift, to open Conservative support as of late, is endemic of the rightward shift of the Canadian media oligarchy in general.

3. LA PRESSE: Dating back to 1884, La Presse is Canada's largest French-language newspaper and Canada's largest paper based outside of Toronto (Montréal, in fact). Staunchly federalist, it is (in a typically Québécois fashion) tough to pin down on a left-right scale. Call it centrist, but it has recently thrown its support behind Harper's Conservatives. It's owned by the Power Corporation of Canada.

4. LE JOURNAL DE MONTRÉAL: Quebecor's main French-language paper, Le Journal is essentially a Francophone take on The Sun's populism and sensationalism. Taking the nationalistic side of Québécois 'identity politics', it is otherwise also difficult to pin down on the traditional spectrum. Though Quebecor rarely, if ever, strays far from the right wing. The tabloid dates back to 1964.

5. THE GAZETTE: Montréal's only surviving English-language daily dates back to 1778, and in 1968 was sucked into the teetering Southam (Canwest) family, which down the line has restructured itself as Postmedia, whose flagship paper sells less than this one. Being anglophone, it's obviously federalist. Being based in Québec, it's tough to say more than that, thought Postmedia is a pretty firm Tory backer, and indeed the Gazette sided with the Conservatives in 2008 and 2006.

6. THE VANCOUVER SUN: Number six, and the first paper based outside of Toronto or Montréal. This particular Sun has no connection to the Quebecor-owned other Suns, being another Postmedia brand. It's been around since 1912, though its Conservative endorsement is more recent than that.

7. TORONTO SUN: Wearing its political convictions on its sleeve, The Sun has been faithfully Conservative since its 1971 inception. Populist and sensationalist like its Quebecor-owned sisters, of which it is the oldest, The Sun has also been losing market share recently and even as recently as 2007 would have come in fifth in circulation.

8. THE PROVINCE: Founded in 1898, The Province fell victim to the Southams early, in 1923. They're now a Postmedia brand, as is their chief rival The Vancouver Sun. Being Postmedia, they're also Conservative.

9. NATIONAL POST: Think not much can change in a decade? Think again. Back in the prehistoric halcyon days of 1998, freeman Conrad Black decided to launch a new national newspaper in order to counter - are you ready for it? - excessive liberal bias in Canada's newspaper industry. Now that you've stopped laughing, consider how twelve years later the Post is now merely one of a glut of right-wing papers in Canada, albeit perhaps the most aggressively so. Conservative, obviously, and the centrepiece of the newspaper cabal descended from Black's Hollinger, Postmedia (though it's only the third-best-selling Postmedia newspaper).

10. WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Manitoba's largest newspaper was founded in 1872, and true to its name seems to have resisted conglomeration better than others. Not completely, though: it was a Thompson newspaper between 1979 and 2001, but seems since then to be owned by "FP Canadian Newspapers Limited", i.e. it's a standalone. While it might go against the grain regarding ownership, it's endorsed the Conservatives recently, despite a so-called 'liberal orientation.'

11. CALGARY HERALD: Alberta's biggest paper was first published in 1883. In 2000, it fell into the very large group of papers that now calls itself Postmedia. With it being both a Postmedia paper and a Calgary paper, one doesn't have to think too much to determine its political orientation, but to spell it out: C-O-N-S-E-R-V-A-T-I-V-E.

12. OTTAWA CITIZEN: The biggest paper in the nation's capital was called the Bytown Packet when it was founded in 1845. Its ownership and affiliation have apparently wavered over the years, but like a game of Plinko has landed in a thoroughly predictable pocket: Postmedia, Conservative.

13. EDMONTON JOURNAL: Unlucky thirteen, The Journal goes back to 1903, and even 107 years ago was supporting the Conservatives. That still hasn't changed, even if its ownership has, fumbling down the years to fall into the hands of the Postmedia behemoth.

14. THE CHRONICLE HERALD: We've trundled more than halfway down the list, and have now come up to two firsts on the list: based in Halifax, the Chronicle Herald is the first Atlantic province newspaper on the list. And wholly owned by the Dennis family, dating back to 1874, it's also the first true independent on the list. Being based in the Maritimes, where their Conservatives lean left and their New Democrats lean right, it's tough to fix a label to their beliefs and I can't find a record of an official endorsement in 2008 or 2006, but the opinions I read on their website looked pretty small-c conservative if not perhaps big-C Conservative as well.

15. LE JOURNAL DE QUÉBEC: I can't find this paper's affiliation, but it's Quebecor-owned and Québec City-based. I see no reason to list it as anything but Conservative. Populist and sensationalist like its sisters bearing the name Journal in French or Sun in English, it's been a union-busting tabloid since 1967.

16. LE SOLEIL: Falling directly below its rival on this list, Le Soleil is a Québec City-based paper founded in 1896. A Hollinger paper in the past, it's now wholly owned by Power Corporation, a company with traditionally Liberal ties. Le Soleil in fact was started as the official organ of the Liberal Party. I see no explicit endorsements of a recent vintage, but it'd be a fair guess that it hasn't changed that much.

17. HAMILTON SPECTATOR: The Spec dates back to 1846. For much of its history it was the jewel of the Southam crown, but after a whirlwind year in 1998-99 when Conrad Black sold the paper to Sun Media who then sold it to Torstar, it has become the Toronto Star's Golden Horseshoe sister. It seems to be officially neutral politically, perhaps wavering in the direction of the Liberals, like its big brother.

18. THE TIMES COLONIST: As we start to descend into mid-sized markets, we reach the Victoria-based Times Colonist, founded in 1980 as a merger of two older papers dating back to 1858. In any case, though, it's a Postmedia imprint now, in the awkward position of balancing its parent company's right-wing preferences with its community's left-wing voting habits. In 2008, it stayed neutral, and we'll have to consider it neutral still.

19. LONDON FREE PRESS: This paper dates back to 1847, but it's a Quebecor possession now. Wikipedia calls it 'centrist', but its most recent endorsement was Conservative.

20. WINDSOR STAR: A 122-year history stretching back to 1888 doesn't warrant anything more than a stub on Wikipedia. This paper, based in Canada's southernmost city, is today a Conservative-endorsing Postmedia imprint.

21. EDMONTON SUN: Quebecor's Sun line doesn't fare that well in readership, perhaps because opening the paper to page three, ogling the contents and then closing it again doesn't qualify as 'reading'. In any case, Conservative, duh. And of a 1978 vintage.

22. WATERLOO REGION RECORD: As "K-W" slowly morphs into "K-W-C", this paper has changed its name a lot since 1878, when it was founded in the German-speaking community that was then still 'Berlin'. It was joined at the hip of the Hamilton Spectator throughout 1988-1999, and as such is also a Torstar imprint today. And yet, spinning in his grave though Joe Atkinson may be, it's Conservative.

23. THE STARPHOENIX: We can only pray that Postmedia will force a space, or at least a hyphen, in the middle of this Chang-and-Eng-named newspaper. But since it was founded in 1902 as the Saskatoon Phenix, we have little to hope for on the spelling front. I can't be sure, but the StarPhoenix looks Conservative.

24. CALGARY SUN: Launched in 1980, Quebecor, Calgary. Conservative. Obviously.

25. REGINA LEADER-POST: It goes back to 1883, but it's a Postmedia paper today. I don't see much in the way of a national opinion. They seem to support Brad Wall, but who in Saskatchewan doesn't? Otherwise, I'm unsure.


  1. Appealing information you have provided. It gained me more knowledge and idea about liberal bias. Please keep up the good because i like the way you are writing. Thanks!

  2. I hope that by now you've learned a bit more and don't use the false left/right dichotomy. The media is owned by radical racialist extremists who argue from BOTH false their very linear and transparent interests. For those not so indoctrinated that they can't see it at all..

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