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the diary thing 
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09.19.01
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 post
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BARELY A WEEK AFTER THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR, the paper I work for laid off 130 employees and cut back its format to a "business and news" format, not unlike the Wall Street Journal. Since there already is a Wall Street Journal, I decided it was time for me to cancel my subscription and move back the competition -- the venerable Globe and Mail -- after three years of loyal readership.

The Post was also a big part of my freelance clientele -- though less and less lately -- and abandoning it was a sad decision. Regardless, they'd just announced an increase in subscription rates, and I saw now reason to pay more for less of the paper I'd been reading. According to the nice lady on the phone at customer service, they'd been swamped with cancellations all morning. According to Marianne, a friend working at the Globe subscription department, calls had been coming in all morning for new subscriptions. The newspaper war, begun three years ago with much fanfare, is over.

On the back page of the financial section of the Post, there was an open letter from the publisher, Gordon Fisher, and the editor-in-chief, Ken Whyte, explaining the changes, and suggesting that readers could address their concerns in an e-mail or call to Mr. Fisher. I took that liberty. Here's the letter:


 
"Newspapers always excite curiosity. No one ever lays one down without a feeling of disappointment."
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- Charles Lamb
Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading

 
A respite from the big story of the day. A bit of kvetching about the newspaper world.

DEAR MR. FISHER,

This morning, after almost three years, I cancelled my subscription to the National Post, and began one with the Globe and Mail.

It was not a decision I made lightly, or out of impulse. After reading your letter in this morning's paper, and a summary of the news elsewhere, I decided that being charged more for less of the paper that I had enjoyed reading was a bad deal.

From what I was made to understand from the customer service rep on the line, I was not the only person cancelling my subscription today. As she took a few notes on my reasons for cancellation, she mentioned that, no doubt, management would be interested in our reasons. This letter is an attempt to explain my own, more fully.

I have read the Post since its inception, had developed a ritual for reading it, every day, six days a week. That ritual began with the Toronto section, especially on Saturdays. Gone now -- a dire mistake, I think. We develop, and maintain, our loyalty to media and other institutions based on their ability to connect with our personal experiences. As a third-generation Torontonian, I had come to rely on the Post's local coverage. I'll miss Don Wanagas, and Peter Kuitenbrouwer, 

MARGINALIA:

(for non-Canadian readers, mostly.)

perhaps even Joe Fiorito* -- I hope they turn up elsewhere.

From there I would turn to the arts section. Light, and frequently irritating, it was nonetheless a pleasant diversion in the midst of the ritual. While I 

*Peter's a friend. He's already been offered a job at the Star, I hear. Wanagas is a great city hall columnist. Fiorito lives in the neighbourhood, and wrote a folksy "slice of life" column that was only occasionally cloying.
doubt I'll miss Rebecca Eckler*, I will regret having to search elsewhere for Roger Ebert. I can understand your wish to jettison a section, like arts, that was hard to keep "sharply focused", but arts sections are intangible assets at best: culture doesn't swim in the wake of trends as neatly as business, but no one expects it to.

Finally, I would read the news sections. News, as you know all too well, can be got in many places these days; in its least substantial form on television; in its least convenient form on the internet. Like most "news junkies", I rely on all three, but I get my primary fix in print. A daily newspaper is the backbone of this habit, and I relied on the Post, and was rarely dissatisfied. (My greatest spell of dissatisfaction: the coverage of the transformation of the Reform into the Canadian Alliance party. There is only so much partisan coverage one can stand, but it was interesting, nonetheless, to read the "house organ" of the process. I assumed, with the departure of Mr.

*In the last few years, all the papers and their boomer editors here decided they needed a young, "hip chick" columnist to address the "Bridget Jones" readership. The Post's answer was Eckler, a prolific warhorse of a writer who could be relied upon to give the insecure narcissist's take on any subject. She became famous for a column where she professed a fondness for her long-distance boyfriend's habit of leaving money on the dresser after his visits. There is, I believe, a word for that sort of woman.
Black*, that the paper would turn, perhaps, to a more balanced coverage of Canadian politics. Now I'll never know.)

On the op-ed pages, I would usually find fuel for the bile that sustains me through the day. I rarely agreed with most of your columnists, from the unlamented David Frum, to George

*I had a lot of time for Conrad Black when he started the Post. Unique among Canadian CEOs, he had a working brain. Alas, he is also a raging anglophile, and recently sold the Post to move to England and become Lord Black. Before all of this, however, he pledged the paper ideologically to the Alliance, and has decamped, perhaps, after watching the "official opposition" turn into a smoking wreck of infighting and irrelevance.
Jonas, to Mark Steyn*. Still, I don't demand that the world agree with me (which is more than I can say for some of your columnists) and found that knowing what the "other side" thinks was better than being spoon-fed platitudes. I was even moved to write letters to the editor, and can say that reading the Post's op-ed pages, while never a calming part of my "ritual", nevertheless made me a more rounded newspaper reader. I will not miss Diane Francis, or Mark Kingwell, or Rod
*Frum is this awful little shit who left the paper to become a speechwriter for George W. Bush. George Jonas is a conservative hack who wrote a bloodthirsty column on capital punishment that prompted me to write my first letter to the editor. Mark Steyn has been prominent among the hawks at the paper who, since last Tuesday, have moaned about the West's "moral failure" while accusing Canada of insufficient backbone in supporting our American ally. They would all, perhaps, be comsidered Canadian "anti-nationalists" who dream of a 51st state.
McQueen*, except perhaps when I find myself becoming too complacent.

Finally, I would turn to the Financial Post sections. I am a poor man, Mr Fisher -- a freelance writer and photographer who, incidentally, has worked for the Post from its first week of publication -- and hardly have the money to invest in the markets, but I regard ignorance of finance to be a harmful self-indulgence. I can get business news elsewhere, but I will miss Linda McQuaig's counterpoint column, infrequent though it was, but not 

*Diane Francis is an evil harpie whose favorite topic is a call for immigration to be severely curtailed, to keep out the floods of diseased, criminal foreigners. Rod McQueen is a business writer, a slick toadie to the rich and powerful, whose response to being canned was "Thank you. I was proud to work here." If only all underlings could acknowledge their place so gracefully. Mark Kingwell is my arch nemesis.
Terence Corcoran*. Sometimes I am a choir that liked to be preached to, Mr. Fisher, and this was -- as you can understand, I hope -- an integral part of my loyalty to the Post.

I was honoured, three years ago, when Kate Fillion called to ask me to work for the paper. I have had excellent experiences with almost all of the editors I have worked with -- with the notable exception of Saturday Night magazine, an "institution" now passing that I wish I could lament more

*McQuaig was the token lefty allowed to contradict the popular wisdom of the market in the pages of the business section, every two weeks, with plenty of time for copious rebuttals from readers and other writers. Corcoran's principle job for the past year has been to debunk the "myth" of global warming, and other "bad science" that might impede the natural evolution of the market.
keenly* -- and will miss them though, it has to be admitted, many are long gone from the paper. 

Almost three years ago, I cancelled my subscription to the Globe and Mail and took up one with the Post. Today, I have reversed myself, with no small sense of loss. Perhaps I'm a bit confused as to why a newspaper should choose to hobble itself in the midst of the greatest news story of my adult lifetime. Nonetheless, I wish you well with the Post, in its latest incarnation, though my attention will be focused elsewhere.

*After 114 years, Saturday Night has been quietly slipped under the sod. In its final incarnation as the Post's glossy weekend magazine, it garnered art director awards galore -- a sure sign of a doomed publication here in Canada. My own experience was awful, mostly at the hands of an editor with more attitude than competence, but it was hardly unique among friends and acquaintances who suffered endless, often pointless re-writes, and editing by committee. The resulting product was as characterless as it was slick. An ignominious end.

Best wishes,

Rick McGinnis
Toronto, ON

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writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
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