Deep thoughts on Postmedia and the long, slow death of print media

So over the last 24hrs there have been 3…no, wait, 4 stories that caught my eye. The first is Rogers media is overhauling it’s magazine business, which means amongst other thing that publications such as Macleans go from being weekly to monthly.

The second is that Postmedia owned 24hrs Vancouver will close it’s Vancouver office, laying off local reporters, and keep printing “without original reporting from 24 hrs reporters and editors. Instead, it will re-circulate other Postmedia content printed in local papers like The Vancouver Sun and The Province.”

Speaking of The Province, this pterodactyl scream op-ed by editorial page editor Gordon “Gordzilla” Clark, is the third item that caught my eye. Now one could spend some time dissecting the details of this column, such as the insinuation that an op-ed by the CTF’s Jordan Bateman published in his newspaper about the City of Vancouver’s plan – in an effort to address climate change – to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050 influenced a decision by the B.C. Utilities Commission to deny an application for a “district energy system” by a financial backer of Vision Vancouver (how? why? The Commission cites concerns about a monopoly rather than the source of the power, etc). But really it’s about the big picture in all this. Which brings us to story four:

Earth is on track to sail past the two degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) threshold for dangerous global warming by 2050, seven of the world’s top climate scientists warned Thursday.

A team of top scientists is telling world leaders to stop congratulating themselves on the Paris agreement to fight climate change because if more isn’t done, global temperatures will likely hit dangerous warming levels in about 35 years.

Six scientists who were leaders in past international climate conferences joined with the Universal Ecological Fund in Argentina to release a brief report Thursday, saying that if even more cuts in heat-trapping gases aren’t agreed upon soon, the world will warm by another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) by around 2050.

Now I can’t help but reflect on how this is all related. Sure, the loss of revenue from classified ads as such things moved to Craigslist has never been replaced digitally. And you can overstate the influence of editorial direction of a particular publication. But it seems clear that the strategy of The Province in particular and Postmedia in general is to staunch the bleeding by appealing to the concerns of the past rather than addressing the concerns of the future. I’m sure there are good financial reasons behind this but it strikes me as an attempt at prolonging one’s death through clickbait-ey rage inducers rather than preventing it altogether through renewal and reinvention.

But hey, in a world full of angry old white men screeds what’s one more?

Harper then and now: Old-stock Canadians.

‘The challenge we face here is the challenge of converting small-c conservatives into big-c Conservatives. It’s certainly not an insurmountable obstacle. I think we will see a growth in support (among ethnic voters). Whether it’s small growth or big growth, these efforts have to continue. We cannot be a party simply of oldstock Canadians. That is not feasible. It’s not right.

-Stephen Harper on courting the ethnic vote, The Ottawa Citizen [Ottawa, Ont] 16 Sep 2008: A.5.


“…we do not offer [refugees] a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. I think that’s something that new and old stock Canadians can agree with.”

-Stephen Harper, Globe and Mail leaders’ debate, Sep 18, 2015

Maybe he’s [sadly] right people will agree with him. Leaving aside the ethical question of whether one human being deserves less what our medical system can offer over another because of newness,  I’m pretty sure refugees settled in Canada are, by definition, “new-stock” Canadians.

Anyway, the ethnic outreach continues…

P.S. What’s an “old-stock” Canadian? I don’t know, it’s not a term my generation (Generation X) and younger uses, but Barbara Kay, in a May 6, 2009 piece in the National Post, defined it as “Christians or Canadians of Christian heritage.”

Christianity? What’s it all about? Christy Clark edition

Peer reviewed studies and the transit referendum

This is a copy of a comment I’ve left at Northern Insights, which is pending approval, in response to this post:

Speaking of without evidence, I note you’ve been pressed a number of times on Twitter to provide links to the studies above. I believe I may be able to help you here, with at least with 2 of those:

The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US cities
By Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner September 08, 2009

Evaluating Public Transit Investment in Congested Cities∗
Justin Beaudoin, Y. Hossein Farzin and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin November 27, 2014

I’d like to highlight some passages from them:


The fact that increases in public transit do not reduce traffic does not imply that such improvements are not in the public interest. While we are not able to perform a welfare calculation to evaluate extensions to bus based public transit, we suspect on the basis of earlier research (Kain, 1999, Duranton and Turner, 2008) that improvements to bus-based public transit are often welfare improving.

Together, these findings strengthen the case for congestion pricing as a policy response to traffic congestion.


Overall, our analysis indicates that the congestion-reduction effects of public transit supply warrant a higher level of public transit investment than would be provided on the basis of the isolated valuation of public transit ridership; this effect would be larger still if the additional negative externalities of auto travel were incorporated into this framework.

“Expanding transit and subsidizing fares has limited impacts on automobile congestion, given relatively modest own-price elasticities for transit… Nonetheless, urban transit fares are heavily subsidized…Improving service quality (e.g. increasing transit speed, reducing wait times at stops, and improving transit access) may be more effective in deterring automobile use.

While there is modest evidence that public transit’s reputation as a ‘green’ policy instrument is justified, the results also reaffirm the theoretical and empirical argument that traffic congestion can only be adequately addressed by devising economically and politically accepted approaches to efficiently pricing auto travel across the U.S.

I think one can be forgiven into thinking that perhaps the reason you haven’t provided links to these reports is they don’t really say, particularly the UC-Davis study, what you say they do.

But more importantly, I think you might be hesitant because both endorse road pricing.

Which is, in fact, in the Mayor’s Plan.

The Mayors’ Council is committed to implementing a more consistent region-wide approach to pricing road usage as the most fair and effective way to reduce congestion.

To tackle congestion and to make sure that the significant new road capacity we have added in this region doesn’t soon get swallowed up in traffic jams, there is only one tool that has a proven track record. It’s the tool that we use to allocate scarce resources everywhere else in the economy: pricing.

Maybe the missing World Bank study (the one’s I’ve found actually endorse public transit investment in specific cities – link available upon request) provides a strong case against transit investment. But in terms of these two studies, both actually significantly undermine your case.

The Red Herring Referendum

“One thing that we have learned however is that the best thing to do to make your transit agency worse off is to de-fund them. That taking away money from them in order to demonstrate frustration only punishes the people who are reliant on the transportation system.”

Jeffery TumlinNelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates

How making those with low incomes, students, new immigrants and the elderly wait longer for the 99 B-line will induce Christy Clark to give Translink executives a salary haircut is a mystery to me.

Stuart Parker makes a similar point here.

Let’s be clear: the BC government already doesn’t care about low-income people, transit riders and families forced to suburbanize due to the affordability crisis. If our lives get worse by our own hands, it’s just going to broaden the smile on our premier’s face. What so many “no” supporters are missing is that hostage situations only work if the people you’re threatening care about the hostages.

Indeed. People, including some progressives, seem to be under the mistaken impression the Premier wants a Yes victory.

UPDATE: Stephen Rees has another of his always useful posts:

In fact most of the problems that beset Translink at the moment all have their genesis with the provincial government. Christy Clark has done one brilliant job: she has deflected all the criticism of her failure to authorize adequate resources for running the transportation system in BC’s largest metropolis onto an organisation that she herself controls. It is an appointed Board – with a bafflingly complex system of appointment to disguise the very limited range of qualifications of its appointees. No-one represents the users of the system, and there are only two of 20 Mayors on the board, both very recent appointments.

Voting NO is not going to change anything.

Christy Clark in “Say Anything”

Do di doo…what’s this? A local news outlet reports the Premier saying the following:

“You know the province has made a major contribution to this and I think we’ve really done what we can. TransLink belongs to the mayors, and only the mayors, if there are problems that need to be addressed in TransLink, can fix those, fix those problems because it’s not a provincially run organization.

Unfortunately for the Premier, on this occasion a reporter decides that, yes, it is appropriate to say whether the words coming out of the mouths of our betters is, you know, true and provides this clarification, all the more devastating in it’s economy:

In fact, TransLink was established through provincial legislation.

Bravo, Mr. Leslie.

That it’s CKNW – the former platform for The Christy Clark Show – is the cherry on top. I do believe Clark’s schtick for a loose interpretation of facts, law, and ethics is wearing thin. Here, there and everywhere.

A compelling reason for a Transit Yes

Campaigning in the Lower Mainland’s transit referendum begins to unfold in earnest and the Yes and No sides have now unveiled their core arguments. For my own part I feel we shouldn’t even being having a referendum on such matters. It is in my mind a transparent attempt to pit one set of users in our transportation system against another, for the political benefit of the B.C. Liberals. Whether a clumsy attempt to regain a degree of populist cred after the HST referendum fiasco or perhaps to distract from other things. Who can say?

Nevertheless, we can’t wish the referendum away. Thus I support the Yes side.

One the arguments for Yes, and Yes now – rather than 3 years from now hoping for a BCNDP victory – that I think is being overlooked (and what might appeal to small-c conservatives in the Langleys and Maple Ridges better than the health benefits of transit) is this argument put forth by David Dodge:

This is the right time to invest in infrastructure for both governments and businesses, not only because of our structural problems but also in view of the prevailing low real interest rates.

Interest rates are at historic lows. It has never been cheaper to borrow money to build stuff, especially economically useful stuff like public transit. In the 5 to 10 year period (or more) it might take to address this issue again in the wake of a No victory, it might cost us a lot more to build our needed expansion of public transit. But wait, there’s more!

Moreover, infrastructure bonds would provide suitable long-term assets for pension plans and insurance companies to match their long-term liabilities.

Kevin Milligan has some thought’s on Dodge’s arguments here.

For transit before he was against it

Do di do doo…

The future of transit in Langley is light rail, one Langley Township councillor says. Now Langley Councillor X just has to convince his fellow local, regional, provincial and federal politicians that he’s right. “Transit works if you have a spine,” said Councillor X. “Langley’s transit spine is 200th Street.” Township Mayor Kurt Alberts has spoken to Councillor X about the plan, and he agrees that light rail could have a place in Langley’s future.

The future of transit in Langley is light rail, one Langley Township councillor says. Now Councillor X just has to convince his fellow local, regional, provincial and federal politicians that he’s right.

Councillor X is taking his ideas to the public today in an attempt to spark a debate and start the planning for a light rail line that he hopes could link Langley to Maple Ridge and Surrey. “The key for me is to get cars off 200th Street,” Councillor X said… …Councillor X hopes that pressure can be put on TransLink and the provincial government to fund more transit options on the south of the Fraser River.

Langley Advance [Langley, B.C] 17 Aug 2007: 7.



I have to cop to being completely naive and mystified how those anonymously-penned editorials get made, and what standard they’re supposed to meet in terms of accuracy & ethics. According to Allen Garr’s Dec. 4th column in the Vancouver Courier regarding what we now know was a Harvey Enchin penned editorial in the Vancouver Sun, the standard is quite low.

It’s not really that the fundamental premise of the editorial was factually incorrect (it was Superintendent Cardwell, not Patti Bacchus, who determined Chevron’s Fuel Your School program did not meet the VSB’s corporate donor policy). Though there is that.

It’s not really that, unbeknownst to the reader, the then anonymous writer is the spouse of the communications director for a political party then engaged in a bitter election campaign against one of the subjects of the editorial and this link was not disclosed in the editorial. Though there is that.

It’s not really that the Vancouver Sun is part of the Postmedia chain, which had or has a commercial arrangement with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – of which Chevron is a member – to “leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively” to further the “critical conversation” on the industry. Though there is that.

It’s not really that the Chevron Fuel for School program, as we discovered in a subsequent post-election Pete McMartin article, works in the way Patti Bacchus said it does. Though there is that.

It’s not really that Enchin, unlike McMartin, apparently didn’t pick up the phone to call Chevron to confirm the details of Fuel Your School. Though there is that.

It’s not really that Enchin engaged his own children to photograph a poster to support his case against Bacchus. Though there is that.

It’s not really that this poster was not, according to Garr, in the place Enchin said it was. Though there is that.

It’s that in his effort to call Patti Bacchus a hypocrite he questioned the professionalism of Francois Clark, the teacher of his own children. In his own word, the mere existence of this poster, which Enchin admits he has not seen, has this effect:

No one should be deluded into thinking this has anything to do with education. There is no serious study of science, no discussion of economic benefits, no attempt to address the engineering challenges related to production and shipment of oil, no consideration of the people and communities that depend on resource industries for survival.

Claims that was not his intent is simply an attempt to have your cake and eat it too. Francois Clark’s name did not have to be used to make whatever point, inaccurate as it turned out to be, Enchin wanted.

I think all the above is actually quite appalling. But, as mentioned, I’m naive and don’t really understand how newspapers work.

A fair question about Postmedia and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

So, to recap, we have in Vancouver two major dailies owned by the same company which has (or had in 2013) a partnership with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to “leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively to further the critical conversation” on the “importance of energy to Canada’s business competitiveness”.

In Postmedia daily #1 we have an editorial strongly in favour of corporate grants to our education system by a petroleum company.

In Postmedia daily #2 we see an op-ed by an individual who has in the past received an honorarium from the CAPP and who is vocal in support of developing Canada’s petroleum industry, equating it with patriotism.

Undoubtedly Postmedia journalists retain full editorial independence and any hint that this could be a real or perceived conflict of interest arising from the aforementioned partnership with the CAPP is ridiculous and if you do have questions you’re probably a troll or a bully.

Move along.

UPDATE: Paul Chapman of The Province and Jeff Lee of The Sun thoughtfully weighed in on the subject of the CAPP partnership on Twitter and insist, and I believe them, they have never felt any pressure to change, modify or ignore a story, etc.

But this isn’t so much about the newsroom than the editorial room and business operations. It’s about who gets to appear in the op-ed pages and when. And the safeguards in place. For example, on Dec. 4, 2013 an advertorial ran without attribution on the Vancouver Sun entitled “Born to the Challenge: Janet Holder’s B.C. roots make her the perfect lead on Northern Gateway.” It was only when a rebuttal was submitted that we, the public, found out that it was advertising. Another advertorial ran without attribution in the Postmedia owned Regina Leader-Post in error.

Similarly, management at the Globe and Mail during contract negotiations proposed newsroom staff write advertorials. (This was successfully fended off by the union).

How is the public to perceive all this? That’s really the question. It is really so outrageous to wonder that a media company in financial difficulty, that has slashed newsroom budgets and staff, might balk at crossing a group that has a strategic partnership?

As the another outlet’s code of Standards and Practices note: “The trust of the public is our most valued asset. We avoid putting ourselves in real or potential conflict of interest. This is essential to our credibility.”*

*Something noted by Kirk LaPointe, in another career.

UPDATE 2: Tom Hawthorn reminds us of the time Dan Murphy’s cartoon was pulled at the Province after pressure from Enbridge.

“‘If it doesn’t come down, Enbridge says they’re pulling a million dollars worth of advertising from Postmedia, and if it doesn’t come down, I, Wayne Moriarty, I’m going to lose my job,’” Murphy said Moriarity told him.


As mentioned, isn’t that the real danger?

FINAL UPDATE: While the issue of the advertorial remains, it should be noted for the record that The Province gave space yesterday to Emma Gilchrist of DeSmogBog to write a rebuttal of Vivian Krause’s op-ed AND the Sun issued the following correction to it’s editorial: