My subject is journalism and its role in Canadian public life. I hope to indicate how it has developed in response to the requirements of the Canadian people, and how in turn it has affected the people. I want also to place Canadian journalism within a historic and global context, and suggest how its history parallels journalism in certain other countries, including Japan. In Canada we are perhaps especially conscious of these issues--first, because we traditionally regard journalism as responsible for creating and sustaining the national community, above all through national broadcasting; and second, because at the University of Toronto from the 1940s to the 1970s, Harold Innis and then Marshall McLuhan developed theories of mass communications that influenced this field of study throughout the world. Innis, in his book Empire and Communications, described how mass media make large societies possible by shrinking distances. McLuhan, whose career at Toronto overlapped Innis's, wrote that his own book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, was a footnote to Innis. They were the first scholars who placed communications at the centre of history, arguing that we can best understand a civilization by studying the way it explains itself to itself, whether it uses papyrus scrolls or printing or television. They argued that each of these media, and many others, has its own properties and produces its own unique effects. Those of us who have studied their work remain attentive to the nature of mass communications, and in particular to the way the medium we use affects the information we try to deliver--as McLuhan's famous phrase summarizes it, "the medium is the message." In my own case, the experience of interviewing Marshall McLuhan many times, and writing about him even more often, as well as reviewing his books as they appeared, was permanently influential.
My own life in journalism began in 1950, so I have seen our profession through several major changes. If I compare journalism in mid-century Canada with Canadian journalism as the 20th century comes to a close, the most striking difference is not in style or quality but in quantity. There is now far more of it than there was in 1950; I estimate that in Canada the number of journalists has multiplied about ten times, much faster than the population, and the amount of news available has grown at least as fast. Television began in Canada in 1952 and has been expanding ever since, and during the same years radio has devoted more attention to news. The rise of what we might call "direct coverage" has been especially significant. At the middle of the century hardly anyone in Canada had seen the federal parliament at work, had watched a provincial legislature, seen a national commission of inquiry, or heard an argument before the Supreme Court of Canada. Few had witnessed a press conference given by a national politician. Today all of those experiences are routinely available through television. And of course official documents are distributed to the public through the Internet, so that someone who writes a report or delivers a significant policy speech does not have to rely entirely on the newspapers and the broadcasters to spread the message.
Meanwhile, the print media, newspapers and magazines, remain active and lively. And the Internet, as well as being a marvellous research tool for those who use it carefully, has also become a source of news for a small but growing number of citizens.
To me, the great surprise in all this has been the public's insatiable desire for news. No matter how much news we give them, they remain willing to receive still more. There was a humbling lesson for me when Ted Turner started his Cable News Network in Atlanta in 1980. That was the year Marshall McLuhan died, and it happened also to be the year Ted Turner moved the world a step closer to the status of global village that McLuhan had predicted. I didn't at first understand the implications. CNN seemed to me an interesting experiment, but certainly not a major event in journalism. Of course, I was dead wrong. CNN set the pace for all subsequent television news around the world. In Canada it inspired our first 24-hour cable news service in the late 1980s. We have three now, and more to come. The Americans have seven or eight of them. In late 1997, it is hard to imagine the world without 24-hour news.
Now, it's worth reflecting that the very idea of news as a commodity and a profession is only about 150 years old. No matter how great the changes we have observed in recent news coverage, these changes are minor when compared with the invention of news itself. In the 19th century, by starting to produce daily newspapers, our predecessors reshaped the way humanity thought about events. Each day, journalists broke off a piece of history, put it on newsprint, and sold it to the public. Within a few decades, they created a new human habit, newspaper reading. Many years later, Marshall McLuhan pointed out that in a sense the newspapers invented a new environment which people entered when they picked up a paper. As he put it, "People don't actually read newspapers. They get into them every morning like a hot bath." They immersed themselves in this new world of news. By the late 19th century many people came to feel they absolutely needed something that their grandparents had never imagined having: knowledge of what had happened across the country during the previous 24 hours.
In Canada as in Japan, the newspapers of the 19th century began as blatant political propaganda. Political parties helped create them and sometimes owned them. Their clear purpose was to influence voters and encourage the supporters of the parties. News coverage was extremely biased, and no one expected it to be otherwise. The idea that newspapers should be "objective," that they should fairly report on all sides of a public issue--this idea had not yet been born. People read newspapers that expressed their politics. On the street in Canada you could identify someone's party by the newspaper he was seen carrying. Today's newspapers have political opinions, but readers expect them to give a reasonably fair account of other positions. And readers choose their newspapers not by politics but by the tone and intellectual level of the paper, and of course by the information it contains. They may also choose it for features that journalists regard as unimportant.
In the winter of 1963, all the newspapers in New York City were closed down by a strike. I went there to discover what life was like without newspapers, and as a reporter and writer I came back with a somewhat humbling conclusion. It was clear that what the citizens missed most in their papers were things I had nothing to do with creating--stock market tables, the schedules of movie houses, sports statistics, classified advertising--and crossword puzzles. The worst deprivation for the citizens was the crossword puzzle. Television couldn't think of a way to provide it, and New Yorkers found it hard to get through their morning coffee without their puzzle.
But in the beginning, political advocacy was a newspaper's central function--and that role still lives on in ghostly form, embodied in the titles of certain newspapers that still exist and thrive. An example is the paper I write for every week, The Globe and Mail, the national newspaper of English-speaking Canada. Canadians are so used to hearing that title, "globe and mail," that we seldom reflect on what an odd combination of words it is. After all, the word "globe" and the word "mail" refer to subjects from entirely different categories. Why do they appear in the same name? Like many newspaper titles, it's an accidental product of history.
This particular history began when one of the great men of 19th-century Canada, George Brown, founded the Reform Party, which later became the Liberals. In 1844 he also founded a Toronto newspaper to promote his ideas, and called it the Globe. Sir John A. Macdonald, the national Conservative leader and the most important politician of 19th-century Canada, later helped to start a paper called the Toronto Mail, partly to oppose Brown's ideas. The Mail loyally supported Macdonald's Conservatives for years but eventually the editors began to develop ideas of their own, some of them different from his. Macdonald was outraged, and in retaliation he started another Conservative newspaper, the Empire.
So for a while the Globe, the Mail, and the Empire were three separate daily papers in Toronto. They were far from alone, of course. Before 1900 Toronto, like most prosperous cities, had many newspapers: some weeklies, some dailies, some short-lived, some long-established. In the 1890s the Empire was among those that were faltering. In 1895 the Mail purchased it, and took a new name, The Mail and Empire. That was how it existed for another 41 years, until 1936, when a new publisher came on the scene, purchased both The Mail and Empire and The Globe, and combined them as The Globe and Mail, a paper which was at first Liberal but soon became Conservative. The title still doesn't make a lot of sense. But we who write for it are delighted the new publisher didn't call it "The Globe and Empire," since empires have become unpopular in Canada, and for that matter everywhere else.
The earliest of these events happened at the dawn of daily journalism, when our profession was busily creating that new human desire I mentioned, the hunger for news. Over a century and a half, journalism has first stimulated this need and then developed an international industry to satisfy it.
In recent times, the gathering and processing of news has become a vast collective creation. Every day, journalists around the world make millions of choices based on the data available to them and on their own sense of what is remarkable or important. Then they pass this chosen information along the chains of news services and networks to other journalists who eventually convey it to the public. Our profession has evolved into what entomologists call a "super-organism," a mass of individual creatures with specialized tasks, working toward a common goal. Imagine us as members of a large ant colony. The ants appear to be working independently or in small groups, but in fact they are all governed by powerful rules that drive them to make something large and complicated.
The product of this intellectual labour, the news, is an abstraction, but as soon as it exists, it turns into a form of reality. Some three centuries ago, René Descartes wrote about the triangle, saying there is no such thing as a triangle, it doesn't exist in nature; but once it takes shape in someone's mind it becomes, in a sense, "real." This is the way news works. News does not exist on its own: facts are not in themselves news. We must identify and shape them before they become news--that is, become, like the triangle, "real."
Canadian journalism is a part of this world-wide collective super-organism. It shares many of the concerns and problems of news-gathering elsewhere in the world, but it also has its own specific qualities. Perhaps we can examine it through three kinds of tension, three ways in which conflicting pressures express themselves. In their daily lives, journalists must constantly balance opposing forces, and we often find them annoying or distracting. Still, I don't want to suggest that they are necessarily a bad thing. In journalism, as in most forms of expression, the best work often emerges from the resolution of tensions. I've often noticed that argument within the profession is valuable: when we disagree vigorously among ourselves we are often on the brink of making progress. Philosophy speaks of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; in journalism, I think, our work emerges through a similar process of persistent argument. Within our newspapers, magazines, and broadcasting networks, and even within certain groups of producers assigned to make a single program, we often argue about fundamentals--what we should be doing, why we should be doing it, how well we have done it in the past. Those who find this tedious should go off by themselves and try to put out a magazine or a radio program single-handedly: in no time they will be longing for the luxury of an argument.
In Canadian journalism three persistent conflicts affect our professional lives. An outsider would quickly identify the English-French conflict as the most obvious, since the rise of French-Canadian separatism threatens to destroy Canada. But in fact that plays only a minor role in the structuring of our journalism. It is conducted in two separate and nearly airtight compartments. French-Canadian journalism speaks to French Canadians, and English-Canadian journalism to English-speaking Canadians. From time to time these two distinct divisions of Canadian journalism may quote each other and comment on each other's opinions, but not in a way that defines their work as a whole. The conflict between English and French obsesses us; it does not shape us.
The three tensions I refer to are these: between corporate profit and professionalism; between Canada and the United States; and between the demands of the independent ego and the needs of community.
As to the first, most journalists are employees of large corporations, and our work is usually organized and budgeted as part of the corporation's profit-making system. If we look at journalism in this way it's simply an extension of corporate capitalism--and a valuable extension. Journalism makes advertising possible, and without advertising much of business would dry up. Furthermore, journalism spreads information among business people, everything from stock-market data to theories of management.
But at the same time journalists are professionals and have developed over the generations certain standards of professional conduct; like most professionals they do not always meet their own standards, but those standards are nevertheless a part of their consciousness at all times. Journalists see themselves as servants of the truth and servants of the public.
It is natural that these professional responsibilities will sometimes conflict with the goals of their corporate managers; it is natural that one side will come first on certain occasions and the other side on other occasions. As a class, Canadian journalists tend to identify with the welfare state, with government intervention in the economy, with the writers of environment-protection legislation, and with labour unions. In short, they are committed to what North Americans call the liberal point of view. Managers and owners, of course, often see things differently. Sometimes it seems that capitalist owners inhibit journalism--but in this, capitalism is not unique. The fact is, owners of any kind can be an inhibiting force. In Canada the largest news-gathering organization is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It is owned and supported by the taxpayers; the government of Canada chooses the president and the board of directors. Here, too, just as in a corporation in the private sector, tension arises between journalists and their managers. In recent years the greatest tension has resulted from budget cuts.
The government, in the name of cost-cutting, has severely curtailed the activities of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in television and radio, raising the suspicion that it resents the independence of the CBC journalists and seeks to curb their influence on the people. In the late 1990s two trends are reshaping Canadian broadcasting. The first is the decline in significance of the national public networks, the English and the French versions of the CBC, due to these funding cuts and also due to increased competition. The second is the rise in the number of channels available in most homes. In the last twenty years they have increased from a handful to several dozen, with more to come. It appears we are now moving out of the era dominated by big, powerful networks and into a period when the TV audience will be broken into smaller and smaller pieces. In other words, the business of television in the late 20th century is beginning to resemble the business of newspapers in the late 19th century.
Nevertheless, government support has been crucial to Canadian journalism, and at many points in our history, state-supported agencies have done more than any other to focus attention on national issues. The federal government created a state radio system in 1932, which evolved into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At the beginning of the Second World War the government also created the National Film Board, which soon became a world leader in documentary films. CBC radio and television have been at the centre of journalism since the 1930s, and many of our most prominent journalists have emerged as the stars of government-backed radio and TV. The anchorman on the CBC nightly news is always a Canadian celebrity, and the late Barbara Frum, as an interviewer first on radio and then on television, became one of the leading figures in Canadian public life; when she died in 1992 the national mourning for her made it clear that she had been one of the most beloved Canadian citizens.
As for newspapers, they are less numerous than they once were in Canada, but they continue to show signs of economic health and in some cases editorial improvement as well. Around the world, newspapers have slowly come to understand that they are no longer mainly in the business of providing hard news: most of the simple facts of a story reach us through television and radio, long before newspapers can get to us. Newspapers now must provide something else in place of news, whether it's pure entertainment or a more serious approach to information. Many newspapers have done market research in order to answer certain crucial questions: Why are people not reading newspapers as much as they once did? Why do some people appear to be able to do without newspapers entirely? I don't know how Japanese marketing people approach that sort of issue, but in Canada we use focus groups. We gather some potential readers around a table, we first of all trick them into believing they are there to talk about something else, and eventually we draw out their opinions on what we want to know about. To the most pressing question they answer, typically, "I don't read the newspaper because I haven't enough time."
What is amazing is that some newspaper editors (who are sceptical about everything else) actually believe this answer. Of course it is untrue. It is a polite fiction. Most people in North America have plenty of time. Some have more disposable time than ever before--time to watch movies and soap operas on television, time to watch baseball games that stretch for hours, time to argue over the meaning of the latest program in the Seinfeld series. The existence of the gigantic entertainment and sports industries proves that many people have great gaping holes of time to fill. So the reason some have abandoned newspapers must be found elsewhere. I think the truth is that they don't read newspapers because they don't find them interesting and entertaining and because they don't believe newspaper reading is important to their lives.
The American communications theorist Neil Postman, who has been much influenced by Marshall McLuhan, said some years ago in a speech to newspaper publishers: "You must alter your conception of what business you are in. .... you must be in the meaning business. What this suggests is more interpretation, commentary, social criticism, features. .... your point of view must be sharpened .... You need editors who have themselves addressed the questions, What are we here for? Where have we come from? Where are we headed?" Postman said that these editors probably won't be found in journalism schools. He predicted that newspapers were more likely to find them in schools of theology.
Around 1990 The Globe and Mail became the first English-language newspaper in Canada to recognize that the environment for newspapers had radically changed. The Globe fundamentally altered its emphasis. It transformed its principal content from news to analysis and comment. At the same time, it recognized that readers will respond to much more discussion in their newspapers of private issues, issues of love and death and private betrayal and disappointment--issues that once were confined to book reviews or coverage of the theatre and movies. The Globe became more personal as well as more analytical. The result has been highly successful.
Recently Conrad Black, the Canadian who has been the prosperous publisher of The Daily Telegraph in England for some years, obtained control of the Southam chain, which owns newspapers across Canada. Many journalists in Canada viewed this as an ominous development. Black is famous for his conservative views, above all for his embrace of market economics, his suspicion of government, his enthusiasm for the United States, and his impatience with Canada's traditionally relaxed and genial approach to French-Canadian separatism. He's an old-fashioned press baron, with opinions he likes to express. Many feared that under his control the Southam newspapers would be filled with his views. And to an extent this has happened: Black's Southam papers, such as the Montreal Gazette, now carry right-wing columnists that they would have disdained two years ago. But the importance of Conrad Black lies beyond opinion. What matters most about him is that he apparently admires good newspapers, thinks they can make profits, and believes in spending money to create them. He promises to improve all the Southam newspapers, which in recent years had been rather dull, and in one case he's made good on his promise. He has vastly improved the newspaper in the national capital, the Ottawa Citizen, in a way that echoes the Globe's changes of seven years ago and extends those changes into other fields, such as local news. Black also proposes to start a new daily in Toronto; if he carries through on that idea, Toronto will have five daily newspapers, more than any other city in North America.
Newspaper readership in Canada is lower than Britain's, which in turn is lower than Japan's. And yet everywhere newspaper owners are concerned about their future, particularly about readership among young people: I notice that the Japanese Publishers and Editors Association has a campaign with the slogan "Let's Read Newspapers 5 Minutes More," and it has a Committee to Strengthen the Newspaper Medium, aimed at "encouraging younger readers to stop distancing themselves from newspapers." In Canada newspaper owners would be ecstatic if they could achieve the readership levels you have in Japan, but obviously the publishers here, as everywhere else, feel they must work hard to retain those levels.
Canadian newspapers are relatively healthy at the moment, but they are also asking themselves how long they can remain healthy. How will they be affected by the Internet? Certainly e-mail has already begun changing journalism. In an article published on October 15, Keiichiro Tsukamoto, publisher of the Japanese Internet Magazine, urged that reporters "add their e-mail addresses to their by-lines on their stories so that readers can convey their opinions immediately." He also expressed an idea new to me, that "reporters ... carry portable personal computers, especially at a press conferences. Then readers could send a message to the reporters, requesting them to ask certain questions."
I'm not sure that would work. At a press conference, most of us are already nervous enough about asking useful questions, without worrying about what questions are suddenly popping up on the screens of our laptops. But I agree entirely with the idea that the e-mail addresses of reporters should be published with their work. In Canada a number of journalists, mostly columnists, do this now. My own e-mail address appears with my column every week in The Globe and Mail, and I can tell you after two years that it substantially changes the business of writing a column. One change arrives swiftly--you become even more anxious to avoid mistakes, because if you make even a small one there's a reader somewhere who will tell you about it at 10 o'clock of the morning of the day the column appears. Another change is the amount of mail. I normally receive 20 letters for a column that would have attracted three or four letters before e-mail. Sometimes I receive forty or fifty. Often they are quite brief, helpful little notes, saying something like "You should read this book." Usually readers wouldn't bother sending a letter to make such a brief comment, but it's easy to send an e-mail. It's also easy to reply to e-mail, since the physical work involved is simple and quick. I find I'm now much more polite about replying to my readers quickly. I've also discovered that many e-mail letters are long and thoughtful. They help to educate me so that I'm better prepared when I return to the same subject later. I just wish they had invented e-mail in the 1960s, when I was writing six columns a week for the Toronto Star, the largest newspaper in Canada. I can't imagine how much e-mail I would have received under those circumstances. And of course, writing six columns a week would have given me a chance to publish many of my readers' letters.
But the economic question still faces us--will the Internet replace the daily newspaper printed on paper, the object we hold so easily in the subway or over breakfast?
My answer is: Not soon. My generation, and probably the generation now in middle age, will likely remain addicted to the newspaper. However, I can imagine a fundamental change. If a generation is reared with computers as part of ordinary life, and if there is eventually an Internet connection up and running most of the time in most homes--that is to say, if it can be switched on as easily as the phone or the radio--then I can imagine that the Internet will take over many of the economic functions and some of the editorial functions of the newspaper, perhaps eventually all of them. Possibly newspapers will begin moving their activities to the Internet, eventually letting their paper editions decline and slowly fade away at some point a few decades from now. Possibly some of the people here today will in middle age read the news via Asahi On-Line or Yomiuri Digital.
In the meantime, however, I would agree with Keitaro Oguri, the managing editor of the Asahi Shimbun Tokyo head office, who addressed this subject a few days ago in his Newspaper Week message. He argued that "the more diversified the means of information transmission, the more their survival hinges on the substance they provide." He cited investigative journalism as work of value that newspapers can offer. I would also say that newspapers should emphasize their greatest historic strengths, which include literary style and the ability to convey information through powerful narrative. Incidentally, I also agree with Keitaro Oguri's general advice to editors and reporters. He said,
"I recommend astute optimism. Stare reality in the eye, deal sternly with injustice, and do not forget to exercise a sense of humour."
Astute optimism: I don't know how that phrase was first written in Japanese, but in English translation it seems to me just about perfect.
In Canadian journalism, to return to my central topic, a second focus of tension is the relationship with the United States. On one level, Canada's relationship with the U.S. resembles Japan's--it is an example of one-way internationalism. In Canada, our mass media steadily report on American affairs, political, economic, and cultural; in the United States the mass media do not report on Canadian affairs at all. Much the same imbalance exists between Japan and the U.S. In Japan we can see on television or on the front pages even minor events in the life of the American president, for example; but in the U.S. Japan appears on the television news only when there is a disaster or the possibility of a trade war. Canadians and Japanese, and many others, may claim this demonstrates that Americans are provincial in their outlook, and that's not entirely wrong. Certainly Americans tend to ignore foreign countries, whether close by, like Canada, or a great distance away, like Japan. Furthermore, it appears that in matters of culture Americans have grown less interested in foreign countries than they were a few decades ago. Daniel Bell, the eminent American social scientist, has made the point that even American intellectuals no longer consider it important to know about the current novelists of Italy or France; and those who pay careful attention to the film world are painfully aware that the once-vibrant appreciation of international cinema on the university campuses of the U.S. has now largely disappeared.
I think I understand some of this. I've come to the conclusion that this attitude results from the vastness of America itself. Within its own borders, the United States is a huge and amazingly diverse empire, in which all varieties of humanity exist in one form or another, and in which most of the languages of the world are spoken by sizeable groups. The Americans find this world of their own so large and complex and engrossing that they have difficulty looking beyond it to other worlds, such as Canada's or Japan's. I grasped this for the first time when I attended an international conference in Hungary in 1985. At that conference publishers of books from countries such as Rumania, Denmark, and Portugal complained that there was no equality in their publishing relations with the United States. They consistently translated American books into their languages, but the Americans hardly ever translated books into English from Rumanian, Danish, Portuguese, and so on.
The Americans listened to these complaints with sympathy but without comprehension. They have so many titles of their own that they feel no need to look for titles elsewhere. Why should they? And the same applies to television: they produce so many programs that they don't need even to glance at the programs of foreign countries. So we are left with this situation: the whole world watches American television, but America never watches the television of the world; and there is not one American in a thousand who believes this fact is even noteworthy.
In these ways the experiences of Japan and Canada with the United States run parallel. But in another arena, no parallels exist: that is, in the information marketplaces of the two countries. In Japan, Japanese-owned newspapers, magazines, and broadcasting, in the Japanese language, control all but a tiny fraction of the market. In Canada, the situation is much different. Switch on the television in English-speaking Canada and you will discover that half or more of the programs are American. Visit a news-stand and you will find that far more than half of the magazines available are American. Canadians own their own newspapers and radio stations, partly because of government regulations; but in general, the cultural marketplace is dominated by the Americans. This means that in English-speaking Canada the ordinary citizen lives, culturally, on at least two levels, following American events like an American and Canadian events like a Canadian. A French-Canadian who can use the English language with ease, as many can, may be thinking on three levels at once: as a Quebecker, as a Canadian, and as an American, or at least a resident of North America tuned into North America's mass culture.
The U.S.-Canada relationship helps create another serious problem in our journalism: to a remarkable degree, we rely on foreign sources, principally American, for foreign news. If there is a crisis in Indonesia, for instance, most of the coverage that reaches the Canadians will come through American news services, and to a lesser extent British and French services; only occasionally will Canadians receive foreign news from Canadian reporters on the scene. This means that what we know of the world is filtered through the sensibilities and opinions of Washington and New York--and sometimes London or Paris. In this sense, our journalism remains immature, and it's hard to see any prospect for improvement. For instance, Canada has many close economic relations with Japan, and cultural relations as well; but the Canadian media at the moment do not employ even one full-time correspondent in Tokyo. If there is a major event here, some Canadian media will send their own reporters; but most will rely on the Americans, the British, and the French. If asked why, newspaper editors will cite costs, but in fact newspaper profits in many cases are at record levels. Perhaps the real reason is a lack of curiosity, a provincialism very like the provincialism of which I have today accused the Americans.
The third source of tension in Canadian journalism that I want to describe arises from the conflict between the individual ego and the requirements of the community.
One theory of journalism has it that our most vital function is the creation and maintenance of the sense of community. This theory arose in the American West, when towns were being built in the midst of wilderness. People would come together, establish the beginnings of government, and perhaps start a school; then someone would create a newspaper, and that would provide the community with a sense of identity and distinctiveness. It would also draw the people into the larger community--in Canada that meant the province first and then the nation. This is one way that collections of individuals turn into societies. We can still see it at work in the mass media today: if people accept a television network or a newspaper or a magazine, then they are on the way to accepting the rules of a society.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the greatest theorist and prophet of democracy, wrote in 1833 that in a secular society government must persuade everyone that they serve their private interests by voluntarily joining their efforts with the efforts of all others. And, he wrote, "That cannot be done habitually and conveniently without the help of a newspaper." But he also said, "A newspaper can survive only if it gives publicity to feelings or principles common" to large number of citizens. And finally, "A newspaper always represents an association whose members are its regular readers." Much the same applies, 164 years later, to everything from radio stations to chat-rooms on the Internet. All of us long for community, and we do our best to find it in our mass media--even, sometimes, in tabloid journalism.
Tabloids came late to Canada. In 1971, long after most of the western countries had developed tabloid journalism, we acquired our first daily tabloid, the Toronto Sun. An older broadsheet newspaper, the Toronto Telegram, a survivor of the 19th-century party press, died in 1971, and the next day a few of its former employees started their own tabloid. They really didn't know how to do it, since not one of them had ever worked for ten minutes on a tabloid paper in the U.S. or Britain or elsewhere, but slowly they evolved a new way of finding a public. They broke the most important rule I learned as a young journalist, which was: never write about yourself. The people at the Toronto Sun not only wrote about themselves, they dramatized themselves, they made themselves into heroes of independent journalism. They published a paper about publishing a paper, and they did it in such a slapdash, casual way that their new audience quickly developed an affection for them. One columnist wrote about his hangovers, another about her boyfriends, the columnists all wrote about each other, and when the editor had two heart attacks and a by-pass operation he wrote a six-part series on his experience. When the editor decided to run for election, six or seven Sun columnists wrote about his campaign. He failed even to get a party nomination, but he and the other journalists had an exciting time--and so did the readers. The Sun was like a TV situation comedy, all about a zany bunch of journalists putting out a zany newspaper. They were personal and emotional, and soon they were fabulously successful. They caught something in the air, perhaps a need for cosiness and sentimentality, perhaps the same need that was demonstrated in the recent wave of affection over the death of the Princess of Wales. And on this basis the Toronto Sun became the first new daily newspaper firmly established in North America in more than three decades, a phenomenal performance. Today it flourishes still, with satellite newspapers in three other cities. At the beginning I disliked it, and I dislike most of it to this minute; but obviously the editors who created it knew something I didn't know about the desires of the public. What they produced was a kind of antidote to urban alienation, the basis for a form of community.
Why, then, is there tension between the individual and the journalist's life in the community? Because, I think, that is the nature of human relations, and we see it played out more directly in journalism than elsewhere, as we constantly balance our own need for self-expression with what the community needs from us. We all develop as individuals, but we find satisfaction in our relations with others. The self grows in freedom and independence, but must be fulfilled through community--in "the interplay," as the great critic Lionel Trilling puts it, "between an awareness of the self that must be saved and developed, and an awareness that the self is yet fulfilled only in community."
Our profession, which feeds on the tumultuous nature of public affairs, is itself in more or less constant tumult. We are at the mercy of swiftly developing electronic technology, abrupt changes in ownership, and the vagaries of public taste. Those who have persisted in journalism know that there's rarely a time when we are not under some form of dire threat. Jane Jacobs of Toronto, a journalist who became a great theorist of city life with her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, says: "Let's remember that it's always the best of times and the worst of times."
Somehow in the midst of this tumult we manage to deliver to the citizens a reasonably complete and reasonably independent account of reality. If we do accomplish that, it is certainly not because of the stability of our institutions. It must be because our profession attracts enough individuals who believe it is worth their while to find out the truth and make it both public and coherent, whatever the obstacles in their path.
It seems natural to end this discussion of my profession, and particularly my profession in Canada, on a personal note. My father was a news editor at a wire service in Toronto. As a little boy I watched him work and heard him talking about what he did. I remember thinking, when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, that if I too could be a journalist, and if I could do it well enough, then perhaps my whole life would be made interesting. Amazingly, that's more or less how it turned out.