By Gerry Barker
January 29, 2018
It was two years ago when the TorStar subsidiary, Metroland publishing, shut down the Guelph Mercury daily newspaper following more than 100 years of publishing. The newspaper staff was dismissed and within days the memory of the once fine small city newspaper faded to black.
Gone and forgotten
Remaining behind is the twice-weekly Guelph Tribune, a free circulation tabloid with an allocated news space ratio of about 20 per cent compared to advertising. That does not include a booming insert of advertising flyers.
At the time, the newspaper had an editorial staff of three including the editor. Doug Hallett was the chief reporter who covered the municipal political beat. He resigned last year and the Trib staff now consists of four editorial staff to cover the city of 131,000.
In an extensive review of the “Crisis in Canadian Journalism,” TorStar chairman and editorial veteran of the Toronto Star lamented how the newspaper industry was losing many reporters and editors. It was due in part to declining revenues and fierce competition from television and the social media.
I spent 23 years at the Star as a reporter, photographer, editor and assistant managing editor. It was the greatest experience of my life, working in the newsroom of the greatest newspaper that this country read daily.
The backbone of the Star editorial staff was the highly skilled and motivated reporters and editors. The saying in the business was that the Star was an editor’s paper while the Globe and Mail was a writer’s paper.
The inference is the demand by the Star’s publishers to first get the story, then make sure it’s accurate. The days I spent there were exciting and fulfilling.
The Toronto Star was the reliable crucible of Canada print journalism.
That was then and this is now
I am saddened to see the Star today dealing with diminishing advertising yet publishing great beats and investigative stories that are maintaining the high standards of editorial excellence and responsibility.
The greatest danger to the large urban newspapers in Canada is the growing presence of amateur reporters not knowing the importance of getting both sides of the story. The Internet is flooded with blogs and websites, few of which, the authors have any journalistic experience.
Journalism is frequently described as a craft. It is much more than that. It requires training, experience and dedication to participate in the production of a new product, meeting deadlines every day, six days a week.
Delivering in-depth news daily is the goal, something that is missing in today’s news gathering environment.
People want their news instantly. That’s why the cable news channels with their 24-7 political coverage are so popular. While newspapers are being forced to lay off reporters and editors, the vacuum is being filled with sloppy rubbish reporting in many cases.
TV news is now decided by stopwatch without the emphasis on filling the time slot rather than telling the full story.
That is very apparent in Guelph where the details of complex and important stories are ignored by the media.
I am a blogger
I must confess that I write a blog as many of you know and my motivation is simple. I pay taxes in Guelph. I know a story when I see it. Yet there is not one social media outlet, TV or newspaper in this city that makes any attempt to investigate the operations of the administration and its reasons for judgment and action.
The recent merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities is an example of a failure to investigate what was behind this proposal. This is a story that has yet to end.
It’s because most media haven’t a clue, don’t spend the time checking out city PR handouts or spending any money to improve editorial coverage.
Leading the group is the Guelph Mercury Tribune. Ironically part of the TorStar-owned publications, that masquerades as “City News” pages in every edition. The content is produced by the city communications department and paid by the taxpayers.
This is one of the most deceitful abuses of news space to portray advertising as news and not identify the content as paid advertising.
Since we moved to Guelph 15 years ago, the City of Guelph has paid millions to Metroland Publishing for these faux news pages. Based on line rates of three years ago, the annual cost is estimated to be $500.000.
In my opinion, this is the main reason that the paper never investigates any city decision, criticizes council or the staff or questions operations.
Insuring content control
For the city, it’s like buying an insurance policy to protect its interests, at the public’s expense.
So the people are denied legitimate news coverage by the only newspaper left making Guelph a desert in the field of responsible journalism.
Guelph Speaks has consistently written reports that dig under this artificial news barrier that denies the people of the city the truth of many decisions by city council that has cost many millions of public dollars.
But you’ll rarely read about it in the Tribune. They paper only prints what they want you to read and believe.
So this is an enigma. The great Toronto Star struggles, maintaining its journalistic standards and integrity while the Tribune takes cash from the city to publish advertising under the guise of news.
When it comes to integrity, the Tribune’s interest lies only on the bottom line.
The irony is that the profits made by the Tribune go indirectly to help keep the Star afloat.
It remains too high a price to pay.