Wednesday, 26 July 2017



If you were to pick up a Postmedia broadsheet or one of its ragged Suns in a major Canadian city, it would take a moment or two to figure out where you were exactly in this big country. News, business, sports and arts are slight, generic items on a backlit McDonald’s franchise menu.

The debt-ridden company has long complained that digital entities such as Google and Facebook are killing its properties but these firms are not publishers. Postmedia is actively lobbying for federal subsidies arguing, rightly, that a healthy, independent and free press is an essential pillar of democracy. However, the grey lifeblood of the press was columns and columns of classified ads and the Internet has certainly played a major role in their disappearance from print; hell, there are no dead people in the obituaries these days. Dissatisfied readers cite a dearth of editorial staff, local content, indeed, any substantial or insightful content as just cause for breaking a long-established daily habit.

I once bought hash from a dealer I didn’t know outside the Montreal Forum before a concert. Nothing happened after a minute; nothing happened after an entire gram. I’m sure one or two my friends still owe me that $5 I lent them. I paid $1 to see the movie ‘Wayne’s World.’ I’ve purchased a few wedding rings. Suffice to say in my life I’ve spent money on nothing more than a few times.

The first-ever edition of the Edmonton Journal was put to bed in 1903. The newspaper is two years older than the Province of Alberta. Its beats are the rhythms of a capital city and consequently the entire province which makes it Alberta’s de facto paper of record. Edmonton is Canada’s youngest city, and hasn’t it grown up so fast? Including the murder rate. There is a myriad of other social issues too, some of which pre-date the Canadian Confederation of 1867. The tone in the legislature is increasingly American-style nasty; a civic election looms. Beneath an ever-changing and often extreme climate, folk are debating the future of fossil fuels and ways to diversify the provincial economy. It seems like awfully fertile ground for coverage and commentary. If only the Postmedia Journal would, or could.

Saturday night Ann and I sat up and out on the front porch talking about last week and next week, as we do. Ann said, ‘Our Journal subscription is up for renewal.’

I replied (with silent apologies to political columnist Graham Thomson, city columnists Paula Simons and Dave Staples, and my own degree in journalism), ‘Gas it. How much does it cost? Who cares? Let’s save the money. We’re not getting anything in return.’

Ann said, ‘I’ve read the Journal my whole life. I like the local news. I gave it another chance last year.’

I said, ‘I know, but there’s no point in even buying an e-subscription because there’s no content on any platform. Let’s stop the Journal and keep the Globe and Mail. The Globe covers Edmonton and Alberta better than the Journal does anyway.’

‘What about the New York Times Saturday crossword?’

‘Hmm.’ Some old habits are so hard to break. ‘Maybe we just take the Journal on the weekend.’ The paper’s only appeal to us involves a syndicated diversion from a foreign country. Makes you pause and think.

‘I’ll think about it.’

Prior to the last federal election, Postmedia’s head office instructed each of its editorial writers throughout its chain to endorse incumbent prime minister Stephen Harper for reelection. Nationwide, Postmedia newspapers shipped enshrouded in paid-for Tory propaganda. It’s no secret that a big ad buy with Postmedia comes with enhanced editorial coverage, the very anathema of a free and independent Fourth Estate.

Edmonton is sometimes referred to as ‘the festival city,’ especially in tourist guides. While the northern summers are short the days are long and there’s always something going on. Interstellar Rodeo is a weekend music festival mounted annually in a river valley park. It has broken some major acts in this town including Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. One performer will always blow off the pavilion roof sheltering the stage. Happens every year. Except this one.

Because of a collision of colluding circumstances, Ann and I did not attend Interstellar Rodeo this year. We were anxious to get the skinny on the festival, the lowdown. According to Monday morning’s Edmonton Journal the event never happened; nor did Nobel laureate Bob Dylan growl through a concert last Wednesday. We know: it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, and recipes for devilled eggs make for more interesting reading - the secret is smoked paprika! Interstellar Rodeo bought quarter-page, four-colour ads and front page banner ads and still couldn’t generate a single column inch of copy in the Journal.

Ann said, ‘Look at all this paper. There’s nothing in it. What a waste. I’ve made my decision.’ The waste of energy to transform pulp into newsprint, of ink on a heat-set press, of tap-tap typing banalities, we’d been wasting our money for a year or so too long. The absurdity ceased Monday morning. We finally wised up to the scam of paying money for nothing. Cord cut. Tellingly, we’ll be no less informed of the goings-on in our town.

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