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Commentary

Journalism at sea on a “ship of fools”

This piece is worth reading, partly for a summer laugh and partly because it’s one British writer’s wry take on a large and influential chunk of the American media audience. An excerpt from “Ship of Fools” by the Independent’s Johann Hari:

I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a 35-year-old California designer. When I hear her say, “Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralize the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that’s what you’ll get.”

I am traveling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino – and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been “an amazing success.” Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, “If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them.” And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organizes a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren’t listening.

Two questions: An editor should have asked the writer to identify just who that Canadian judge was. And, when will some wit take on a similar assignment, reporting on the Canadian version of these cruises — the ones organized by the Western Standard?

Hat tip to Janet Tate’s press notes at the (U.S.) Society of Professional Journalists
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CanWest executive retires

A senior CanWest executive is retiring. The Asper family will consolidate more of its control over the media monolith as Leonard Asper takes over the responsibilities of outgoing Peter Viner. Here is today’s press release:

        WINNIPEG, July 18 /CNW/ – CanWest Global Communications Corp. President and CEO, Leonard Asper, today announced the retirement of Mr. Peter D. Viner, President and CEO, Canadian Operations, of CanWest MediaWorks Inc.
        Mr. Viner joined CanWest in 1974 and has held a number of senior positions since that time, most recently as head of CanWest’s Canadian operations. Mr. Viner will continue to serve the Company in a variety of advisory capacities and will maintain his directorships with a number of CanWest subsidiaries.
        “We want to sincerely thank Pete for his passion and dedication to CanWest. We are fortunate that we will continue to benefit from his experience and intellect through his ongoing involvement with CanWest,” said Mr. Asper.
        As a result, divisional operating heads previously reporting to Mr. Viner will now report directly to Mr. Asper.
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Murdoch buys WSJ, says report

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has reached a tentative agreement to purchase of Dow Jones & Co.  The story on the web site was free to non-subscribers as of late Monday. A New York Times report is here.

It’s apparently true: everything really is for sale.
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Massive media coverage of Black verdict

A Canadian Press story by Merito Ilo takes a look at the international media coverage of Conrad Black’s conviction, noting that “stories published Saturday in the U.S., British and Canadian media, including some newspapers that belonged to Black’s former media empire, Hollinger International, differed only in their choice of words, but not in their “he got what he deserved” attitude.”
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Conrad Black convicted; expected to appeal

Conrad Black has been convicted on four criminal charges, including obstruction and three counts of mail fraud. He was found not guilty on nine other charges. He now faces the prospect of as much as 35 years in jail.

A Globe and Mail story is here. A CP story is here.

Black’s tale strikes me as tragic. He had a rare shining brilliance that would have allowed him to achieve so much, to create a legacy — for his country, for journalism, for society, for his family name. Instead there is … well, this mess.

Like most everyone excepting a small following of ideological sycophants, I very often disagreed with Black’s actions and views. Like many others, I also greatly respected Black’s significant investment in real journalism and the fact that he actively created space for
those who disagreed with him to have their say. (Disclosure: toward the end of its ownership by Black’s Hollinger, I was on the editorial board of the Vancouver Sun.)

I heard Black speak in Vancouver at a Fraser Institute lunch after he’d sold what could have become one of the world’s great newspaper chains to CanWest, after he dumped his Canadian citizenship to accept the title of the English “Lord Black.” The self-indulgent, taunting speech he gave was loaded with long, complicated and seemingly-erudite words, but all it amounted to was “Lord Black” taking a long pungent piss on everything Canadian. Since then, colleagues tell me, Black changed; in recent years he even praised Canada. It was all too late.

Black is expected to appeal the U.S. court verdict, and maybe he can erase the legal stain. What he cannot erase is the fact he sold out his legacy and his country. 
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Murdoch and the WSJ

Ken Auletta takes an in-depth look at the takeover attempt of the WSJ by Rupert Murdoch — which seems to be proceeding like a juggernaut — and how Murdoch keeps his promises. Or not. An excerpt:

Those who are suspicious of Murdoch’s pledges of noninterference recall what happened when he first extended his press holdings beyond his native Australia, nearly forty years ago: he persuaded the Carr family of London to sell him the sensational tabloid News of the World, and promised to run the paper in partnership with the family that had owned the paper for nearly eighty years; he abandoned this pledge after learning, he said, that to honor it would harm shareholders because the Carrs had created “a total wreck of a company.” When he bought the New York Post from Dorothy Schiff, in 1976, he publicly pledged to leave its liberal editorial stance unchanged, saying, “The New York Post will continue to serve New York and New Yorkers and maintain its present policies and traditions”—and promptly reversed course. But Murdoch’s approach may best be seen in what happened after he bought the influential and once storied Times of London and the Sunday Times, in 1981. At the time, English journalists asked their Australian-born colleague Phillip Knightley to analyze how Murdoch might behave, and as Knightley now recalls, “The point I made was that Murdoch came from a tradition very different from European and American proprietors. In Australia, a proprietor owned the paper and considered it was his to do whatever he liked with it. Proprietors used their newspapers to support or oppose political parties, settle private feuds, and cross-promote their other interests. Any idea that they could not do this would have met with bewilderment.”
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“Creative destruction” and the WSJ

“Suck it up,” an editorial in the Wall Street Journal seems to tell WSJ staffers: “Those of us who extol the virtues of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” for others can’t complain when it sweeps through our own industry.” The piece — in the context, of course, of the journal’s mooted sale to Rupert Murdoch or some other bidder — goes on to discuss the role of the Bancroft family as owners, and tout the WSJ as standing above other big newspapers in the U.S. in the journalistic independence of its editorial page…
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CRTC new focus of “media democracy” movement

The CRTC has become the target of a new media democracy movement, and TorStar media columnist Antonia Zerbisias has a column
about it — and the grassroots media activists,
lawyers, academics, labour groups and cultural nationalists involved.
They want Canadians to write to the CRTC by July 18, the deadline for
its September hearings on media concentration and diversity.
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“A hoot”

The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten outsources himself.
Using web resources only, he reports on some sort of Indian political
meeting with some sort of people in some sort of strange clothes, who
made lots of some sort of strange noise.

If you’re a newspaper
publisher in India he’ll sell you the rights to his story for “the
surprisingly affordable price of 80 rupees, or about two bucks.”
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Typophiles weigh in

Typophile.com has a lively discussion going on about the new Globe and Mail. Join the discussion here.
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