Al Gore says the press now reports far too much celebrity gossip and other such trash. And he's right, as far as it goes. In many ways, the mainstream media has taken on the role of Confidential and the rest of the 1960s movie magazines. It tries to find common ground with its readers -- an audience that is rapidly fracturing on gender, class, race, and generational lines -- by harping on the vacuous activities of Hollywood actors and anyone else with a high enough Q rating to be notable across the fracture lines. In Canada, political reporting has been reduced to commentaries based on personality and poll results, with enough ideological bias tossed in to prevent anyone from straying too far from their pre-set thought boundaries. Our politics is corrupted both by a lack of quality coverage of important issues and by governments that believe they can censor and manipulate public information for political gain. Readers have tuned out the cynicism of the political media and the elected officials they cover. In fact, they're tuning out all media -- newspapers, serious radio, TV news, current events magazines -- altogether.
Just a few facts to keep in mind:
* Canada's National Newspaper is read by 1 in 30 Canadians.
* Its competitor, the National Post, is read by about half that number.
* The major national newscasts -- all of them, CTV, Global, CBC -- reach about 10% of Canadians.
* The largest newspaper in Canada, the Toronto Star, is read by about 20% of the people in its coverage area.
* Canada's National News Magazine, Maclean's, is read by about 3% of Canadians (the "read by" rate includes the fact that these publications are passed around by people, and I'm being generous by accepting the ludicrous idea posited by newspapers and magazines that each copy is read by about three people).
There isn't a single Canadian print pundit who's read by any more than about 300,000 people -- say, 1 in 100 Canadians. Most of the top political writers have readerships in, at most, the five-figure range. So who's reading them? Mostly, I'd argue, each other.
Still, the Canadian media has enough clout left to taint public opinion, to instill ideas that lead to the development of public image. Taken together, they can influence the public mood, especially during election campaigns, when Canadians actually do focus rather carefully on public affairs.