The Americans are getting a look at our incestuous little newspaper business -- as though any of them would care. Ken Whyte is one of the Canadian journalists who think Conrad Black was a positive force in Canadian journalism. The prosecution didn't call anti-Black journalists, but there certainly wouldn't have been any trouble finding any. Every journalist in Canada in the late 1990s had to make a decision: whether to seek employment at the National Post, or stay with their old job. At the time, it seemed as though the issue was whether to stick with the status quo or join the parvenu. Little did we know, but the status quo was waiting to reclaim the print business, and the Black ascendancy was but a short-lived thing. For one brief blip, there was some life in Canadian newspapers before the slide began anew.
Black improved the moribund Ottawa Citizen and the Vancouver Sun, at the very least. The National Post, in its day, was the most interesting and arguably the best newspaper in Canada under Black. It put one last bit of wind in the sails of the industry. Black was much harder on small-town papers. Osprey, the company that bought the Kingston Whig Standard and the former Thomson papers in Ontario, effectively destroyed serious journalism outside the major cities of southern Ontario. Under Osprey, five-person newspapers became one-reporter operations. The pages were filled with press releases and tame coverage provided by hobbyist freelancers. Real estate and presses were sold, printing was contracted out. Century-old newspapers survived in name only, with one "editor" responsible for putting out two or more papers that were once award-winning, vibrant publications. Circulation plummeted, and the freebie papers took over the markets.
So who's to blame?
I still argue Conrad Black isn't. Thomson and Southam were on the block. Black simply bought their papers. Then he started the National Post. Unlike the Aspers and Osprey's owners, Black wanted to own some good newspapers that did some digging and broke some stories.
How long has Black been out of the newspaper business in Ontario? About five years? And are the papers any better? The answer is obvious.
So, if Black's crime is avarice, take a look around. Who was the last person to sink any money into the print media in Canada? Who was the last person to seek out talent?
Last week, Osprey was sold to Quebecor, the company that's been squeezing the Sun chain like a bunch of grapes. Every day that passes, it becomes more difficult to believe that Black deserves the hatred that's been heaped on him by so many Canadian journalists.