WILL GREED KILL NEWSPAPERS? asked the 24-point
headline on the ad in last spring's Ryerson Review. It begged the
answer that the ad, sponsored by the Southern Ontario Newspaper
Guild, wanted, and then answered itself. According to the guild,
the blame for the so-called dwindling credibility of newspapers
must be placed on the desk of "profit-blinded publishers" who
"are cutting staff and resources."
I suppose that the
guild, ever mindful of the mandate of all self-serving
organizations-keeping itself in business believes that publishers
and newspaper managers are gleefully reorganizing resources and
firing staff. Indeed, the tone of such comments suggests that
newspaper management goes about its daily task with a joyous song
on its collective lips. But like hierarchical and power-based
management, the day of the union is past. One would assume, given
that the membership of the guild includes some of the country's
most prestigious and accomplished reporters, that one of them
would have notified the union that it either gets on the side of
inclusive and vision-oriented management or it dies along with
the notion of lifetime sinecure.
"profit-blinded" publishers, for the most part, are doing nothing
more nefarious than trying to save a business. It shouldn't be
necessary to give unions a lesson in Economics 101: Make a profit
or be shut down; show the shareholders in your company that their
money is in good hands and their trust is not misplaced or close
the doors. It is that simple. Newspapers, magazines, and the
electronic media are not run as some social service. We ask
ordinary Canadians, with their pension funds and cold cash, to
trust us with their investment. They have a right to ask for a
return on that investment. Or do unions still hold the attitude
that they'd sooner kill the business than make allowances? Like
thousands of other employees of Southam, I have trusted the
senior management of the company to look after my stake in the
company. It is money that I have personally invested and that
other managers-much more senior and much more saddled with
responsibility-are charged with protecting.
necessary to know that I work as a manager at a non-guild
newspaper in a province that, to put it charitably, is not
exactly union heaven. It is also necessary to know that
personally I am opposed to unions, while acknowledging their
historic contribution to the labour movement and to the better
quality of working life in general. But I believe they are an
anachronism for most businesses, an anachronism that perpetuates
the myth that all management is, by its very nature, out to screw
the worker. Why is it, I wonder, that union-supporters never see
unions as themselves out to screw business, forcing unreasonable
demands at the threat of a strike? Furthermore, Unions should be
anathema for journalists. They tarnish us and our reputation.
They make us beholden ~ to a point of view, to one side of any
discussion. If we want or need an organization to speak for the
workers in our newsrooms, then let us organize ourselves the way
that doctors and lawyers do-professionals police themselves.
Professionals establish their own standards and practise codified
ethical behaviour. We do not do the same work as truckers and
mailers, we do not, except to the extent that we stand or fall
together as a business, share concerns of the circulation
department or business services. Under no circumstances should we
belong to the same union as these departments.
Traditional adversarial thinking, the sort that unions thrive on,
has no place in the newsroom of tomorrow. There is only room for
cooperation, for consultation, and for a common commitment to do
more with less. Because so many unions have, at least on the
surface, refused to change, they have become blockers. Obstacles
to get around. At the very least, like plastic silverware,
military intelligence, or tight slacks, "journalists' union" is
More than anything else, now that we
have moved into the realm of snooping into the past lives of
people we write about, we must be above reproach. If not clean,
then at least truthful with the audience. If not above reproach,
then honest in association. At least set the tare weight, so that
our readers and listeners and viewers know the influences on our
life, rather than merely the influences on our subjects' lives.
Why should our own union membership be considered sacrosanct?
Should we expect to be assumed unbiased when we carry the card of
a labour movement that has a political agenda all its own? Oh, I
am supposed to believe in your fairness because you tell me you
can be objective. This when we ask other people to prove their
objectivity? Who, exactly, do we believe we are?
there was a need to solidify my antiunion beliefs, such an
opportunity was presented to all who attended the Centre for
Investigative Journalism convention in Vancouver in the spring of
1986. Glenn Babb, at that time the South African ambassador to
Canada, was a member of a panel on press censorship and
apartheid; the discussion was about free speech in South Africa.
The B.C. Federation of Labour urged unionized journalists to
boycott the convention, and in response some Vancouver members
picketed the CIJ meeting. They would muzzle Babb because his
country and its government and policies were repugnant to them.
None saw the irony in their attempts to silence a panel on press
I find no dichotomy in respecting the
individual-friends who are guild members, many of whom have no
choice about union membership-while having contempt for the
union. No organization that would condone a press demonstration
against freedom of speech is worth the powder to blow it to
Catherine Ford is the associate editor and
editorial page columnist for the Calgary Herald.