It’s been nearly a month since the federal election, and journalists are still feuding over editorial endorsements. To recap, Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey forced all of the chain’s papers to endorse the Conservative Party of Canada. Former National Post editorials and comment editor Andrew Coyne wrote a column endorsing another party and resigned from his position as an editor after he was barred from publishing the article.
On November 9, Torstar chair John Honderich wrote an article in the Toronto Star arguing that “Postmedia let down readers by dictating election endorsements.” Honderich responded to an earlier claim from Godfrey stating, “Since God made babies, I think [endorsement editorials] were always made that way” by arguing, “No one can dispute the tradition of an individual publisher or owner calling the election shots for their local paper. Godfrey did that regularly when he was publisher of the Toronto Sun. But to dictate the choice across an entire chain–and nation. That is an entirely different tale.”
“The firestorm of criticism on social media, the rumours of discontent in Postmedia newsrooms and even a damning story in Britain’s Guardian newspaper all reflect a pervasive discontent [regarding Godfrey’s decision]. Even more worrisome is the negative impact this affair is having on the newspaper industry in general. At a time when the relevance and impact of newspapers are under attack, this doesn’t help.”
The ongoing feud continued today with an article by Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran calling for the Star to “step off its high horse.” Corcoran starts his column by complaining that the Star doesn’t have the same bias as the Post. After accusing the Star of flirting with “Stalinist Russia” over the years, Corcoran gets to his main point, which is to accuse Honderich of hypocrisy.
Corcoran argues that Honderich’s argument against Godfrey’s forced endorsement is hypocritical because Honderich supports owners determining editorial endorsements for their local paper. Corcoran does have a point, as an owner determining the content of their paper limits autonomy of editors and other staff regardless of whether it is done at a local or national level.
At the same time, imposing your will on one newspaper does significantly less damage than imposing it on 16 newspapers scattered throughout the country. As such, while Honderich is wrong to say that Godfrey’s decision was “entirely different” from his own, he is right to point out the varying implications of each decision.
Although the columns from both Corcoran and Honderich are relatively self-serving, they are useful because they will spark discourse on the way newspapers in Canada are operated. The fact that these debates are being conducted in public, for readers to digest, is especially important and a trend that should continue.