Andrew Coyne resigned as the editor of the Editorials and Comment section of the National Post today, and journalists should be thankful he did.
The resignation comes after Postmedia executives prevented Coyne from writing a column dissenting from the National Post’s endorsement of the Conservative Party of Canada because it would “confuse readers and embarrass the paper.”
Coyne took to Twitter to explain his resignation, and said he did not view his desire to write a dissenting column as confusing because, “Readers, in my view, are adults & understand that adults can disagree.”
So anyway… I have resigned as editor of Editorials and Comment for the National Post, effective immediately. I will remain a columnist.
— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 19, 2015
Coyne said newspaper owners do have a right to dictate who the paper endorses, but that not speaking out would give the impression that he agreed with the Conservatives, and prevent him from doing his job as a columnist. Coyne also said he believes the intervention from Postmedia executives is unprecedented, and so he felt like he had to resign to help prevent it from becoming one.
Coyne is right to resign on principle. A dissenting Coyne column in the National Post would not have embarrassed the paper in the eyes of readers. The only embarrassment would have come from owners, upset that their star columnist didn’t go along with their plan to force the entire Postmedia chain to cheerlead for the Conservatives.
What Postmedia executives should find embarrassing is their insistence on all of the chain’s papers endorsing the Conservatives, and then sitting by as these papers sell their front pages to political advertisers also endorsing the Conservatives. This certainly provoked more outrage over the weekend from readers and journalists alike than a dissenting Coyne column likely ever could have.
On Saturday, media commentator Bruce Anderson tweeted about the Postmedia fiasco.
Spare a thought for the journalists who work diligently for papers that sold a front page today. Not their choice. pic.twitter.com/Dx2ZN7gGGa
— Bruce Anderson (@bruceanderson) October 17, 2015
Anderson is entirely correct as the overwhelming majority of journalists have little choice but to grit their teeth and accept that their employers are damaging their reputation as journalists. In an ultra competitive industry, where jobs are hard to come by and dissent is hardly tolerated, it’s no surprise most journalists didn’t take some sort of public action against Postmedia (or The Globe and Mail, for that matter).
This is exactly why it’s important that Coyne did. Coyne is one of Canada’s most high profile journalists, who is all but guaranteed employment, even at the National Post (as a columnist) after resigning, as Jesse Brown pointed out.
Must be nice to resign on principle but keep a six-figure salary!
— Jesse Brown (@JesseBrown) October 19, 2015
It’s tempting to shrug off Coyne’s resignation as an easy choice from a high profile journalist with little but his ego on the line. But this would be wrong, as Coyne is a good example of what privileged journalists should do: use their status to push back against the status quo when necessary.
In an ideal world Coyne would have also pushed back against the practice of newspaper owners dictating endorsements, but still, his resignation should be applauded.
Hopefully Postmedia executives learn a lesson from Coyne’s principled stance and refrain from intervening in future situations where columnists simply try to do their job.