The idea had been building in Dr. FL “Eric” Jackman’s mind for some time. Back in 1980, when he’d run for Parliament in the federal election and fumed over how reporters constantly misquoted him, a possible solution had first begun to take shape. But it wasn’t until 1985, when his friend John Aird had just retired as lieutenant governor of Ontario, that the other shoe dropped: he reacted in anger to a newspaper piece entitled JOHN AIRD, WHAT WILL HE DO NOW? “Probably,” the piece said, “Mr. Aird will go back to his former job as bagman for the Liberal party.” Not a mention of Aird’s devotion to his job, his performance in it-how, for goodness’ sake, he’d had to join a health club in order to keep up with its stresses! Just a slur on his reputation as a fundraiser and his loyalty to his party. The outrage Jackman felt on Aird’s behalf cast his mind back to the misquotes of 1980, and the idea he had been nursing for so long burst into bloom.
October, 1990. The scene is Jackman’s office, from which he manages the eponymous charitable foundation his father, Harry R. Jackman, formed in 1964. These days, the Jackman Foundation offers grants to organizations whose agendas range from preserving Canadian culture to offering affordable day-care; in 1986 alone, it gave out almost $1.3 million. But sums like these are business as usual for the Jackman family, who share an empire that includes Canada’s third-largest trust company, two major insurers and a stake in a railway.
Tall and greying at 56, Jackman wears a perfectly folded four-point handkerchief in his breast pocket and a I gentle, constant smile. He offers me I coffee and eagerly outlines his latest I passion: the 1980 seed, come at last to fruition.
“I mean, for John Aird to be called a bagman was not only inaccurate, but pejorative. It seemed to me that this type of reportage on people in public life was the trend in Canadian media, and I didn’t like it. Speaking as a clinical psychologist, in my line of work you’re never supposed to say anything which would damage the patient’s selfesteem, and for somebody to damage a person just for the sake of being a wordsmith-well, it’s unnecessary.”
“I know that if you want somebody to change, you need to use positive reinforcement-rewards instead of punishments. So I said: ‘How can we encourage Canadian journalists in a way that’ll make them feel good about themselves, so they don’t have to take potshots at other people, and also create examples for young journalists to emulate?’ ”
Jackman quickly divided his rewards into three main categories: first, funding for research into “the ethics of journalism”; next, programs of professional development for experienced journalists, perhaps even going so far as to sponsor mid-career sabbaticals encouraging rest, relaxation and refurbishing skills; last, and most important, the prize.
“I learned there was nothing in this country that has the same kind of distinction and style the Pulitzer Prize does in the US, so I wanted to create an award which would be so prestigious, money and recognition-wise, that journalists receiving it would say, ‘I don’t have to feel bad about myself because of my profession, I’m not really an ink-stained wretch.’ And young journalists would say, ‘What did that person do to get that award, how can I emulate him-what judgment, sensitivity and responsibility did he bring to his writing?’ ”
But who would sponsor the prize? Jackman sounded out the business community for fund-raisers, and those who answered are a measure of his clout: Bill Dimma (deputy chairman and director, Royal LePage Ltd.) and Senator Trevor Eyton (chief executive officer of Brascan Ltd.). Macleans magazine and Southam Inc. soon vied with The Molson Companies Ltd. and Brascan as contributors-among them, they raised some $50,000.
In 1987, the Niagara Institute for International Studies, a nonprofit think tank for Canadian executives, came to the Jackman Foundation for a research grant. Recommended by Dimma (a former institute chairman and still an honorary member of its board of directors), it soon joined the team, providing the practical base necessary to make Jackman’s grand designs flesh.
Rightly realizing that journalists might not take kindly to being told how to improve themselves by a group wholly composed of the business elite, Jackman also looked for credibility lending allies within the media “so everyone would be fairly represented, equal amounts of people in public office, businesspeople and journalists.”
A media advisory committee embodying this principle was formed to plot the details. Finally, as Jackman puts it, “we needed a figurehead.” Sought as interim chairperson in 1989, Knowlton Nash agreed to be the face of the organization. Its stated mission: to “enhance the quality of Canadian journalism.”
Five years after the Aird episode, Jackman’s seed had sprouted: the Canadian Journalism Foundation was born.
Jackman is undeniably genuine in his enthusiasm for the CJF-and understandably excited about the project in which he has invested so much time and effort. It’s easy to get caught up in his vision of journalistic excellence. This said, however, inevitable questions spring to mind. Will the CJF actually enhance Canadian journalism, or do it irreparable damage? And who is most qualified to enhance it-a coalition of vested interests, however wellmeaning, or journalists themselves?
“First of all, and I want to reinforce this,” Bill Dimma tells me, “there are absolutely no ties between the business community and the objective of the CJE We are, and will be, totally independent of our funding sources. To paraphrase Lincoln, this is something of, by and for journalists.”
If Jackman is the CJF’s heart, and Nash its chosen face, then Dimma is its brain. President of The Toronto Star from 1976 to 1978, he started at A.E. LePage in 1979, founding Royal LePage in 1984. His stint as chairman of the Niagara Institute ended in 1986. At the moment, Dimma’s filling me in on the CJF’s founding meeting, held at the pastoral Niagara Institute itself (in Niagara-on-the-Lake) last October 20 and 21. Knowlton Nash was formally elected at last, along with 30 members of the foundation’s board of governors. Since his initial nomination, Nash has enlisted Lise Bissonette, publisher of Le DtVoit; as his co-chairperson. Together, they carryon Jackman’s equality principle: Nash, the grand old man of broadcast journalism, and Bissonette, a highly regarded female francop hone print journalist.
Interestingly enough, the journalists the CJF has so far recruited are commanders, not grunts. As administrators and spokespeople, they’re almost the CEOs of our industry. Aside from Knowlton Nash and Lise Bissonette, the list includes such mainstays as Neville Nankivell, publisher of The Financial Post; Robert Lewis, managing editor of Macleans; Hugh Winsor, national political editor at The Globe and Mail; and Elly Alboim, CBC’s Parliament Hill bureau chief.
After the elections, chair-people were assigned to each committee: Michael Adams of Environics Research Group, for research; Alboim for professional development; and Jackman himself for his baby, the prize. Perhaps because of his added duties as senator, Trevor Eyton is no longer helping out as a fund-raiser. After a relaxing night at the Shaw Festival, the board reconvened to discuss the budget.
Originally put at $100,000, the CJF’s overall projected costs may require as much as half a million dollars a year within the next three years. The prize will take up $400,000-eight awards, at $50,000 each. According to Dimma, the awards will be given on the basis of “lifetime achievement.” The board of governors has yet to decide how much will be needed for the research and professional development programs. And there’s also the expense of setting up a director’s office to monitor the various projects.
I would gladly have gone to the meeting myself, and saved Dimma the effort of describing it for me, but it was closed to the press.
“Don’t you find that a bit of a contradiction, given what you just said about the CJF being by, for and of journalists?” I ask.
“No. Not really. I mean, we put together a press release.”
When I quote Jackman’s line about behavior modification through reward to Dimma, he looks at me for a long moment. “Well, I suppose that’s a psychologist’s view,” he says, at last. “I mean, to see it through those eyes…”
Pause. “Did he really say that?”
“The only thing the CJF’ll enhance is the kind of navel-gazing that keeps you too occupied to see what’s really going on,” says media critic Rick Salutin, going over the Niagara Institute’s CJF press release. “This whole thing’s just another pressure group in fancy dress. Nixon called it the flack technique: question reporters’ motivation, and keep at it until they’re too nervous to do anything, let alone their jobs.”
Long-standing newspaper journalist Patrick O’Callaghan thinks almost equally little of the CJ~ though with more direct reason; he has been involved in its growth and can trace the path of his disenchantment like a map. The trail begins back in 1987, when O’Callaghan-then publisher of the Calgary Herald-was asked to contribute to the media advisory committee in planning the professional development program.
O’Callaghan’s doubts began when he first examined the foundation’s goals, which he found “ambitious but nebulous” (he dismisses the prize as “an Academy Award for journalists”), and crystallized when he met the other members. At the time, they includedaside from Alboim, Adams, Eyton, Jackman, Dimma, and Winsor-Peter Desbarats, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Western Ontario; Niagara Institute director Bill Wilton; Southam Newspaper Group president Paddy Sherman; Arnold Edinborough, president and chief executive officer of The Council for Business and the Arts in Canada; and Deputy Minister Harry G. Rogers of the federal Department of Regional Industrial Expansion. In total, the journalistic contingent was outweighed exactly two to one.
O’Callaghan next volunteered to help reword the foundation’s proposed mission statement, which he found insultingly paternalistic. “I took out any suggestion of the CJF wanting to ‘help’ journalists do a better job-the I-am-only-here-to-help-you line, with its patronizing undertones.” None of his changes made it into the final draft.
O’Callaghan’s wariness turned to worry in July 1988, when the Niagara Institute produced a survey entitled “Canada’s Media.” It was the result, the institute said, of more than 70 videotaped interviews with what purported to be an equally representative cross-section of society-but trrned out to be two labor leaders, 22 media figures, 23 businesspeople, six spokespeople for charities and research groups, a lawyer, an academic and 17 politicians or bureaucrats, including almost every member of the media advisory committee itself. It was the survey’s findings, however, rather than its participants, that most troubled O’Callaghan. Those findings are summed up by Wilton, the director, in his introduction to the institute’s report. He begins with the claim that “both media executives and leaders in other sectors, who rely on the media (and often appear in their coverage), voice similar concerns about the media’s ability to…achieve balance and accuracy, and…maintain professionalism in their reporting.” The concerns expressed here, however, presuppose some increasingly bizarre opinions about the way the media operate.
For example: “Concern was expressed again and again about the blurring between fact and opinion and… the frequent presentation of opinion as fact,” Wilton’s summary states. It accuses the media of “us[ing] unnamed sources, sometimes fictional.”
O’Callaghan, reading this for the first time, found such charges ridiculous. “When they talked blithely of fictional quotes and falsifying sources, I got the feeling they’d been watching too many old black-and-white thirties movies about Hollywood’s version of tabloid journalism. Haven’t they ever heard of the law of defamation?”
Stuart Robertson, a leading libel lawyer at Toronto’s Paterson MacDougall, agrees. “Libel is the area where ethics meets the law,” explains Robertson, who often acts for the media in such cases. “If a story comes out in which sources claim someone committed a crime, that person can sue the reporter for defamation. And if the reporter lied about the sources, he or she will probably have to pay punitive damages above and beyond those granted in the original suit.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to claim the media will go to any lengths to get a story-even make it up. But 99 out of 100 journalists go to incredible lengths to make sure what they put in their copy is both accurate and exact, because the bottom line is somebody always finds out.”
Wilton’s summary of the survey goes on to say that the media need to “attack success or find a villain.” Furthermore, reporters have an anti-business bias which makes them “attack…business at every opportunity.” They also have a “very shallow understanding” of business itself.
Margaret Wente, editor of The Globe and Mail’s “Report on Business” section, disputes this thinking. “That’s an old perception on the part of business,”
she tells me. “It goes back to the 1970s, when it might have been true most reporters had an anti-establishment streak. Back then, we were also a lot less sophisticated about the workings of business. But over the last 15 years, there’s been a steady trend to the increase in accurate business coverage-partly in response to a growing public appetite for, and interest in, economic news. It’s hard to make generalizations about journalists as a group.”
“Except,” I say, “that’s just what the Niagara Institute appears to be doing.”
Wente laughs. “Yes. There’s certainly always room for more education on economic and business issues in the journalism industry. But bias is in the eye of the beholder, and consequently very hard to prove.” Wente, who was then editor of the Globe’s Report on Business Magazine found that critics accused her publication of being both too pro business and too con. “So you can basically take your pick of positions, and still be assured of enough evidence to prove your case.”
Finally, according to the survey, the media always “assume that institutions are by nature inept or worse.” Wilton writes that “a number of interviewees believed that while the media take their social responsibility seriously by challenging the establishment, this was not balanced by promoting what is good in the establishment.”
This perceived animosity by the media toward authority has always been one of Jackman’s bugbears, even before the Aird incident. He cites a 1980 Environics poll, which showed “a disastrous fall in respect” for public figures. “That concerns me immensely. And I mentioned this to [CBC producer and host] Adrienne Clarkson recently, and she just said, ‘Well, look what people in public office are doing!’ I mean, that’s easy to say. But what people think they know is basically just what they’ve been fed. John Honderich [editor of The Toronto Star] says: ‘Listen, we don’t create the news, we just report it.’ But…”
(Adrienne Clarkson wouldn’t confirm Jackman’s comments. All she knew of the CJF, she said, was that Jackman was involved in it. Honderich, although listed as one of the current members of the CJF’s media advisory committee, told me he was disassociating himself from the foundation because he felt being involved would form a conflict of interest with his activities on the National Newspaper Awards’ advisory board.)
According to its version of the CJF’s evolution, the Jackman Foundation started planning to improve media ”as part of its interest in…promoting able [Canadian] leadership.” The Niagara Institute, by Dimma’s admission, has long had the same goal. But what does promoting able Canadian leadership have to do with enhancing the quality of Canadian journalism?
When the Niagara Institute first opened, it had two stated objectives: to “provide a forum where leaders from industry, government and labor could exchange views and increase their awareness of human and social values” and “to improve international understanding by bringing together people from both sides of the border.” Since then, the link with the United States has been progressively downplayed. By 1988, when Douglas Bowie took over as president, the institute was a schizophrenic amalgam of think tank and resort-an “off-the-record retreat” for executives. Bowie transformed it from disinterested mediator to hard-nosed business adviser-a sudden shift in image brought on more by growing financial problems than by ideology. Its 1990 membership list reflects this change, running a gamut of businesses from A.R.A. Consultants to Zurich Canada. The party line, however, Jackman needed a figurehead and Knowlton Nash fit the bill-the grand old man of broadcast journalism remains the same: “improving the quality of Canadian leadership.”
Rick Salutin sees this goal as just another excuse for involving the media in non-media interests. “The more we identify with exterior concerns, the less impartial we’ll be. By telling us to judge our own performance, they’re stopping us from performing our true function, which is judging their performance in the goals they publicly set for themselves.”
Jackman says he’s always supported the Niagara Institute on principle, “and recognized them as the only Canadian institution which has a quasi-therapeutic function, trying to bring together warring groups within society, so they can gain some kind of understanding and trust.”
Dimma takes the practical view over the clinical. “The Niagara Institute is elitist in the best sense of the word.”
Salutin snorts. “Which is?”
“I was uneasy when I went to be
interviewed for the survey,” O’Callaghan says. “But when I saw Wilton’s report on its ‘findings,’ I got downright concerned. What Jackman and his friends obviously wanted was media that would ‘render credibility to Canada’s major institutions’-in other words, if those institutions have fallen into disrepute then it wasn’t because of flaws and failings in those who run them, but because the cynical press dares to expose them.”
Soon after the Niagara Institute’s survey came out, O’Callaghan and the CJF -to-be parted company. Later, as a board member of the financially strapped Michener Awards, O’Callaghan was the most vehement objector when the CJF approached the board with an offer to become involved. The board did not accept.
“It’s simple,” O’Callaghan says. “We can’t allow the heavy hitters of business to ‘influence our product’ Bill Wilton’s words-any more than we can let government use us for propaganda purposes. We have to keep them all at bay, if we value our freedom.”
Salutin, not surprisingly, agrees. “If you don’t like the coverage you’re getting in the press,” he says, “then write a letter to the fucking editor.”
Such negative feedback, from the very people he wants to help, bothers Jackman a little. But he says he understands it. “The primary thing we learned from the survey is that journalists’ fear that big business will try to somehow manage the media is equally matched by business’ fear that journalists will try to manage the news. Now, as a psychologist, I know it’s good for everybody to be a little bit suspicious; it’s normal. But if you become too suspicious, you become paranoid. And I think this degree of suspiciousness on either side no longer serves its original purpose. It has, in fact, reached paranoid proportions.”
This opinion, however, cuts both ways. “I had lunch with Jackman two years ago on the subject of cooperation between business and the media,” says John Miller, chair of Ryerson Poly technical Institute’s School of Journalism. “All I really knew about him was that he had money, and an interest in ethics. He started talking about how he felt journalism was preventing people from attaining political office, and ruining businessmen, and it was obvious he had this feeling about journalists-they were shabby and unethical, and out to get anybody in a position of power.
“At that meeting,” says Miller, “I told Jackman: ‘An ethics program at Ryerson would have to be totally without strings. There couldn’t be any attempts to govern what we could and couldn’t do.’ And after I said that, I never saw him again. On the other hand, when Jackman put the CJF together he did invite the participation of journalists like Pat O’Callaghan who have problems with its ideology. But they’re in the minority.”
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“I think because-well, it’s possible everything was open to discussion in
If Eric Jackman is the heart and Knowlton Nash the chosen face, then Bill Dimma is surely the brain
the beginning. But there’s this kind of Stockholm syndrome that happens when people are in the thick of it. Then you have to take a step back and say, ‘Wait a minute, where are these guys coming from?’ I’d like to think there’s still a healthy skepticism at work on the part of the journalists involved. It’s just that I haven’t seen it so far. They’re ethical, at base, but in a situation like this where a lot of cash is being flashed around, group dynamics tend to take over. And I’m not sure the brakes are in place to keep the CJF from going in a direction we’d all be uncomfortable with.”
Which brings us to the future.
The first award ceremony is tentatively-for the spring of 1992. But Jackman is taking a considerably longer view. “I look at my country as I would at a person’s personality, and say, ‘Is it healthy? Is it working as optimally as it could? If not, what can be done?’ I look at our media and say, ‘Do we have the best media we possibly could? Are we representing significant events and personalities as well as we might be?’ And I have to say I don’t think so. ”
Lately, he’s been thinking about changing the CJF’s mission statement. “The CJF seeks to enhance Canadian journalism, and to make sure that we have the best journalism in the world,” he now wants it to read. “One of our surveys says we’re sixth in the world. But what are the criteria we’d have to fulfill in order to be number one? I’ve talked to students and teachers at every school of journalism and I think they could develop those criteria if enough research was done. You could do your doctoral thesis on it.”
I glance down at my coffee, which has gone cold.
“No, I mean it! And all of your friends would say, ‘Hey, I knew her in college, and even then I knew she would succeed because she always had the right sense of values!’ So put that in your article. ‘Jackman says, let’s go for it!’ I mean, why not? You can have the best of anything-why not the best of journalism? I mean, why have anything less?”
“What do you think the future of the CJF will be?” I ask John Miller.
Miller shrugs. “All depends on what they undertake next. Probably they’ll concentrate on getting hold of an award, since that’s being touted as their showpiece. But it doesn’t really matter. They have the most important thing on their side-money. And money will always find a home.”.
Forewarned is forearmed.
About the author
Gemma Files was an Associate Editor for the Summer 1991 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.