Stuff Still Happens, week 3: The slow death of the daily newspaper

And so, the era of competitive newspapers in Canada has come to an end.

This week, the wretched Postmedia group consolidated the newsrooms in four cities where they own both papers, including Edmonton. The Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun — once bitter foes whose rivalry benefited Edmonton — are now together in one newsroom, minus a lot of staffers. The combined newsroom is now 35 people lighter (25 Journal, 10 Sun), including the top editors of both papers. What’s the big deal, you ask? Two newspapers competing for stories results in more stories, more news, more oversight of local government, more opinion, and a healthier democracy. Reporters love beating their rival to a story, but with one reporter covering city hall instead of two (or three, or four), that means less and less oversight of our government. One newsroom producing the news for two newspapers only means the same news in different formats, so what’s the point? The only way papers like the Journal could have survived in the free information era was to pour money into producing a quality product. Instead, they’ve gone in the opposite direction, cutting staff and producing an increasingly inferior, increasingly irrelevant product. With Postmedia still bleeding money, it’s just a matter of time before either the Sun or the Journal disappears. And for those of you who say, ‘I never read the paper; I get all my news online’, ask yourself this: who do you think writes the news you get online? And do you think they do it for free?

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre came out against the $15.7 billion Energy East pipeline this week, which would move Alberta crude to the east coast. Coderre — whose city just finished dumping eight-billion litres of wastewater into the St. Lawrence River — said the environmental risks outweigh the economic benefits. Translation: what’s in it for me? Coderre and the other Montreal-area mayors apparently prefer transporting millions of barrels of oil via tanker from foreign countries (in 2013, the Port of Montreal handled around 500 ships carrying petroleum products) to oil from pipelines from Alberta. Perhaps Mr. Coderre thinks shipping it via rail is safer? The people of Lac Megantic might have different opinions.

Tragedy struck a very small, very remote community in northern Saskatchewan on Friday. A gunman, as yet unidentified, killed four people in a private residence and the local high school. Details are quite sketchy at this time, but it appears two people were killed at a house — apparently relatives of the gunman — and two at the school, including a male teacher and a female tutor. A 17-year-old teen has been charged.

Even good news seems to be bad news for the Canadian (and particularly the Alberta) economies. After much negotiation, Iran agreed to U.S. conditions and basically shut down their nuclear program, making the world a somewhat safer place. In return, sanctions on Iran have mostly been lifted, which means Iran is going to start pumping out 500,000 barrels a day into a market already awash in the sticky stuff. A pair of new forecasts for oil prices indicate global oil markets could “drown in oversupply,” sending prices even lower as demand growth slows. On the plus side? Gas at 68 cents!

A potential scandal is brewing in the tennis world. BuzzFeed and the BBC (is this what the BBC has been reduced to, teaming up with something called BuzzFeed?) reported this week that a number of top-ranked tennis players accepted bribes to throw matches. Unfortunately, the story didn’t name any names, casting a cloud of suspicion over the Australian Open happening right now. It is implausible that any of the top tier of tennis would accept a bribe, considering just how much money a top name tennis player makes. The whole thing seems highly unlikely, and without any names or matches mentioned, the whole thing will probably blow over.

If you need any further evidence that we’re living in a new political era, check out the prime minister’s wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau. Speaking at an event in honour of Martin Luther King, Gregoire-Trudeau was so moved by the proceedings that she offered up her own song, which she performed with cringe-inducing emotion. The story says she got a standing ovation, probably from an audience that was grateful that the whole embarrassment was over. With one single song, we saw more of Gregoire-Trudeau than we saw of Stephen Harper’s wife (Lauren? Lurleen?) in 10 years.

The Trudeau government got a major slap in the face from the international community this week. The coalition that is fighting ISIS — which currently includes six Canadian jets used to bomb the crap out of ISIS locations — held a meeting this week, and Canada was not invited. The reason, clearly, is the Trudeau government’s random, quite inexplicable decision to withdraw from the bombing campaign. After seven Canadians died in terrorist attacks in two locations last week, the decision by Trudeau to go all namby-pamby in the fight against ISIS is looking like a real millstone around his neck. And unlike the promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees promise they understandably had to break, this is one they can’t walk back.

I don’t know who is going to win any of the Academy Awards next month, but you can reasonably assume it won’t be Charlotte Rampling, and not because of her performance. Rampling, a best actress nominee for some obscure film called 45 Years, commented on the only-in-Hollywood controversy about the lack of nominations for “people of colour” in this year’s list. This has caused a big stink in Hollywood, with some prominent black Hollywood figures boycotting the event. But Rampling spoke out about the controversy during an interview on French radio station. “It is racist to whites,” she said. “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list.” While that may, actually, be true … it might be a good idea for Charlotte to just stay home and watch the Oscars on TV.

Remember last year when Playboy announced that it would stop running nudes in the magazine? This week, there was another significant event in the men’s magazine market that went almost unnoticed. Penthouse magazine, Playboy’s much raunchier competitor (remember how scandalized Jerry was when he saw a Penthouse in the waiting room of dentist Tim Watley on Seinfeld?) has announced that it is ending the print edition of the magazine after 50 years. Some of you will no doubt be saying ‘There’s a Penthouse magazine?’. But back in the pre-Internet days, young men like, well, me, had to rely on Playboy and Penthouse for our anatomy lessons. Now with unlimited porn available for free on the Internet, the thrill of leafing through a Penthouse at the drug store is gone. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not.

This week in terrorism:

• Pakistani Taliban attacked a university near Peshawar, killing 20. Didn’t hear about this? Well, no westerners were killed, so a news brief was good enough;

• ISIL obliterated the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, the 1,400 year old St. Elijah’s Monastery of Mosul.

RIP: Old rockers continue to go to their rock n’ roll reward well before their time. This week, Glen Frey, one of the lead singers and songwriters of the mega-popular, hugely-influential band the Eagles, (“Lyin’ Eyes“, “New Kid in Town“, “Heartache Tonight“, many others) died at age 67 … Dale Griffin, 67, British drummer (Mott the Hoople) … Yasutaro Koide, 112, Japanese supercentenarian, world’s oldest man, heart failure and pneumonia


By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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