WHEN YOU THINK of great books on the media, you think of Gay Talese's The Kingdom and the Power and David Halberstam's The Powers That Be. David Hayes is no Talese or Halberstam; he likely lacked the sizeable publishers advance that enabled the American writers to undertake years of research for their books. But by more modest (Canadian) standards, Hayes has done a respectable job.
Power and Influence has a strong theme, an engaging style, good research, and scrupulous balance. In profiling the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, Hayes risked repeating much of what Senator Richard Doyle, the paper's former editor-in-chief, had offered in his memoirs. But while Hayes does draw heavily upon Doyle's work for anecdotes, he also provides the social and political context that was largely missing in Doyle's account. Indeed, given the theme chosen by Hayes, it is imperative that the changing context in which the Globe publishes be examined. For the author's primary intent is not to offer a corporate history of the paper, but rather to examine its adaptation to the competitive pressures of television. Certainly, the challenge facing the Globe is not unique. It confronts all dailies, which in the past two decades have seen their household penetration rates decline as television has replaced the press as the public's main source of news.
Newspapers are in a desperate struggle to prove that they are not at the end of their "product life cycle," and print journalists, while publicly proclaiming their superiority to electronic ones, secretly worry that they are becoming as passe as the scribes of ancient Egypt. Some papers have borrowed from television technique short stories, lots of colour, charts and graphs, and emphasis on human interest rather than analysis -- to keep their readers. But when the newspaper has the exalted status of Canada's elite daily, such a capitulation to commercialism is unthinkable.
So Hayes examines how Roy Megarry and William Thorsell, the publisher and the editor-in-chief, have tried to push the Globe in the opposite direction, despite the hidebound resistance of some of the paper's more traditionalist writers and editors. He describes how the dynamic duo borrowed from the Independent, that remarkably successful newcomer to British journalism, for a redesign that made the Globe more reader-friendly. And he examines their efforts to reinvent the concept of news in ways that let TV exploit its edge in immediacy while capitalizing on print's potential for greater depth and analysis.
Hayes recreates the pursuit of several stories that demonstrate the Globe's special mission. One involves the investigative reporting of Sinclair Stevens's conflict of interest, which led to the former industry minister's resignation. Another involves the background reporting with which a Globe foreign correspondent followed LIP the news of anti-Semitic vandalism in a French cemetery. The third recreates the Meech Lake inter-view in which Prime Minister Brian Mulroney boasted of how he had "rolled the dice."
The author points to such journalism as proof that print can still be relevant in the age of Newsworld and CNN. True, the Stevens probe required the kind of laborious checking of financial documents that TV would usually shun, both because it lacks the time to invest in such an enterprise and because it has fewer specialized reporters. And yes, print can examine the deeper meaning of international events while TV focuses on riots, demonstrations, speeches, and other visual manifestations of issues. Hayes is even correct in concluding that the Globe was able to elicit Mulroneys revealing comments after Meech Lake because leaders do not primp for print as they do for television.
But he neglects to note that the Sinclair Stevens expose is a rarity these days in the Globe. The paper seldom breaks stories. (Its former Ottawa columnist, Geoffrey Stevens, used to offer the occasional scoop; Jeffrey Simpson never does.) Too often the Globe offers readers merely a longer take on the news they saw on TV the night before.
Hayes also overrates the importance of print's insidiousness. If Mulroney's careless "roll the dice" quote was the defining moment of the Meech Lake drama, then his staged tearing up of the Charlottetown accord in front of the TV cameras was the defining moment of the Oct. 26 referendum. In recent years, more politicians have screwed themselves on TV than in the press. So much for power and influence.