Reality starts to bite at the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail has announced some fairly serious changes in the last week, and it’s hard not to see them as part of a much larger strategic shift at the paper. If so, it’s been a long time coming: compared to the big strategic bets at Postmedia and at the Star (and at La Presse as well, in Quebec), the Globe has had a quieter time of it. There have been layoffs and cuts, and obvious changes to the product but on the for-profit media side, the Globe and Mail seems to have been more insulated than anyone else to the wrenching transformation and revenue decline affecting the news biz.

The changes at the Globe include the cancellation of the print edition in the Atlantic region (so no paper Globe east of Quebec); the cutting of standalone arts, sports, and life sections during the week (so going to basically a two-section paper focused on news and business); and the end of two long-time (and quite popular) columnists, Leah McLaren and Tabatha Southey.… Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Bill 101, or How Camille Laurin inadvertently saved Canada

I led a double life in the 1960s and ‘70s, growing up in Snowdon, which was then a largely Anglophone, lower middle-class neighborhood in the Western part of Montreal. We were pretty much the only French-speaking household in the area. My mother, a Hungarian Jew, had spent her adolescence in France (long story), had acquired French citizenship which she passed on to me (Thanks, Mom), and more importantly, had developed a very strong sense of French identity, and perhaps even of French cultural superiority. I therefore attended Collège Stanislas, an educational gulag which, though it did everything it could to stifle any creative spark that might have been flickering among its pupils, did instill upon me a strong grasp of the rules of agreement of the French language. My friends at school were for the most part French Canadian. There were a few anglos – but we lived in French. I was fully attuned to French pop culture.… Continue reading

Boys, sex, books, video games

Most educators are aware that our society has been experiencing a decline in the amount of reading being done by boys. It might be a slight exaggeration to call it a “crisis of literacy,” but the phenomenon in both real and troubling. As the parent of a 12-year old boy and a 13-year old girl, I’ve been following this rather carefully over the past few years. I’ve also acquired much greater familiarity than anyone my age should with what’s going on in the YA (young adult) literature category. So here are a few observations on the subject.

Women make up the majority of readers of fiction, but in the youth category they also make up the majority of (successful) authors. Not only is there a great deal of YA literature being written by women, featuring female protagonists, but much of it also reflects what might be referred to as a “female sensibility.” As a result, it is becoming difficult to find books that will capture the imagination of young boys.… Continue reading

Freedom of Speech on Campus II

(This is part of a longer piece I’ve been writing about universities in the public sphere. I’m posting this because I think Joe is right that these issues are especially current at the moment, and the conversation is seriously compromised because people keep conflating academic freedom and freedom of speech. This is an attempt to help sort out the difference. It draws heavily on two pieces: A blog post by Alex Usher, and a transcript of a talk by Jacob Levy. Go read both first, then come back here if you care for my take on things.)

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With both Ryerson and the University of Toronto this week cancelling scheduled on-campus events that were guaranteed gong shows, Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post had the smarts to call up Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and ask him about his campaign pledge to take away federal funding from any university that failed to “foster a culture of free speech and inquiry on campus.” It wasn’t just a tossed-off proposal: in his pledge he listed specific funding mechanisms that would be at risk, and carved out a special exemption for private and especially faith-based institutions.… Continue reading

Freedom of speech on campus

The University of Toronto’s recent decision not to allow a white nationalist group to hold some kinds of a meeting/rally on campus (details here) would be largely uneventful, except for the fact that the new leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, made a rather incautious commitment to have the federal government intervene in various ways to protect freedom of speech on university campuses in Canada. I did an interview with CBC’s The 180 on this a while back (here). At the time, I mainly wanted to observe that Scheer got this idea from one of Donald Trump’s tweets, which is probably not the best source of policy ideas. I also found it absurd that Scheer saw the primary threat to free speech on campus coming from undergraduate students, as opposed to academic administrators. This on the heels of l’affaire Potter, and the fact that universities in Canada are increasingly hiring faculty into non-tenure track positions, and in the case of McGill, disposing of them when they say something unpopular.… Continue reading

What if Donald Trump is an authentic douchebag?

There was always a bit of the locker room in the old Mencken line about democracy being the theory that  “the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.  But from “grab em by the pussy” to “I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” Trump and his allies have finally brought that locker room insight square into the Oval Office.  

So while it doesn’t make for family-friendly newspapers, if there’s one good thing that might come out of the gong show inside a dumpster fire on a train wreck that is the Trump presidency, it will be to kill until it is dead the idea that what we really need from our politicians is more authenticity.

It’s been the dominant meme of American politics since at least the 2000 election, when Al Gore was widely ridiculed as being a wooden, poll-driven phony, in contrast with Dubya’s Tex-folk posing.Continue reading

Canadian exceptionalism

Between Jeremy Corbyn’s showing in the last U.K. election and Emmanuel Macron’s phenomenal sweep in France, there is grounds for optimism that the fever of right-wing populism is beginning to break. In part I think this is due to Donald Trump himself, who is such a perfect specimen of the ugly American that his election and subsequent behaviour no doubt did considerable damage to the fortunes of populists in countries where voters would like to think of themselves as above the impulses that brought him to power. (This is, I suspect, an important part of the story in France.)

Just a few months ago, things were looking quite different. At that time, a fairly widespread discussion broke out over the seemingly anomalous circumstances that prevailed in Canada, where nativism seemed to be gaining no traction. The picture we all saw of a smiling Justin Trudeau greeting Syrian refugees at the airport was reprinted in newspapers around the world.… Continue reading

What the failure of Star Touch teaches us about a media bailout

The Toronto Star announced yesterday that it was shuttering its flagship Star Touch tablet app, laying off 30 employees and eating something north of $20 million in investment costs.

This comes a week after a group called “News Media Canada” — basically a legacy news media lobbying group — pitched the feds on a plan for the government to give the industry $350 million in support that would include funding 35 per cent of newsroom costs.

Clearly, the failure of Star Touch proves the need for the bailout money, yes?

Actually, no, it proves the exact opposite. Star Touch is exactly why the feds need to leave the news business to its death throes.

Some quick background: Star Touch was an attempt to recreate the walled garden of print in a digital format, to provide a closed environment where readers would come and stick around, paging through the heavily designed and curated app.Continue reading

*All The President’s Men* for the Trump era

If you’re looking for guidance on the current media-political climate in the United States, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of All The President’s Men, the book-length account of the Watergate investigation by Woodward and Bernstein. This is one of those I-can’t-believe-I-haven’t-read-it-sooner books, something I really should have been handed the day I walked into the newsroom at the Ottawa Citizen almost a decade ago. (The movie is great too, but it only covers the period from the break-in until Nixon’s re-election in ‘72, so it misses what is arguably the most interesting stuff. It’s also a bit jarring to read the book knowing that Deep Throat was Mark Felt, the #2 at the FBI at the time.)

Aside from its value as analogue journalism-porn (See also: Spotlight) in many ways, it will make you feel better about what’s going on now. History doesn’t repeat itself but it definitely rhymes: America has seen shit-show presidencies before and survived.… Continue reading

Are university administrators wrongly incentivised?

 

In contemporary philosophy and economics, a central paradigm is the idea that rather than put our trust in people’s virtue, or overburden them with laws and regulations, we should provide them the correct incentives for them to guide their own actions. In particular, we seek to align interests, so that decision-makers, workers and the public at large all aim toward the same set of goals, despite having different goals. For example, if your money guy receives a percentage of what you make, then the theory says that his interests aligns with yours, and that lessen the risk of bad management, since both of you nowhave a vested interestin you making more money.

Obviously, there are plenty of ethical, psychological and economicissues with this theory, however, in many cases, the problem is not so much due to the theory itself; it is simply a matter of having failed to correctly align the interest in a given situation, which then predictably leads to conflicts between actors.… Continue reading