Monday, July 25, 2005

The Revolving door at the National Pest

Les Pyette leaves the National Post after eight months at the helm


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Globe and Mail

The constantly swinging door out of the publisher's office at the National Post newspaper was in motion again yesterday, with the sudden departure of Les Pyette for what the paper described as “personal reasons.”

With Mr. Pyette's exit after just eight months as publisher, Gordon Fisher immediately becomes the Post's interim publisher, marking the eighth installation of a new top executive in the newspaper's 6½ year history.

Mr. Fisher, who has served in a number of executive capacities for the paper's owner, CanWest Global Communications Corp. of Winnipeg, is actually the seventh person in the job because this is his second time around in that position.

CanWest said in a statement that a search will be conducted for a successor to Mr. Pyette.

Ah the National Pest a money losing operation from day one. The only reason it was created was to give voice to the Right Wing in Canada. Remember them, the ones who dominate most of the columns in the private sector newspaper chains, folks who got their start in the infamous Byfield family business; The Alberta Report.

Today Lord Black's flagship of the right, is now David Asper.s flagship of the right of centre. And it is still flagging. Alberta Report collapsed in 2003, it is only a matter of time for the Pest to go the same way.

Black is facing criminal charges in the US and Canada for looting his companies for him and his wife Barbara Amiel ( a former right wing columnist for MacLeans and the Sun newspaper chain) to live like the aristocrats they always wanted to be.

The National Pest is the voice of the Conservative Party of Canada, formerly the Alliance, and Reform Parties. Like the Alberta Report whose ties were also with the Reform/Alliance parties, and with the Canadian Taxpayers Association. These media voices of the right, seem to suffer a problem, that they cannot make a go of it in the capitalist system. Alberta Report gave away more subscriptions than it ever sold, in order to cook the books for advertisers.

Lord Black dominated his editorial boards, introduced right wing columnists into the editorial mix some like Loren Gunter at the Edmonton Journal were former AR reporters. He launched the National Pest as much as a voice for the Fraser Institute, where his wife is a director, as he did it for the Reform/Allicance. But he could'nt make a financial go of it without gutting local newspapers in his Hollinger Chain.

But he set the agenda that Izzy Asper followed when he bought out Black, one of editorial interference by the publisher. To that end Lord Black got his way, but we may get the last laugh as his empire crumbles, he goes to jail, and the National Pest with its tired old right wing ideas finally sinks into the financial morass it came from.

Revisioning Conrad
The once-mighty newspaper baron craved attention.
Now he's receiving it — but for all the wrong reasons
As well, reporters were often instructed to write for the earlier Post deadlines so it could break the story. Thus, once-proud, and independent, local newspapers became little more than outlying bureaus for the National Post. This mattered little in downtown Toronto,
which was always the main battleground of this brief, but dirty, war. But what did it really
accomplish in the end? Are Canadian newspapers and (journalism in general) better off because of it? Or have they all been weakened by Black's self-indulgent spending spree? Will they be cutting back on budgets for years to come in order to recover from the binge? And what about the rest of the newspapers in the Southam/Hollinger/CanWest chain? Profits from newspapers such as the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald were poured into the Post instead of into their own operations.

And what about the Post itself? It may have been a dream newspaper for some journalists but
it has never attracted enough readers or, more importantly, advertisers, to make it financially
viable.And while there is obviously a segment of the population that likes the hard-right editorials, columns and story angles that are the Post's trademark, is that segment large enough to keep the paper going?

In fact, Black has made a mockery of much of what the Post did in its early days. It appeared to
be the official organ of the "unite-the-right movement" but Black told Cobb that he was never
that keen on using the newspaper to promote a new political party.He also regretted that the Post came to be perceived as pro-American and anti- Canadian. Trouble is, now that we know more about Black's alleged devious, self-serving ways, it's difficult to believe anything he says.

Clark Davey, former publisher of the Ottawa Citizen, and a fan of the Post in its early days,
thinks it is positioning itself outside the mainstream market. "It's right-wing edge has
gotten even harder," he says. "It's just full of outright support for (George) Bush and the
Republicans." Indeed, the Saturday after the Republicans' national convention in New York, the Post's main editorial page featured a hymn of praise to George Bush by columnist Andrew Coyne; Elizabeth Nickson's breathless paean to Fox News' coverage of the convention, especially when compared to the (sneering) CBC coverage; and a rant against all anti-Americans by Robert Fulford.

The rest of the newspaper doesn't offer much to leaven the hard-edged ideological rigidity. "It used to be an odd mix of the serious and the quirky," says Davey. "They used to actively recruit young, out-of-the-box writers, but I don't see that happening now." And with so many of the Post's stars — Christie Blatchford and Roy MacGregor to name but two — now writing for The Globe, The Star orMaclean's, the newspaper just doesn't have the draw it once had.

I can't help but think of Alberta Report, the notorious newsmagazine that tilted far right and
eventually went under. Like Conrad Black, Ted Byfield, the founder and hands-on editor of
Alberta Report, is a legendary, iconic figure. He didn't have the money Black has (or had), but he
stuck with the publication through years of tough sledding. And yet,Alberta Report could never rally enough subscribers and advertisers to make a go of it. Even in Alberta.

Since Black is so tied to the Post, even though he has nothing to do with it anymore, his legacy
may indeed be darker than originally envisioned. Will it ever be known as anything else but
Conrad's vanity project? Will it ever be able to shake the association with Black? Clark Davey says it probably doesn't much matter to the average newspaper reader. But a friend of mine — a news junkie, but not a journalist — says most people she knows still think Black owns the National Post. To them, it's Black's newspaper.

I can't help but think that in the long run we will look back on the great newspaper war as a
skirmish that did great damage to newspapers and journalism in Canada. Whether or not the
Post survives is the least of our worries.Whether Black's successors, the Asper family, can
reinvigorate the newspapers they bought from him also remains to be seen.But there's no question that Black's duplicitous ways will haunt the newspaper industry for some time to come.

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