Saturday, October 12, 2013

A fight to the death

The Trib, a recent documentary by Winnipeg filmmaker Paula Kelly, recounts the energetic life and brutal death of a Canadian newspaper.

By 1980, after 90 years of battling, the Winnipeg Tribune was drawing even in circulation with the market-leading Winnipeg Free Press.

That’s when Southam, the Trib's corporate owner, killed the paper.


In a way, Kelly said in a conversation after an Oct. 3 screening at Cinematheque, the paper was a victim of its success.

Southam claimed it couldn’t afford new presses to print more copies.

Of course, it was coincidence that Thomson killed the Ottawa Journal the same day, coincidence that these corporate killings gave each newspaper chain a monopoly in a major city.

The details of this protracted battle between two major news media fascinated my second-year Red River College Journalism students.

Danielle Da Silva blogged:

Even the daily news world of Winnipeg was an esteemed, although cut throat, business. Forever the underdog, the Winnipeg Tribune battled inch over inch against the Winnipeg Free Press for hundreds of thousands of readers.

Coincidentally (really!), I have just read a story in which newspaper competition in early 20th century Toronto probably determined the outcome of a sensational murder trial.

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial That Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray bursts with details of racism and class divisions in Toronto the Good – and the desperate competition among six daily newspapers.

The Evening Telegram, popularly known as the Tely, took the side of Carrie Davies, the maid who admitted killing Bert Massey because she feared he would sexually assault her again.

The Daily Star favoured the master and his plutocratic family.

This advocacy was not confined to sober editorials. On the news pages, editors refused to allow facts to get in the way of good stories that supported the correct analysis.

Gray writes:

In this fevered battle to entertain, the Carrie Davies case was irresistible to penny-press editors looking for sensational headlines. Stories of assaults on young women always increased circulation, and how many Toronto citizens could walk past a newsboy who yelled, “Massey Murder”?

Well, I can’t walk past, either.

Journalism majors, prepare to study a real newspaper war.