13 October 2020

The state of news media in Newfoundland and Labrador - 1988 #nlpoli

Some observations on the state of the news media in Newfoundland and Labrador, circa 1988, from Dr. Susan McCorquodale,  "Newfoundland:  personality, party, and politics" in Gary Levy and Graham White, editors, Provincial and territorial legislatures in Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1989)

Those who write about the relationship between politics and the press worry about such things as ownership concentration, or about the tendency of reporters to end up in comfortable public relations jobs with government.  For many years St John's was one of the few cities of its size to have two daily newspapers, both largely locally owned and operated. Today there is one daily, and it has been owned by the Thomson chain since 1970. It has become a newspaper which has gradually lost its 'bustle, resources and guts.'  Ironically, the author of this judgment, Michael Harris, is today editor-in-chief of a new weekly newspaper, locally owned, which has become a thorn in the side of the Peckford  administration to such a degree that the government has withdrawn all public advertisements from the paper and generally attempts to deny access to its reporters. In recent years regional weeklies have appeared, generally printed by one firm with feeds from the Telegram. For most of the media, news originates with the press release, the press conference, or the daily sittings of the House of Assembly. Generally, owners have not made the resources available for any sort of investigative reporting, and most journalists lack training and experience.


 As we have already noted, some twelve or thirteen of the cabinet ministers are authorized to hire press secretaries. The pay range is good, between $30,000 and $40,000*. Many of them are just out of journalism schools, and a few have been attracted away from the local media. The fear is that if the links become too close, the independence of the reporters is compromised by the possibility of civil service jobs. Added to this is some concern about the balance between the skills and resources of government and those of the local media. The journalists would seem to be on the weaker side.


*Roughly equivalent to $52,000 to $74,000 in 2020.  In 2019,  departmental directors of communication (comparable to 1980s-era press secretaries) earned between $78,000 and $102,000 with the Premier's Director of Communications drawing a salary of $121,000.