Centre for Investigative Journalism
Annual Convention: Individual Reports
Canadian Journalism-Pension Funds
by Dave Yates
"After ten years, I can't point to any innovation as a result of the Davey
PENSION FUNDS MAY BE the answer to the
journalist's dream of finally getting some control over the media.
The idea was revealed during a panel discussion on
the state of
Canadian journalism and it came from Alexander Ross, who wears a number
of hats, including that of banjo-strummer and editor of Canadian
He feels that journalists should have their
pension funds channelled
into the purchase of shares in the companies where they work.
The present economic system, shaky at best these
days, is in "for some very rude shocks" in the coming decade, he says.
The Ross proposal would give the economy the added
dimension of employee ownership which could act as a stabilizing force.
"It's one way of giving a lot of people a say in
the system and it would make companies nicer places to work," he says.
The idea is not far-fetched, says Ross, but would
require changes to
tax structures to make it easier for employees to buy into their
Pension funds now total $40 billion in
Canada—the largest pool of
private funds in the country—and the figure is expected to
every four years.
But that money is controlled by the managers of
pension funds and invested at their pleasure.
"There is no law which obligates pension fund
people to tell you how they invest your money," says Ross.
"But the time is coming when employees and unions
will demand to know
how that money is used."
According to Ross, there is no better
investment than for employees to buy shares in their own companies.
He estimates employees of the FP chain have
between $30 million and $40
million invested in pension funds, which would have bought a sizable
chunk when the Thomson Organization bought in for $130 million.
Employees acting collectively "might just have the
same financial clout
as the Conrad Blacks and the Kenneth Thomsons," Ross says.
"I think the use of pension funds will be a big
issue in the 1980s and I hope the news business is in the forefront."
Before revealing his pension fund idea, Ross began
his assessment of
the state of Canadian journalism by strumming a banjo and singing a
ditty harking back to his days as a writer of the Davey committee
report, published 10 years ago.
But his rundown of the effects of the Davey
committee did not make sweet music.
"After 10 years, I can't point to any innovation
as a result of the Davey committee," he says.
The special Senate committee found that the media
were putting out "pretty lousy products" and "that's still true today."
Ten years ago, 66 per cent of the 116 daily
in Canada belonged to publishing groups and today that figure stands at
more than 90 per cent.
Referring to the Thomson takeover of FP, he said: "I bet
most of you in
the room (about 600 journalists) are working for Thomson now, have
worked for Thomson or will at some point in your career.
"If the media in this country is at all
independent, it's at the pleasure of Ken Thomson."
As for the quality of the journalists, Ross says:
"Never before have so many good reporters being doing so much good
He also points to other positive factors
developing in the media world,
including the fact that there are 10 more newspapers today than 10
years ago and that cable-TV has increased the number and diversity of
outlets available to the public.
Clark Davey, publisher of The Vancouver Sun,
approached the state of the media from a more aesthetic point of view.
"We still have a considerable credibility gap with
the consumers," he says.
The public has become more aware of what the world
is really like "and it is different from what is reflected in
Davey says newspapers will have to pay more
attention to their coverage of religion.
"People pray twice as often as they have
intercourse (Davey's word for
sex), but we don't spend the equivalent amount of time covering
He also wants to see newspapers creating futurism
beats "because people
are deciding right now how we are going to live and how our children
are going to live."
Allen Frizzell. Carleton University journalism
professor, sees marketing philosophies as the biggest danger to
"If a survey says that readers want more in the
lifestyles section, then that's what they get."
He cited the marketing approach as being
responsible for the economic
rise of The Winnipeg
Tribune, which was badly ailing in 1975.
Marketing might be responsible for the rather
breezy style and
concentration on local news, but he pointed to a Toronto Star survey
which shows that readers also want a good diet of international news.
Frizzell termed "frightening" the phenomenon of
surveys which show that
inoffensive stories and boosterism will sell more newspapers.
He feels that newspapers who go with the market
will ultimately find themselves in trouble because markets change.
He wants newspapers to develop their own markets.
president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec,
stuck with a pessimistic tone as he reviewed the past 10 years in
He feels that futile wars between journalists and
responsible for the deaths of Montréal-Matin
and The Montreal Star.
And lengthy strikes at La Presse and Le Soleil have
given journalists a great distaste for the places where they work.
He says that journalists who felt they were active
in helping to change
society 10 years ago have plummetted to being merely observers of the
"In Quebec, there is nowhere else to go but up in the 1980s," says
Published in Sources May/June 1980
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