One Paper's New Attitude Toward Peace
Commentary by Barrie Zwicker
broadcast nationally by CBC Radio Syndication April 1982.
SATURDAY, APRIL 10, 1982 was the day. The Toronto
Star is the paper. The Star made newspaper history by devoting its
whole front page that day to just one subject, and it was not a
The Star's focus was the nuclear arms race and the growing peace
movement trying to stop that deadly race. Now you might ask: "Is
this really so surprising?" The answer is yes, definitely.
The April 10 Star reflected a fundamental change in how some editors
and reporters define what news is.
Gary Lautens, the Star's executive managing editor, headed up
"First of all I think that the nuclear business — bombs and
so on — that's the number one moral issue facing mankind. And while
I think you're a journalist and therefore a spectator on the events
that go around you, you also have to be a human being and be a participant
in what's going on. And I know that I didn't raise my children
to be cinders. And when I see people talking — I can't believe the
insanity — talking about limited war, first-strike capability and
so on — they're talking about a holocaust, they're talking about
blowing up the Earth and there's no way that I as a journalist,
as a human being, as a father, as a husband, just as a human being
— as I say — can stand back and be passive and just record this
insanity. I've got to try to stop this insanity. And I do it the
best way I can. I try to do it with facts, but there's a gut passion
and feeling about it, that this is, this is, madness and somebody's
got to stand up and say stop."
The traditional definition of news gives us "event journalism."
Most newspaper people most of the time are conditioned to take for
granted that if something hasn't happened as an event it isn't real.
It isn't news. As a result our papers are filled with a hodge-podge
of unrelated fragments called "news stories."
Now the arms race is real enough, but not an event, rather a process.
Those who believe in "process journalism" say papers must
begin to paint whole pictures and give the pictures the weight they
deserve. The Toronto Star has decided that the arms race is more
important than clinging to an outdated definition of news.
Critics say the Star overplayed the topic of peace. They mention
the size of the main headline, which read "Choose life over
the bomb." But a bigger blacker headline was used when martial
law was declared in Poland. Isn't the imminent destruction of mankind
more important than one development in Poland? And all of the Star's
April 10 peace coverage occupied less than three per cent of the
paper's 112 pages that day.
No, the Star didn't go overboard. It only appears so by comparison
with the astounding underplay of the peace issue that the press
routinely gives us. Travellers to Europe have found the level of
public knowledge there about the arms race much higher than it is
in North America. The press here bears most of the responsibility
for public ignorance and hence apathy about our possible impending
The Star on April 10, 1982 took one small step for peace. But it
was a very large step within the rigid traditions of the press.
Published in SOURCES Summer 83
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