WHY THE TELEGRAM’S BRIAN JONES CAN’T RIVAL “GO-BAG”.

The decision by the management of The Telegram to disembowel
the editorial pen of columnist Brian Jones signals more than just evidence of continued
decline in the idea of freedom of the press. His dismissal from the role exposes
the extent to which special interest groups — and their petit leadership — will
stoop to assuage the fragile egos of those paid from the public purse.

“Real” independent journalism has a spotty history in
Newfoundland and Labrador anyway. It is a fact of life not exclusive to here, but
this should give us no comfort. 

Our story is simply that of a small homogeneous population far
too ready to embrace political, business, social and institutional networks
that are inward-looking, and who thrive on nepotism, partisanship, insecurity,
and perpetual deference to authority. It is an environment more likely to
perpetuate pettiness than self-confidence, or that is likely to magnify perceived
insult, when all that is required to matters about which we disagree is the
barely cerebral retort: “we beg to differ.”

For the fast-diminishing world of journalism, at issue is not
just reporting of what constitutes “news” but the freedom and independence associated
with traditional media platforms — the “op-ed” page, the thoughtful editorial,
the acerbic or just “funny” piece with the powerful message of a well-directed
kick in the pants.

Journalistic independence provides readers/listeners with interpretation
and perspective. They attempt to channel new ideas, rather than just mimic views
that are traditional, stale, politically correct or just too damn “sweet”.  Well-written, those pieces offer a
“wake-up” call to one sector or to a whole society.

Leaders — political, religious, union, academic, business and
every other variety — need new ideas; both they and the public need to see each
other differently. Brian Jones was an important facilitator in this process.
Indeed, considering the alarming level of rebuke levelled at him for actually saying
what many of the guileless think, the sorry spectacle of his dismissal from one
of The Telegram’s most important pages suggests that they need Brian Jones —
and his cohorts, too — more than ever.   

It is a lot to put on any media outlet. If any other has
performed the role as effectively as The Telegram over many decades, the effort
was, at best, sporadic. That is not accidental. 
The paper has been gifted with a good many gifted people. Harold Horwood
was a wordsmith of unusual skill. Ray Guy exercised his journalistic “right” to
uncloak Smallwood, becoming a cultural iconoclast in the process, someone now
appropriated by us all. Writers like Russell Wangersky, Pam Frampton, Bob
Wakeham AND Brian Jones have performed the role with distinction, too. It is best
not to say more; if they have a shot at immortality, it will only be after they
are dead.

And it’s not all about them, anyway. Whether Ray Guy or Brian
Jones, their craftsmanship, their ability to stick their finger in your eye — or
someone else’s — is due, in part, to their having an employer who values journalistic
independence. Unlike the writers at the Telegram today, Ray Guy did not have to
worry that the Herders or editor Michael Harrington had him under constant
surveillance, or that his job was under threat.
Neither were they preoccupied
by irrepressible small-mindedness, or the prickly dispositions of self-interests,
gilt-edged by entitlement. They understood that, at times, the air needs to be
let out of the buffoons.

That is the nub of the issue. The message unceremoniously
delivered to Brian Jones was sent not just to him, but to all the editorial
staff. That message said: the customer is always right; its obvious commercial undertone,
alone, is an affront to good counsel as much as to the truth.
 
Implicit, nevertheless, is that there will be sanctions if you
break Saltwire’s golden rules: don’t provoke members of the public who might
cancel their subscriptions; don’t upset members of Unions, else their petit
leadership will write saucy letters rather than counsel thoughtful disagreement; and, by all means, don’t
hold public officials to account for fear they will be cut out of the
Government’s advertising budget.

When Saltwire Network of Nova Scotia purchased The Telegram
from TC Media (which faced the early onslaught of change in media platforms and advertising, but did not sacrifice editorial policy in response), it is unlikely that anyone thought the deal might precipitate a return
to the days of W.J. Herder. Still, the exigencies of running a newspaper – or any medium given licence by its claim to journalistic independence – requires differentiation from the local hardware store – even if Saltwire management thinks that’s what it is running.  

The mantra of press baron Lord Northcliff was that “news is
something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising.” It
would be a tragedy if Saltwire adopted it as their own, and succumbed to every interest
group willing to weigh umbrage and effrontery under the threat of “market
share”. 

Thomas Jefferson opined: “Were it left to me to decide whether
we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a
government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Undoubtedly, there is a middle ground between the Jeffersonian
ideal of press freedom and the worry of maintaining paying readership. In
Newfoundland, a place in need of far more “independence” and “oversight” than
the ranks of The Telegram can reasonably deliver, our worry should be that
Saltwire has no room — at all — for principle, and that purposeless print will
suffice for content, including a decent “op-ed” page.

It is too bad that, across the whole spectrum of the Province’s
leadership, few told the Saltwire Network that its treatment of Jones
is unacceptable or that another owner might do a better job.

But, hey, here’s the good news: again, this week, the “Go-Bag”
will be delivered right on time!

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

NALCOR (Masquerading as ‘Hydro’)LIVES IN AN UPSIDE DOWN WORLD

If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!

REMEMBERING BILL MARSHALL

Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.