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Today's Big Story

How Big a Story Is CanWest's New Deal?

Big merger causes existential crisis for Big Story.

By Richard Warnica 12 Jan 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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Today’s big story has an existential problem. You see today’s big story doesn’t really know what a big story is. It is lost and floating. The very notion of its news judgment is up in the air. Media mergers, and how they’re covered, has the big story chewing its nails, wondering how and why stories go where they do. 

Earlier this week CanWest Global Communications closed a $2.3 billion deal to swallow Alliance Atlantis, owners of 13 specialty cable channels in Canada. 

It’s a big story. No doubt about it. The buy-up, which was in collaboration with New York investment bank Goldman Sachs, tightens Canada’s air-tight media market. It is also the first major move in the sector since rivals Bell Globemedia absorbed the Chum group in a $1.7 billion deal this summer.  Just how big a story though, and how it should be played, seems to depend on where you work. 

The story earned a banner headline on the front page of the National Post on Thursday. Two other big boys in the CanWest chain, the Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen also put it on A1. The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, ran the story in their business section, as did the Toronto Star.

That in and of itself means nothing. There’s no proof that the editors at the three CanWest papers were thinking about anything other than newsworthiness when they chose to put the story on the front page. Nor that the Globe and Star kept the story off A1 for anything but the same. Both choices could and I’m sure would be easily defended by the editors who made them.

But here’s the problem. When a reader sees a story about CanWest on the front page of a CanWest paper, or a story about the Rogers phone company in Maclean’s magazine or any other permutation that produces journalism about the people signing journalists’ checks, they can’t help but wonder why it's there. And as the companies that pay journalists in this country get fewer and bigger and broader, those types of situations are going to happen more and more. The perceived conflict doesn’t do much to improve the already shaky credibility journalists have with their customers in this country. And that’s a bad thing. 

There’s no easy answer. But if you want so more info try this story by Tyee luminaries David Beers and Charles Campbell on some solutions to media concentration in Canada. You could also browse regular contributor Steve Burgess’ dissection of CanWest’s clumsy vendetta against the CBC and Shannon Rupp’s story about the columnist fired and re-hired from the Times Colonist this summer.  [Tyee]

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