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CanWest Editor Fears for Your Mind

It's timidly closed if you read The Tyee, says the boss of the Times-Colonist. Huh? Think again.

David Beers 30 Mar 2004TheTyee.ca

David Beers is the founding editor of The Tyee and serves as current editor-in-chief.

He started the publication in 2003 as an experiment in new ways of doing online journalism in the public interest, including solutions-focused reporting, crowd-funded support and a humane work culture. He loves what The Tyee has become thanks to amazing colleagues and readers.

He has lived in Vancouver since 1991. Before The Tyee he was a senior editor at Mother Jones Magazine and the Vancouver Sun, and his writing has appeared in many U.S. and Canadian outlets. He is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia's graduate school of journalism.

Saturday before last, a CanWest honcho finally got around to publicly acknowledging the existence of The Tyee. It came months after the Globe and Mail, the CBC and other media had done so, but every little bit helps, including the entire column that Victoria Times-Colonist Editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips devoted to us.

Phillips started off genially, admitting to "dipping" into our pages and finding "some good writing there and some sharp analysis." He wished us well: "The more sources of news and opinion the better, as far as we're concerned."

And then he took out the hatchet.

He attacked no specific Tyee article, but instead you, who read us.

If you enjoy The Tyee, Phillips claims to know that you are "the kind of person who loathes Campbell and Bush and corporations," a "self-filterer" who yearns to "find yourself in a place where no one will say a discouraging word."

Your mind, in short, is weak -- closed to the rainbow spectrum of viewpoints found daily, Phillips averred, in his own newspaper.

'Our ears are burning!'

Well, where to start? First, unlike Phillips, I don't pretend to know the collective mental state of who reads the Times-Colonist or any other publication. I would bet that you our readers return to The Tyee if our stories add something fresh to all the other media you hear, watch, and read. I'm guessing you come to us for further perspective, not the only perspective. If so, that would make you the opposite of Phillips' "circled wagons" slur.

Second, Phillips dismissively brands The Tyee and our readers "left". But by his own definition, what makes The Tyee "left" is that our reporting consistently raises concerns about the shape of the Liberal-era economy and the fate of anyone who may not be benefiting from the sweeping political change underway in Victoria.

So if our skeptical scrutiny of the Campbell government makes us "left", then Phillips has stumbled onto a massive ideological shift among B.C.'s citizenry. Suddenly two thirds of all British Columbians are "left" by Phillips' definition, because 64 percent of those recently polled disapprove of Premier Campbell's performance in office.

Phillips laughs off a comment I made when launching The Tyee: that our feisty independence is needed because "big media in this province are owned by a powerful few with their own agendas." He mugs: "Gosh, who could that be? Our ears are burning!" But he never rebuts the assertion.

Belly of the beast

As one who worked for The Vancouver Sun for three plus years under the Black and Asper ownerships, I had a close look at how agendas of the powerful were reflected in the operations of the paper. As the Campbell government assumed power and set about its revolution, The Sun management cut reporting staff. It pulled experienced reporters off the legislative beat, and invested millions of dollars in 'Believe B.C.', a spin-doctored advertorial heralding a new day for B.C.'s economy. On the day the Liberal government rolled out its controversial new labour code, The Sun's lead story carried "exclusive" interviews with heads of B.C.'s two leading unionized construction firms, saying the bill was their salvation. At the moment when the contentious issues surrounding the Olympics were headed for a vote, Sun and Province publisher Dennis Skulsky pledged $1 million in free advertising for the bid. Not long ago The Sun appointed a new opinion page editor, whose last employer was the Fraser Institute, a think tank adamantly in service of, yes, the corporate agenda.

I could go on but why bore? My aim merely is to remind Phillips of the circumstances that caused me to imagine the need for The Tyee in the first place. And to reiterate here that I enjoy full editorial control of this publication, by explicit agreement immune from interference from my publisher Paul Hovan and our investors. The recent history of firings and meddling by CanWest's Asper ownership makes me doubt that a Times-Colonist editor-in-chief can make the same claim.

Boasting of NDPers

But wait. Doesn't, as Phillips boasts, his Times-Colonist run columns by former NDP government members Adrian Dix and Paul Ramsey, and doesn't The Tyee run or link to those columns on occasion? Yes, and while NDP pros are hardly a staple of The Tyee, I think it enhances public debate that Phillips publishes a couple. He might like to know that a search shows the bylines of Dix and Ramsey haven't graced The Province or The Sun for at least the last six months, so it's a pleasure for The Tyee to be able to relay their views to B.C.'s largest metropolis, where they've been shut out.

I do appreciate that Phillips has made room, without disparagement, for those two bright minds who tend to ask difficult questions of the sitting government.

It's just too bad he couldn't have done the same for The Tyee and its fast-growing readership.

Now that I think of it, having borne the brunt of Phillips' scorn, shouldn't Tyee readers have the last word here? A comment, then, recently posted on this site:

"From a readers' perspective, easy alternate media availability is the best thing that could happen. From a political and corporate perspective, it's the worst."

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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