The old grey Globe she ain’t what she used to be

Globe publisher Philip Crawley announced this week that editor Ed Greenspon had moved on to ‘new challenges’

The old grey Globe she ain’t what she used to be“And now,” the editor of the Globe and Mail wrote in that newspaper’s pages a few weeks ago, “our hyper-innovative cartoonist is about to break new ground in partnership with our boundary-busting video-editor-cum-impresario, Jayson Taylor.”

This is how you write when you have no ambition except to appear modern. For a writer in the grip of such a frenzy it is no longer enough to innovate, nor even to super-innovate. Ground may be broken but boundaries must be busted. But none of this hyper-busting was boundary-innovative enough. Two weeks later the author of those lines, Ed Greenspon, was an ex-editor-cum-unemployed.

“Reimagination-inspired teamwork during the last four years has reinforced the value of a more collaborative way of managing our business,” Globe publisher Philip Crawley wrote to the newspaper’s staff in a memo explaining why Greenspon had moved on to “new challenges.” To “cement our standing as the best in Canada at creating high-quality content,” Crawley needed a replacement.

The next day’s paper featured a story about the new man, John Stackhouse. “Amid the flux in the media sector,” the story said, Stackhouse had delivered himself of this pearl: “It doesn’t matter if it’s detailing the recession or covering a war in Africa or social trends in India. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a 5,000-word story in a newspaper, or a tweet or a blog. The basic challenges are the same: finding out information that matters to people.”

So I can report that despite a bit of flux in the management sector, the Globe’s bosses remain committed to waterboarding the English language whenever they get a chance.

Perhaps it is old-fashioned to pay attention when a newspaper changes editors. Surely it’s old-fashioned to complain when a great paper’s managers seem interchangeably eager to brutalize the language. Still, a reader worries.

I read the Globe very nearly every day for 20 years, but these days I hold a copy maybe twice a week. Most days I read a half-dozen Globe stories online and don’t miss the rest. I hate to break it to Phil Crawley, but my main problem as a reader is not that the Globe is insufficiently thrilled by the marvels of the Internet. It is that too often the paper reveals too little about the depth and richness of the stories it covers. Stackhouse has this much right at least: it doesn’t matter which technology they use to get the content to me, if there is no reason to care when it arrives.

Of course there is good journalism every day in the Globe. Every reader has a list of favourite writers. Mine includes Doug Saunders, Mark MacKinnon, Eric Reguly. But the arts section is horribly conflicted, assigning pop-culture subjects to snobs who would look down their noses at a gig with Cahiers du Cinéma. And the Ottawa coverage is pathetically obsessed with insider gossip at the expense of clear thinking about questions of governance.

This was the most surprising thing about Greenspon’s years as editor. In the 1990s he was one of the very best Ottawa reporters. He wrote seriously about how Canadians are governed and not only about who was hot or not. Every other reporter in Ottawa spent part of each week chasing his stories.

I think he was embarrassed about his own seriousness, later, when he was trying to get in good with his less politically obsessed Toronto newsroom. “You have to have some leavening,” Greenspon told an interviewer in 2005. “You just can’t have a large percentage of your readers getting bored by endless stories about public policy.” He wanted to “relate” to readers “in all their guises”—as investors, employees, parents, potential patients or caregivers. It all sounded so shiny and postmodern. So the Globe would be precisely as good a source for political news as for advice about palliative care. Or lawn seed. Or for annual Juno Awards coverage by an interchangeable assortment of critics complaining about how Nickelback provokes ennui.

But there were always plenty of places to get wise counsel about lawn seed. There were fewer places to get the information and context that could give the idea of “consent of the governed” any meaning. A decade into the Google era, there aren’t many more. CBC Newsworld is struggling mightily with whether to replace Don Newman’s Politics show. It’s come to this: the state broadcaster is trying to decide whether the number of hours of dedicated political coverage in a day should be one or zero, instead of, say, three or six.

I offer this advice as a former Globe subscriber, but of course we are also competitors here at Maclean’s for scarce ad dollars and busy readers. And frankly on that score, if the Crawley-Stackhouse regime continues to chase trends and apologize for showing a sense of perspective, we won’t mind at all. When I joined this magazine we used to tell one another it wouldn’t do to indulge our various passions for politics or culture or real debate too deeply. In the last four years, we’ve been less reticent, and it’s going well. Our readers are really happy that we picked up our game. It’s almost as though people cared about things that are worth caring about.