Ego and Ink, by Chris Cobb

McClelland & Stewart, 368 pp, $34.99, hardcover.

Love it or loathe it, when the National Post appeared in 1998 it provoked dramatic power struggles that transformed the Canadian media landscape, as veteran journalist Chris Cobb recounts in his aptly titled Ego and Ink: The Inside Story of Canada's National Newspaper War.

The Post was the only paper Conrad Black created in his 30-odd years as a news baron. While Black has been humbled by recent scandal over his Hollinger dealings, the paper remains, as does a new era of convergence between different media (and, arguably, between news and editorial content in various outlets).

Cobb does an excellent job of covering the private and public battles fought within and between the Post, its parent Southam chain, and rivals the Globe and Mail, Torstar Corporation, and Sun Media. Using extensive interviews with key characters to tell the tale (like columnists Christie Blatchford and Jan Wong; editors Edward Greenspon, Ken Whyte, and Martin Newland; and owners Paul Godfrey and Black himself), he leaves the editorializing to them and focuses on facts and plot.

Both the Post and the Globe imported Fleet Street people and practices to fight their newspaper war, a move most evident in the Post's cheekiness and more overtly ideological tone, which Toronto Star executive managing editor James Travers called "tits and analysis". (Pics of tennis celebrity Anna Kournikova appeared 109 times in the Post's first 1,000 editions.) Coining the phrase "unite the right" on its first front page, the Post also broke the Shawinigate scandal and regularly rankled Jean Chrétien, prompting the messy knighthood spat with Black, well covered here.

Although Cobb succeeds at revealing the often larger-than-life characters behind the headlines, Ego and Ink falls short in analyzing the influence of commerce on the independence and objectivity of Canadian news. It does offer some revelations, though, like the fact that our Competition Bureau only looks at the percentage of ad revenue a merged company might control, not editorial share. Or this telling quote from former Province editor Michael Cooke: "Journalists don't like templates, because they like to pretend they just take what happens and put it in the paper, but as we get older, we know that news is what we say it is, and if you want to hit five subject areas every day you can find the material."

Comments