Friday, October 22, 2010

Grown up activites: An evening with John Stackhouse

Last night, I went to an event hosted by the Canadian Journalism Project: Newspapers – the Strategic Generation. John Stackhouse, editor in chief, the Globe and Mail/General McDreamboat, was interviewed by Ira Basen, journalist, CBC Radio.

Stackhouse was there to talk about the much ballyhooed Globe and Mail redesign and the future of print media in Canada.

It was an interesting evening. The crowd was mostly made up of bright-eyed J-school students and curmudgeonly journalists (I gathered this from the Q&A session and the number of wool scarves in the room). Stackhouse and Basen talked for about 45 minutes, and the remaining 40 minutes or so was filled with questions from the peanut gallery.

Full disclosure – I love the Globe and all things beautiful, so I’m a fan of the redesign. Have you seen the Weekend Style section? It’s smooth and silky and colourful and expensive looking. Made from the world’s finest pulp! Plus, the G&M employs Stephen Brunt and Jeff Blair, what’s not to love?
So yes, I was there to fan girl a little bit. Stackhouse, though he came off as a slightly robotic and completely humourless, remains a captivating Canadian figure. He’s so young to be in his position, and while I’ve heard he can be standoffish to employees and generally difficult to work for, you have to respect his big, pulsating brain and career trajectory.

Basen and Stackhouse touched on a lot of the things I’d been wondering about – The Globe and Mail’s business model, the difference between American and Canadian newspaper markets, the revamped website, moderating online comments, and the globe’s target audience to name a few. If you elaboration any of these, just ask. I have copious notes! Nerd nerd NERD.

Random thoughts

- Stackhouse has had lots of time to shape and massage the language about the redesign and I noticed that the messaging always came back to quality. The Globe is quality. Its ultimate strategy is to pursue quality in print, journalism, advertising and readership.

- Quality in readership . Ohhhh the Globe. With the air of a man who breathes elitism, Stackhouse said that the Globe is interested in reaching affluent, educated and influential Canadians. Unapologetic snobbery.

- Later, Stackhouse was asked whether he believes that the media plays a role in shaping Canadian public policy. He answered that the media guides important public conversations, which in turn shape public policy. It left me wondering how much of Stackhouse’s own beliefs directly shape policy in Canada. I may have just been drunk on his power fumes, but whatever.

What else happened? There was a long questions and answer period. I was impressed that most of the questions were actually questions. People made their point and made it quickly. Of course, there were one or two ambling nerd alerts who used their turn at the mic to air personal grievances with the Globe. The moderator asked a few people to get to their point, and cut one man off entirely. This fellow evidently filed a human rights complaint against the Globe years ago and was there to give Stackhouse a piece of his mind. That moment of tension was diffused quickly – the gentleman (whose name escaped me, and if anyone knows, I’d love to hear it – he’s just the sort of guy I’d Google on a Friday afternoon) knew he was defeated, and left the auditorium, though not before passing out pamphlets telling his story. I didn’t get one.**Sidebar – buddy was drinking afterwards at the reception. I locked eyes with him for a second and not to sound like a total try hard, but I could see a lifetime of indignation written all over his face. I’ve been through my share of nonsense; I wonder what people see that when they look at me. That fuct me up for a few minutes.

My other favourite Q&A moment came when a reporter (maybe a digital strategist/who cares) for EYE Weekly asked about the Globe’s mobile app. He wanted to know what percentage of content from the website is included in the application. Really? You can ask the editor of “Canada’s national newspaper” anything you want, and you ask about statistics? GTFO. Stackhouse coughed up something about how the most popular stories are chosen, and we moved on.

Oh and because I know Toronto people care, one of the audience members asked Stackhouse about his decision to pull the controversial “Rob Ford is fat” article and the ethical dilemma (word used incorrectly, j-school student) of censoring news.**The article in question, written by Stephen Marche (who claims to have since been fired from the Globe) said that mayoral candidate Rob Ford isn’t popular despite his weight; he’s popular because of it. People were outraged, I guess, and the article vanished from the (You can read the full piece here:

Stackhouse responded by saying the article fell short of a number of Globe standards. He personally made the decision to pull the piece, knowing that it would generate even more controversy. Stackhouse said that the ethical conundrum lay in how to best communicate internal decisions to readers – he admitted they don’t have a good way of doing so. He didn’t seem too concerned with Marche’s future. Not his problem, I suppose.

So that’s about it. I’m on one of those personal and professional betterment war paths, so I’m trying to attend a lot of events like this. Let me know if you hear of any and I’ll geek out with you for the night.

Someone told me to start taking myself more seriously, and uh…. I’m doing that. Now please to enjoy a Christmas cat GIF.


  1. Look at that awful spacing. I HATE BLOGSPOT FORMATTING. HAAAAAAAAAAATE.

    Caps lock day fell on the most convenient of Fridays.

  2. Man you'd get fiiiired from the Globe with spacing like that.


  3. They'll let just about any hack write for The Globe And Mail. Trust me.

    And the day you're too professional for a Christmas Cat GIF (pronounced "jif") is the day you've taken yourself too seriously.

  4. The Globe wouldn't go for crappy spacing (aesthetics!), but I'm pretty sure they'd publish the cat GIF #jif.

  5. "Someone told me to start taking myself more seriously, and uh…. I’m doing that."

    I got that advice and chose to do the exact opposite.

  6. - Quality in readership . Ohhhh the Globe. With the air of a man who breathes elitism, Stackhouse said that the Globe is interested in reaching affluent, educated and influential Canadians. Unapologetic snobbery.

    I kind of wish more papers would take this tack. I worked for five different papers in my state, and all of them were way too concerned with getting the lowest common denominator to read the paper. Instead, by dumbing down the content, it scared away people looking for real news, the advertisers for wealthier products, and none of the people at a fourth-grade level picked up the paper anyway.


Ramble on...