Journalism — A Big Fat Deal

Nov 26, 2018 · 6 min read

Is journalism dead? In my Vancouver it is moribund. Below is my take.

John Cruickshank — former Eitor-in-Chief of the Vancouver Sun, Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Journalism refers to the production and distribution of reports on recent events. The word journalism applies to the occupation, using methods of gathering information and utilizing literary techniques. Journalistic media include print, television, radio, Internet, and, in the past, newsreels.

Concepts of the appropriate role for journalism vary between countries. In some nations, the news media is controlled by government intervention, and is not a fully independent body. In others, the news media is independent of the government but instead operates as private industry motivated by

The advent of the Internet and smartphones has brought significant changes to the media landscape in recent years. This has created a shift in the consumption of print media channels, as people increasingly consume news through e-readers, smartphones, and other personal electronic devices, as opposed to the more traditional formats of newspapers, magazines, or television news channels. News organizations are challenged to fully monetize their digital wing, as well as improvise on the context in which they publish in print. Newspapers have seen print revenues sink at a faster pace than the rate of growth for digital revenues.


While I am now an obsolete, redundant, retired and inconsequential magazine photographer, in a not too recent past I also wrote for the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Magazine, Books in Canada, Western Living, City & Country Home and Macleans. Perhaps I have some of the black ink in my fingers from reading a daily delivered NY Times also in my blood.

My father was a journalist in Buenos Aires who worked for two dailies in English the Standard and the Buenos Aires Herald. I remember asking my mother why it was that my father had not come home for a week (this happened many times). The answer always was, “Your father wrote something about Perón that he did not like so he is serving time at the Villa Devoto prison.”

In my years as a magazine photographer and newspaper photographer (the NY Times, the Globe & Mail and the Vancouver Sun) I worked with some of the best writers who happened to be journalists. Among them there was Ben Metcalf, Les Wiseman, John Lekich, Christopher Dafoe, Max Wyman, Maurice Bridge, Robert Hunter, Ted Laturnus, Kerry McPhedran, Peter C. Newman, Charlie Smith, Mati Laansoo and many more. I watched these writers in action and I can vouch for their professionalism. And I cannot leave out that I worked all those years with a stellar editor Malcolm Parry.

There is one more writer Sean Rossiter (alas he died some years ago), who specialized in architecture and politics. His many year column 12th& Cambie for Vancouver Magazine and his pieces on architects and architecture were written with lots of research and with a strict effort in objectivity.

Now in this century and in this year and in this city I don’t see much of that. And I understand why. There is no money in print advertising in periodicals. So what is left is something that we used to call service pieces.

Sometime in the 80s I was walking with a very good writer on Davie on our way to a lighting store on the corner with Burrard. They had a replica of the Starship Enterprise that was a lamp. The writer was going to write about it and I was going to take a photograph of it. I happened to make the comment to the writer that surely track lighting was next in his agenda. The writer became angry. These pieces were loosely seen as editorial but in fact they were advertorials that were then called service pieces.

At about this time writers who wrote about film would go on expenses paid trips to Los Angeles. They would all meet in a room and place their tape recorders on the centre table. Questions would be asked. The resulting articles made it seem like the writer had a one on one with the star. The centre table with the recorders was never divulged.

It was perhaps in the 90s when the phoner came into existence. Famous actors, singers, directors, writers did not want to make the trek to our city. So they granted phone interviews. When possible the publications instead of stating that the interview was a phoner they would use this sort of thing that many in our fair city never figured out:

Talking to Clint Eastwood from his home I heard his poodle bark…

For years the Saturday real estate section (mostly about condos) of the Vancouver Sun was seen as a blatant mode of advertising.

To many this was no different from seeing a film in which all cars were Fords or Chryslers. It was simply legitimate product placement.

There were a couple of very good local writers who pioneered their own version of journalism something called “creative non-fiction”. I know for a fact of a writer who wrote a piece for a good local magazine in which the writer cited people interviewed at UBC. The magazine published a month later letters by people who said that they had never been interviewed. Months later that essay was entered into a Western Magazine Award for stellar writing.

So anybody who has gotten this far might say, “What’s next?”

What’s next is the B.C. Business “thing” called BigFatDeal in which writers who have no idea about architecture write about ugly houses and try to be cute and funny but to me sound like bitter ramblings of “wouldn’t it be nice if I could afford that house and live in it.”

And this piece on an Arthur Erickson house in West Van is terrible, too.

I understand Canada Wide the company that publishes B.C. Business recently purchased Vancouver Magazine and Western Living for one Dollar (Canadian).

I have fond memories of a new city business magazine, Equity that was started by Harvey Southam in the premises of Vancouver Magazine. I remember working for and with Southam. I also fondly remember a section of the magazine that had on the left page the title “On the Left” and on the right “On the Right”. Writers from both sides of that political spectrum would write about the same subject.

It was some years later when our city mayor’s brother Mike Campbell became the Equity editor. I was instructed by the art director to photograph councillor (then called alderman) Harry Ranking using a green filter and hard lights to achieve a really gritty photo of the man. My photograph appeared in a two-page spread with the banner Quietly Communist”. For a while I worked for a couple of magazines that would approach their future subjects in this way, “How would you like to be on the cover of our magazine and have a brilliant essay on your career?” And of course they paid for that privilege. I see in social media photographs of lovely women in which the photographer states “editorial for fashion”. I am not sure what they mean as the magazine where the picture might appear is never mentioned. The idea and meaning of editorial has been forgotten.

I was commissioned by a local literary tabloid to photograph and write a piece of crime writer William Deverell. He and his wife were gracious and invited me to lunch in their home. Imagine my surprise when the piece appeared which had terrible and disparaging comments about Deverell. It seems that the editor wanted to air his beefs. Not long after I wrote a piece for Western Living about front gardens. When it appeared what I had written was not there, not even one word. I called the editor and told that editor, “Thank you. You make me sound like Shakespeare.” If I remember well the answer was, “I am glad you liked it.”

In many ways I felt a tad betrayed. But I was paid well. Had I only known what was to follow and how quick the slide was to be I might not now feel so isolated in disgust.

Link to: Journalism — A Big Fat Deal

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