Canwest series on newspaper woes

Canwest News Service has launched a series in its chain of newspapers examining the “siege mentality that is gripping the newspaper industry.”

The topic is especially challenging in this series for two reasons. First, reporter David Akin (a superb journalist) now works for a company with the same owners who have historically stifled in-house criticism. Second, heavily-indebted Canwest is in crisis, with executives in the midst of negotiations with lenders to avoid having to seek bankruptcy protection. The timing of the series begs the question of how, and how far a publicly-traded media company can and should go, in publicizing its own situation. (Non-media companies are forced by regulators and the market to tread carefully with every public statement.) Will Akin have the freedom to report fairly and thoroughly on his own corporate bosses? Will the series be able to defend itself from potential critics on the only grounds possible, of excellent journalism?

The critics are already stirring. Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight comments, “If Canwest News Service wants to keep (public) trust, its series on the siege mentality in the newspaper industry will deal honestly with the role that (Canwest’s ruling family) the Aspers played in their company’s current predicament.”