In your analysis, you mentioned a few instances when the
Irving management had publicly dressed down editors or called in
every day to discuss the content of the paper. Are there any
examples of that happening recently?
I get the impression that the management isn't as directly
hands-on now as it used to be. This is partly because there is a
different era in Irving family leadership, which is why you're
seeing philanthropy like the dunes project and the nature beach. I
think that the climate is such that [the Irving management] doesn't
have to [watch their papers closely] anymore. My impression from the
journalists and the journalistic community is that reporters know
exactly who they work for, and they know what will be accepted and
what won't be.
The publishers and editors who are dealing with the journalists
everyday are doing a sort of gatekeeping job, and making sure that
articles that wouldn't be amenable to the Irving family wouldn't be
coming through the pipeline. And there is a lot of self-censorship
on the part of the journalists. I think that people learned their
lessons when they made mistakes and supported the wrong political
candidate or came out on the wrong side of some [issue].
Many people have said that there is a lot of diversity of
coverage and editorial positions between the Irving papers...
I wouldn't say so. I would say that there are some ideological
differences within a narrow spectrum. They're all very conservative,
but some of them, like the Telegraph-Journal, can be called
libertarian. But even there, they haven't spent as much time in
recent years developing those ideological arguments as they have in
the past. So, I'd say the difference has actually declined in recent
years. Sometimes if you track one topic, you can see slight
differences, but they're very homogeneous.
How does the ideology of the owners get all the way down to
the reporters? How does that process work?
It starts with the selection of the journalists; the Irvings have
a reputation of hiring away people in the public relations industry
who have been sympathetic to them. So you have a situation where you
have to show your loyalty to the Irvings and then they hire you on
in the corporation--either in their own PR department or in the
newspapers. It's very rare to find someone with an actual journalism
degree. They don't go through the process of hiring journalism
graduates, they pick people who have already shown themselves to be
hard-working, going after the stories, but who know who is paying
The journalistic community in Canada is under siege--there have
been huge layoffs in the last ten years with monopoly ownership, and
there are now much, much higher expectations of productivity.
Before, journalists would only post several stories a week, but now
they're being asked to post several stories per day, which means
that their stories are coming right off the newswires, with possibly
an interview or an attempt to clarify or confirm something, but with
none of the investigative journalism you would have seen before.
So, many journalists are out of work and the journalists who have
jobs in the Irving group know how lucky they are to be working. The
editors are the ones who tell them what stories they should be
working on, and as you get more seniority, you get to pick your
stories, but when you pick stories that are critical of your
employer, or your employer's generalized values--even if it's not
something specific about your employer--you're going to be told that
you can't work on that. After a while, you stop bringing those
I don't see the journalists trying in any way to bring forward
critical stories. Sometimes, a story will present itself that they
have no choice to cover, and they may show initiative in showing a
broad range of sources. Sometimes you'll see them bringing in people
who are interested in "social harmony"--someone like a
minister or a peace activist or a teacher--someone who generally
says "I wish everybody could get along" or "I wish
there wasn't this conflict", and that's about as critical a
voice as they would be allowed to bring in. But some reporters do
consistently do that, and that is an implied criticism of whoever is
causing the problems, either in terms of the environment, legal
battle, or labour struggle.
Journalists are often waiting for an opportunity to bring in
something critical in the context in which they work, and sometimes
that's the most that they can do.
Is Irving really different from other papers of a similar
ownership in their hiring and business practices?
I don't think that the Irvings make a distinction between the
bread and butter journalist and the highbrow columnist--I think
they're all under pretty tight reign. The [Irving papers']
difference from other papers shows the most locally, when something
is directly within the Irvings' sphere of influence. If you compare
the Chronicle Herald, which is an independent paper in Halifax--and
it's not a very good paper, because it's poor, and doesn't have many
journalists working for it--it is a much, much more critical paper
than any of the papers in New Brunswick. Even just at the level of
language use, they call things much more directly, and in much more
Do you think that the monopoly on the coverage of elections
keeps people away from the issue of media reform?
Yeah, I think the politicians in power, and those who think they
have access to power, don't want to mess with the Irvings on any
front, and the media front is probably at the bottom of the list.
They might be prepared to say that they need to put in more
scrubbers [in Irving factories] because they're polluting our air,
and they might say that [the government] shouldn't be lending them
as much money, and giving away our crown lands to them, but that's
as radical a critique as they're prepared to make. There's way too
strong a sense that the Irvings employ so many New Brunswickers, and
they always threaten that they'll just pack up and leave--which
realistically they are not going to do--but they have a very
positive climate towards them, and many New Brunswickers are
supportive of that. Even if they have personal horror stories around
the Irvings, they also know that they're not going to bite the hand
that feeds them.
So, it's very hard to find people who will come forward, and the
people who have come forward have been so horrendously blasted, that
they're basically seen as examples. Like someone you see hanging
from the gates of the castle--it says "this will happen to you