Monday, June 07, 2004

Journalism: Gazoo news

Here's an interesting article in La Presse today about a union ruling from mid-May at The Gazette. An arbitrator ruled that The Gazette was practicing discrimination when it hired Basem Boshra as television critic in 2002, rather than an older reporter who had been with the paper much longer and was a member of the union, Mary Lamey.

When Lamey asked editor Lucinda Chodan why she was not selected for the job (both Boshra and Lamey applied), Chodan allegedly said, "You aren't younger than 35 and you aren't a member of a cultural community." (I'm translating this back from the French translation, so it's a little wonky.)

The union's decision is a good one -- in theory. Race and age shouldn't play a role in who gets hired to a particular job. Yet...

Looking at it from that perspective alone ignores the fact that Basem was a great writer and, I thought, the best new columnist the Gazette had hired in a long time. He introduced a whole bunch of new features to the television column that I thought were great, for instance the Music Video of the Week. I prefered him to either John Doyle in The Globe or Scott Feschuk in The National Post.

Part of the reason that I picked up the Gazette's arts section back then was to read Basem's column. And part of the reason why I liked reading Basem's column was that he was young and had a young perspective. From a young reader's standpoint, it was nice to see a young journalist in a prominent position at The Gazette (and not simply as the token "youth" columnist). It was also nice to see The Gazette start to hire on journalists who weren't your typical West End anglophones and embrace someone from what the Gazette has called the "New Anglophone" population.

Obviously, I'm biased in this case, being a young journalist who knows that it's tough to get hired on a paper that's a union shop. I don't think being young should be keep you from being hired to a job in journalism and I don't think that just because Lamey had seniority she should have got the position.

The best writer should win, of course, but what "best" means in this business is so subjective. In terms of being a columnist, who you are is a big part of what you write. And one's age and background certainly play a role in that. It makes good business sense for newspaper to hire people who appeal to different demographics.

I'm divided on the issue, but there's something about the decision here that doesn't sit well with me. Read the La Presse article and decide for yourself.

Of course, the argument is moot at this point. Since Spring 2003, when Boshra's contract expired, the Gazette has left the television critic position vacant. Television content is provided mainly by CanWest's wire service now, usually from a writer based in Vancouver, despite the fact that television in Montreal is very different from television in the ROC. (One of the things that I liked about Boshra was that he often wrote about what was on the French channels.)

But that's a whole other kettle of fish involving a certain company's continuing belief in convergence, something that I generally don't believe is good for journalists or readers or the bottom line.

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