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  • Boom, Bust and Consolidation November 9, 2018
    The five largest bitumen-extractive corporations in Canada control 79.3 per cent of Canada’s productive capacity of bitumen. The Big Five—Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil and Husky Energy—collectively control 90 per cent of existing bitumen upgrading capacity and are positioned to dominate Canada’s future oil sands development. In a sense they […]
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    The CCPA-BC Board of Directors is delighted to share the news that Shannon Daub will be the next BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Last spring, Seth Klein announced that, after 22 years, he would be stepping down as founding Director of the CCPA-BC at the end of 2018. The CCPA-BC’s board […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? October 15, 2018
    The major investors in Canada’s fossil-fuel sector have high stakes in maintaining business as usual rather than addressing the industry’s serious climate issues, says a new Corporate Mapping Project study.  And as alarms ring over our continued dependence on natural gas, coal and oil, these investors have both an interest in the continued growth of […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Pharmacare consensus principles released today September 24, 2018
    A diverse coalition representing health care providers, non-profit organizations, workers, seniors, patients and academics has come together to issue a statement of consensus principles for the establishment of National Pharmacare in Canada. Our coalition believes that National Pharmacare should be a seamless extension of the existing universal health care system in Canada, which covers medically […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Kate McInturff Fellowship in Gender Justice September 19, 2018
    The CCPA is pleased to announce the creation of the Kate McInturff Fellowship in Gender Justice.This Fellowship is created to honour the legacy of senior researcher Kate McInturff who passed away in July 2018. Kate was a feminist trailblazer in public policy and gender-based research and achieved national acclaim for researching, writing, and producing CCPA’s […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

From pulp and paper to magazines to progessive politics

Harold Innis wrote the history of Canada around its succession of staple exports, first to Europe and then to the US. He then wrote the history of empires and civilizations around the succession of media of communications. One of the bridges between these two phases of his work was the study of newsprint as a Canadian staple which supplied the input for the American press, with its vast consequences for public opinion and human consciousness.

The best selling American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has made a signal contribution to this way of thinking in her most recent book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism. Much has been written about the role of print journalism in spreading Roosevelt’s utterances – and also of the role of the sensationalist press in fomenting the Spanish-American War of that time. While the present view of historians on the latter is that it has been exaggerated, it certainly helped to create the Roosevelt persona. Kearns thoroughly documents the symbiotic relationship between Roosevelt and the journalists, and how the failure of Taft as Roosevelt’s successor to bond with the journalists undermined the effectivensss of his presidency.

What Goodwin focuses on is not the sensationalist newspapers so disliked by the bookish including Innis but on the magazines that sprung up in the early 20th century because of technological changes, notably in photoengraving, the desire of advertisers promoting brands for more and better space in this first Gilded Age, and the increasing availability of cheap paper from Canada. In differentiation from the newspapers, the magazines facilitated the rise of investigative journalism, of the muckraking exposing the need for regulation of the burgeoning corporation, for trust busting, for health and safety standards, for ending the pervasive corruption of politics.

This journalism fed the progessive politics of farmers and workers in the face of increasing corporate power. Famously, Ida Tarbell wrote the magazine series that became the book that tore the veil off Rockefeller and culminated in the breadup of Standard Oil.

As Innis – and McLuhan – insisted in their pioneering studies, media matter and each in its own way.

As with everything by Goodwin, the story is well told (including the fascinating relationship between Roosevelt and Taft which is central to her book but not to this blog), and in this case the message is distinctly progressive. It could restore one’s faith in the mainstream media, at least some medium at some time.

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