TORONTO, June 23, 2003 ( – Conservative leaning Canadians had their prayers for a fair-minded, centre right national newspaper answered in October 1998, when the National Post was launched.  The remodeled Financial Post, which Conrad Black bought earlier that year, was a refreshing and intellectually written alternative to the dominant social liberal media establishment.

Pro-life and pro-family Canadians found in the National Post the fairest (that is not to say fair) coverage of issues dear to their hearts. LifeSite Daily News often quoted or referred to National Post stories. Conversely, LifeSite was made aware a number of times that some National Post writers regularly kept tabs on LifeSite and would often pick up on its story leads and produce their own news items or columns based on those leads.

Unfortunately, for the second time in two years, National Post readers are disheartened to see major changes in the paper, changes that faithful readers and Post critics alike say are clearly for the worse. As London Free Press columnist Herman Goodden noted, “The death watch seems to be on again at the National Post.”

On May 1, the Asper family fired the Post’s top two editors, Kenneth Whyte and Martin Newland, installing their own man, Ryerson journalism professor and Post media columnist Matthew Fraser, as editor-in-Chief. Whyte and Newland, along with former owner Conrad Black and former editorial consultant John O’Sullivan, made the Post what many regarded as one of the most readable and intellectually invigorating newspapers in the world.

It has been reported to LifeSite that journalists and academics in much of the English-speaking world had the Post at the top of their reading list. But since Black sold the paper, indeed the whole Southam chain, to the Aspers in July 2000, there was growing speculation that Whyte, especially, was on the way out. Last fall, he was given an extended sabbatical and in May Whyte and Newland were forced out.

New editor Fraser, a friend of the Asper family who, according to the Citizen’s Centre Report, vacations with them, failed to even mention the previous editorial leadership when, on May 2, he introduced himself to readers in a front-page column as the new editor-in-chief. Not a word of thanks or acknowledgement to his predecessors. It was not so much that Whyte was replaced that has led to questions about the future of the paper as much as how he was deposed.

David Frum, the former White House speechwriter and one of the top columnists in Canada and the United States, immediately resigned from the paper. It was considered a good sign for the paper that Frum returned to the Post late in 2002, giving hope that the Asper-owned paper would not slide as far to the left as some of its loyal readers feared. But the Whyte firing led Frum to reconsider his relationship with the paper and Frum reported on National Review Online that he decided to leave in part because of the way the Whyte dismissal was handled.

Whyte, Frum reported, was told to leave, not talk to the staff and that he would be allowed to return on a Sunday, under guard, to pick up his personal effects. This heavy-handedness in dealing with personnel was the last straw and ended the strange marriage between of one of Canada’s foremost conservative pundits and a family with extensive connections the Liberal Party.

The Asper family brings to its media behemoth, a big-L and small-l limited worldview. Family patriarch and CanWest Global Communications founder Izzy Asper, once led the Manitoba Liberal Party and he and his family have numerous professional and personal connections to the federal Liberals, including the Prime Minister and the disgraced federal Privacy Commissioner, George Radwanski. (Radwanski’s son, Adam, is an editorial writer with the Post.) When CanWest gained control of Southam in 2001, it did not renew the contract of one of Canada’s leading political journalists, Lawrence Martin, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen.

Martin had been a vocal critic of certain highly questionable deals linked to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and went after the leader in much the same way a pit bull goes after a bone. The Aspers could not countenance investigative journalism excellence that had as its target their friend the PM, and Martin’s commentary now often appears in the pages of the Post’s rival Globe and Mail.

The Post, no doubt, continues to lose money. The usual description is that it is bleeding, profusely. Indeed, moves must be made to stanch the bleeding, but the Aspers, whizzes in the broadcast industry—CanWest owns radio and television stations across the country—seem to be making an endless series of blunders in their attempts to rejuvenate the paper. They are bringing a broadcasting model to the newspaper business and thus far it has not succeeded. The most notable example of this model is the use of material from other publications, often at the expense of local coverage and quality, cutting back expensive but popular sections of the paper such as entertainment and sports, and the use of general managers that take their orders from CanWest headquarters in Winnipeg rather than more independent publishers.

Regardless of the reasons why the Post is a paper in decline, recent moves almost guarantee failure in bouncing back. The Whyte/Newland firings led to an exodus of writers, some of whom quit, others who were fired.

Also gone: Paul Wells, the parliamentary columnist who quit to join Macleans; managing editor Allison Uncles who joined the Toronto Star; reporters Maria Jiminez and Robert Benzies, who had apparently signed with other newspapers-  Jiminez bylines have appeared recently in the Globe and Mail and Chatelaine magazine; political columnist Susan Delacourt, fired shortly after being poached from the Globe and Mail and a handful of other reporters.

More worrying is the fact that Mark Steyn, one of the preeminent columnists in the world—his writing appears in the Daily Telegraph, Chicago Sun Times, Jerusalem Post, The Spectator, among other newspapers and magazines—has been absent in the nearly two months since the Whyte/Newland firings. The blurb that Steyn’s column will re-appear shortly disappeared in late May, even as the columnist returned from a trip to the Mideast and his writings returned to the pages of The Spectator and Sun-Times.

The Post claims Steyn has not been fired, although Steyn admitted to Canadian conservative website Enter Stage Right, that he was considering leaving the paper. In late June, links on Steyn’s website to the National Post were removed. Sources at the Post tell LifeSite that the relationship has not formally been ended but that the paper doesn’t hold out much hope for his return. Another source said the Post is losing an average of 15 subscriptions per day that he doesn’t appear, so they are desperate for his return.

There are also rumours that popular courts and crime commentator Christie Blatchford might leave. She expressed her disappointment with Whyte’s and Newland’s firings in her column the week they were removed. It is widely believed that all three Toronto newspapers would be interested in wooing Blatchford from the Post, with speculation that the Toronto Star is the front-runner. They have reportedly come to an agreement with Rosie Dimano, to whom Blatchford is often compared, to make room for the Post journalist. It is also assumed that only the Star could match Blatchford’s salary of between $150,000-$250,000, a figure that makes her the highest paid print journalist in the country.

If Steyn and Blatchford join Frum in bolting the Post, the paper will have lost the three journalists who especially gave the paper its personality. While skilled columnists and reporters remain, the Post will no longer be the required early morning reading that it was for people in the know or those who wanted to be.

The editorial perspective at the Post was never explicitly pro-life and socially conservative, but its editorials showed a healthy skepticism of the claims social liberals made to advance their agenda and ideology. The comment page offered a wide variety of viewpoints and its reporting, on the whole, was fair to all sides of political debate. The Post, it was said, served as an unofficial opposition party, holding the government accountable while other newspapers ignored malfeasance and outright corruption.

There is concern that the Asper controlled paper—and the moves in recent months, from naming new publishers, editors and managers to removing editors and journalists, thereby increasing the control the Asper family has over the Post—will become friendlier to Chretien and whoever replaces him as Liberal leader in November.

Furthermore, it has become bland and predictable and less distinct from the rest of Canada’s mind-dumbing, often propagandistic and overwhelmingly liberal newspaper establishment. Most troubling for social conservatives, the Post has becoming another mouthpiece for the anti-life, anti-family, anti-tradition movement and its elites.

As Goodden wrote in the London Free Press, the Aspers have alienated “untold thousands of readers like me who are finding it increasingly hard to remember why we continue to support this pale imitation of a newspaper, which once gave Canadian conservatives so much hope.”

For now the National Post is holding on to readers because of the goodwill it established in its first few years of publishing. It is rapidly using up that goodwill, utterly failing to distinguish itself from the rest of the journalistic herd. The change in editorial stance and depth of reporting has recently been dramatic and deadly. It appears to be only a matter of time before the original fair-minded, high quality and genuine alternative national newspaper can officially be declared dead.

Many former Post readers will go back to reading a number of papers and constantly reading between the lines to determine what the actual truth might be on many issues. Even then, they must also return to being skeptical as to whether they are getting the truth at all and wonder what important stories or facts are not being reported that might offend politically correct sensibilities.

At least now there is the Internet.  Sites such as LifeSite, and many more, provide real choice and allow sincere seekers of the truth to bypass the stranglehold on information dissemination by the traditional print and electronic media. That choice was not available a few years ago. So, the death of the Post as a quality newspaper is no longer as serious a development as it might have been say, 6 or 7 years ago.

Quality journalistic reporting is increasing on the web. The trick now for the Internet alternatives is to figure some way of becoming financially sustaining since most of what is on the Internet is still free of charge. The public is going to have to start paying or donating in order for these services to continue to improve and be sustainable.

Nothing of quality comes for free, as has been emphasized by the National Post debacle.