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Persistent Salutin story a business and journalistic crisis for the Globe

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Rick Salutin

Who canned Rick Salutin? And why?

For heaven's sake, this mystery is already shrouded in almost as much speculation as the disappearance of Judge Crater!

In fact, the widely reported demise of Salutin's Friday column in the Globe and Mail is yet to be confirmed by that august publication. A look at the Globe's website suggests that Salutin is still on board as a columnist.

Reports of Salutin's unwilling departure seem to have begun on Sept. 28 on Murray Dobbin's blog, which was reprinted here on rabble.ca. A few other websites catering to readers with progressive views have also noted the report. Now the not-so-progressive National Post has weighed in.

Dobbin suggested that the Globe's decision to drop Salutin's column was evidence of the "economic elite's betrayal of the country’s traditions and values." He proposes a boycott of the Globe until Salutin is reinstated.

David Beers, writing in The Tyee, said on Sept. 30 that the official reason for Salutin's departure is that he didn't fit in with the Globe's redesign, but that the real reason may have been the contents of his last two columns. The penultimate column argued Stephen Harper has been influenced by the anti-democratic teachings of Leo Strauss (which should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention). The last mildly criticized extremist Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford.

Others have suggested that the 60-something Salutin was just too darned old for the Globe's latest, desperate attempt to win younger readers. He will be replaced in the spot by Irshad Manji, who at 42 is presumably what passes for youthful in the corner offices of major Canadian newspapers nowadays.

To me, the replacement of Salutin by a younger writer of a faintly progressive persuasion suggests that whatever happened, it was not so much because he offended Canada's "Quisling elite," but because Globe management grew tired of him for their own inscrutable reasons, as newspaper managers do now and then.

One supposes that if we knew for sure the Globe is still publishing Jim Stanford's always informative and thoroughly left wing economics column, we would understand more about Globe management’s motivations. Or maybe not.

The Globe itself, meanwhile, maintains a steely silence, saying nothing at all about Salutin's fate. Nor does there appear to have been anything heard from Salutin in the past few days. In the absence of any denial by either the Globe or Salutin, we have to assume Dobbin got it right. Bring on the boycott!

Readers may also have noted the timing of Salutin's reported departure just days after the unintentionally hilarious editorial published by the Globe on Sept. 10 lauding the multi-bazillionaire Thomson family for its deep commitment to publishing the bestest, most honestest, most wonderfulest journalism in the whole wide world.

At any rate, said the editorial, the latest hereditary Lord Thomson has "made it clear that his family will continue to respect the autonomy of these pages and the independence of Globe staff to pursue the finest, most accurate and reliable journalism available to Canadians."

Now, it seems to me that in the Salutin case, the Globe has both a business and a journalistic crisis on its hands.

On the business side, they have done again what newspapers have been doing over and over for 30 years, to wit, dumped a feature liked by many existing readers in hopes of attracting new, younger, richer readers who are not engaged by newspapers just at this moment. The net effect has been to drive away loyal readers while failing to attract the hoped-for new ones.

If the Globe's bosses, the young Lord Thomson included, were as smart as they'd like us to think, they'd find a way to bring back Salutin if only to pacify their few remaining lefty readers. Sort of like the return of Coke Classic. The chances of this are small, however. As King Solomon, who was reputed to be quite wise, once rightly observed: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

On the journalistic side, they find themselves at the middle of a news story, one that they no doubt wish would go away. Alas for them, these things never do. When the media is hounding you, sound public relations advice calls for the publication of a clear statement explaining everything frankly, including the unpleasant parts.

This goes for newspapers, just like any other enterprise. The Globe should remember that if Richard Nixon had owned up to everything the morning after the Watergate burglars were arrested, chances are he would have completed his term as U.S. president.

Accurate and reliable journalism of the sort David Thomson has promised to permit is what's needed to solve the Globe's problem.

The time has come for the Globe to issue a statement that clears the air. If they won't do that, they deserve a boycott, although I'm not sure it would be worth the trouble. Most of us haven't bought a copy of their lousy paper in months.

If you want to get them where it really hurts, delete their app from your iPhone.

This post also appears on the nearly-60-something David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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