Who tops the Toronto Star for Earth Hour ballyhoo? Noooooobody!

Who tops the Toronto Star for Earth Hour ballyhoo? Noooooobody!

Because what I am about to say will sound churlish to even the meanest ear, I would like to begin by stating the following: I think a lot of people turning out their lights and appliances at the same time is a good idea. I prize silence and the dark as much as the next guy, so Earth Hour is, to my mind, a good thing. Still, it’s all a bit of motherhood, isn’t it (so much for the anodyne opening)? Who could possibly oppose it? For all the caveats about Earth Hour’s symbolism, one longs to spray-paint dissent on its wall of temperate virtue—but you can’t since it’s all so virtuous. Which brings me to my mean-spirited, cynical, toxic point: what in hell is the Toronto Star doing promoting Earth Hour in its editorial pages (and every other page after page after page) like one of the Lastmans braying on about Bad Boy?

J. Fred Kuntz is the Star’s editorial top dog. On the weekend—as editor-in-chief—he wrote this:

It’s down to you, now.

And me. And anyone else who can make Earth Hour a success, by turning off the lights at 8 o’clock tonight.

At the Toronto Star, we’re proud that thousands of readers have signed up to participate—especially since this newspaper was among the first to join. We are a sponsor of Earth Hour because we want to help open eyes to the growing threats to our planet’s health; and we’re encouraging people across our community to take action.

We, too, will dim our lights tonight, in our newsroom at One Yonge St. and at the Vaughan Press Centre, although emergency lights must stay on in stairwells. Star journalists will still be on the job, covering the event.

And so on.

Now, I’m aware that newspapers editorialize and columnize, but they do so as part of a reporting enterprise that leads the writer to his or her conclusion—not the other way around. J. Fred fails to follow even that most basic convention of journalism: show the reader both sides of the issue. There are people of substance who disagree with Kuntz, such as Freeman Dyson, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, whose recent piece in Edge (see link below this post) contradicts just about everything J. Fred asserts as gospel.

My point is that newspapers aren’t community centre newsletters advocating for things in general to be better. We all know that we really do need a new ping-pong table.

In last week’s New Yorker, Eric Alterman, in an elegant survey of the current demise of newspapers and the rise of the blogosphere, writes that:

Among the most significant aspects of the transition from ‘dead tree’ newspapers to a world of digital information lies in the nature of ‘news’ itself. The American newspaper (and the nightly newscast) is designed to appeal to a broad audience, with conflicting values and opinions, by virtue of its commitment to the goal of objectivity. Many newspapers, in their eagerness to demonstrate a sense of balance and impartiality, do not allow reporters to voice their opinions publicly, march in demonstrations, volunteer in political campaigns, wear political buttons, or attach bumper stickers to their cars.

In private conversation, reporters and editors concede that objectivity is an ideal, an unreachable horizon, but journalists belong to a remarkably thin-skinned fraternity, and few of them will publicly admit to betraying in print even a trace of bias. They discount the notion that their beliefs could interfere with their ability to report a story with perfect balance. As the venerable ‘dean’ of the Washington press corps, David Broder, of the Post, puts it, ‘There just isn’t enough ideology in the average reporter to fill a thimble.’

Take heed, J. Fred. Remember: you’re supposed to be a journalist, not an ad rep.

• In darkness we may all see the light [Toronto Star]• Heretical thoughts about science and society [Edge] • Out of Print [New Yorker]