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Pacific Press: The Unauthorized Story of Vancouver’s Newspaper Monopoly

by Marc Edge

In 1957, to prevent a fight to the death between the Southam-owned Vancouver Province and the privately owned Vancouver Sun, Southam proposed an unusual corporate partnership called Pacific Press. The two operations would share production facilities and pool their profits, but keep their newsrooms separate and continue to compete with each other. The deal aroused the suspicion of the federal government’s competition watchdog. It also prompted Globe and Mail columnist Scott Young to compare the uneasy alliance to “a wrestling match between Siamese twins.”

Marc Edge, a former Province staffer, has turned his PhD dissertation on Pacific Press into that rarest form of scholarship: a compelling read. During the scope of his research, from 1957 to 1991, Pacific Press endured five bitter strikes in 11 years and failed to thrive under the deal, despite having a virtual monopoly in the Vancouver market. Edge brings to life the smoky newsrooms, bitter labour disputes, and eccentric characters that dominated the times. And in tracking other corporate machinations of the period, Edge also provides useful context to the darkest day in Canadian newspapering. On so-called “Black Wednesday” (Aug. 27, 1980) Southam closed the Winnipeg Tribune and Thomson closed the Ottawa Journal, each corporation handing the other a monopoly in their respective markets.

The book is underpinned by Edge’s concerns about corporate concentration in the media and the weakness of Canadian competition laws. One wishes Edge would have covered more events beyond 1991; Conrad Black began his acquisition of Southam shares the following year. And now that CanWest Global controls both the Sun and Province and the television giant BCTV, such extended probing into the dark side of media synergy is more necessary than ever.