Remembering Calgary’s Bestest Newspaper

by Jack Locke

With the demise of FFWD, Calgary loses a vital source of information.

With the demise of FFWD, Calgary loses a vital source of information.

The death of Calgary’s weekly newspaper FFWD comes as no surprise to moi.

I had been a freelancer for this paper from 1997 until 2013. My final freelance pitch, We Need A Royal Commission on Railway Safety, sent to the editor on Dec 11, 2013, went unanswered. Unanswered for the first time in my 16 years of sending the newspaper my writing. It was a disappointment.

But there was much pleasure before that coup de grace. My first piece in FFWD, Federal Environment Minister a Disaster, was in many ways similar to my last submission, only that I referred to a different ministry. And sadly different in that I received no reply from the current editor.

This troubled me, but not overly, as my second to last pitch sent on Sept 6, 2013 titled, Quebec’s Charter of Values and the Mayor’s Invitation(referring to Naheed Nenshi’s welcoming of Quebecers to Calgary,) was the first piece for which I received a kill fee. A kill fee indicates my piece was accepted by the editor, but then held onto for a period but never published. I received $50 as compensation.

It was a time when editor Drew Anderson also assumed the position of publisher. And while the double position can be handled by some, the manner in which my material was processed indicated to me that things were falling between the cracks. Previously, FFWD had had two people in those positions.

I don’t know how many of FFWD’s writers ever became a cover story, but when it happened to me, I was not a happy camper. It came about when the government of Alberta sent me two letters informing me that they had intercepted my private communications in 1999 over a 4-month period.

The story was likely the beginning of a break in my own semi-career as a journalist. I had a difficult time reconciling the possibility that interview subjects might be part of a provincial government covert investigation.

It is also why I worry about the federal government’s latest Bill C-51, as I have personal knowledge of how this tawdry legislation sends a chill over normal journalistic enquiries. The government has no business in the computers or telephones of journalists. Yet, that’s where our current federal government seems to be heading, unfortunately.

It is clear how fragile newspapers have become, struggling against declining ad revenue, increased government secrecy, and a government that allows multinational predation of advertising revenue. And then there is the concentration of ownership, which applies in FFWD’s case. Although, economics of scale may benefit shareholders, in the long run, I think this is harmful to a free press. Readers know when quality and quantity of content is diminished, and with declining content, comes declining readership.

Money has to be pumped into newspapers, even when they are sustainable. An extra page of news helps capture additional readers. Pinch the content, punch a reader.

With the March 5 final edition of Calgary FFWD, comes the loss of a great legacy: Informing the public while criticizing the powerful. It is not a tragedy like the demise of France’s Charlie Hebdo, but still, it is the loss of a valued pillar of democracy.

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