First Published: The Forge Vol 7, No 33, October 1, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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With this year’s fund-raising drive to raise $150,000 underway, The Forge staff is busy evaluating the newspaper in efforts to improve its popularity and usefulness.
While there is naturally much professional pride in The Forge’s progress over the past seven years, there are nevertheless criticisms being made of the paper’s content and style and interesting suggestions for major changes.
The Forge has earned a reputation as one of the best sources of information and analysis on the union movement across Canada. Many trade union activists – even those who do not share all the viewpoints expressed in the paper – rely on the paper for this.
Many readers also appreciate the special reports and features on subjects like Canada’s war industry, pornography and rape, and health and safety. International coverage, with on-the-spot reports from Ireland and Africa and analysis of world hotspots like Lebanon, Poland and El Salvador, is another strong point.
Still, in an editorial over a year ago, The Forge promised substantial improvements: everything from more coverage of varied topics like ecology, social issues and peace to more debates on difficult issues like what form socialism should take in Canada.
While there nas been some headway made in bringing this “new look” to The Forge, most of the promised changes have been slow in coming. Why?
“I think the changes we wanted were good, but our analysis was superficial,” says Marcia, a Forge translator. “We’re seeing now that the problem is more than just making the paper more interesting. It’s fundamentally a political question: we have to ask ourselves whom are we addressing and what do we want to say to them.”
One major obstacle to changing the paper, says journalist Martine Trudel, was a “narrow concept” of working people and their needs. Many pages of the paper are taken up describing economic battles of the union movement, thus relegating broader political issues to second place.
This meant The Forge not only failed at times to appeal to its readers who were not union militants, but also was not always addressing the needs of even those in the union movement. “For workers in the shop, there are plenty of other issues besides the upcoming contract,” explains Montreal correspondent Marjolaine Cote.
“We have to diversify our topics and talk more about things like the social crisis, science, education, old people – things that concern people in their daily life.” says Ginette, a translator.
Christian, another translator who has just joined The Forge staff, feels the paper needs more articles like the in-depth exposes done on the Belmoral mine disaster or the Mississauga train derailment. “We have to dig, investigate, take into account people’s arguments and show the real problem.”
Adds reporter Madeleine Beauregard “What we need is research and discovering new things, instead of just rehashing the news found in other papers. We have to give our journalists the time to get out and do these things... and we also need more staff to be able to do the job right.”
Another obstacle to improving the paper cited by The Forge staff was a kind of rigid thinking that tried to fit the facts into a set of preconceived notions.
“How do we analyze reality?” asks journalist Steven Griffiths. “As journalists, we’re supposed to look at the facts. But which ones? Do we have an analysis first and simply then try to prove it?” Griffiths feels this type of approach means at times “We simplify rather than clarify things,” citing the importance of showing the victories in the third world like Zimbabwe but also the difficulties in building new, independent countries.
“We’re very selective,” says another Forge writer, Joe Kotler, who heads the paper’s Toronto bureau. “We pick and choose things to fit our analysis. I mean, sometimes a demonstration is not as big as expected – but do we ever say organizers were disappointed when only a few people show up?”
Louis, a typesetter, is critical of a “triumplialist style” which tends to present the workers’ movement as always militant and marching forward. Recent articles, on the other hand, which have dealt with the problems of defeatism and division in the ranks of labour are seen as more realistic and an example to follow. “When we don’t show these things and analyse them, it doesn’t help our readers,” points out Marjolaine Cote. “How can you form an idea of were to go from here unless you see all aspects of a problem?”
Linked to this obstacle of a dogmatic way of thinking was also a closed-mindedness to debates and varying opinions.
Letters from readers which criticized ideas in The Forge or positions of the WCP were never encouraged and when they did appear, they were frequently followed by rebuttals longer than the original letter.
Recently, though, this policy has changed and the debates on the letterspage has led to an unprecedented flow of mail to The Forge – a testimony to reader interest in this kind of exchange of views. The Forge is now considering setting aside a “Debates” column where different points of view on contentious issues can be thrashed out.
Many people on The Forge staff also feel that other pages of the paper should reflect the views of other progressive forces, even if they do not always correspond to those of the WCP. “If we didn’t have a developed position A to Z on something, we often didn’t talk about it,” notes Carole, a production staff member. She suggests The Forge rely more on people who have been working in fields like the women’s movement or the ecology movement for many years and reflect their insights and expertise; as an example, she cites a recent article on prison revolts based on an interview with a civil rights activist.
It is also felt that news articles should better reflect the debates on various subjects – like how should the workers’ movement go forward in a difficult period of attacks, or how should the Canadian peace movement deal with the question of the Soviet Union – by interviewing activists and getting their opinions.
“We’re also a paper that promotes socialism as an alternative,” notes journalist Trudel. “There are lots of debates on the left and in the party – like on democracy under socialism, the experiences in the U.S.S.R. and the lessons for Canada. We don’t have all the answers. But we should at least pose the questions and put forward our propositions.”
Forge staff members point out that these are just some of the issues being discussed in summing up the paper’s progress. They note that as a newspaper produced by the WCP, The Forge is bound to reflect the strength and weaknesses of the party’s conceptions and work, and that similar debates and discussions are taking place within the WCP.
They also say that aside from the questions raised above, they have received many criticisms from Forge readers.
Many readers are disappointed with the lack of orientation recently for the workers’ movement. Specifically, the ways and means of fighting the federal 6 5 solution and perspectives for important provincial battles like Quebec’s Common Front are seen to be lacking.
Several readers have also commented on changes in coverage of the autonomous women’s movement and many of the broader issues such as violence against women that were ’taboo’ in the past in The Forge. However, many readers still are dissatisfied with the fact that The Forge – and the WCP – have not tackled crucial questions such as the concept of patriarchy, sexuality, etc. Others would like to see The Forge publish, a critical evaluation of the WCP’s past practice in the women’s movement.
Readers in Quebec also feel that there has been poor coverage of the political scene, especially the serious attacks on national rights with the patriation of the constitution and other manifestations of intensified national oppression. They say there have also been errors in the treatment of the Quebecois nationalist movement.
The Forge staff is eager to get more feedback from readers on their likes and dislikes and the questions raised in this article.
To this end, a special readers’ survey will be published in the next issue of the paper, giving you a chance to air your views on how The Forge can become an increasingly vibrant and relevant alternative for working people.