First Published: In Struggle! No. 263, September 15, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Last November we announced our intention to do a general evaluation of our newspaper’s progress and weaknesses over the last two years. We invited our readers to participate in the evaluation. This work, which took longer than foreseen, is now complete. A lot of our readers pardtipaled.
More than a hundred readers wrote to give us their point of view. We held about twenty meetings, mainly in Quebec and Ontario, with the Organization’s members and supporters involved in the newspaper’s distribution. Other meetings were held with comrades involved in producing the newspaper (editing, translation, printing, distribution...).
From this whole process, which was a very stimulating experience for those working on the newspaper, we drew one general conclusion: important progress has been made in all areas, however, important problems remain, problems that are closely linked to the present debate on the tasks of communists. It is that conclusion which we hope to explain in this article. If you want to know more, don’t hesitate to write or telephone us.
The most notable improvement cited repeatedly during the investigation Was that our political comments were more and more based an and illustrated by facts rather than on the repeating of principles and slogans. IN STRUGGLE: readers are no longer obliged to have blind faith in the newspaper as generally facts, quotes and references needed to understand a situation are contained in the articles.
This development is linked to the newspaper’s increasing capacity to report on the most significant events in Canada and the world. It wasn’t so long ago that we regularly had to refrain from writing about a whole series of major events (the war between China and Vietnam, the evolution of the PLO...). Either we found these events didn’t fit well into our theory or simply, we thought we had to have a fully developed point of view before talking about it. We no longer feel this way. As a direct result we have had excellent coverage of the revolutions in Iran, El Salvador, Ireland and Poland. Its the same for our articles an the struggles of women, Natives and against racism.
This diversity of topics is another important step forward in the last period. IN STRUGGLE! is beginning to take up a whole array of subjects mainly ignored by most of the newspapers produced by left wing political organizations. such as the women’s question in all its aspects, sexuality, the various movements involving young people, the anti-nuke movement and other subjects like science and technology.
This whole campaign to “open up to reality” has been accompanied by an openness to debate and the presenting of different points of view than ours. The newspaper has also done a much better job of reporting on the political life in the workers and progressive movements, and even within our own organization. You need only think of the debates on the question of socialism, on the national question during the referendum, and most recently on the tasks of communists in a country like ours. In this respect the readers’ letters played an important and constructive role even if many let us know that they mould like to see the editors’ point of view expressed more often.
Finally, the newspaper’s visual format was another big step forward, especially since last year when we started using a graphic specialist. The front page is eye-catching, pages are less crammed and there are more current news photos. We agree with our readers who pointed out these steps forward even if a lot still remains to be done in this area.
Among other problems we had, there was of course the “eternal” problem of the monotony and complexity of the style. IN STRUGGLE! has been plagued with this shortcoming since our first issue (or just about), as have many other political newspapers. Over the course of the last two years we’ve gone from a pompous style and pages chock full of dogmatic slogans to the introduction of what some call the “Radio-Canada” style. Unfortunately at with the slogans went the aggressiveness and militancy often necessary in a lively article. Humour and the expression of feelings didn’t exactly disappear as they were very rare in the first place. Its time that they were allowed into the paper.
The conditions of everyday life and workers’ struggles are also two areas that were either little or badly dealt with. On one hand there was little reporting or documenting of the problems that workers face whether diseases, working conditions, housing etc. On the other hand, articles on these subjects have too often been written in a stereotyped style. You can find a lot of details on the demands, the number of workers, and the dates but almost nothing on the reactions of workers, their working conditions and the problems in their daily lives that led to the raising of the demands. In general our coverage of the workers’ movement is too centered on the union conventions rather than on the struggles themselves and daily conditions.
The opening up to debate coincided with a reduction in the frequency with which the Organization’s general positions were explained. Readers often had problems sifting through the numerous topics and struggles to find an overall analysis of the political and socio-economic situation. That analysis was often necessary to grasp in order to understand each particular struggle. Many others also pointed out how little attention had been devoted to a concrete explanation of our political programme especially since the spring of 1980 when we dropped the column on the programme.
Furthermore the newspaper evaluation revealed that our members and supporters are having lots of problems using the newspaper in their political work. Generally we must say that the newspaper is little and often poorly used. Two factors seem to explain this. First the leaders of the Organization have given little leadership to this part of our work. Secondly, there’s a pretty big gap between those who put out the newspaper and those who use it. Finally we must stress that the newspaper is not discussed very often in the cells and committees in the Organization.
Nevertheless, arising out of the discussions around this evaluation, as well as from the Central Committee’s decisions in April, are more basic problems with regard to the role and the nature of a newspaper like ours. In this respect the most recent criticisms from several comrades, particularly workers, as to what they consider to be the intellectualism of the newspaper stand out. These criticisms are founded on many experiences of lack of success in rallying workers through newspaper distributions. Some feel that this is due to the content of the newspaper. For others, it is because we have put too much emphasis on the actual distribution of the paper in our agitation.
Linked to this first debate is the question of the “targets” that the newspaper is trying to direct itself at. Should the paper be aimed at workers or at activists in popular or political organizations? Of course we shouldn’t draw too rigid a line between these two types of readers, but its true that they do react differently to the newspaper. Activists are often looking for more in-depth analysis. Workers with less theoretical education will more often demand articles that are both simpler and shorter.
Should we continue to try to satisfy both these types of readers at the same time, as we have always tried to do? Should we clearly aim at one? Or should we try to develop other forms of written and spoken agitation?
Finally, many question how often the newspaper comes out. Considering the energy required and the pace of work that a weekly puts on the whole Organization, perhaps it would be better to publish it every two weeks or even monthly with more pages.
This evaluation cannot adequately respond to all these questions. It goes beyond the more limited scope set expressly for the evaluation in the beginning, Rather we expect that the answers ought to be forthcoming in the course or the preparation for the Congress.
These more fundamental debates obviously don’t stop us from taking some more immediate steps to improve the newspaper. Some of the most important of these are the following:
1. Selecting two copy-editors (one for the French copy, one for the English) whose job is to correct and rework the style of both original and translated articles, rewrite all the heads, check ambiguous sentences and unsubstantiated assertions to make the copy more comprehensible to the reader and develop a training programme to improve the style of the journalists.
2. Following up on what we’ve been doing for the last few months, we will aim to have more articles that are not solely news items or raw information. At the same time we will maintain our concern with keeping up with the week’s events. This way of looking at things should allow us to vary the form of our articles. As well, an international affairs column will be starting up soon.
3. In order to strengthen our coverage of workers’ struggles and the conditions in which they live we are going to put more efforts into developing a network of correspondents. This will be the priority task for one of the editors. A word to those wise readers who would like to provide the paper with information and for articles as part of that network.
4. Over the next few months we will be experimenting with new visual formats such as using different colours. There is thus a lot of work ahead of us. We will be relying more than ever on our readers for support.