The Newsmakers: The Media's Influence on Canadian Politics

David Taras

This overview of news media and politics by David Taras of the University of Calgary is based on the premise that "the journalistic elite has emerged in the 1990s as one of the most influential groups in the country and one of the least studied." The author does not waste time proving that news media are important. To pretend otherwise, he claims, "is the equivalent of arguing that the earth is flat or that Tinkerbell and the Tooth Fairy are real."

Taras has succeeded admirably in pulling together what little we know in this field, from academic research and journalism about journalism, into an up-to-date, carefully structured, and clearly written text, supplemented by his own interviews with journalists and his insight as a political scientist fascinated by news media.

The book focuses on journalists and politicians, the "newsmakers" of the title in a double sense. But Taras's main interest is heavily on the journalistic side. The politicians are viewed through the lens of the media as they struggle to adapt to changing communication technologies, television in particular. Although journalists are the protagonists of the book, they also are seen as captives of technology and victims of media manipulation. What holds journalists and politicians together, and provides a unifying theme for Taras's work, is the struggle for dominance between journalists and politicians, "the rituals of combat and co-operation."

He introduces his treatment with a summary of theories and models of journalistic influence on media and society, then moves into specifically Canadian material with a concise history of political journalism, sketches of journalism practice in the Ottawa Press Gallery and a discussion of television news as "infotainment." The second half of the book is heavily anecdotal, from historical and original sources, in its description of media strategies of various Prime Ministers, antagonistic media and political tactics in recent election campaigns, and the influence of public opinion polling and advertising on both sets of "newsmakers." A short concluding chapter discusses five characteristics of modern media: speed of communication; primacy of visual material on television; the rise of critical or analytical journalism; the intrusiveness of modern media with their emphasis on personality and leadership; and the erosion of traditional party structures.

While there are no original or startling insights in the book, as an introduction to contemporary news media and politics, it is comprehensive, concise, contemporary, and clever.

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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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