Patrick Ensor’s voice drifted into Toronto on November 1 in an interview over CIUT radio. He pontificated on journalistic integrity and influences of corporatization on media in a smooth British accent while I busily took notes to prepare for my moments with him. I collected him at 10 a.m. and we wandered to the Varsity, chatting about Toronto’s architecture and picking up a coffee on the way.
Ensor travelled to Toronto on a publicity campaign to tap into what is purportedly a fairly substantial readership of a thousand Guardian subscribers in Toronto. With about thirty years of experience under his belt, Ensor was content to enlighten Toronto journalists and media hounds alike with his thoughts on the news post September 11.
“The newspaper has a vital role. After September 11 that mission has become even more important. We live in small communities, which seem to get smaller, or have gotten smaller […] actually we are part of a wider world and I think it’s vitally important that we should know about that wider world because it might bite us in the bum if we don’t. And it has done that in a way, I suspect,” he began.
For the editor of one of the most highly esteemed national newspapers in the world, Ensor was a humble and approachable character—a modest gentleman with a bit of an edge, who shared his life story while sipping coffee amidst the frequent interruptions of the student newspaper atmosphere. He understood perfectly, sharing my constant concern over whether the tape was still running.
The Guardian Weekly does not purport to be objective, but at the same time does not take fairness lightly. “Language is so tricky. We can talk about terrorists and freedom fighters and be talking about the same people,” said Ensor. The weekly’s stance on the war in Afghanistan is in favor of stabilizing Afghanistan and getting bin Laden, but not for bombing. “The poor people of Afghanistan have suffered enough in the last thirty years, and certainly to my way of thinking it doesn’t look good when the richest nation on the earth is bombing the hell out of the poorest nation on the earth,” said Ensor.
Ensor went to university in England during the sixties and participated in raising hell over the Vietnam war.
“We felt quite radicalized, if you like,” he said. After completing a degree in philosophy and economics, he used his student press experience to launch a career in journalism. “I decided that I didn’t want to go into business. I didn’t think business was quite my scene, but I did enjoy journalism and I felt that I could make some contribution there.”
Indeed he did. He worked at a few UK newspapers before being introduced to the Guardian Weekly, where he became arts editor and then features editor.
He traveled to New Zealand for a few years to take up the news down under, and then headed back to the UK, where he freelanced for a while before landing the job as editor at the Guardian Weekly—a unique publication.
The Weekly has been known for taking a stand on weighty issues, which Ensor retells humbly. They made a stink about the Suez canal, they’ve voiced a critical stance on British Premier Tony Blair on numerous occasions, much to his chagrin, and they’ve provided a clear and persistent criticism of globalization.
“I don’t think [globalization] is necessarily a force of evil, but I do think that it needs to be done in a much more sensitive way than it’s being done at the moment. Too much of the World Trade Organization’s work seems to be prying open the door of small countries to get their resources, and giving not enough back,” said Ensor.
“This sense of ‘free flows of capital’ are fine for those who’ve got lots of capital, but if you’re at the receiving end, if you’re a capitalist, you’ll withdraw the cash in a moment if you think there is anything wrong in the country. You’re very vulnerable in those societies to whatever is decided in the northern nations, and I think the World Bank and the IMF, while they might try to iron out some of these differences, are ultimately the creatures of the West, particularly the United States.”
The Guardian Weekly has focused particularly on NGOs and people teaching English as a Second Language overseas. While students these days could be said to have enormous participation in both of these areas, Ensor’s faith in student activism is not overly enthusiastic: “Protesting on campus seems to have died, and I wonder why […] As students I felt that we were free to express what we felt was right. I think people now, sort of post-lady Thatcher, everyone seems to be in the business of getting on—getting through their studies, getting into the workplace, making money, being successful.”
Whether or not Ensor is out of touch with the kids, he does not take his readership lightly, and exhibits a classic attitude toward the freedom of the press.
“The bond between a newspaper and it’s readers is a sacred bond,” he remarked. “Student newspapers are important. They do act as a sense of community on campus.”
(Editor of the Weekly 1890 to 1920)
“Comment is free but facts are sacred.”
“A newspaper is … something of a monopoly and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly.”
“I think September 11 has been remarkable, because I think the paper is working up to it’s old mission, if you like, which was to explain.”
“I’m obviously not happy with what happened on September 11, but I’m very pleased, in a sense, that that brand of journalism which seemed to be so old fashioned and rather dull has actually come back into fashion again, for a very good reason. It should never have gone away.”
“The best journalism is where you basically have stated the facts, and then you, as an expert in that field, will then extrapolate your ideas, theories and so on about what those facts mean and what the significance is. I think people want to know how those facts are going to be slightly predictive.”