Interview: Kenneth Whyte - Interview: Kenneth Whyte

Maclean’s Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Whyte, who was recently named The Canadian Journalism Project’s Newsperson of the Year, talks about the award, Human Rights Commissions and the future of print journalism


Kenneth Whyte

Q. Your nomination for this award cited your revitalization of Maclean’s, your new book on Hearst, and your battle with Human Rights Commissions–it must be gratifying to win?
A. It’s gratifying that some of my colleagues have recognized that Maclean’s is doing well and I want to congratulate everyone at the magazine on a great year but, really, we won this thing because of the Human Rights Commissions. We spent a good part of 2008 defending ourselves against a campaign by a handful of Muslim activists to have our journalism branded hateful and racist. We stood up to their complaints and defended ourselves—and, in particular, an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s bestselling book America Alone—and in doing so we attracted the support of a lot of smart and energetic bloggers. These bloggers, long before the mainstream media, recognized the complaints as a politically-motivated threat to free expression and open journalistic inquiry. They threw their weight behind me in this poll and put me over the top and I want to return the favor by dedicating this honor to them.

Q. To the blogosphere?
A. To that particular part of the blogosphere that got engaged in these human rights complaints. I can’t name them all but individuals like Ezra Levant, Jay Currie, Kathy Shaidle, among others, discovered and disseminated a lot of alarming information about the operations of human rights commissions and the decisions of their tribunals. The debate got pretty messy on both sides as it went along, but these people prodded the newspapers and the public to question the advisability of allowing unaccountable, politicized, and rather slipshod commissions to interfere with one of our most precious liberties. Along with Mark Steyn, who wrote a lot about the case, they did a great service to Canadian journalism in 2008. I’m deeply grateful for their support—it was shaping up as a lonely fight until the bloggers got involved. They’re the ones who really deserve this award so I consider myself to be accepting it on their behalf.

Q. In your interview with the Prime Minister in this week’s Maclean’s, he says that his government will not be moving to rewrite the section of the Canadian Human Right’s Act that interferes with free speech. Were you disappointed by that?
A. Disappointed but not surprised. I’ve never expected a political solution to this, and even if Harper were to act, the real problems are the provincial commissions which are a lot more activist on speech issues than the federal commission, and the chances of getting them all to change their ways–especially when some, like Ontario, are looking to expand their influence–are remote. I think our only hope is a legal solution.

Q. What would that look like?
A. That would require someone who loses before a human rights commission appealing the matter to a real court and ultimately the Supreme Court. I’m told by our lawyers that, despite our vindication by the BC commission, we could still mount a constitutional challenge in that province that would have a high likelihood of success. The problem is that it would cost us several hundred thousand dollars, at a minimum, and we’ve already spent that much defending ourselves against three complaints in separate jurisdictions–all brought by the same complainant–and it’s difficult to make a case for spending that kind of money in this economic environment. But the matter is not dead yet.

Q. What’s your level of confidence in the future of print journalism in this economy?
A. It’s going to be a tough couple of years for everybody, and there will probably be some consolidation in the industry–we’ve already seen a little of it here with the unfortunate demise of Time Canada–but I don’t think it’s the end of the world. Most of us will come out the other side of this in reasonably good shape.

Q. How do you plan to keep Maclean’s successful in these tough times?
A. This will come down, in large part, to a continued focus on news and current affairs. Our newsstand sales, which in recent months have been the best in the magazine’s history, are proof that now, more then ever, there is an appetite for thoughtful, relevant analysis on the major issues of the day. In the last several months, our traffic to, which was redesigned in the fall, has increased substantially. The backbone of the site remains news and politics and the terrific analysis from our team of political bloggers. During the fall election and subsequent upheaval in Ottawa the site was one of Canada’s liveliest forums for online debate. New daily features will soon be launched, involving contributions from the entire magazine staff, that will further bolster our web-only content and give readers a lot more of what they want. In the end, readers crave information and analysis from the magazine, and the website, and Maclean’s ability to deliver will stand us in good stead. Interview: Kenneth Whyte

  1. Congrats on the Award Mr.Whyte. I am in a macleans hater mode right now, but I have to say since you have become Editor-in-Chief of this Canadian magazine icon, the magazine finaly deserves the icon status.

  2. Congratulations to Ken Whyte on the award and to the entire Maclean’s staff who provide a thoroughly good read every seven days.

  3. My subscription began when Mark Steyn started to appear in the Mag. I will renew, if he returns.

  4. What are you talking about? The bloggers raised the issue and then Murphy waded in. We need anyone willing to work to get rid of the hate speech provisions of the HRCs. Sleepy millionaire’s project?

  5. Boo-hoo, Ti-guh!

    I will say, however, that Mr. Whyte certainly deserves praise for debasing propaganda badly veiled as “genuine” journalism.

  6. I’ve seen Shaidles daily stats trumuse, she reaches far more readers than most columnists, sounds to me like a case of blog envy.

  7. “Come and get me, you fairies: Here’s the same song you hated when it was written by a Jewish Buddhist and sung by a Christian — now performed by a dyke!” — Kathy Shaidle
    Come on now blazingcatfur. At some point she became a crazy lady shouting from the streetcorner. I don’t think she should be locked up for it but honestly there is nothing to learn on her pages and it only makes me muse about where all that ranting energy comes from. Lots of web pages get millions of hits because they are good rants. What I was talking about is the brand, the publication that is Macleans. It’s a portal made out of combined effort and historical achievement. It’s not something to squander. For instance, if I was Ken Whyte, I wouldn’t allow comments to every article. That is folly. At the Globe and Mail, NP etc. the online comment boards are so voluminous that most online readers skip them entirely so the journalism stands apart from those distractions that tend to tear down the writing. But at Maclean’s here there is not so much volume of commenting and so readers of any article, seeing one or two comments, will take those in. I don’t think that is fair to the journalists. On the blog it’s a different story. There, the magazine needs better policies for comment moderation, where the journalists can retain their style and where commentors can be encouraged to contribute more that is substance. If they actually need/want reader input to every article published online they would be better to do focus groups or something. It all boils down to editing.

  8. Oh please trumuse, face it the girl has talent.

  9. Ken made sense until the sullied it all by mentioned the Shaidle name.

  10. I recommend that anyone who cares do a google search on Patel – it’s hilarious what turns up;)

  11. I think kathy Shaidle is VERY talented. I’ve been visiting her blog, one of the first blogs I ever came across, for nearly 10 years now.

    In fact, she was one of the first to get on the ‘web-log’ bandwagon, and did so, I believe, before the word “blog” or “blogger” had even been coined.

    If you can’t learn anything from someone THAT innovative, original, and imaginative, as Truemuse complains, you’d have to be brain-dead.

    ‘Five Feet of Fury’ is a must read that everyone should visite every day

  12. Somewhat against Mr Whyte, I say we must find political solutions to this problem. It seems all activity whatsoever that preserves or extends our freedom to reason with each other is political activity, for the success of such activity depends on persuading others. Addressing the present problems to judges will still be a political action and a judicial solution will still be a political solution, for judges, litigants, and those who obey judges are all human and political. If parliaments, ministers, and judges fail, nevertheless, the activity in support of our freedom to reason with each other will still depend on persuasion and will be political. Even making spectacular examples, even warfare, and even cloaking one’s opinions in nearly impenetrably deceptive poetry are political activity. One must fail, or we must continually find political solutions to these encroachments on our freedom to reason with each other.