bleary-eyed, clutching a half-eaten croissant in one hand and balancing a cup of coffee in the other, I wander into the decadence of the Canadian Room at the Royal York Hotel. It's breakfast time for the approximately 750 media moguls who flew in from across North America to participate in the Newspaper Association of America's annual conference.
Overlooking the diners is a screen framed by NAA logos. Under it, in quotation marks, To Advance The Cause Of A Free Press.
The NAA represents about 90 per cent of daily corporate media publications. This is the first year the organization has held its annual five-day convention jointly with the Canadian Newspaper Association.
I'm sitting amidst a sea of dark suits. When a voice booms over the speakers asking us to stand to sing the national anthem, an RCMP officer in full regalia proudly marches across the stage. Bright-eyed, he looks over his audience and begins: "Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light"
While he belts out the American anthem, the image of a fluttering American flag is superimposed on his scarlet uniform on the screen. "...the laaa-nd of the freeeeeeee, and the home of the brave." Applause fills the room.
Silly me. My experience in campus media hasn't quite prepared me for all this. Toronto Star publisher John Honderich takes the stage to introduce the Toronto Olympic bid committee video and to invite the crowd to the evening party at the Hockey Hall of Fame: "It doesn't get any more Canadian than that," he quips.
Corporate newspaper media in North America is a $91-billion industry. Seems pretty significant, but at the NAA conference there's a sense of desperation in the air. Stats charting the decline of news readership and advertising revenues quickly overshadow the Star Spangled Banner hurrah.
People fluent in market-speak seem to be required in order to keep the big business booming. I'm informed by one straight-faced marketing director that "publishers are very interested in penetrating the female readership."
One of the panel discussions features a row of branding success stories stressing the importance of "strategic partnerships" between advertisers and papers. "The bigger your brand becomes, the bigger our brand becomes," says one business rep. "Your development of the next generation of readers is crucial for us," says another.
American imperialism again claims centre stage during lunchtime -- big politics flirting with big business. Then, before heading into the "Canadian" room, members of the press are frisked and sniffed by U.S. secret service agents before American vice-president Dick Cheney takes the podium.
Thunderous applause and a standing ovation greet Cheney, who emphasizes the growing energy needs of the U.S. and the necessity of meeting them by extracting and burning more fossil fuels.
"To speak exclusively of conservation is to duck the issues," booms Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton Co., the largest oil-drilling and construction services provider in the world, with 1999 revenues of $20 million U.S.
He briefly addresses his 1993-2000 stint with the oil industry. "I had reached the point in life that I was short-tempered, intolerant, mean- spirited with those who disagreed with me," he says, launching into his scripted speech. "I said, "Heck, I'd make a great CEO."'
I gag. The hall roars with encouraging laughter. I glance around, longing for some sign that I'm not alone. The New Yorker sitting next to me, a middle-aged former hippie who grudgingly writes for an advertising market trend magazine, stifles a groan.
"Don't you find this whole set-up a little bizarre?" I whisper.
"Nah, you'll get used to it. It's big business. That's our industry," he whispers back.