l a n g a r a
Journalism R eview
SPRING 2013 | No. 17
foreign beat Jonathan Manthorpe warns weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re losing the Canadian perspective
the little blog that could How Vivian Krause broke the secret funding story
Politics and sports are his two great passions. He finds theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not that different
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Jeani Read was The Province’s first full-time rock critic, former lifestyles columnist and lifestyles reporter. Jeani’s socially conscious columns were collected into a book called Endless Summers and Other Shared Hallucinations in 1985. Jeani passed away of cancer on December 21, 2007.
Arlen Redekop/Courtesy of The Province
The spirit of thoughtful, inquiring journalism lives on. ENDOWMENT CREATES JOURNALISM FELLOWSHIPS The Jeani Read-Michael Mercer Fellowship for Journalism Students was established to encourage students to continue their pursuit of journalistic excellence through mentorship. This endowed fund provides two fellowships annually for $10,000 each. The successful applicants will receive support for approximately three months while they produce a major work of journalism, such as an in-depth newspaper story, or series of stories suitable for publication in a newspaper, magazine, or on the web. Journalism students may apply for this award in their final term. Fellowships will be awarded in the Spring. For more information visit www.langara.bc.ca/journalism.
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2012 FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS: Jules Knox — Project: A series for The Vancouver Province about e-health and how it’s changing our future. Electronic health records streamline patient information into a single file that’s easily shared between health-care practitioners using cloud-based software. What will that mean to the notion of privacy? The project’s mentor is former Province news editor John Fuller. Steven Chua — Project: A series for CBC Radio British Columbia on how mental illness affects BC’s ethnic communities. Studies suggest that people from visible minorities fail to get diagnosed with mental problems as frequently as the rest of the general population, despite experts’ assertions that these issues are just as prevalent in their communities. The project’s mentor is CBC producer Pamela Post.
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Issue No.17 | Spring 2013
Overseas is out of date.
by Carly Rhianna Smith 18
In short The cost of free Revenue-hungry dailies are calling it a wrap–an ad wrap. At what cost? by Jake Hewer
Copy editors cut The unsung heroes of the newsroom are being squeezed out by centralization. by Ley Doctor 6 Money meter Traditional news outlets bank on selling news online. by Carly Smith 7 Fight or flight Freelance writer Daniel Wood leads the charge against contract bullies. by Michelle Gamage 8 Magazine musings Veteran writer and editor Gary Ross offers his thoughts on the future of long-form. by Stacy Thomas 10 Police cop-out? Canadian law officers not so chatty as their U.S. counterparts. by Michael Letendre 16 Locked out, locked in When there’s no NHL hockey what do hockey writers write about? by Ross Armour 17
Just another street protest?
In depth The little blog that could Vivian Krause’s revelations created a story most newsrooms missed. by Sam Reynolds 12 Mason of the Globe Gary Mason has spent most of his life writing about politics and sports. They’re both a game. by Cara McKenna 20 Call-centre blues Why that annoying dinner-time call may be good for journalism. by Audrey McKinnon 25 Printers’ progress In this age of electronic communication how fares Gutenberg’s machine? by Stacy Thomas
by Cara McKenna 31
In brief Suicide coverage reconsidered B.C. news groups ponder policy changes after a call for more sensitive reporting. by Stacy Thomas` 15 Pulling the plug Automotive writers accused of bias against the electric car. by Brandon Reid 16 More layoffs, less news? Editorial cutbacks means fewer reporters are chasing the news. by Jake Hewer 30 Last word Technology revolution: the computer chip is mightier than the sword. by Audrey McKinnon 38
Copycat career killer To attribute or not to attribute? In journalism, what constitutes plagiarism? by Michelle Gamage 34 Harold Munro Q&A The Sun’s editor-in-chief tackles the challenges of today’s newsoom. He misses reporting. by Cara McKenna 36
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M ichelle Gamage
Brandon R eid
chief photographer advertising manager
photo editor photographer
copy chief page editor
web editor page/copy editor
Audrey McK innon
Ross A rmour
Carly R hianna Smith
page editor copy editor
Cara McK enna
managing editor production editor
Clayton Paterson editor-in- chief
Editor’s note Two years ago this group of aspiring journalists all started on the same path. We were hungry to learn about this thing called “journalism,” and J-school was the first step. Through hard work, dedication and long nights in the newsroom, we are ready to step out into the world no longer as students, but as trained journalists: the watchdogs of society. The world of media is in a constant state of evolution, and while our formal training has come to a close our education is far from complete. We are entering the media industry at a time of profound change. Layoffs are becoming more common as newsrooms reduce staff. Jobs are being centralized to a single region of the country, to be done by fewer people. Some smaller news organizations are closing altogether. The Internet and other digital media are becoming increasingly important for journalists as more news outlets adopt these methods of delivery. 4
Journalism ethics have also come under under scutiny this past year. Several journalists have been accused of plagiarism, with some in the industry now calling for more rigorous standards. As well, the lines between journalism and marketing are becoming blurred as writers are accepting free merchandise in exchange for positive reviews, and some magazines are selling so-called editorial support—with advertisers paying for stories that masquerade as journalism. Our job is not only to be mindful of what information we report, but also how we report it. As journalists we wield a tremendous amount of power, and it is crucial that we remember the responsibility that comes with it. Despite all this, the future of journalism seems bright. Change is inevitable, yet we feel we are ready to take part in the evolution of the industry. ✍ – Clayton Paterson
Langara Journalism Review An annual review of journalism trends and issues in Western Canada produced by journalism students
Langara College, 100 West 49th Avenue Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 2Z6 email@example.com www.ljr.ca at
Publisher /instructor: Rob Dykstra Design/Web consultant: Fiona Rough Contributing artists: Shannon Williams, Audrey McK innon Writers: Ross Armour, Ley Doctor, Michelle Gamage, Jake Hewer, Michael Letendre, Cara McK enna, Audrey McK innon, Brandon R eid, Carly R hianna Smith, Sam R eynolds, Stacy Thomas
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The cost of free Does
wr apping the newspaper in
advertising jeopardize its credibility? by JAKE HEWER illustration by AUDREY McKINNON
While front page advertisements are nothing new in the newspaper business, wrapping the news in ads is becoming increasingly common as the industry seeks to find new ways to counter declining revenues. Ad wraps, a four-page advertisement that replaces front and back pages, started popping up a few years ago with the rise of free commuter dailies such as Metro News and 24 Hours. Since these are free newspapers and all their revenue relies on advertising, ad wraps make a lot of sense financially. But what do they do for the credibility of newspapers? Philip Tan, general manager of 24 Hours Vancouver, believes ad wraps are not only necessary for free dailies, but also for the future of the industry itself if newspapers want to continue making a profit. “I think the industry gets a little set in its ways, if you will, and the options become very limited,” he says. “We presented options [ad wraps] to the advertisers and they responded very well.” Paid circulation dailies and community papers have since followed suit. While Tan believes ad wraps are a necessity, he insists he won’t compromise the newspaper’s integrity in order to please advertisers. “You don’t want to pursue revenues at all costs, you have a responsibility to the public as to what your product is about,”
You don’t want to pursue revenues at all costs,
you have a responsibility to the public as to what your product is about.
— Philip Tan, GM of 24 Hours Vancouver
he says. “And we are a news organization first and foremost.” Ada Slivinski, a reporter at 24 Hours Vancouver, doesn’t think ad wraps affect the credibility of the news, but she does acknowledge that reporters and editors have to be cautious about story placement. “If we are getting advertising dollars from a certain person, you have to be careful about what pages you run a story on, or else you’ll lose that advertiser, that revenue,” she says. “From a reporter’s perspective, basically there’s no way around that. We are glad to have the advertisers . . . if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be making any money at all.” So while it makes sense that free dailies need that revenue to survive, why do more serious dailies such as the Vancouver Sun and The Province use ad wraps? It’s as simple as money, says Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun. He believes front-page ads are a necessity and people should be able to get past them without judging the credibility of the news. “I think most readers appreciate the financial challenges facing newspapers, television and other media. They accept the need to sell advertising to help pay for quality journalism. “The credibility of the newspaper does not suffer as long as advertising is clearly labelled as such,” Munro says. “Transparency is critical.” N LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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Cutting Copy Editor the
unsung heroes of the newsroom
ride into the sunset as dailies centr alize By Ley Doctor
Daily papers are shedding
copy editors as part of budget cutbacks and a move to centralize the work of the editorial staffers who are sometimes described as the unsung heroes of the newsroom. These journalists, who are seldom in the public eye but do much of the behind-the-scenes work—fixing fact and language errors, maintaining style, laying out pages, writing snappy headlines—are a becoming rarity in local newsrooms. Postmedia News, which operates under the corporate name Postmedia Network Inc., owns and runs 11 Canadian daily papers, including the Vancouver Sun and The Province, as well as papers in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal. The company launched its central editorial hub last summer in Hamilton. Here, much of the editing and layout is done for its dailies, which span several time zones across the country. Postmedia now likes to describe itself as a “content creator and a content repackager,” providing various editorial services for its member papers. “What we’re trying to do as a company is to make sure that papers have got the time and resources to focus on their local community and we do that in part by trying to take these other things off the plate,” explains Christina Spencer, managing editor of Postmedia News. Postmedia’s model is to cover national and world news for multiple newspapers in the chain. The company’s Ottawa bureau is its largest with reporters covering federal politics for member papers. Postmedia similarly deploys its journalists to cover foreign and specialized beats such as the arts, health, crime, sports and business. “What they’re trying to do in Hamilton is both centralize, but not centralize too much,” says Spencer. “They have someone in Hamilton who is dedicated to your paper, and they’re looking at all the central copy that comes in to one place. They’re trying to determine what would work best… and slotting those pages for them.” Communication between the Hamilton facility and the individual papers is crucial, says Spencer. “You want to make sure that papers have full control over the local copy. They’re the experts on what’s happening in their own town or their own city.” It is not known just how many copy editing positions have been lost in Canada. In a U.S. survey, the American Society of
News Editors found that between 2008 and 2012 there was a 46 per cent reduction in the number of copy editors in U.S. newsrooms, from 10,664 to 5,675. While smaller-circulation community newspapers traditionally have not had a designated copy editing position—editing and layout is usually done by the managing editor or reporters—some other publications are also seeing reductions in this area. Amanda Growe, copy chief at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, an entertainment-oriented weekly, says the Straight has reduced copy editors by attrition. An editor who leaves is not replaced. “We’ve been really fortunate in that we haven’t had layoffs,” she says, noting that the same has been happening in the paper’s other departments. Growe says here it’s not a question of centralization. “I mean it’s definitely a different situation at the Straight in terms of that, since we’re just one stand-alone publication owned by one family.” She does lament the reduction of copy editors generally, and feels that these journalists are sometimes under-appreciated. “The tricky thing about editing is that if it’s done well, you don’t notice it,” she says. “As a reader, the ideal situation is that you aren’t aware of the editing… so maybe because of the nature there is that aspect of invisibility.” While newsroom copy editing positions may be in decline, Growe believes that there is still work for those with editing skills. “There’s a bit of piecing together of work right now as jobs aren’t so plentiful. There’s not a ton of really obvious work; it’s more finding it in unusual places.” David Ryning, who has edited copy at the Edmonton Journal for seven years, actually started as a proofreader, a position now mostly gone from the newsroom. “We’ve had quite a change,” he says. “Our newsroom is quite a bit smaller than it used to be. It’s down to five or six of us on the news side.” Ryning and his colleagues handle the local news and ensure that their long-distance co-workers at the centralized Hamilton facility know which story is the most important one on a given page, and where the artwork belongs. “It’s really changed the way the business works,” says Ryning. “I think it’s the new reality of our business. The economics of having a full newsroom in each city might not work.” &
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The e-money meter Newspapers
looking for way
to make online pay By Carly Rhianna Smith
The advent of online news and reductions in print advertising have forced media organizations to rethink how they generate revenue. Some have instituted so-called paywalls: you view, you pay. That could be an all-or-nothing proposition whereby readers might balk at paying to gain access to read only one or two stories. Postmedia News might have found a way to ascribe a cost to their content based on useage. The company has been piloting a metered system with several of their dailies, including the Vancouver Sun and The Province. “I think it’s a process of getting the message out to readers that producing journalism costs money, and it’s about the content,” says Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Harold Munro. “And to me it’s analogous to what the music industry went through a few years ago when everybody expected they could get music for free through Napster and all the other illegal downloading sites. People couldn’t imagine paying for music any more, and then along came iTunes and it was a bit of a re-education process for people. “We’re at the beginning stages of that process on the media side,” Munro adds. “Partly, it’s our fault because we opened everything up for free online, and now we’re going through the same process the music industry went through in ascribing value to the content.” Postmedia is not alone, as the Globe and Mail is using a similar system, along with major U.S. newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. The way the Postmedia meter works is that readers have access to the home page and breaking news stories, and an additional 15 stories within a 30-day period. They’re alerted once they’ve viewed 10 stories that they will soon hit the limit. After 15 stories the money meter kicks in. Both digital-only subscriptions and all-access (digital and print) subscriptions are available. Readers who already have a
print subscription can register for digital content at no charge. “So if you just come in and read headlines and stuff like that on a regular basis you’ll probably never see the meter,” says Jason Ludwig, vice-president of Reader Services at the Sun and Province. “But if you’re a hard reader of the website, someone who really uses it and finds value in it, then, yes, you’ll find the meter.” Says Munro: “It really is a process. Everyone’s trying to figure out which model will work best to generate the revenue we
doing that now.” The question is will readers pay? A survey conducted in March of 2011 by the Canadian Media Research Consortium indicates most won’t. Ninety-two per cent of Canadians surveyed said they would find other free sites if their favourite news site started charging. Thirty per cent said they would pay only if there was no other choice. Ludwig says reaction from readers has varied. “Subscribers, I think, have been posi-
I think it’s a process of getting the message out to readers that producing journalism costs money.
need to do the journalism people expect to find. “We had to do something because the money initially coming from online sales is not nearly enough to account for the money that’s being lost in print revenues, so we need to find the money somewhere else, and part of that is online subscriptions.” While digital media is so far slow to make up lost print advertising, Munro sees advantages that digital has over print. “It’s actually three platforms in one when it comes to digital. You’ve got online, you’ve got the tablet, and the smart phone. There are folks who want to reach different audiences at different times of the day on each of those platforms, so if you’re an advertiser, there’s some research out there that shows there is great value and potential in combining print and digital and reaching across multiple platforms. I think we’re seeing some of the more savvy advertisers
— H arold Munro tive because they can access it and there’s no charge. For non-subscribers, it’s been mixed. With any one of all of the newspapers across North America, I’d say the reaction has been mixed, from those who understand it and are going to pay, to those who just don’t want to pay.” “If you’re hitting the meter, you’re using the website quite a bit, so if we’re going to continue to provide trusted news and everything that people want on the website, obviously, to do that we have to be compensated appropriately so we can continue to do that for them,” says Ludwig. Munro acknowledges that not everyone will want to pay as long as there is so-called “free” news on the Web. But he’s confident that those who do want quality journalism will pay. “I’ve had some nice emails from people who say ‘It’s about time you guys are charging for your content,’” : LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 || 7
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Freelancers ﬁght back
Story and Photo by Michelle Gamage
Vancouver writer Daniel Wood leads the charge against publisher’s contract changes
Daniel Wood’s living room looks exactly how you would expect a travel writer’s living room to look. Leering Indian masks hang beside pictures of laughing locals from the South American Andes. Statues of tantric Mongolian Gods stare down the delicate faces of porcelain Chinese dolls. Tucked among the treasures from around the globe is Wood’s desk, a well-worn wooden affair with cubby holes for neatly organized pens, reference books and an impressive collection of CDs he listens to while writing. A self described non-fiction and book writer, Wood has been penning “long-form non-fiction” for 35 years. “I’ve been everywhere on Earth, luckily, and someone has paid me to go there— even luckier,” says Wood. He once went to Nepal and Thailand for two months on an all-expenses-paid trip and earned $10,000 for the article he wrote about his experience. Unfortunately times have changed, and Wood rarely gets sent overseas anymore. He is seeing jobs go to writers willing to take far less money, and interns who are all to willing to work for the glory of a byline. This trend spread while inflation rates rose and writers’ wages stayed stagnant. Today, Wood estimates, writers make about 65 per cent of what they did in 1980. “All of my friends have left,” he says. “They’ve just given up and said ‘Fuck it, this is no good. I can’t make any money. I can’t pay a mortgage. I can’t raise a family. I can’t live in Vancouver.’ In most cases the long-time, award-winning magazine writers have left the field. I’m just such a stubborn son of a bitch I won’t give up.” Last fall Wood received an email from Mike Roberts, the editorial operations manager for Canada Wide Media, a publishing business with 43 printed and online products, six million readers and 15.5 million magazines printed every year. “Dear valued contributor,” Roberts wrote in the email. “Canada Wide Media Ltd. has updated its writers agreement (Master Author Agreement) effective November 1, 2012. . . .Please review the new Agreement (attached) and, if you wish to continue as a freelance writer with Canada Wide Media, return a signed copy to me at your earliest convenience.” Wood was outraged. The agreement— a misnomer since he
and others did not agree—contained a number of changes that were particularly offensive to freelance writers. Canada Wide wanted to cut the co-called step-up clause, which granted writers a 10 per cent increase for every digital publication of their article. Considering that most publications have one or more websites, this would eliminate considerable potential revenue for writers. The new contract also stated that the company would own the rights to an article indefinitely. If a freelancer wanted to sell the story to another publication he would have to substantially rewrite it or risk copyright infringement. In addition, the writer would be legally responsible for his work. That meant Canada Wide would no longer stand by the writer, or take on legal responsibility as publisher in the event of a law suit involving his story. The contract also eliminated the traditional kill fee, which ensured writers would get at least some money—usually 50 per cent of the original fee—if the piece was not published. The final insult was that freelance rates would be frozen, failing to match even the rate of inflation. It was too much for Wood to ignore. He managed to obtain Canada Wide’s “valued contributor” list and sent out an email to some 300 freelancers suggesting they refuse to sign such a contract. He also wanted them to boycott Canada Wide. Along with being a freelancer, Wood is also something of a political organizer. He helped to establish the Western Magazine Awards Foundation, was involved in forming the Federation of B.C. Writers and says he transformed the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) from a small city-based organization to the national association of professional freelance writers it is today. “If you’ve ever tried organizing writers then you know the old metaphor about herding cats,” says Wood. “It’s a very unlikely cause to get 30, 60, 80, 200 writers all pointing in the same direction. All you have to say is ‘go left,’ and a quarter of them are going to say, ‘No, I think I’m going to go right.’ The other people are going to say, ‘No, I think I’m just going to stay here,’ and the other people are sort of ornery and they’ll spin in circles just to annoy you. That’s the wonderful nature of writers; they’re
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Daniel Wood: Freelancers unite....
very independent but that doesn’t benefit them if they won’t get organized.” Of the 300 writers Wood emailed, only 30 agreed to boycott the agreement. Together, they wrote out an ultimatum, demanding that Canada Wide reverse the contentious points in the new agreement. From there Wood enlisted the help of Michael O’Reilly, president of the Canadian Freelance Union, who had access to lawyers and other resources. O’Reilly helped fine-tune the group’s demands before submitting the list to Canada Wide. “There is only one reason publishers are driving down rates and demanding more and more rights: Because They Can,” O’Reilly wrote in an email to Wood. “It’s about a power imbalance at the negotiating table. They are big, we are small. Until we can equalize this power relationship, we will continue to get pummeled.” It took about one month for the 30 freelancers to agree on what their demands would be and only a week for Canada Wide to respond with a compromise, willing to change three of the five points. The company agreed to back writers in the event of a lawsuit, the kill fee would be reinstated—although pegged at 40 per cent
instead of the previous 50 per cent—and the exclusive copyright clause was partially withdrawn, reducing it to the shelf life of the publication instead of in perpetuity. The two terms the company refused to back down on were the most financially important, says Wood. Canada Wide did not increase its rates for freeelancers, nor did the publisher re-establish the step-up policy. Wood says that even though only 10 per cent of the writers who received Canada Wide’s new agreement agreed to stand up and fight, they did manage to create better terms for all freelancers. To be a succesful freelancer, Wood notes, you not only need to continually come up with fresh ideas and turn them into well-constructed stories; you not only need to know your markets, but you also need to maintain connections with other freelancers to know how they are being treated. Writers tend to be individual in nature but they need to work together to present a common front, and to make sure they don’t undermine each other by, for example, agreeing to bad contracts. “If everyone stands one by one then they can shoot you,” says Wood. “But if you are an entire army then they can’t shoot you. Or at least they will need a lot more bullets.” # LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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story by STACY THOMAS photos by SASCHA PORTEOUS
magazine musings Veteran writer and editor Gary Ross laments the decline of print magazines. So whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in store for him? More magazines.
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When Gary Ross,
former editor of three major Canadian magazines, author of four books, screenwriter, publisher, and recipient of a dozen National Magazine Awards, invites me to meet him at a downtown café after lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, I feel very urban professional, very writerly. Thierry Chocolaterie is noisy and the pace of the patrons urgent. Ross is waiting for me when I arrive exactly on time. He is polite and graciously accepts my offer to pay for his latté. He is relaxed and unhurried, with the confidence of someone who is used to being in charge. As an aspiring magazine writer, I am excited to have an hour with this baron of the magazine world. Until he starts talking. “When I was at Saturday Night magazine in the mid-eighties, I remember saying to a particular writer, ‘Here’s a great story for you, I can pay $4,000 for 4,000 words,’” he begins. “She said, ‘I can barely live on that. You want me to spend two or three months on this story for $4,000?’ Then when I was the editor of Saturday Night in 2006 I talked to the same writer—it was the same pay: $4,000, 4,000 words. She said, ‘We had this conversation 20 years ago.’” “That’s the process that we’ve been seeing,” he continues, driving a stake further into my dreams. “You used to be able to make a living as a freelance writer, if you were good and efficient . . . now it’s basically impossible.” Gary Ross assures me: he is not cynical—he’s realistic. He knows Canadian magazines, he knows the market and he knows why, after six years as editor-in-chief of Vancouver Magazine, he was unceremoniously ejected by Transcontinental Media West due to “well thought-out re-structuring.” “I totally understand the business dynamic involved in shrinking the magazine and letting me go,” Ross says. “I totally get it. If it was my money, I would have done the same thing.” But he acknowledges the move as a signal of what he believes is an irreversible downturn in the quality and content of print magazines. He calls what he was doing at Vanmag prior to the layoff “managing decline,” and says he was doing a lot of it after 2009. “Vanmag had some authority in food and drink for a while. After our restaurant awards, the winning restaurants would get really booked up, people would go and check them out.” But, he explains, as restaurant reviews become ever more freely available from food bloggers and user-contributed sites such as Yelp!, consumers no longer need to wait for a monthly magazine to tell them where to eat. On top of this, fine dining itself has been in decline, making way for “cheap and cheerful” places, and unfortunately for Vanmag, he notes, cheap and cheerful uses social media. As readers move online, so do advertisers, naturally, and readership declines, resulting in a downward spiral of less revenue, less quality and fewer readers. “Which, for awhile,” Ross says, “is a fun challenge. And then it’s a terrible grind.” “Magazines are trying to find ways to stay alive and advertisers are trying to embed their advertising right into the editorial. They’re trying to find ways that aren’t traditional advertising approaches, and magazines really have no choice but to accom-
modate them if they want to keep going. It’s not a good time for magazines.” He insisists he’s not sorry to be out of the magazine world. “I don’t like the frustration of having [fewer] resources all the time—letting somebody go, having your editorial budget cut back another 10 per cent, not being able to use the kind of freelance talent you would like.” As the interview ends, my feet now firmly planted in reality,
Ross’s parting words to me are: “Choose your career path carefully.” Since the layoff he’s moved into corporate communications consulting and content development, but he hasn’t given up on magazines entirely. He helped launch a new media property, Modern Farmer, which will include quarterly print editions. He’s diversifying, but he’s still writing and editing. “Whatever talent I have lies in that area,” he says. “I don’t have a good business mind. I’m not good with numbers. I don’t like bureaucracies.” “I don’t like being accountable to idiots,” he says with an ironic smile. “I’d rather be accountable to my own form of idiocy.”& LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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The little blog that could The story of one investigative blogger and how she stumbled on to what most newsrooms missed by SAM REYNOLDS photos by SASCHA PORTEOUS illustration by SHANNON WILLIAMS
In 2010, you may have seen a billboard advising you to “Re-
think Alberta”. With an oil-soaked bird clinging to its last moments of life serving as an illustration, this billboard advised potential tourists to “think again” about their trip. That same year, two seemingly unrelated campaigns captured the imagination of the public: a series of protests aimed at banning fish farming in British Columbia and a wildly popular online campaign to stop telecom giant Bell Canada from metering the bandwidth consumed by users. The Alberta-themed billboard and online ad campaign were credited to “Corporate Ethics International,” a U.S.-based non-profit listing a Portland P.O. box as its headquarters; fish farm protests were co-ordinated by organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pure Salmon Campaign; the Stop The Meter Campaign was credited to an advocacy group called OpenMedia.ca that then operated out of the W2 community arts centre in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood.
What ties these three distinct campaigns together? Foreign funding. Money from U.S. groups is being funneled into Canada by organizations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation (founders of Hewlett Packard), Pew Charitable Trusts and Tides Canada. The link between Canadian advocacy movements and U.S. money—found through the intensive review of financial disclosures—did not come from a damning exposé by a crack investigative team at a major newspaper, but rather by a blogger and researcher named Vivian Krause. Called “the girl who played with tax data” by Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran, Krause’s work has been the impetus for a Canadian Revenue Agency audit, senate inquiries and an overhaul to the regulatory review process for resource development projects. And she did it all as a hobby.
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With a background in nutrition science, 10 years of experience with UNICEF in Guatemala and Indonesia, and a oneyear stint in the salmon farming industry, Krause says that her discovery of the money trail between U.S. foundations and Canadian non-government organizations (NGOs) was accidental, something that she stumbled upon while serving as the director of the Adoptive Families Association of B.C. In the winter of 2007, she came across information related to a $560,000 grant for an anti-farming campaign from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation to Seaweb (an ocean conservatory), which, according to the organization’s financial disclosures, was “to shift retailer and consumer demand away from farmed salmon.” In order to accomplish this, the grant called for a campaign of earned media through “science messages” and “coordination of media for anti-farming” organizations. Based on her previous experience, Krause knew something was up. She admits that while this grant—the first morsel in a trail of crumbs—was hiding in plain sight, it took a certain type of geekery to find it. “I knew that it would take someone with the unique combination of experience in salmon farming and the non-profit sector to find this,” she admits. With the discovery of the first grant came discoveries of a plethora of others, all with the same intent: a 2003 grant for $453,400 to the Living Oceans Society; a 2005 grant to the same organization for $1.1 million; a $1.5 million grant in March 2005 to the National Environment Trust. There are five studies into sea lice and fish farming that Krause has issues with. They include a 2004 study by Ronald Hites titled “Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon” published in the journal Science, a 2006 study on sea lice and the mortality rates of salmon by the University of Alberta’s Centre for Mathematical Biology, and a 2007 study also published in Science entitled “Declining Wild Salmon Populations in Relation to Parasites from Farm Salmon,” which builds on the University of Alberta’s 2006 study, and lists Canadian researcher Alexandra Morton among the authors. Krause documented that the Hites study was paid for with a $5.5-million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, along with a $440,000 grant for publicity. Over the course of a 10-year period from 2000 to 2010, more than $80 million
Vivian Krause: Unique combination of experience.
If The Fifth Estate would run a program on this, I’m convinced
that they would be forced to look into it. — Vivian K rause LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW ||
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was put into a variety of projects to shift consumers’ perceptions about the seafood market, according to Krause’s calculations. Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, was a trustee of this foundation. Seeing that perhaps money had corrupted the science behind these studies, Krause penned a formal complaint to the University of Alberta in February 2008, alleging scientific misconduct by the researchers involved. Her complaint to the university consisted of a 230-page package that outlined what she believed were the fundamental scientific flaws of the study. Later, when she began blogging, she summarized the complaint into 10 main points. Three of the more interesting points Krause brings up about the U of A study are the fact that there were no fish at the farm during the data collection, mortality in the wild was never measured and sea lice levels at salmon farms were never measured. Krause found an academic ally for her complaint in Robert McKinley, a UBC professor and Canada Research Chair. In a February 2008 letter to the provost and vice-president academic of the U of A, McKinley expressed his concern over the validity of the science presented in the U of A’s studies. “In my professional opinion, the research by the Centre for Mathematical Biology does not indicate that sea lice from salmon farms pose a threat of extinction to wild pink salmon populations,” he wrote. “Ms. Krause’s article, at the very least, suggests that the conduct of the Centre for Mathematical Biology may have been influenced by outside events.” Krause’s back-and-forth with the U of A lasted for months. The university later dismissed her complaint as “vexatious,” refusing to engage in any kind of academic review, in defiance of its own bylaws. Krause was disappointed by the response. “If [CBC-TV newsmagazine] The Fifth Estate would run a program on this, I’m convinced that they would be forced to look into it,” she says. In 2010, Alexandra Morton was granted an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University for her work linking sea lice infestation in wild salmon to fish farming. Morton was invited to comment on this article via her publicly listed email addresses, but did not respond by press time. While the U of A wouldn’t admit to any sort of academic wrongdoing, it, along with one of the non-profit groups listed, had already finished a campaign of re14
vising history. Krause notes on her blog that the U of A removed the initial press release, which Krause alleged in her complaint as having a false claim. The U of A also removed documents that reported it had a research partnership with SeaWeb, which was on the payroll of the Moore Foundation to coordinate the “anti-farming campaign.” The question remains: Why were U.S.based non-profits moving money to Canadian environmental non-governmental
ease the inequality that exists between B.C.’s urban core and rural areas. While the plight of B.C.’s salmon industry seems to have a particular place in Krause’s heart, she felt that she should keep following the murky money trail. This dedication and commitment paid off: Krause discovered that the same tactics of “de-marketing” being used against farmed salmon were also being used against Alberta’s oilsands. She also discovered that Vancouver
organizations in the fight against B.C. salmon farming? Krause believes that it was to prop up the ailing Alaska fishing industry. The push away from farmed salmon is a push towards wild salmon, the majority of which comes from Alaska. The Marine Stewardship Council, which gives its seal of approval to “sustainable” seafood initiatives, is a recipient of funds from the Packard Foundation—to the tune of nearly $70 million. In 2006, in what MSC likely considers one of its bigger victories, WalMart announced it would only source its seafood from MSC-certified fisheries, the vast majority of which are Alaskan. “Wild caught, American bought,” the company’s policy reads. What drove Krause to pursue this matter? Partially, because she says she saw a “discrepancy in the public’s perception and reality,” something that must be infuriating for a woman of science, and partially to help communities along B.C.’s coast that were hit particularly hard by the decline in demand for farmed salmon. “A good economy can do far more good than charity,” she says, arguing that a vibrant salmon-farming industry could
Mayor Gregor Robertson’s political party, Vision Vancouver, was also on the payroll of an American non-profit called Tides Canada. (It should be noted that municipal campaign financing laws are much more lax than their federal or provincial counterparts, allowing for foreign donations and requiring less disclosure.) It was now 2010, and Krause took to the blogosphere, documenting her findings on a blog called Fair Questions. This blog became home to her occasional updates on the progress of her research. Over the course of the last few months of 2010, Krause documented a near-doppelganger campaign against Alberta oil as happened with farmed salmon. U.S. non-profit foundations—mostly the Hewlett Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Pew Charitable Trusts—were sending money to a non-profit political organization called Tides USA, which then sent the money to its Canadian counterpart, Tides Canada (a registered charity), which then sent the money to on-the-ground organizations such as the Dogwood Foundation, the Sierra Club, Corporate Ethics
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International and Forest Ethics, among others. While there were hundreds of individual grants, they all had a number of similar goals: de-market Alberta oil by attempting to create a political climate that was hostile, and lobby to move to block tanker oil exports from the West Coast. Krause’s research shows that since 2000, these foundations have spent approximately $300-million on initiatives to “reform” Canada’s resource sector. That reform includes lobbying to block moves to build a pipeline to the west coast. Funded organizations, in particular the Dogwood Foundation, were active in pushing for changes to the Canada Shipping Act to prohibit oil tanker traffic on the north and central coast of B.C. Vision Vancouver was funded to encourage the mayor’s office of Canada’s West Coast port city to be friendly to the cause. A few non-environmental non-profits such as OpenMedia.ca were funded as well, to help build a mailing list of supporters who would likely be friendly to the movement—an invaluable asset in the world of political campaigning. Finally, the mainstream media began to take notice. In the fall of 2010, the National Post’s Kevin Libin picked up on Krause’s work, giving it broader exposure. Libin wrote in a Nov. 20 story that behind the movement “are wealthy trustfund progenies, powerful U.S. business leaders, billion-dollar American foundations, a web of environmental groups and prominent Vancouver political players. The region under focus for “systemic” change is Western Canada. The funding is frequently foreign. And Canadians may not know it yet, but the program is already well underway.” As others ran the story, Krause’s name seemed to be permanently attached to the debate over the funding of political movements. This exposure led to her testifying before House of Commons committees, Senate committees and regular speaking engagements. Why did the mainstream media not intitiate this story? With the decline of advertising revenues, investigative work in major newsrooms has dimished. Such
journalism is time-consuming and doesn’t produce enough revenue to justify the expense. As such, the media often rely on bloggers to do the heavy lifting, sitting ready to propagate the message when it can no longer be ignored. So it was with the myths of fish farming and the oil sands that Krause uncovered. That there was nothing to investigate was the prevailing narrative, so why bother putting limited resources to work? So will bloggers be the new investigative journalists? A prominent American journalist thinks not. Robert Salladay, managing editor of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, believes that while mainstream investigative reporting will continue to shrink, there will always be a demand for it. “There is a future for [investigative journalism], and there will always be a need for it. It will always be valued,” he says. “Some bloggers do a great job at quick-hit investigative reporting; however, the longer term, deep-dive investigative journalism that takes months and months will only be done by newspapers.” Disclosure note: Salladay’s organization receives funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Tides, among others. Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason, who has written on Krause’s work, believes the media didn’t pick up on her work earlier because uncovering and interpreting the material required a hyper-specialized skill set that only Krause had. “I’m not sure just anyone could have done what she did,” Mason says. “She has extraordinary investigative skills.” While Krause has her fair share of critics in the blogosphere—she’s been accursed of being everything from a Conservative party hatchetwoman to an industry shill—Mason takes particular issue with the inaccurate comments that have been spread about Krause’s work. “[These] accusations are incredibly specious. They are levelled and made by people with their own agendas,” he says. “Some of the stuff that’s been written about her has been malicious, vindictive and wrong. “She’s a brave woman.” :
Media groups ponder policy on suicide coverage by STACY THOMAS
In response to the no-holdsbarred media coverage of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd’s suicide, Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus authored a letter to the B.C. Press Council and the B.C. and Canadian Associations of Broadcasters. Bacchus asks the associations to “adopt and ensure province-wide adherence to best practices for media coverage of suicide deaths.” The press council discussed the concerns at a meeting in March and subsequently informed the VSB that it had received no complaints on this topic. The press council noted that “the matter was covered by the editorial responsibility of each publication. “We are assured that the Publishers and Editors of Press Council participating newspapers are kept informed of the current professional literature from industry, academic and science communities.” The press council did promise to encourage its members “to use good taste, judgment and best practices when dealing with suicide reporting.” The organization representing B.C.’s private broadcasters was less commital. In a letter to the VSB, BCAB president Ken Kilcullen wrote: “As an industry association, the BCAB does not and cannot speak for individual member stations. Our association joins with you in your concern about adolescent mental health-suicide issues, but we have no role or ability to monitor or enforce the editorial content of its members.” Kilcullen also pointed out that B.C. broadcasters refer to the CAB code for guidance in the “depiction of violence and graphic reporting of delicate subject matter.” But, he noted, “Protocol specific to adolescent mental health-suicide issues is not reflected in the code.” LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW ||
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Policing the news Some
journalists say cops in
are not as free
with their information as those in the
by MICHAEL LETENDRE
Are the police in Canada too secretive?
That’s the question some journalists are asking, especially when comparing our law enforcement officials to their American counterparts. The relationship the police have with the media in Canada is based on a double standard, according to Kim Bolan, who has been a reporter at the Vancouver Sun for nearly 30 years, much of it covering the crime beat. “They want complete control of information,” Bolan says “What they want is the media to provide them with a service. They will only provide us with information when it serves their purpose.” Bolan says there is a notable difference between the amount of information shared between the media and police in Canada and the United States. “In Canada, they only come forward with information when they’re ready to. The Americans, though, are very forthcoming with the media.” Const. Brian Montague, Vancouver Police Department’s media spokesman, says any question from reporters is fair game. “Just don’t always expect an answer.” Montague says the VPD strives to be as transparent as possible. He says police would never obstruct the media’s attempt to find information, but they might willfully withhold details on a given case, depending on the circumstances. “It all depends on what we feel is best for an investigation.” Occasionally, a journalist will get breaking details on a case before the police want it to reach the public. When that happens, Montague says the VPD relies on the media to act with good judgment. “They are not legally bound to hold on to information. However, what they report can be life and death. It becomes a moral and ethical dilemma for them.”
Montague says he has tried to foster a 450,000, says he believes in Canada’s polirelationship of trust and respect with re- cies. porters, because they fulfill an important “I wouldn’t do my job any differently if role for the police. I was in the States.” “We rely on the media to get our mesThe Sun’s Bolan advises that journalsage across.” ists dealing with police matters should Mark Reimer, a reporter for the Lyn- know exactly what information they are den Tribune, a paper that serves the town entitled to. p of Lynden, Wash., a five-minute drive from the Canada-U.S. border, acknowledges the differences between the two nations, by BRANDON REID but says America is not a journalistic haven of free information either. Since his review of the Tesla Model S elec“It really depends on what tric car, New York Times reporter John Brothe culture within each police der has been accused of bias by Elon Musk, department is like. There are CEO of Tesla Motors, and even fellow reporsome departments here that ters from CNN to the Vancouver Sun. have fostered less than open Musk claims his company lost some $100 relationships with the media. million in cancelled orders, prompting VanThey are usually the ones that couver Sun automotive writer Andrew Mcare too small to have a dedicated Credie to pose the question: “Are automotive information officer.” journalists biased against electric vehicles?” Reimer also says Americans “There are reviewers who have prediselect the highest-ranking law posed notions of what an electric car can and, enforcement officer of a given in their view, won’t provide,” says Timothy county, while in Canada the top Cain, GoodCarBadCar.net editor. “But generofficials are appointed. He says ally, I think auto reviewers today are a pragthe political aspect of America’s matic bunch who would want to consider a car top officers affects the relationbased on how it would impact their lives.” ships they have with reporters. Although electric cars are limited in range “They have a vested interest when compared to gas guzzlers, Cain believes in working with the media, in the technology to be amazing in some ways. being transparent. They cannot “If the price can come down, cars like the work with autonomy; they have Chevrolet Volt may be the interim answer,” to worry about getting re-electsays Cain. ed.“ North Shore News columnist Brenda McWhich country’s police are Aleer feels any bias is more a matter of infrakinder to reporters remains up structure. for debate. “Try asking yourself how popular [fuel Const. Bert Paquet, inforcars] would be if there were only five gas stamation officer for the RCMP in tions in the Lower Mainland and a EV plug in Surrey, Vancouver’s largest subeveryone’s home.” urb with a population of about
Pulling the plug
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locked in lockout to the
by ROSS ARMOUR
there’s no hockey, what do hockey writers write about?
Last winter’s National Hockey League
lockout left more than players and fans out in the cold—hockey writers were put on ice, too. There was little to cover other than the ebb and flow of the stalemate itself, which lasted from Sept. 15, 2012 to Jan. 6, 2013. “It was very frustrating as it felt like you were regurgitating the same old story all the time,” says Metro newspaper sports reporter Cam Tucker. “There weren’t many different angles that you could take on it.” Tucker says for long periods nothing happened in the negotiations between players and owners, but hockey fans were still expecting some sort of news. “There were days when you just had to focus on the lockout, but the story barely ever changed. All in all, from when the lockout started, till just about a couple of weeks before it ended, there was no direct change in the stance of writing.” Journalists covering the NHL usually start reporting on the pre-season in mid-September. But the fall of 2012 was a dud. In Vancouver, those Canucks who didn’t sign on with European teams tried to keep themselves sharp by practising at the University of British Columbia, prompting local journalists to scamper there hoping to receive some pithy quotes. Something. Anything. And so it went for several months. “I remember one time back in early December, when there was talk the lockout might end, a whole bunch of us flocked to UBC to interview some of the Canucks,” Tucker says. “There was a bit of an air of optimism and that allowed for a
little change in the story. But the Canucks were still very reserved and didn’t want to get on a high or low about the whole negotiation period either way.” Vancouver Sun reporter Brad Ziemer was caught in the same doldrums. “I did spend quite a bit of time during the early days of the lockout out at UBC, where several of the Canucks were skating three or four days a week,” Ziemer says. But with no new developments he and other
Thunderbirds and I did a feature on the Curvaceous Canucks, a women’s team comprised largely of Canuck employees.” “We covered the Vancouver Giants, and we still do,” says Tucker. “A couple of times I covered the Abbotsford Heat— anything between Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, there are always good sports stories there.” Chong says in a way the lockout played to Hockey Now’s advantage. “We got very
It was a real challenge to generate ideas...
— A ndrew Chong, editor, Hockey Now
reporters stopped going to these informal practices. The NHL predicament meant other sports received more media coverage. “It was a real challenge to generate ideas for hockey journalists every day, agonizing for everyone involved,” says Hockey Now editor Andrew Chong. “I remember listening to the radio and there were guys on there who regularly talk about hockey and one day they were chatting about this major tennis event, or golf, or even the Lance Armstrong scenario. It was an incredibly frustrating time for all NHL analysts and Canucks reporters.” “We did cover more non-NHL hockey,” says Ziemer. They covered the Chicago Wolves and the Canucks’ AHL farm team, when it was in town. “My colleague Elliott Pap did some stuff on the UBC
lucky as we specialize in junior and minor hockey and the lockout certainly helped that side of the game,” he says. “In terms of junior hockey, there was a lot more coverage. There was more of a buzz at the Giants games and the WHL [Western Hockey League] was even getting to the top of sports broadcasts.” Despite the respite, the excitement of NHL gameplay was duly missed by most, including Chong. “Everything you love about the game—the hits, the goals— none of that was there,” he says. But the show must go on, and essentially, that’s just what hockey journalists had to ensure. “Our life wasn’t made easier, but as a reporter . . . you have to go out in search of those stories and find different ones on your downtime,” Tucker says. # LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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Jonathan Manthorpe is one of Canada’s last of the old-fashioned foreigncorrespondents. He speaks with a touch of a British accent, as evidence of his journalism training and life in the UK in the late sixties. He exudes a warmth and an air of worldliness one can only acquire from decades spent abroad. Manthorpe has covered the inter-
office, I often have a good idea about what I’m going to write about,” he says. Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Harold Munro has worked with Manthorpe for years. “He’s encyclopedic. His knowledge of world affairs and the backstories on what’s going on in different parts of the world is very impressive and I think you see that in
Overseas is out of date story by CARLY RHIANNA SMITH
photo by SASCHA PORTEOUS
Foreign affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe warns that closing bureaus abroad means losing the Canadian perspective on world events
national scene for a variety of Canadian news outlets for some 30 years—with postings in Asia, Africa and Europe— and is the recipient of several awards for his work, including a covetted Mitchener Award for Journalism. He is one of this country’s few journalists now writing on international affairs who has actual experience living abroad, and the number is getting smaller. “[It’s] very difficult now for Canadians because we have an absolute minimum foreign presence of correspondents abroad. I mean, you can probably count all of them on the fingers of two hands and still probably have a couple of fingers left over,” says Manthorpe. As a columnist for the Vancouver Sun, Manthorpe only gets to travel two or three times a year now. The rest of the time he works from his base in Vancouver. He writes his column for the entire Postmedia group, so to meet Eastern deadlines he has to file by noon Pacific Time. His day usually starts at 5 a.m., when he wakes up to read the news and browse emails from his many contacts abroad. These he prints off to read on the bus to work, arriving at his office by 7 a.m. “Thus, by the time I’ve gotten to the
his writing, in the columns that he does for us. You know, there’ll be a conflict or an incoming dictator and an outgoing dictator in some part of the world, and he’ll be able to turn around very quickly for us a story that includes the backstory, how they came to power, what led to their demise or their rise.” “The problem now, of course,” says Manthorpe, “is we have so few people who are experienced as foreign correspondents that the stable of candidates to go and set up freelance bureaus in Bangkok or Africa or anywhere else is pretty slim. We don’t have the people to do it.” “For example, in terms of Africa, I’m the last foreign correspondent we had from my group based in Africa, and I left there in the mid-1990s, so nearly 20 years [ago]. It’s the same with the other major media outlets. As the number of bureaus shrinks, so the number of people with foreign experience shrinks, and it’s a lost asset.” Keeping a writer abroad is expensive, and with declining readership and smaller newsrooms, the foreign correspondent is nearly extinct. “Newsroom budgets are tighter,” Munro says. “We don’t have the money
we used to, to afford foreign bureaus, and we’re fortunate that we’re part of a larger organization, so through the 10 newsrooms across the country we’re able to support some foreign bureaus in Washington, D.C., and another one in Europe. But there are fewer and fewer newspapers and TV stations that are able to do that because it’s expensive—it’s expensive to pay for people to be in other parts of the world.” Manthorpe warns that Canadians are losing their perspective on important world events. “The fact is, in Canadian terms it means we handed our view of the world to the British, the Americans and the French, which is not good. I think we’re the poorer for it.” Ironically, the technological advances of the past decade or so have made reporting from abroad simpler and faster. “When I started out as a foreign correspondent, it was with a portable typewriter,” Manthorpe recalls. “If I was lucky, I was able to take my copy written on paper with a typewriter to a telex office or to a Reuters office and have them transmit it to the Toronto Star. But if it was a news story, I literally was running to find a phone and call the desk in Toronto and giving the story as rewrite, often with basic notes and off the top of my head.” “I remember in Africa looking enviously at what were satellite telephones. They came in a suitcase and they weighed about 25 kilos and were hugely expensive; they cost about $20,000. I mean, now, you can file a story from just about anywhere with your iPad or your iPhone. The technological change is just immense and one can transmit pictures.” Manthorpe wonders if the new technology that can be used by anyone is enough to compensate for the dwindling number of professional reporters overseas. “What we sell is not the medium. The medium is not the message,” he states. “What we sell is judgment and experience, and while the technology is helpful, the technology is useful, and the technology can, in many ways, make our lives easier, it’s journalists’ judgment and experience that sell; that the audience wants. Smartphones don’t compensate for bad judgment and neither do they overcome good judgment.” Editor’s note: As we were going to press, Jonathan Manthorpe announced he would be leaving the Vancouver Sun. He plans to continue writing on foreign affairs. ✈ LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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Gary M ason, the Globe and M ailâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Wester n C anada columnist, finds writing about sports and politics is much the same
story by CARA McKENNA photos by SASCHA PORTEOUS
6/17/13 3:39 PM
When you step into the soft, warm light of the Bacchus Lounge in Vancouver’s tony Wedgewood Hotel the sense of old-world money is all-pervasive. White tablecloths cover neatly set tables; the burgundy velvet chairs are deep and lush.
on those in high and mighty places. Mason says he doesn’t think much about his influence as a widely read columnist in one of Canada’s two national newspapers. He sees his role as stimulating public discussion on important issues.
I just try to write about public policy issues that I find really interesting and I think are kind of important issues, and zero in on them. A nd then whatever happens, happens . . .
Servers are properly dressed in crisp, white shirts and black pants. At the well-stocked mahogany bar, lawyers in smart Armani suits sip scotch and speak in quiet voices. Gary Mason is not a lawyer, but he seems at home in this scene; in fact, he knows the staff by name. Mason is a journalist, the Vancouver-based political columnist for the Globe and Mail, and he likes to think he sticks up for the little guy. Over lunch, I learn that he is not the stuffy, highbrow sophisticate that first impressions make him out to be, but a downto-earth family man who talks as easily about his wife of 30 years, and his two adult sons as he does about politics, and his other passion, sports. He has a gracious manner and the character lines around his eyes can only come from years of laughter. He appears to be a friend to all, even to the server who grinds fresh pepper on his salad, and seems unusually humble for someone who regularly passes judgment 22
— Gary M ason
“I just try to write about public policy issues that I find really interesting, and I think are kind of important issues, and zero in on them. And then whatever happens, happens after that,” he says reflectively, leaning back in his chair. “I don’t really think about influence, or how I impact the politician’s decisions or anything like that.” But whether he likes to acknowledge it or not, Mason’s writings have had considerable bearing on the course of political events, at both civic and provincial levels. In fact, one of Vancouver’s failed mayoral candidates holds Mason at least partially responsible for his failure to get elected. In 2008, Mason received information about a secret $100 million loan the city was guaranteeing the developer of the Olympic Village on Vancouver’s False Creek waterfront. He wrote a column indicting city councillors, including Peter Ladner, who was running for mayor at the time.
Citizens were outraged, causing a backlash against the Non Partisan Association-dominated council, under whose banner Ladner was seeking the mayor’s chair. Other media jumped on the story, too, and soon after, Ladner lost the election. Ladner, a former journalist himself, doesn’t blame Mason directly for the subsequent uproar and his defeat, but he recognizes that the columnist’s revelations definitely hurt his chances of becoming mayor. “I didn’t have a lot of communication with him during the time [of my campaign], but he certainly wrote a lot,” says Ladner. “I thought that he did a great job because he was getting inside stuff that I didn’t even know that somebody was leaking to him. Somebody had picked him as the go-to person for getting information out about this topic. So that gave him a very powerful position and enabled him to write some pretty important columns. “There’s a lot I could go on about, but if your question is did he write something that had a negative effect? Yes.” Ladner feels no rancour towards Mason and, in fact, believes he was being fair in doing his job. “I never faulted Gary. I never thought that he was running off half-cocked or had it in for me or anything like that. I think he was indignant because a lot of people were, including me, about how things had turned out.” Mason was also critical of the man who was mayor at the time of the loan scandal, Sam Sullivan. Veteran political columnist Vaughn Palmer, who covers provincial politics for the Vancouver Sun, and once Mason’s colleague when the latter was at the Sun, is less circumspect. He credits Mason for “basically destroy[ing] Sam Sullivan’s government in Vancouver.” Sullivan refuses to give Mason that much credit, believing journalists have
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more of an influence than they actually do. He says there were other reasons for his civic government’s collapse. “I realize [journalists] have to fill space and make it interesting to people,” Sullivan wrote in an e-mail. “At the time, I was trying to get my polls down for political strategic reasons so I probably didn’t notice, and in any case I didn’t often get a chance to read the media articles. “It may be that journalists have a bit of an inflated view of their impact on things,” Sullivan wrote. “It is possible that vitriolic articles can destabilize political caucuses, but there are usually other issues as well.” Influence or not, Mason says he tries to avoid attacking people personally. He simply tries to explore the issues and lay them out before the public. In the 1990s, when Mason was a political reporter at the Sun, his work brought him a Jack Webster award—an honour he shared with Palmer—for reporting on another political scandal, this one involving then-premier Bill Vander Zalm and the potential sale of Expo ’86 lands in Van-
couver to a private developer, who happened to be a friend of the premier’s. But Palmer says the moment that really brought the name “Gary Mason” to everyone’s attention was in 1983, when Mason uncovered a scandal about a secret negotiation between the feisty labour leader Jack Munro and then-premier Bill Bennett. The negotiation took place at Bennett’s house on Lake Okanagan in Kelowna over a weekend and, according to Palmer, he covered it better than anyone else. “We all knew that had happened, but Gary did a story called ‘Weekend in Kelowna’ . . . a magazine piece where he just went and interviewed all the participants and put together this narrative of what actually happened that weekend. “Gary was the one who had the initiative to go and interview all the players and get a really vivid account of what had happened. And it was sort of the first time people noticed his name and went, ‘Hey, this guy has got a lot of promise as a political writer.’” During his 19 years at the Vancouver
Sun, Mason also had a long run as a sports editor and columnist, a job that gave him a lot of freedom as a self-proclaimed “obsessed sports dad” to attend his sons’ hockey games. He never missed a game except when when he was travelling for work. Mason’s wife of 30 years, Barbara Gunn, a fellow journalist whom he met and started dating in journalism school, says her husband may have an impressive journalistic history, but his most important legacy is his two sons. “He has been tremendously involved in the life of his kids from the time they were born,” she says. “He’s always been there to support them and to listen to them in every way.” Gunn worked as reporter and editor at The Canadian Press, and later, staying home with her young sons, wrote a weekly column for a community newspaper. She currently edits the Homes section for both the Vancouver Sun and The Province. She says despite their busy schedules the two see a lot of each other and have a relatively simple home life together, loving nothing
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more on a rainy night than playing Scrabble in front of their fireplace. They also like to take trips to Seattle to watch baseball games (they are Mariners fans), and Mason is currently learning how to sail, something he’s always wanted to do. “We like to go for walks and bike rides,” says Gunn. “We recently started to do more travelling than we’ve ever done before. Our sons are semi-launched—
ing another rejection letter . . . and there’s seemingly no opening on the horizon in terms of the economy turning around, and you just think ‘Oh God, when am I going to get a break?’ That’s what I was looking for, was a break,” says Mason, dipping a piece of artisan bread into his mulligatawny soup. “And, you know, eventually I got one.” He spent several years struggling while
chief John Furlong, whose biography— Patriot Hearts: Inside the Games that Changed the Country—Mason co-wrote. Last winter Furlong was accused in a widely read Georgia Straight story of physically and mentally abusing aboriginal students he taught at an elementary school in Burns Lake more than 40 years ago. The article, written by freelance journalist Laura Robinson, was titled “John Furlong biography
But there were days sitting in my apartment, opening another rejection letter . . . and there’s seemingly no opening on the horizon . . . and you think ‘oh god, when am I going to get a break’? — Gary M ason
they’re both still away at university, one finishing up his masters and one just starting law school.” Being married to a another journalist makes for a unique household dynamic, she adds. She reads every one of his columns, and they have regular discussions about his work. Gunn agrees with most of what he has to say, but not always. Mason considers her an asset in that way because she offers another perspective on his work. Mason’s start was not nearly so promising. In fact, he was forced to do a stint cleaning toilets before actually becoming a journalist. When he graduated from journalism school at Langara College in 1982, a year after his wife, there was economic turmoil and few jobs to be had. He struggled doing freelance work, mostly for Vancouver Magazine, for two years while working one day a week at the Canadian Press. But he didn’t go into journalism thinking about the money. Like many others his age, he was a child of the Watergate era in the early 1970s, thinking of journalism as “the great equalizer, in terms of power. “You know you’re still young, and you’re optimistic and you don’t really get down about things,” he says. “But there were days, sitting in my apartment, open24
his wife’s career took off, and says he was just “meat and potatoes compared to her” in those days. The break he was looking for did come in 1984 when the Victoria Times Colonist hired him. In an act of support for her husband, Gunn left her career of five years at CP to relocate to Victoria. Gunn said it wasn’t so much a sacrifice for her to leave her career because she wanted to try freelance writing, which, in the end, didn’t pan out as well as she expected. “It was hard for me at the beginning. I think I had misconceptions about freelancing and I never realized how difficult it was to go from having a steady income to just bits and pieces here and there. [It] was very difficult.” Mason was at the Times Colonist for two years before he was recruited by the Vancouver Sun to work out of the Victoria bureau, covering provincial politics. He was there for several years and when the opportunity came to move into the paper’s sports department he jumped at it. He now sees a distinct connection between writing about sports and writing about politics. Both involve money and policies and personalities. Both are combative. Mason is making a point of not getting involved in another recent controversy, involving former Vancouver 2010 Olympics
omits secret past in Burns Lake,” and contained statements from many of Furlong’s former students. Mason says Furlong told him nothing about his time in Burns Lake while researching the biography, and is distancing himself from the incident even though he regrets Furlong’s reputation being destroyed by the accusations. “Some of the stuff, I just never would have done it as a journalist,” he says. Mason’s empathetic nature, and his identification with the ordinary person no doubt helps him feret out information. People open up. Even after talking with him for only a couple of hours, it seems natural to trust this man. When lunch ends, Mason discreetly slips our server his credit card and we walk out together on the way to his downtown office. In the harsh light of mid-afternoon, the wind blows through his neatly-styled hair, mostly white. He somehow looks smaller than he did before. In an instant, he is that regular guy—one who sometimes struggles and makes mistakes, one just trying to get along, like everyone else. The moment ends, and a sparkle of humour lights up his eyes as he asks me where the kids in journalism school party these days. ^
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Confessions call-centre girl
Wherein our writer provides an account of flogging newspapers by night to finance journalism school by day Story by AUDREY McKINNON photos by SASCHA PORTEOUS
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I’m busy. My parents aren’t home.
I don’t want the paper! I don’t live here.
I’m just housesitting. Not interested.
No, no, NO! It takes an average of 30 rejections, three or so per phone
call, to get a “yes.” Selling newspapers, like any sales job, is a numbers game. But those rejections include coding out the cordial answering machine message, the screeching fax machine, the almost silent click of a customer hanging up. Add those to the dozens of unprintable responses you get when you call during dinner time—and sometimes an occasional “yes”—and you’ve got telemarketing in a nutshell. “Hi, this is Audrey. How are you? I’m calling from . . .” the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Edmonton Journal, the Calgary Herald, and so on. That’s how every phone call begins. Fill in the blank with a newspaper title and a promotion: Six months of daily delivery for $20; $10 for a year of Sunday papers, or 48 cents a paper. Your tone could be friendly and upbeat or more aggressive and hard-hitting—or somewhere in between. Calling Canadians means using a more conversational tone; with Americans don’t waste any time and cut to the chase. Once you’ve got those elements down, you’ve mastered the telemarketing pitch. I, a full-time journalism student during the day and a mother of a two-year-old son, roamed the continent via the phone lines for a month, from Vancouver, B.C. to San Jose, California and back to Calgary and Edmonton. As one of about 30 telemarketers at Stoke Sales, I contributed to the 100 to 150 newspaper subscriptions sold each day. Those subscriptions—whether readers really care about what they just signed up for or not—provide revenue and a stronger advertising base, and ultimately help pay the wages of my future colleagues who provide the editorial content. Jobs for journalists—that’s how I like to justify my work. “It’s always been very important, the call centre aspect of the newspapers as it is to lots of businesses,” says William Abbs, who along with partner James Young, owns Stoke Sales. He’s been in the newspaper telemarketing business for 15 years, starting out on the phones, too.
I visited his office on a drizzly Vancouver day some weeks after I had quit my job at Stoke Sales, fed up with it all. He was sitting in his office behind a large wooden desk. The only light came from the window behind him, presenting me with his silhouette. A black shelf on the wall was lined with a collection of clay pottery. His dog, a chubby pug named Gracie, napped in her well-worn bed in the corner. Abbs is a middle-aged man with thin, grey hair, a round face, and wide-set blue eyes that have a way of making him look like he’s either on the verge of telling a joke or breaking out into tears. He looks straight at me. “A newspaper makes its money off of advertising, which everybody understands, and magazines it’s the same thing,” he tells me. “So in order to count people as a subscriber, the person actually has to be getting the newspaper under subscription. They can’t be picking it up at the newsstand, they can’t be getting it at a coin box.” Abbs isn’t entirely right about the method of sales. Subscriptions count significantly towards newspaper readership because they indicate a more stable readership, which is important to advertisers. But coin box readers are significant, with single-copy readers making up about 15 per cent of Canadian sales. As telemarketers, we weren’t expected to know all the numbers, but with readership shifts to the Web, smart phones and tablets, we had to maneuver around the online-only readers. I learned at Stoke Sales that “no” in its many forms is just a chance for a rebuttal. “I understand where you’re coming from. That’s exactly why we’re calling. When was that last time you read the (fill in newspaper title here)?” But one variation on “no” had me second-guessing my efforts at persuasion because I saw the person’s logic. “I read the paper online for free,” he flatly stated. Why would he need to buy it off me? But let’s look at the bright side. According to the Newspaper
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Audience Databank (NADbank), the research arm of the Canadian daily newspaper industry, more than 12 million Canadians still read the paper in its traditional form every day. This figure doesn’t include readers who buy only a weekend paper. NADbank states that on average only nine per cent of Canadians get their news exclusively from the Web. Readership may be changing; newspapers may be ailing, but they are far from dead. Seniors are generally easier to sell to, as
form of a newspaper subscription to a man in California: “Hello?” “Hi, this is Audrey. How are you?” “Fine.” “Excellent. I’m calling from the Mercury News. We have early morn. . .” “Not interested. . .” “What? You’re not interested in contributing to democracy?” “What?” “Didn’t you know that every subscrip-
In a small way I helped
increase those circulation figures, which could increase the ad revenue, and help pay the journalists they tend to be more loyal to the traditional newspaper. Making up about 15 per cent of the Canadian population, NADbank notes that 2.9 million of Canadian seniors pick up the paper every day, either by subscription or from a coin box. Only four per cent of seniors say they get their news exlusively from an online site, compared with seven per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds. But online new sources aren’t the only competition facing newspapers. In the larger cities the urban give-aways, namely 24 Hours and Metro are in your face everywhere. They’re free and they carry quick reads on major news items, along with the more gossipy stuff such as whatever Gwen Stefani did yesterday. Then there are the free entertainment-oriented weeklies. For example, in Vancouver you can pick up the Georgia Straight, Xtra and the Vancouver Courier from coffee shops or coin boxes that don’t require coins. None of these papers needs a call centre to improve the circulation numbers. Their distribution is generally aimed at a specific demographic, whether it’s commuters or hip urbanites, which makes them that much more appealing to advertisers because they can then target their more likely potential customers. Nevertheless, I can confidently say that in a small way I helped increase those circulation figures, which would ultimately help pay the salaries of journalists. It helped me justify calling people in the middle of their dinner. There are also other ways of coming at it. One late evening, feeling idealistic, I took a shot at selling democracy in the
tion to the newspaper helps contribute to a free and fair democracy?” Click . . . Okay, so maybe I should have pitched the coupons instead. Telemarketers sell for numbers and the pitch doesn’t always involve the more lofty ideals of staying informed and being a better citizen for doing so. Sometimes it’s more effective to do your pitch based on the advertising or the freebies. Promising “up to $200 a week in money-saving coupons,” can, for some people, be the clincher. Never mind the news. The San Jose Mercury News, for example, a paper I’ve never read but have sold countless subscriptions to, comes with a variety of discount coupons, and they are the main selling point for Spanish-speaking Americans. Stoke Sales hires Spanish-speaking telemarketers who talk mostly about the these money-saving coupons and all the things you can buy with them. In these cases, all the great stories and punchy headlines created by the journalists doesn’t carry much weight. The call centres, and, I suspect, the publishers don’t really give a damn if subscribers aren’t actually reading the newspapers as long as they are contributing to the bottom line. For those of us who work the phones they’re a tick in our tally of new subscriptions. At Stoke Sales, telemarketers are themselves sometimes offered incentives to sell. Or to keep them from catching up on their reading, or playing solitaire, or doing the crossword. More ticks on the white board provides an opportunity to win 15 bucks, or maybe an hour off with pay at the end
of the week. The telemarketing world is a fallback for many. It’s a paying job, easy to qualify for, and the hours are flexible. It provides income for a specific niche of employees. Abbs speaks openly about the fact that he employs the otherwise unemployable, or those who need to supplement their “real” job with a second job. He says his biggest challenge is keeping all the different personalities happy. And dramas do occur. One week during my employment, I witnessed the battle of the lights. It started with some passive-aggressive comments between two employees, one who wanted the lights on and one who wanted them off. The apex of this incident involved a lot of yelling about bright lights and sore eyes and bad headaches. More people joined in and the din became louder. Finally, Abbs’ husband, who does the bookkeeping and whom I barely heard speak a word before, came out of his office and yelled: “Everybody, just shut the fuck up! Grow. Up!” This craziness and the work involved means that call centres aren’t for everyone. In fact, the day finally came when I realized the job was no longer for me. I had walked into the musty, wet-dog smelling office of Stoke Sales five minutes late as usual, panting from my run up the stairs. A dozen or so people on the night shift were already at work in their tiny five-foot square cubicles, eyes fixed on their computer screens, headsets and mics mounted on their heads. One of my co-workers turned around and greeted me with the news. “If you don’t have two sales by eight, you get sent home.” The sales-by-eight-or-go-home trick was a blanket motivator that had been employed regularly by the nightshift manager for the past two weeks. At 7:50 p.m., I had zero sales. Ten more minutes and I would have no commission for the week; only minimum wage for allowing people at the other end of the phone to yell insults at me. My chest felt tight, my face hot. After a month of too many “no’s” and two weeks of so-called motivators from my boss, I was cracking. I pulled off my headset, logged out of my computer, put on my coat and left without saying a word. I heard my headset fall to the ground but kept walking, past the empty reception desk, past the nightshift manager, down the narrow stairs, out the front door, and as far away from the call-centre mentality as I could get. This was my metaphor for hanging up the phone. The last “click” would be mine. ( LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 || 27
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Printers’ Progress As communication technology explores brave new worlds, printers must find new ways to keep the presses rolling story by STACY THOMAS photos by SASCHA PORTEOUS
Stop the presses used to mean a late-breaking news story had to make it into the day’s newspaper. Today, the call can be taken in another context—the death of printshops themselves. The internet, along with an economic slowdown during the last five years has seen changes in the industry, with some printers falling by the wayside and others scrambling to consolidate and cut costs, as well as coming up with creative new ways to keep the presses rolling. The printing industry is like the airline industry: if your expensive machines aren’t moving, you’re losing money. Several printers in the Metro Vancouver area have been forced to silence their presses in the last few years, some of them large operation such as Vancouver’s Quebecor plant, which closed in 2007 affecting some 200 employees, as well as smaller operations, such as the Burnaby-based Nathen Printers, which called it quits last year. LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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Some of the survivors, however, seem to be getting it right. For Richard Kouwenhoven, the young, energetic head of Hemlock Printers, started by his father Dick in 1968, diversity is the key to staying viable. Clients have changed and so have their needs, says Kouwenhoven. With much communication moving online, printing is now less about producing mass mailouts and annual reports, and more about building brands. Clients expect higher quality, and they expect it in less time. Finding ways to move their own business online, to embrace the enemy if you will, printers such as Hemlock use their websites for job orders. Products such as business cards and letterheads are prepriced, packed and shipped without a single phone call or quote. In this way repeat production is streamlined so printers can focus on highend brand identification work. This is emerging as the bread-and-butter of not only Hemlock but of another major player, MET Fine Printers. “Even in the dismal economy, there are opportunities. You just need to recognize them,” says Scott Gray, vice president of branding at MET. “We recognize that there’s a big online space, so we need to be there. It started seven or eight years ago; it was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to kill printing’. What it started to do is, it started to minimize the print runs. We’re getting a lot of requests to do fifty books, a hundred books, instead of a thousand.” MET recently acquired Larson’s Bookbinding, which has allowed the company to further cut costs. “These days technology is allowing a lot of people to get to a pretty good level
of quality easily, rather than having to rely on craftsmanship or years of experience,” Gray says. “That benchmark has gone up, so everything above that requires that experience. But below, you can do it on your desktop. “It’s kind of made us have to focus down. We’re not doing the million direct mail runs, we’re doing the 50,000, but it’s a lot more targeted to a specific mailbox,” he says. Printers are also emphasizing environmental accountability to attract ever more eco-savvy clients, and getting creative in the marketing of their green practices. Hemlock has created its own rating logo which is printed prominently on the product indicating a neutral carbon footprint. “We’ve put a lot of effort into that side
of the business,” Kouwenhoven says. “There’s a lot of positive development in the industry around paper sourcing, recycled content, greenhouse gas assessment on work that you do.” Daniel Castilloux, operations manager of B.C. printing giant Mitchell Press, attributes his company’s success to staying technologically current, and a fortuitous move to a custom-designed building in Burnaby in 2008. “[The economic slowdown] was sort of a double edged sword,” he says. “We were going full blast, working towards finishing this building. We were sitting back going, ‘The world’s our oyster, it’s great. We’re set for growth and it’s going to come flying in and we’re going to be more prepared than anybody else.’” Then, as he describes it, the “perfect storm” hit, just as they were settling in after the epic move from the five-storey building the company had occupied since 1928. “Because we had modernized the operation, modernized our equipment, we had become hyper-efficient. It allowed us to run a lot tighter than we would have otherwise,” Castilloux says. “If we hadn’t moved our operation, we probably wouldn’t be here today. For us it was a real indicator of the benefit of technology and staying up to date with equipment. “It’s never going to go back to where it was, and I think it never should,” says Castilloux. “The whole planet was living fat. What’s happening right now in the marketplace, I think is a good thing. It’s getting everybody to pull back and not be as wasteful.” 4
More layoffs, less news? by Jake Hewer News of layoffs in the media seems to be a common occurence these days. Constant reductions in reporting staff can’t be good for the news-gathering process. Pacific Press, owner of the Vancouver Sun and The Province, is shedding some 150 staffers in various departments, mainly through buy-outs. In March, the Toronto Star announced a reduction of about 55 positions. This came on the heels of staff reductions at the Metro chain, as well as at Sun Media, which cut about 500 jobs late last year. Markus Ermisch, a former reporter and editor at the Calgary Sun says he quit the biz because he saw the writing on the wall. 30
“I noticed there was less and less interest on serious reporting, which is something I really enjoyed doing, so I was thinking next time there was a round of layoffs I would be out of a job.” Ermisch, who is now a corporate communicator in the oil industry, believes layoffs over the years have hurt the quality of journalism and forced an unfair workload on reporters. “Essentially the staff is shrinking for the paper, but there’s more work loaded on the reporters. That makes for poorer quality journalism and it’s not good for newsroom morale. If you lay off so many people that essentially you’re left with a skeleton staff, it means the reporters are overworked.”
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Missing the point Media cover age of Idle No More r aises questions about understanding First Nations story and photos by CARA McKENNA illustrations by AUDREY McKINNON
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“I want to remind you as the media you are the leaders. How
you write and how you demonstrate and how you forecast our relationship is important.” This was the message regional Chief Roger Augustine passed on to reporters at a meeting of chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in Vancouver. He was referring to media coverage of the Idle No More movement, and went on to state: “You determine the future and safety of our people by the way you write, and by the way you demonstrate your work. Your
We’re not afraid of
being called names when we shine a light on injustice, misspending or anything else that affects the lives of our readers, viewers and users. We make no apologies for that. — Jose Rodriguez, editor of the Calgary Sun
work has a lot of respect, a lot of dignity. I will always respect and acknowledge you, as well, but it has to work both ways.” Determining how to portray an entire group of people creates a lot of pressure, especially when journalists aren’t completely sure what the Idle No More movement is really all about. While it may be easy to oversimplify the concept by tying it to single issues—the Enbridge Pipeline, treaty issues, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, federal legislation affecting the environment (Bill C-45)—the lack of understanding, or attempts to understand, on the part of the media has drawn some criticism, even from journalists themselves. “Idle No More from a journalist’s perspective has been, and still is, a challenging movement to cover because there isn’t a central issue per se,” says Duncan McCue, a reporter at CBC and the creator and curator of the online guide called Reporting in Indigenous Communities. “It’s important to communicate with our audience in a short time frame that we have on radio and television, or the few number of words we have in print, to try to understand what the focus of the protests are about. But that said, I really appreciate the outlets that did, and have tried to offer context to those deeper issues. [Some] tried to go on, and said here’s an explainer on what the historic treaty relationship is; here’s an explainer on some of 32
the First Nations’ concerns on Bill C-45. So that kind of thing, and to offer more context rather than just having a bunch of Indians marching down the road waving around placards and beating drums.” McCue says several high-profile columnists—he names Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail as one—are expressing conservative views on aboriginal self-governance and sovereignty, causing anger among aboriginal communities, something that, according to McCue, demonstrates how many senior writers and commentators in Canada are still fairly “old school.” “Many of what aboriginal people, and particularly people on the Idle No More movement, objected to were many of the opinion pieces—and I emphasize opinion pieces—by columnists in major news outlets that expressed more Conservative views on aboriginal self-governance and self-determination. And that’s understandable. That’s what columnists are there to do . . . to provoke thought and discussion and to do so sometimes in a controversial or a provocative manner. And unfortunately, a lot of those columnists became a flashpoint of anger, if you will.” Perhaps even more of a concern are the immoderate comments posted by some people online in reaction to the coverage. While established media generally remove comments that are deemed racist or slanderous, some argue that comments critical of one or another identifiable group is not necessaily racist. The Calgary Sun was accused of racism by more than 100 people who protested outside its newsroom last January for allowing what was seen as discriminatory comments on the paper’s website, and the posting of polls that were “stirring up the hate pot,” according to protesters. Calgary Sun editor Jose Rodriguez responded with a column titled, “We are not racist,” defending the paper’s coverage of Idle No More. “We are not racists. Period. Full stop. Our columnists may at times disagree with First Nations leaders such as Theresa Spence or Derek Nepinak. But disagreeing with or criticizing a person of a different race does not make someone a racist. Treating native issues by a different set of rules, now that would be racist,” Rodriguez wrote. He went on: “We’re not afraid of being called names when we shine a light on injustice, misspending or anything else that affects the lives of our readers, viewers and users. We make no apologies for that. There are issues around accountability with regards to the billions of dollars that taxpayers give to First Nations. There are countless businesses that are being disrupted by protests led by a group that, at times, seems unclear as to what it really wants.” Idle No More wants to blame government for some of the
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very real problems that plague reserves, but seem unwilling to look inward. At their own leadership. At where the billions of dollars have ended up. They seem reluctant to ask for accountability from their own. And now there are threats that they will bring our economy to its knees with blockades and other actions.” Referring to the controversial comments left by readers on Web stories, Rodriguez wrote: “We believe in freedom of speech. In providing a forum for unfettered commentary. We expect our readers to engage in lively real-time debates. We also expect them to police themselves, flagging any inappropriate comments for us to remove—something we do so more often than we’d like to admit.” One Manitoba newspaper, the Thompson Citizen, even went so far to delete its entire Facebook page, writing: “We won’t mince words here. We’re leaving because for some time commenters have been posting virulently racist, anti-aboriginal comments on our page and tagging photos in a similar way, including our profile photo of the Thompson Citizen building this morning. It ends here. This newspaper is not going to stand by and let anti-aboriginal racists and haters spew their evil on a vehicle we’re facilitating them using.” Most recently, the Nanaimo Daily News was under fire for publishing a letter from a reader that drew immediate criticism from members of the aboriginal community and others. The letter, written by Don Olsen, stated First Nations “have a history that is notable only for underachievement” and “are just in the last 200 years getting caught-up to most of the rest of the world.” It also called First Nations too irresponsible to look after themselves and suggested “traditional use” and “cultural nonsense” be done away with. Dozens of protesters showed up at the News office, accusing the newspaper of repeatedly printing racist letters. Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo said the letter reflected a “deep disconnect, misunderstanding and ignorance about First Nations
to the notion that, left to their own devices, aboriginals are unable to govern themselves and will quickly fall into corruption.
people from coast to coast to coast.” Times publisher Hugh Nicholson apologized, but also defended Olsen’s “right to hold and express his opinion,” adding that “the sentiments expressed were entirely his own and in no way reflect the views of the newspaper.” Journalist Michael Harris, writing on the website iPolitics, says newspapers should be more responsible. In a story called “First Nations: The media misses the point—again,” Harris criticizes the media for reporting what is easy—the tabloid-friendly angle aligned with what they want to believe—and that journalists are simply lazy when it comes to reporting aboriginal issues. “Here is what a lot of people want to believe about the Aboriginal Spring in Canada. They hold fast to the idea that the only thing behind native unrest is a bottomless lust for public subsidies. They want to believe that Canada has been just and generous to this misfit people who stubbornly won’t assimilate. They cling to the notion that, left to their own devices, aboriginals are unable to govern themselves and will quickly fall into corruption,” Harris wrote. McCue says the solution to this lack of awareness on the part of the media isn’t simple or quick, but progress could be made if reporters made more of an effort to understand complex issues, and, of course, by not getting sloppy with facts. While people with placards marching in the streets are typical events for the media to cover, he stresses that reporters need to understand the deep-seated issues behind the movement; that Idle No More is not a simple matter of people marching in the streets. This may be something that can be challenging for a reporter who doesn’t already have the knowledge base. Having more aboriginal reporters would be helpful, as well, McCue believes. When Idle No More began, McCue organized a meeting for reporters and producers at CBC in Vancouver to discuss some of the issues being raised, and strategies on how best to cover it. “That’s unusual,” says McCue. “It’s not something that happens typically. I thought it was a good idea so I kind of was a resource . . . but it was a much more broad conversation than me just lecturing at people about things to do. It was a broad, newsroom-based conversation about ‘How do we cover this?’ and ‘What are some of the ethics involved?’” He says the session was helpful but it can’t be just a one-off. “There’s always room for improvement when it comes to coverage of aboriginal issues in the mainstream media.” U LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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Copycat career killer Beware of the pitfalls of plagiarism by MICHELLE GAMAGE
journalism, when is plagiarism
really and truly plagiarism? Many journalists are often caught up in snafus regarding attribution and citation, wittingly or unwittingly. Few are immune. When are you copying and when are you simply relaying information that’s already in the public realm. And since the Web has made stories so widely available, perceptive readers can keep track of whether or not a writer is playing it by the book. The media have been under scrutiny in the past several years as a number of plagiarism cases—or apparent plagiarism cases—have created a hypersensitivity to what is original content and what has been stolen from another’s work. The most recent occurred at the Prince George Citizen when a reporter was fired after using material from other articles without using what the paper deemed to be sufficient sourcing. On Feb. 20, 2013, Citizen managing editor Neil Godbout wrote an apology, taking full responsibility for the lapse of journalistic ethics and announcing that the offending reporter was no longer with the paper. “Plagiarism is a grievous moral offence among writers and journalists with broader implications. It’s a violation of trust between our newspaper and this community,” Godbout wrote.
Some in the media appear to be unclear about what plagiarism is. But not Beverley Sinclair, chair of the journalism program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. “If you’re using someone else’s words, you’re using someone else’s words. As far as journalism is concerned, there is no grey area. It’s either plagiarism or it’s not. Claiming there is a grey area only creates confusion.” But Ross Howard, ethics instructor at Langara College in Vancouver, B.C., says there are many different types of plagiarism and therefore the lines are not always clear. He notes there are three different types of plagiarism that catch even seasoned journalists off their guard. One is when journalists take notes from a source and forget to clearly attribute the information in their notes. When they review the information later during the writing process, they forget the words are not their own and unintentionally plagiarize someone else’s work. For example, in an opinion piece written for the Toronto Star last January, Toronto District School Board director of education Chris Spence borrowed material without attribution. Shortly after its publication, he offered an apology on the school board’s website. “I wrote that op-ed and—in no less than five different instances—I did not give proper credit for the work of others. I
did not attribute their work. I did research and wrote down notes and came back at it the next day, and wrote down the notes.” Spence vowed to study the nuances of plagiarm. “I intend to enrol myself in the Ethics and Law in Journalism course offered by Ryerson University. A component of that course is identification and avoidance of plagiarism. I will enrol in that course at the earliest opportunity.” Another type of plagiarism is when a reporter attributes material in one part of the article but fails to credit it later. The reader never knows what parts of the article are paraphrased from sources and what parts are the reporter’s own words. “If it’s a grey area, you can never make a mistake by attributing,” says Sinclair. “But it’s always possible to make a mistake by not attributing.” Patricia Elliott, assistant journalism professor at the University of Regina, provides a similar perspective. “[Plagiarism is] taking original thought without attribution, or copying out of some else’s material,” says Elliott. “Or attributing once but not so well again later.” The worst kind of plagiarism is knowingly stealing another’s work and passing it off as his or her own. Steve Jeffrey, editor and publisher of the Anchor Weekly in Chestermere, Alta., was accused of this when entire sentences in 42 of his columns were found to be identical to sentences in articles written by a number of differ-
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ent writers. Blogger George Waters noticed the plagiarism when he found a paragraph from his Jan. 15, 2008 article, “Sick of standardized testing? Bubble THIS in,” copied verbatim in Jeffrey’s “Sittin’ in the Lighthouse” column published in the May 19, 2011 edition of the Anchor Weekly. A journalist’s basic function is to curate information to the public in an accurate and readable form. If proper sourcing is not used, journalists can end up passing along false information. “Plagiarism within journalism is mostly accidental or laziness,” says Howard. “It still happens all the time, because it slows down the process of writing when you have to remember where all of the information came from. But attribution is about when someone gets something wrong, they get held accountable. The bottom line is that [attribution] is the antidote to the lack of accountability when credit is due.” Understanding the consequences of plagiarism is crucial for a journalist. Although they were not officially fired, both the Anchor Weekly’s Steve Jeffrey and Toronto District School Board director of education Chris Spence resigned. Howard says an important rule for journalists is to stick to their own moral compass. In the working world, editors and publishers may care more about getting stories in by deadline than having accurate articles. Elliott agrees. She once worked for an editor who was not as interested in the same level of accuracy as she was. “We’re on our honour,” says Elliott. “Don’t sit back and wait for an editor to tell you to do it, do it yourself. Add the details, then add the attribution. Sometimes you are more ethical than your editors. Just because someone is lazy up the chain doesn’t mean you should be lazy.” Shauna Snow-Capparelli, associate professor of journalism at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, and a member of the ethics advisory committee for the Canadian Association of Journalists, says reporters should always check their work. “Ask yourself how do you know what you know. If it is something that you only know because you read it off a document, then ask yourself, ‘says who?’ Every journalist is worth their own reputation, so at the end of the day, that’s all we have.” Some journalists might overlook the finer details of accuracy and attribution, but readers will always tend to seek out reliable news sources, says Howard. “Beautiful writing attracts people, but inaccuracy repels.” L
Apology from Prince George Citizen’s managing editor Neil Godbout -Feb. 20, 2013 EditionNeil Godbout, Managing Editor We make mistakes at the Citizen and when we do, we inform you we make them and we set the record straight as soon as possible. Some mistakes are names spelled wrong, numbers that don’t add up, incorrect dates and so on. They are small but annoying mistakes that drive us - and our readers - crazy. In our aim to have every fact in every story, every headline and every photo caption correct, we fail sometimes and once is still once too many, even when we publish millions of words per year, recreating ourselves from scratch six days per week. Today, we offer you our deepest apologies for plagiarism committed by a former member of the news staff. While fact-checking an opinion piece written last week by this staff member, the similarity between the submitted work and a blog became apparent. The final paragraph of the submitted opinion piece was nearly verbatim to a similar paragraph in the middle portion of the blog. The staff writer did not credit the original writer or make any indication that the final paragraph of the opinion piece was written by someone else. As a result of this discovery, the staff member was informed and an investigation of this staff member’s work was undertaken. To our shock and dismay, multiple incidents of plagiarism were uncovered from work over the last number of months. The staff member plagiarized various online news publications, while writing opinion pieces that appeared in this space. Entire paragraphs were copied and then blended into articles, removing a word here and there, or adding a clause to link certain phrases, but leaving the words of the original writer all or mostly intact, without attribution to the original writer or publication. As of Tuesday morning, that news staff member is no longer employed at this newspaper. Plagiarism is a grievous moral offence among writers and journalists with broader implications. It’s a violation of trust between our newspaper and this community. While our readers and advertisers may not like everything we print every day, we have built our business on trust and integrity. We will not tolerate any flagrant disrespect of that trust that we have worked hard to earn and strive to maintain in each issue, with each story, column and editorial we write. There have been several high-profile incidents of plagiarism in both the Canadian and American press over the past several years, which illustrates that no newspaper, regardless of their size or prestige, is immune. Like those newspapers, we believe that being fully transparent and disclosing a transgression as serious as this one is important to retain the community’s trust in our newspaper and the serious work done daily by our staff. Once again, we offer our most sincere apologies to all of our readers and advertisers. We dealt with the matter quickly and decisively as soon as we became aware of the plagiarism. Like all of our published mistakes, small and large, we inform our readers promptly and we take full responsibility.
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Q & A with
Harold Munro Editor-in-chief, the Vancouver Sun story by CARA McKENNA illustrations by AUDREY McKINNON
Writing stories that move people . . . to action, move people to to tears
The above statement could sum up Harold Munro’s vision of So when you started here as a reporter many years the Vancouver Sun since he became editor-in-chief in spring 2012. Munro seems proud that the Vancouver Sun has been around for 100 years, gesturing to a fake, slightly crumbling 100-year anniversary cake in his downtown office. It’s hard to blame him, seeing as he has been a part of it for 30 of those years. We pulled up a plush leather chair to Munro’s large, wrap-around desk to hear more about how he managed to work his way up from a parttime sports reporter in the ’80s to the paper’s top editor that he is today—and how he’s faring in his new role.
What are your daily responsibilities in your role as editor-in- chief here? As editor-in-chief, I’m responsible for the newsroom operations for four platforms now; of course the newspaper, the website, our mobile version of the paper and then the tablet as well. I also work with the executive team for Pacific Newspaper Group . In the newsroom, I try to dig into the content as much as I can because that’s my background. I was a reporter for a long time, so the most fun for me is sitting down with editors and reporters and talking about stories and some of the projects that we work on. But really, in terms of content I try to set the direction for the paper. What are the main pillars of content for us? Where are we going to focus our resources? Into what areas? 36
ago was it then your ambition to become editor-inchief?
No. I started here just as a freelance sports reporter, covering high school sports. I just wanted to be a reporter and write about news.
When you were appointed to editor-in- chief, what were some of the challenges you faced? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. [I] worked my way up until I was the city assignment editor. Then I was the city editor. Then I was a special projects editor for a period of time, looking at content. Then a deputy managing editor. You work your way up through things and start taking on more and different responsibilities. But each role is different and nothing entirely prepares you for the new challenges of what you have to do. I think every editorin-chief approaches the job differently depending on where they come from, what kind of a background they have. My passion is content. Well-written, well-researched content, and storytelling. I think we do a terrific job of that. Writing stories that move people in some way. Move people to action, move people to tears—just content that’s memorable.
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Where do you envision the Vancouver Sun going in the next five to 10 years, with declining ad revenue, shrinking staff and other issues? Well, we’re going online. We’re already there. And we have more readers now than we’ve ever had. That’s the thing that I think might surprise people . . . about half the people in Metro Vancouver, when we do surveys, say they’ve read the Vancouver Sun at least once in the last week, either in print or online. So that’s around 900,000 to a million people in any given week. That’s a lot of people that we can engage with, and that’s really my hope. When I took the job, I wrote a little column for the paper, and I talked about the need for a constructive conversation through the paper and online, where we don’t just get people sniping at each other about issues, where people come forward with constructive solutions, where we look at best practices when it comes to what’s working and what isn’t working . . . we try to get behind the headlines, behind the shouting that might take place throughout social media.
writers in sports and entertainment and science and health and they’re all contributing to our newspaper.
What do you think is the place of a newspaper in our society, seeing as things are getting a lot more digital , and increasingly so? We’re just ending our hundredth anniversary year, and it’s been a terrific time to move into this role, because I had a chance to meet with a lot of readers, longtime readers going back many years, and some newer readers, who want to talk about the connection they have to the paper. It means different things to different people, but for a lot of folks, it’s getting up in the morning, grabbing the paper and a cup of coffee and having stuff that’s been curated for you. So whether it’s 48 pages or 100 pages, a team of people in a newsroom have
I know the Sun has reduced staff recently. What are some of the challenges that come with having fewer people to the gather news?
I try not to look at what we don’t have. You try and look at what you do have. And everybody, whether it’s television, or radio, or print, all around the world resources are shrinking. So we’re like everybody else, and it’s a challenge. But when you look at it, we have a newsroom of 100 people, which is larger than any newsroom in Western Canada, in any medium. So what can we do with 100 people? I think it’s still a very large number of people with a tremendous skill set, who can get out there and do a lot of terrific work and get conversations going. Another thing we have to do is, we have to reach out to people who are not part of our staff but who want to be part of the Vancouver Sun family through freelancing or through blogging, getting their messages out, participating in the conversations. So we’re looking at building communities of bloggers. That’s the other thing I think we’ll see in the coming years.
How many editorial staff were there at the Sun when you started as a reporter? I don’t know because I wasn’t in charge of budgets then (laughs).
Was it significantly more than it is now? Oh, definitely. Significantly more. The one good thing, too, about the Vancouver Sun is that we have 100 in our newsroom, but we’re part of a larger Post Media family so there are national reporters in Ottawa, a reporter in Washington, D.C., national
sat down and said, “We think the stuff on these pages is worth knowing about today.” Whereas, if you go online, where do you begin? And if your particular area of interest is sports, and you’re only reading sports online, well, what about those surprising stories? I mean, how often do you pick up a newspaper or go to a news website, and you find yourself reading a story about something you never thought you’d be interested in? I think that’s still the value of a newspaper.
Do you ever miss reporting? Oh, all the time. Every day. It’s the most difficult job in the newsroom. They’re the only people that put their names on what they do. The rest of us, our names are in the paper, but not on the stories. As a writer, you have to make choices, and then you kind of put yourself out there for people to criticize your approach to a story, what you’re putting in, what you’re leaving out. _ LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2013 ||
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Tech Revolution 38
Illustration by Audrey McKinnon
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