Contact the Editor
Letters to the Editor
January 19, 2011
Re: Suicide Notes
Thank you Liam Casey for your passionate and revealing story about the secrecy around suicide. As the daughter of a suicide (my elderly mother) I appreciate the complexity of the motives, and consequences for survivors.
I hope you continue to write about this subject. Depression, I think, is a facile medical term that conceals more than it explains. Are suicides among the elderly disguised as accidents, or natural causes? And how many car accidents are suicides? What is the explanation for the suicide rate among First Nations children?
January 4, 2011
Re: Standing on the Shoulders of a Giant
Dear Mr. Falconer,
Thanks for helping to produce a fine edition of the RRJ. I was pleased to receive the winter edition in December (instead of March), and I am reading it now.
I just finished reading Iain Alec Bain's fine article on George Bain. I noticed, however, that Pierre Laporte is described on page 43 as Quebec's justice minister. He was, of course, Quebec's minister of labour.
Get those fact checkers to work!
* * *
Spring & Summer 2010
May 24, 2010
Re: Low Fidelity
In her piece about the supposed decline of Canadian music criticism, Jessica Lewis writes that my Globe and Mail review of a concert by the Handsome Furs “politely skirts the issue of whether the group’s music is, well, any good… [Everett-Green] is one of many skilled music journalists who rarely dish out negative opinions.” The implication is that I secretly believed the Handsome Furs to be no good, but was unwilling to say so.
On the contrary, my review described the Furs’ music as “excellent.” I reviewed their album Face Control in The Globe a few weeks earlier, and gave the record 3 ½ stars out of 4.
If Lewis were to say, “Everett-Green thinks the Furs are excellent, but I know they suck; therefore he’s a lousy critic,” I would accept that as her opinion. What she in fact does is to blatantly misrepresent my published views, and to offer her distortion as evidence that my motives are suspect.
I know nothing of Lewis’s motives, but her methods follow a familiar recipe from the Crap Journalism Cookbook:
1) Choose an attention-grabbing premise – eg.: “Music critics lose their nerve and become boosters!”
2) Gather quotations that can be manipulated to support the premise – eg.: find a way to get Toronto Star critic Ben Rayner to appear to say that his enthusiasm for The Constantines was stoked by “record label friends”; quote me in such a way that I seem to admit that my critical writing is uncritical.
3) Avoid direct contact with the subject under investigation – eg.: in a piece about the decline of criticism, minimize discussion of anyone’s actual critical writing -- or just misrepresent it.
Lewis seems to think that the proof of real criticism is a negative review. I can easily meet her criterion this time. Her piece is ignorantly conceived, badly reasoned and poorly researched. I give it no stars, two thumbs down and a big bowl of moldy raspberries.
The Globe and Mail
* * *
May 21, 2010
Re: There's Something about Kerry
I can't begin to detail the many fictions you published about Kerry Mitchell in your pointless and sexist article.
In cherry-picking sources, the authors seem to have forgotten to contact several key editors who have worked with Kerry, including me, a former editor-in-chief of Chatelaine. Had anyone bothered to call, I would have told you all about Kerry's intelligence, skill and sensitivity.
* * *
April 20, 2010
Re: On the Eve of Destruction
Matthew Halliday's profile of John Stackhouse and the "new" Globe and Mail is a a well-drawn and informative piece. Too bad, though, that he felt compelled to use two anonymous criticisms of Stackhouse's editorial style. This is lazy short-cut journalism. Surely he could have found somebody brave enough to put his name behind his words. As a reader, when I read a quote impugning somebody, I dismiss it out of hand when the quote is anonymous. Especially when I'm not given a reason why the writer felt compelled to protect the source from the consequences of his or her opinions.
As a former journalism teacher and a long-time journalist, I've always maintained that the only time a reporter should use anonymous sources is a) when the direct quote is absolutely vital to the story, and no other source was available, or b) when the consequences of self-revelation would be dire to the source. And in both these cases, the writer needs to tell me in the very clearest way WHY the source cannot be named. These standards should be enforced even more stringently when you have news people talking about news people, in an industry where transparency is the basis of credibility.
* * *
April 6, 2010
Re: There's Something about Kerry
Ken said it all.
A story based on rumor is no story at all - and your faculty should know that.
Further, to suggest that a publisher has no talent - and worse, no right - to contribute to the editorial product is just plain silly. The publisher is accountable for a magazine's success - and a magazine's success depends on a quality product in which advertisers wish to place ads, and which readers want to purchase.
I had the privilege of working with Kerry when I was editor-in-chief of Canadian Living - she was my boss, but we worked as partners. Kerry is bright, funny, committed, compassionate - and a point missed entirely in this overwrought piece - an editor's publisher, who demonstrated day in and day out, enormous respect for, and support of, editorial staff and their ability to create compelling magazines.
Metro English Canada
* * *
April 5, 2010
Re: There's Something about Kerry
Why is it that when a woman in leadership is written about, so much importance is placed on whether or not she is well liked? Kerry Mitchell is a publisher. Her job is not to hold the best slumber parties, it is to increase readership and profits. If she can do that, fair play to her. Revolving doors and disgruntled rivals don't deserve much weight. In this story, a legitimate concern about the merge of advertisement and editorial in her magazines was completely overshadowed by the ink given to how Ms Mitchell carries herself, gets along with her staff and socializes. Using the photo of her in a sexy red dress, a headline that obliquely references a Cameron Diaz RomCom, and the quip about reaching new heights in her pumps were all nice added touches. I guess inter-industry pettiness moves more magazines than honest criticism and analysis. Maybe, as a professional publisher, Ms Mitchell will be able to appreciate it.
Ryerson Journalism graduate 2006
* * *
April 1, 2010
Re: There's Something About Kerry
I am disappointed that the official publication of a leading Canadian journalism school would publish an article about a senior publishing figure based on "rumours," "whispers," unsourced allegations and the testimony of disgruntled former employees.
The supposed criticisms of my Rogers Publishing colleague Kerry Mitchell are ridiculous. It is not a "transgression" for a publisher to be involved in the cover and contents of her magazine; it is a duty. A "hands-on" management style is not a flaw or a problem but something Kerry has in common with the founder of our company, Ted Rogers (whose name, incidentally, is on the wall at the Ryerson School of Management).
I can say from first-hand knowledge over the last several months that Kerry's relations with the staff at Chatelaine were exemplary. She was of enormous help to me as I became involved in the magazine.
I am mystified by your unsupported assertion that Kerry somehow "crossed" me. It's true that I always end up paying for lunch, even when she invites me—even on my birthday—but we have been good friends and close colleagues since I arrived at Rogers. I think she is an excellent publisher and leader, and Rogers is lucky to have her.
One final point: I have been five years at Rogers Publishing and not once has the ground "trembled with ferocity." I'm surprised your fact-checkers missed that one.
Ken Whyte, Rogers Publishing Limited
* * *
Spring & Summer 2008
June 2, 2008
Re: the Spring 2008 issue
Greetings from a Ryerson magazine journalism graduate, class of 1996. I'm a former Ryerson Review scribbler myself—I wrote the John Haslett Cuff cover story, "Sympathy for the Devil," that year.
I just want to pass on my congratulations to this year’s Spring 2008 team. I’ve been living overseas in England for several years, and moved to Vancouver last year, so I've been out of the Review loop. But a chance quick business trip took me to Toronto this week and my mother (bless her) had a copy waiting for me.
I’ve now read Spring 2008 from front-of-book to Lloyd Robertson’s mock Facebook page at the back, and I thoroughly enjoyed the issue. I’m very impressed, and thought the articles were excellent, particularly the foreign correspondent pieces. Having been-there-done-that myself, I know how hard everyone worked to put it out (as I'm sure the Summer 2008 crew have!).
I just wanted to send some kudos and “well-dones” before I got sucked back into my workload.
* * *
May 1, 2008
Re: Carla Wintersgill’s editorial, “Taking Back the Cover,” Spring 2008
So the editor, a Ms. Wintersgill, thinks it’s so clever to use the phrase “middle-aged white guys” she beats it to death in editorial, oblivious to the irony of reverse sexism.
Though your magazine is great, this kind of tiresome and juvenile spritzing is not. It’s knee-jerk dunce work. We may think she’s great, but we don’t call Wendy Mesley a “middle-aged white gal,” do we—though CBC’s halls and on-air positions are full of them?
After years of women screaming, “Show some respect,” is it possible that supposed bright young things don’t realize they have to earn it?
* * *
April 25, 2008
Re: Ryerson Review of Journalism, Spring 2008
In the span of an enormously entertaining and insightful issue, not once did any of your stories mention enRoute, or any other Canadian custom publication. Your story on service journalism, for example, or on women on top of mastheads, might have been enhanced greatly by talking to, say, Ilana Weitzman, the editor in chief of enRoute. As one of this country's largest and most successful magazines, you do your readers a disservice to ignore a magazine like enRoute because it is merely an "inflight magazine." You also do your students an even larger disservice by ignoring custom publishing altogether—it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the magazine industry in Canada and the U.S. The offices of Spafax (the publisher of enRoute, among other titles) have grown more than 100 per cent in the past two years. We employ committed editors and designers from across Canada—who come to us because they want to work in a fast-paced, intellectually stimulating magazine environment.
Interesting how they have figured this out—as have many of this country's leading writers/journalists—but the gatekeepers of the industry (including the National Magazine Awards Foundation—of which I have just been elected to the board) have yet to figure this out. It's a pity, really. This attitude, ultimately, weakens your mandate specifically, and the overall view of the Canadian magazine industry in general.
Sincerely, Arjun Basu
* * *
I read the article on fab magazine, and felt the need to point out something about the the Matt Thomas quote, "I'm 23. I'm a baby. I'm young. The person who had my job before was in his thirties. But like I said, people know good ideas and energy and excitement when they see it." People who had Thomas's job before were other twentysomethings as well, like Michael Pihach and Antony Collins.
I think Thomas is confusing the associate editor position with the other two editors who were fired, who held editor-in-chief and managing editor posts.
* * *
I am writing to express my utter disappointment with the blatant propaganda that your organization printed about International World Television and their beta project The Real News Network (TRNN). Ms. Pergolas’s article missed many of the key issues faced by this organization.
The article reads like press release for the organization and not a journalistic report on it. The piece excuses the fact that this organization is having difficulty delivering on its lofty and, in my opinion, vitally important goal of delivering news untainted by corporate or political agendas with a simple wink and nod by Paul Jay. He’s taken at his word when he indicates that the opinions of all former employees are unfounded and the organization is experiencing growing pains typical of any start-up.
The weight of opinion in this article is clearly slanted toward supporting TRNN regardless of the facts, and my perception is that it supports Mr. Jay in his ongoing quest to vilify all who oppose his actions within the organization. This was accomplished in the article by ensuring that the content and context of the comments by those quoted other than Ms. Cahill, Mr. Booth and Mr. Jay was distorted or completely ignored.
For example, I am horrified at how badly misquoted I was in the article. The quote, “Shit or get off the pot,” was tagged on to the end of a paragraph in which I was stating the inefficiencies of having to wait for a news story to be approved by the Senior Editor. The selective use of my words left out the substance of what I said in my interview and opted for the salacious sizzle of my more colourful final phrase.
The point that I was trying to make was in reference to the issue of separating the role of CEO and Senior Editor. My perspective on this was very practical because, as I explained to Ms. Pergolas, I was speaking as a finishing editor whose time was constantly being wasted because Mr. Jay’s role as CEO often took him away from the newsroom and his role of Senior Editor. I was very clear that this was nothing personal against Mr. Jay and that I did not care which role he assumed.
My point was that a separation needed to occur, and that it needed to occur quickly, so that TRNN could go about the business of improving the quality and timely delivery of true news. I told Ms. Pergolas that Mr. Jay needed to make a choice as to whether he was the visionary evangelist of the organization and its mission, or he was the vigilant and inspirational overseer of the newsroom.
Now that you have the content and context of my comments, you may insert my colourful phrase.
To speak to one more point that concerns me, I am offended on behalf of all those talented people who have graced the TRNN with their presence, skill and passion, as well as all of those still at TRNN with a strong desire to learn and grow in their chosen profession.
Mr. Jay indicates that it has been a challenge for him to build a competent team “capable of producing the level of content TRNN hopes to provide” because financial constraints do not allow him to entice experienced people away from conventional newsrooms. Mr. Allan Booth, TRNN web developer, indicates that the general level of internal skills is not enough to produce “top level work” and that many of the staff have “half-skills” which do not allow them to take their work to “the next level.” This is truly insulting considering that the reality is that TRNN has had talented, capable professionals working for it, and these professionals were keen on developing the skill sets of lesser-experienced members of the staff.
What happened to these individuals then? Well, it appears that they dared to brush up against TRNN’s leadership in defense of the cause and were fired. Others quit in frustration when they were unable to achieve forward momentum in the newsroom and saw no hope of being able to do so in the future. The rate of attrition at TRNN is horrendous and it has drained the most talented and experienced of the organization’s staff. This alone is proof of major problems beneath the surface of the organization and is worthy of true journalistic investigation.
Mr. Jay indicates that financial constraints are the root of his staffing and skill-set issues. The problem with this defense is that money was not an issue when the likes of David Nayman, Dennis Porter and Tim Knight worked within the organization. These experienced and talented individuals came to TRNN because they believed in the cause behind the organization; it was not the money that motivated them. And it was not an issue of money that caused each of them to exit the organization.
So what does Mr. Jay mean when he indicates that true talent is too costly for TRNN to support at this time? Is the price of a little humility and the willingness to trust others too high for Paul Jay to accept?
* * *
January 24, 2008
Re: “How not to accuse someone of plagiarism,” RRJBlog, Jan. 24, 2008
I'm emailing to respond to the article on the Ryerson Review of Journalism's blog about Torontoist's accusation of plagiarism against the Toronto Sun.
I read the RRJ blog every day. While I've been keeping mostly private about the matter––in my mind it's closed now––your post is inaccurate, and I felt compelled to reply to it, particularly this bit:
"He later had to issue a retraction, apologizing for assuming it was the 26-year-old Yuen behind the copycat move."
That's not true. I issued an addendum to the first post, before the resolution of the issue, which read as follows:
"This article implicated Jenny Yuen as necessarily part of the act of plagiarism that took place in the article published under her name in
the Sun before such an accusation could be conclusively proven. Such a presumption of her guilt was premature, unfair, and irresponsible, especially for such a serious accusation. Torontoist sincerely apologizes for deeming her guilty until proven innocent; a more detailed explanation and apology are in the comments. We will follow up on this story as more details about the person or persons responsible become available, and we will issue a full apology to Jenny Yuen if it is proven that she was not one of those people."
The Sun, a day later, was the one that issued an apology for the copying of the paragraph without credit. We replied to the Sun's apology, but––because our apology was conditional on whether or not our accusations were unfounded––did not issue one of our own.
Your article completely omits the Sun's apology and our response to it, a vitally important aspect of the story. At the very least, it might help readers of the blog to link to both Torontoist's article accusing the Sun of plagiarism, as well as the one following up on it.
I am absolutely willing to take criticism for the decision I made to publicly accuse a publication and author of plagiarism (and it was plagiarism, intentional or otherwise) but I feel it should at least be accurate criticism.
* * *
January 24, 2008
Re: Ashley Pergolas’s “Please Do Not Adjust Your Set….” January 21, 2008, rrj.ca
I have to tell you that the story about Independent World Television’s The Real News Network (TRNN) bears little resemblance to the sad truth about TRNN.
Background—a couple of weeks ago your reporter approached me with questions about TRNN, of which I was Director of Journalism Training for 10 months. As a journalist I have always believed that it’s unprofessional, even immoral, to not answer questions from other journalists, or answer only off the record. So I spent around an hour with her, on the record, answering questions as honestly as I could.
Please allow me to detail a few highly salient points, almost all of which somehow ended up on your cutting room floor.
I told her I have 30 years experience as a journalist with ABC, NBC, PBS and CBC and pointed her to www.TimKnight.org for details (along with TRNN staff feedback after my training there). That I’m a former producer of CBC’s The National and was for 10 years executive producer, CBC TV journalism training. Additionally, I’ve led journalism training workshops for a dozen international broadcasters over the years. All of which, I assumed, qualified me to tell her that during those many years in news I have seldom come across a more unprofessional newsroom than TRNN.
I told her that staff turnover at TRNN has been astounding. Some 20 people, many of them highly motivated, skilled and experienced, have resigned from TRNN in sheer bloody frustration over the past year or so. This, at a time when TV stations are laying off staff and TV jobs are extraordinarily hard to find!
I told her that in my professional opinion Paul Jay—a charismatic, workaholic documentary and current affairs talk show producer who wears both CEO and Senior Editor hats at TRNN—has neither the experience nor the temperament to run a professional daily newsroom. Jay is a self-confessed micro-manager who insists that news stories blindly follow his own particular view of the world.
I told her that the professional atmosphere at TRNN is so frustrating and counterproductive that last fall all five newsroom journalists met to draw up a petition to Jay. Here is an excerpt:
We, the undersigned, have gathered together to form The Real News Journalists Association (TRNJA) in the belief that an independent, international internet and broadcast news organization is a truly worthwhile cause and … could be a vital element in the furtherance of public service journalism and democracy around the world.
In that spirit—and properly recognizing the vision and determination that have brought this project so very far—we respectfully make the following requests: That a more professional, efficient and positive atmosphere be established in the newsroom; that to ensure the traditional and vital separation of journalistic church and state, the offices of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Senior Editor be separated; that the CEO be in overall charge, define the goals of the newsroom and be responsible for guarding and protecting its integrity and quality; that the title of Senior Editor be dropped, replaced with the title News Executive Producer, and that, as a most urgent priority, a News Executive Producer with extensive experience in heading a daily news operation be appointed.
We respectfully make these requests in a true spirit of professional cooperation solely to further the immediate and long-term interests and efficiency of a cause in which we all fervently believe—The Real News.
Instead of accepting our petition as an honest—and desperate—attempt to help save a floundering project we sincerely believe in, Jay fires two of us (me included) and has angry confrontations with the others involved, including threats of further firings.
Some half-dozen disillusioned former TRNN journalists, including me, have since told your reporter what is actually going on in the organization. How frustrated we are that so much time, energy and funds go into raising money from celebrities and building social networks while so little goes into building a professional newsroom. How frustrated we are when unqualified, often incompetent people are hired. How embarrassed we are at the poor quality of most of the stories produced (using widely available AP wire service cover footage).
But almost none of what we told your reporter is included in the story. Certainly, not a word I said (perhaps I wasn’t considered sufficiently qualified to be believable).
Instead of giving the facts, your story only hints at the problems and comes across as a public relations release about a plucky little network battling enormous odds in a splendid cause.
The cause is, indeed, splendid. What could be more praiseworthy, even saintly, than offering not-for-profit TV journalism With “No government funding … No corporate funding … No advertising … No strings”?
The promises made by TRNN are simply not being kept. And as I told your reporter (as well as Jay at newsroom meetings), if the noble experiment that is TRNN fails, it will seriously damage the cause of international public service TV journalism for years to come and likely make it impossible for anyone else to ever embark on such a worthwhile project again. It is not too late to save the cause that is TRNN. Public relations won’t do it—only extensive and radical change.
I assume that as prestigious a forum as the Ryerson Review of Journalism (which proudly proclaims itself as casting “an unflinching look at the practice of journalism in Canada”) will give this letter prominence similar to the original story.
Tim Knight + Associates
* * *
January 24, 2008
Re: Ashley Pergolas’s “Please Do Not Adjust Your Set….” rrj.ca, January 21, 2008
I recently read your article about The Real News. I worked at The Real News and was interviewed for the story, though not quoted.
I want to say that in my 10 years in media, working for more than a half dozen broadcasters, I can't recall seeing another story that was so misleading. The author had access to a wealth of information about TRN, yet none of this made it into the story. Instead of painting a critical—and accurate—picture of the organization, you ran a virtual press release. It did not resemble anything that any journalist could reasonably have concluded from the facts that were available. How did such a misleading story make it to print?
I look forward to your explanation.
* * *
Spring & Summer 2007
December 26, 2007
Re: John Mather’s “Hot Prospects,” Summer 2007
My attention was recently drawn to John Mather's article regarding the Calgary Herald and its circulation recovery under my watch as editor in chief (1999-2003) and publisher (2003-2006).
I cannot speak to the Herald’s circulation and readership trends since then, but its recovery between 2002 and 2006 was the result of the foundational work of my predecessor as publisher, Dan Gaynor, and cooperation between my colleagues—primarly the vice presidents of marketing, reader sales, advertising, production and editorial with the support of human resources and finance. I’m certain your reporter meant no disrespect in overlooking the contributions of those individuals—all of whom contributed equally and are equally deserving of being recognized for their work during that time when the Herald’s circulation grew. It is a shame they were neither mentioned, nor given the credit they are due.
* * *
July 23, 2007
Re: "Into the Wild," Summer 2007
What a terrific piece on The Walrus (declaration of interest: I briefly worked there) by Lauren McKeon. Thoroughly and fearlessly reported, smart, well written, and free of airs and graces. If only there were more of that sort of thing in the Canadian press.
* * *
May 29, 2007
Re: "Staring Down the Tigers," Spring 2007
In reference to Meena Nallainathan's recent piece, you need not convince the world about how bad the Tigers are. What is surprising is that fact that you selected three individuals who had experiences with the Tigers to highlight how bad the Tigers were.
However, you failed to consider the opinions and views of hundreds and thousands of Tamils in Canada about their views about the Tigers. Even if you had considered the views of three others, you could have arrived at a balanced picture. However, given your highly selective enterprise to paint a miserable picture of the Tigers, you had to choose the likes of Jeyaraj and Krushchev. Jeyaraj is a good writer, but he cannot claim that he was duped by Bala. His recent writings on the conflict purport to give a picture that he really knows about what is happening in Sri Lanka, but does he really know what is going on. Consider his famous lie about how Prabahkaran and Karuna patched up before the latter made the exit from the East.
You can say what you want about the Tigers, but then you failed to provide a way out for Tamils in your beloved country, unless of this is now Canada. You seem to think that writing anti-Tiger pieces would endear you to the west and show how brave you are in facing the “fascist” organization. But then writers like you do not have the dignity and the empathy for the suffering experienced by Tamils at the hands of the Sinhala racists. You want to throw the baby with the bath water.
What is the solution? Cast your lot with Douglas, Karuna, Anandasangree or what?
For every Tamil who opposes the Tigers there are thousands who support them. You mean to say that those who support the LTTE do due to fear. What about the Tamil diaspora in other places?
Radhika spoke about the gentle nature of the Sinhalese and how the Tamils failed to understand their fears and anxieties. You complement Radhika in many ways. I just don't have the time to elaborate.
I hope you build up your career by attacking the organization that is the only hope for Tamils.
* * *
Re: RRJ Spring and Summer 2007
Congratulatons to the RRJ team, I just read the last two issues, which are frankly wonderful. Honestly, I am totally jealous. I would love to see the occasional story on a francophone journalist, though. We really are two solitude …
* * *
Nov. 24, 2006
Re: Andrea Lau's "Issues First, Journalism Second." Nov. 13, 2006
Hello, I'm one of the sources quoted in Andrea Lau's Nov. 13 story on Spacing Votes. As the editor-in-chief of two respected community newspapers in Toronto, I was a little distressed to read that I was a "young gun" with little journalistic training.
I made it clear to both Andrea and the fact-checker that, while not having covered a City Hall beat, I do some some experience in the media. I have been employed by Gleaner News since 2002.
Please pass my concern along to both ladies.
* * *
Spring & Summer 2006
Aug. 10, 2006
Re: Barry Hertz's "Being John Ibbitson," Summer 2006
Barry Hertz's "Being John Ibbitson" is one of the more execrable lumps of prose I've read in the past decade. After leaving journalism in 1996 I forgot how easy it is to stitch a series of half-truths, unsubstantiated claims and trivial factoids into a deceptively believable "profile." If, like me, Ibbitson can recall our first semester at the University of Western Ontario's j-school then this article would make him wince too. Prof. Andrew MacFarlane (or it may have been Mack Laing) taught us that, "Show me, don't tell me," is a fundamental rule in convincing readers of the veracity of one's journalism. Unfortunately, Hertz's gushing hagiography approaches the trade the other way round.
For starters, Hertz must be all of five feet tall if he finds Ibbitson's five-foot-ten-inch height "imposing." Such adjectives used to be reserved for football players and army drill sergeants, but perhaps in today's media everything is relative to the author and need not be qualified.
Hertz's claim that Ibbitson was "a decade older than most of his classmates" sent me running to my files to check the Class of 1998 student directory, which although it does not list ages does give a rundown of when Ibber's 42 classmates earned their undergraduate degrees. Unless there was an unusually high number of child geniuses he does not appear to be more than about eight years older than any of them, and was younger than at least three or four. But maybe we ought not to quibble over facts. In a year when the most memorable activity was playing card games Ibbitson and fellow alumnus Steve Northfield can be forgiven for not remembering much else.
Where were the Review's copy-editors (not to mention the senior staff) when this ridiculous statement got passed on to the printer: "But while it's true [Ibbitson] trumpets fiscally conservative causes such as smaller government, lower taxes and increased military spending?"? Please explain how a fiscal conservative advocates spending more money on anything. Perhaps prominent columnists are able to do what economists and other mere mortals cannot.
Then, with barely a pause to breathe, Hertz leaps into a realm that might well be labeled Tantric Journalism. Ibbitson prefers "critical, reportage-heavy analysis." Hertz reiterates this argument again and again: "Be it stories on the softwood lumber disputes, reports on aboriginal policies or Canadian waffling over missile defence, Ibbitson reports the news instead of merely analyzing it?." Other than citing the opinions of fellow Globe and Mail hacks Margaret Wente and Anthony Westell, where is the evidence that Ibbitson ever broke one news story that couldn't have been gleaned from contemporaneous published sources? Please may we have just one verifiable citation? Three thousand words later the hapless reader remains prisoner to a mystical faith in Ibbitson's reportorial prowess. Not having the patience myself to regularly read Ibbitson's boilerplate neocon pontificating I confess I can't help Hertz on that score.
And could Hertz not have found someone other than a Globe reviewer to discuss the merits of Ibbitson's books? The choice reeks of asking one member of a dysfunctional family for an unbiased comment about a sibling.
More contradictions follow. Apparently Ibbitson is in favour of same-sex marriage but says he does not understand "state interference at all"? As if same-sex marriage would thrive all by itself in the bosom of a compassionate free-market economy. Where will all those redneck homophobes and religious zealots disappear to in the absence of a civilizing state?
Hertz struggles to argue that Ibbitson exists beyond the traditional ideological distinctions of left and right, but is himself imprisoned by those worn-out labels. He describes Globe columnist Rick Salutin as an "ultra-left voice." Really? When was the last time you saw him advocate the replacement of Parliament by communes or march in favour of nationalizing the banks? Hertz then regurgitates the popular misconception that readers actually have a "choice between the Star on the left, the Post on the right, and the Globe waffling in between." Don't all three titles thrive on articles extolling the virtues of consumption, which just happen to be the same virtues extolled by their advertisers: more and bigger vehicles, foreign holidays, properties. If one isn't a reader who craves owning more "stuff" then one isn't a reader the Star, the Globe or the Post wants. The occasional hiring of a columnist such as a Salutin, a Linda McQuaig or a Haroon Siddiqui is a sop to diversity of opinion that doesn't measure up when compared to entire 24-page sections on new cars and condos.
What does Hertz have to say about Ibbitson's volunteer work, his religious convictions, his commitment to teaching or the speaking fees he donates to charity? Does Hertz say anything at all about the life that makes the man? By the time the reader labours to the end of "Being John Ibbitson" s/he has learned that the subject is a middle-class, white, gay guy with an MA who moved from small-town Ontario to the city where he drives an expensive Japanese car and has a penchant for modern furniture. Now there's a personality who stands out in a crowd! In 1966 that may have been worth a story; in 2006 it is a celebration of the mundane. Regrettably, in an age when the endless tide of hyperbole trivializes so much of political life there is no counterbalance to the law of libel. If it is an offence to damage a person's reputation by spreading falsehoods it should be no less an offence to inflate another's reputation at the expense of an informed electorate. Perhaps then writers would reflect more soberly before they committed words to print.
Lest you think I have a grudge against my former classmate let me affirm that I do not. What I protest is the elevation of someone who commands little more than the wisdom of the day to the status of journalist-sage. As Samuel Johnson once wrote in similar circumstances: "He was dull in a new way and that made many people think him great."
P.S. Do you really "welcome input" into the Review? Is that why your invitation to write letters to the editor appears in small print at the bottom of a very long Web page and not at all in the printed version of your magazine? When you choose a name and a format similar to titles such as the Columbia Journalism Review you not only end up on the same newsstand shelf you create an expectation that you aspire to the same standards. Shame on you!
* * *
June 6, 2006
Re: Aaron Leaf's "Mission Possible: The Globe and Mail takes on B.C." (Spring 2006)
It is sad to observe that the editors of the Review have entered the journalistic-standards-free-zone that routinely accompanies CanWest bashing.
In his article associate editor Leaf examines the Globe's B.C. campaign while neglecting to include comment from the target of that campaign. Worse, he permits all of his sources — as well as himself personally — to criticize and attack The Vancouver Sun and CanWest, again without comment from either. Presumably Leaf, as a student, still has much to learn — apparently even about basic journalism — but surely someone more experienced than he is overseeing these articles.
Leaf suggests that the Toronto Globe and Mail is doing original B.C. reporting while the Sun "utilizes CanWest's corporate infrastructure to shoehorn in stories on the cheap."
The CanWest news service — by no means an "on-the-cheap" operation — permits the Sun to publish a unique array of Canadian stories; without it we would have to rely only on Canadian Press, content which all other papers, including the Globe, avail themselves of.
Leaf posits two stories and one section of one day's paper as some sort of putative evidence of his false claim. Oddly, he criticizes us for publishing a Regina story written in Regina and augmented by our own staff, while praising the Globe for publishing a Regina story written from here. And he simply ignores the fact that six days a week this newspaper produces original B.C. content in every section of the paper compared to the Globe's few pages. He also overlooks the fact that the Globe's "original" content — or "coverage with a local-mouth feel" as the paper's Colin MacKenzie characterizes it — sometimes consists of Sun stories, photos and quotes mined by the Toronto Globe from Canadian Press. Even without that leg up from CP, as even Leaf was forced to acknowledge, the evidence shows that theGlobe is routinely chasing the Sun's news.
Leaf parrots The Tyee's David Beers's characterization of "ideologically driven, unapologetically pro-business CanWest newspapers." No mention of the ideology of the Tyee or its financial backers. No mention of the fact that Mr. Beers, a former employee of the Sun, may have an axe to grind.
Leaf uses circulation figures, presumably provided by the Globe, to suggest their B.C. initiative is paying off. No mention of industry trends favouring national over regional newspapers in circulation. No mention of paid versus program circulation. No mention of how many new subscribers the Globegained as a result of its costly marketing campaign. No mention of how the Globe is faring against the local free papers.
The Sun is Canada's fifth largest English language daily newspaper and its third largest English language metro. It routinely, year after year after year, wins national and provincial awards for its investigative, innovative and breaking news content. We have our share of challenges — changing lifestyles, the digital revolution and free papers to name a few — but we're prepared to take them on. Attention to journalistic standards is an important element in our approach. I trust in future it will be yours as well.
The Vancouver Sun
* * *
May 17, 2006
Re: Carley Fortune's "The Great Newspaper War of Barry's Bay" (Summer 2006)
I was looking forward to my annual spring tradition of sitting down with your magazine, especially after I heard that one of the students would be profiling Barry's Bay This Week. I was the managing editor of the newspaper from March 2002 to June 2003, when it was sold to Osprey Media. I recognize all the names and faces in the stories, since I worked in that office regularly over the fifteen months — a fact which is not reflected in the story.
According to Fortune's research, Barry's Bay This Week was a "dumping ground for cheaply generated copy" and often more Peterborough news ran in the place of local copy. These statements are completely untrue. During the fifteen months that I was managing editor, the reporters and I knocked ourselves out working days, nights and weekends to fill the newspaper exclusively with stories from Barry's Bay, Wilno, Combermere, Whitney and beyond. Yes, I worked in the Peterborough office when I edited the stories early in the week, but I personally covered the winter carnival, the Bay Day party on the May long weekend and dozens of other events and stories as well.
During the previous editor's tenure, there was a short period during which she printed a few Peterborough-area stories. That only happened since one reporter had left and the new one had not started yet. There was such a backlash that it never happened again.
My biggest disappointment is the fact that no one from Metroland had a chance to defend our organization in this story. A woman did phone our Peterborough office to ask some questions for the story, but she talked to our advertising director about line rates and circulation numbers. That employee never worked in the Barry's Bay office. Given the statements made by receptionist Debbie Robbins (a bitter, former Metroland employee, by the way), we at least deserved a chance to explain our side.
I do give credit to the Tracey brothers for running a very competitive newspaper. They gave us a great run and I have a world of respect for them. I'm also thrilled to see Doug Gloin in the editor's chair and expect that he will serve the readers well.
However, if Carley Fortune comes knocking at my door looking for a job, I would not be as impressed.
Editor in chief
Peterborough This Week
Kawartha Lakes This Week
(Carley Fortune replies:
At the Barry's Bay library I went through back issues of This Week for the years that it was run by Metroland. It was not a good paper — a fact that was recognized by everyone in Barry's Bay.
The period that Metroland ran the paper is a small part of my story, and Ms. Tuffin's name did not surface during my research so I don't know how I would have tracked her down. Even if I had, I doubt it would have been included in the story. A former managing editor would of course defend her paper, and it's not really relevant to the story that the managing editor thinks she did a good job. The story was about This Week under Osprey ownership versus an independent paper.
I might add that Metroland was the hardest organization to crack in terms of getting information. Trying to find out circulation numbers was a nightmare.
Debbie Robbins is far from a bitter employee; in fact, she didn't strike me as a bitter person at all. She just recognized that the paper under Metroland wasn't any good. And she wasn't the only person to criticize Metroland — several important sources for my story criticized the paper under Metroland's rule.
I'm sorry Ms. Tuffin feels the way she does — but not that sorry. I did a lot of work on my story and I'm proud of it.)
* * *
May 17, 2006
Re: Photojournalist Roger Lemoyne's guest column, "The Dispassionate Eye" (Summer 2006)
I received the Review today. Thanks for inviting me to write this column and sending it on to me. The magazine is very interesting.
I would like you to pass on this email to whomever it was that took it upon themselves to crop the Kosovo photo in this clumsy and inconsiderate way. This is like inviting someone to speak and then cutting them off when you feel like it. Let me remind this person that the photograph won a World Press Photo in its original form, not as they saw fit to truncate it.
This is not commissioned photography that the magazine has paid for, so I find it doubly offensive to crop a picture in these circumstances. I hate to be ungracious, but someone has to instill respect for the photographer's rights.
* * *
May 2, 2006
Re: Rudy Sabga's "Cyber Siege" (Summer 2006)
I am quoted in Sabga's article, and concerned by one of the references to me on page 39.
I told the writer that the Internet has been my No. 1 priority since arriving at the Free Press one year ago. I explained to the writer that I have pushed Internet development since the moment of my arrival. Yet the passage that leads into a quote from me reads: "For some, the Web is not a priority."
The quote that follows is, again, not what I said. In this case, it seriously misrepresents what I said. The figures of 25 per cent for Ottawa and 10 per cent for Winnipeg refer to the percentages of people who say they regularly read news on Internet sites, not "regular Internet use." I did indeed tell the writer that we have no separate Web department, but I also explained that is because we have a single news gathering team that services both the Web and the newspaper, filing live to the Web on breaking news when it occurs. We offer breaking news headlines free to anyone, and full versions of up-to-date stories to all subscribers.
The result of these errors on the part of your publication is to make me look like someone who simply does not understand the importance of the Internet to newspapers, which is absolutely false.
Winnipeg Free Press
[Editor's note: We stand corrected. The online version of "Cyber Siege" has been amended accordingly.]
* * *
April 27, 2006
Re: Emily Claire Afan's "A Change in the Weather" (Spring 2006)
It's very encouraging to see an excellently researched and written article that accurately documents what we do and where we came from as a weather broadcasting industry. The article underscored the important changes and what drove them in shaping the North American industry, in part by juxtaposing the U.S. and Canadian experiences as a useful counterpoint. I am sure the average reader came away enlightened by the article.
It was also nice to have it confirmed that good ol' Percy [Saltzman] is still kickin'!
Hats off to Ms. Afan for a job well done. It's little wonder that our best producers and writers tend to come out of Ryerson.
S. Bryn Jones
Business Development Meteorologist
Pelmorex - The Weather Network
* * *
April 18, 2006
Re: Marco Ursi's "In Your Face" (Spring 2006)
The instant I stuck out my tongue at photographer Michelle Yee I thought, "Uh-oh. Bad move." Today, in my mailbox, landed the Spring 2006 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism — and there I am on the cover, giving the world some tongue.
Inside, a six-page profile, including that photograph — up close and wrinkly — penned by the issue's editor Marco Ursi. Titled "In Your Face," it's a solid non-puffy portrayal.
My only quibbles are:
(1) My lipstick looks smeary. My fault.
(2) Marco got a couple of dates wrong. His fault.
(3) I should never have said "f**k." My fault. This is gonna make it tough for my Mom to show off the article at her seniors' complex. (Yeah. As if anything would stop her. Those old broads are unfreakingbelievable competitive.)
Oh yeah, and Marco left Syd my doggette out. She is crushed.
The mag, which will eventually be on the newsstands and online here, is officially launching tomorrow, at a party at a club on Peter Street.
The cover design is actually quite clever, looking celebrity-tabloid-like, boasting a big photograph ofMaclean's editor/publisher Ken Whyte posing with Sex and the City hottie Kim Cattrall at the magazine's 100th anniversary bash last fall. Down the side are the Western Standard's Ezra Levant, journo-turned-pol Ben Chin and moi. Inside, pieces on all of us. The purpose is to illustrate how sensationalistic Maclean's has become with Whyte at its helm.
Haven't yet had a chance to read through the whole thing but I will say this: When Marco hung out with me, I was impressed by his intelligence, professionalism and thoughtfulness. (He chose me for a topic, didn't he?) Now, when I see his handiwork, not just on my profile, but on the whole issue, I have to say, I hope to hell that somebody hires this guy!
[Reprinted, with permission, from Antonia Zerbisias's blog.]
* * *
Spring & Summer 2005
April 13, 2005
Re: Samantha Israel's "Blogging the Spotlight: The Rise of Online Journalism" (Spring 2005)
In another story about the no-holds-barred cage match between journalists and bloggers, Samantha Israel writes that she has been corrected only once by a reader.
Let's go for two.
Ms. Israel writes:
"More than arrogant, some old-time reporters think bloggers are plain old lazy. Former CBS news correspondent Eric Engberg made himself clear in his 'Blogging as typing, not journalism' article on CBSNews.com last November. 'Given their lack of expertise, standards and, yes, humility,' he wrote, 'the chances of the bloggers replacing mainstream journalism are about as good as the parasite replacing the dog it fastens on.' The dog certainly bit back when it revealed that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who averages more than 350,000 visitors a day to his Daily Kos political blog, was paid US$12,000 to promote Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination."
The mainstream press didn't reveal that deal. Zuniga disclosed it to his readers in June 2003:
"I spent this weekend in Burlington, VT, where we officially accepted work on behalf of presidential candidate Howard Dean. Dean joins a Senate candidate in our still small but hopefully growing roster of clients."
He also put a prominent disclaimer on the home page of his site, "I do some technical work for Howard Dean," linking the word disclaimer to a full description of the financial relationship. You can see this yourself in the Internet Archive's June 2003 copy of the Daily Kos home page.
I'm not aware of a single mainstream media website that displays its conflicts of interest as prominently and permanently as Zuniga did.
The only thing journalists revealed about this deal was an inability to do even cursory fact checking, misleading people into thinking that a fully disclosed financial relationship was shady Armstrong Williams-style payola.
In an article where she offers a derisive "sor-ry" to the only reader to correct her, Ms. Israel continues this trend. The fact that this slanderous falsehood lives on in the mainstream media, even turning up in a high-minded academic review of journalism, demonstrates one reason that readers might turn to bloggers for information.
* * *
April 14, 2005
Re: Lindsay Kneteman's "Look Who's Reading Now? Can ed Hang Onto Its Readers?" (Spring 2005)
Thanks to Lindsay Kneteman and the Review for the piece on ed magazine in the latest issue. It was well researched, interesting, and pretty flattering about ed, which I have good reason to appreciate.
It's a shame the article went to press before the launch of Dose, but that leaves room for a follow-up piece, right?
The Edmonton Journal
* * *
April 23, 2005
Re: Leigh Doyle's "So Long: Is Long-form journalism dying out?" (Spring 2005)
As usual, the Review is alight with fascinating pieces about the practice of journalism, but of the current issue I have a cavil. In your survey of magazines that once provided space for long form journalism you refer to Quest magazine as a "men's magazine."
As the magazine's last editor, I must demur. Yes, Quest began as a men's magazine, but was transformed into a general interest feature magazine, and won a number of magazine and design awards for journalistic excellence.
It was about as much a men's magazine as Harper's.
* * *
Months ago, I was interviewed by Lisa Sarracini for a story on journalism and activism. The story she produced from this interview is thorough and well researched. Kudos for that.
However, how did I manage to get into a story about online media? Alberta Views is not an independent alternative news website. It's a print magazine that happens to have a website, like Maclean's, The Walrus, Canadian Living, and most other magazines in Canada. I was disappointed to see this factual error.
I do not currently write for any online media. I find editorial freedom not in online media, as Ms. Sarracini writes, but in magazine writing, which affords the space and the time to broadly research, explore, and consider a given topic.
As a writer, I always let my sources know what story their comments will be included in. I feel that in this case, I was misinformed and misrepresented.
* * *
May 11, 2005
Re: Lindsay Kneteman's online feature, "Fox News... Goes Well With Tequila Shots"
As usual, Canadian journalism is spawning more of the same old, "If I don't agree with you I will try and marginalize you by inferring that you are a bigot or a hick Bible thumper or just a plain old loony."
Forget about intelligent debate or, goodness forbid, truth and facts. No, not for the liberal wacky Canadian media, who for years have been so threatened by people with a more traditional point of view, or that disagree with their liberal, far extreme left ideology that they pull out what has worked so well for them to keep many Canadians in the dark, a bucket of good old smear. Their intolerance to other points of view, especially conservative, traditional, or Christian, blatantly reveals their hypocrisy and attempt to control what Canadians read, hear, and think.
Well Lindsay, I have news for you, truth is more powerful than propaganda. As more Canadians hear both sides of important issues they will experience the joy that Fox News supplies, the opportunity to hear all the facts and make up their own minds.
Thank God Fox News has arrived in Canada. I am a Canadian who lives in Chicago. My father volunteered and fought in the Second World War so Canadians could keep freedom of speech and opinion, and to have the right to hear both sides of the issues, not just far left liberal ideology that you, Lindsay, along with the good old CBC, so predictably present.
Oh yeah, that funny O'Reilly guy, he's like a good cup of Cape Breton tea, refreshing, sprinkled with conviction, and the scent of glorious days gone by. Most Canadians will not find him funny, but, like the North Star, a solid point of reference to get going in the right direction.
What a relief.
* * *
June 15, 2005
Re: Angela Boyd's online feature, "Elephant in the Room: Metroland Rolls Over Toronto With Bland Community Newspapers, But the Independents Fight On"
I read with some interest "Elephant in the Room," in which Angela Boyd referred to an interview we'd done some months ago. Ms. Boyd had called me asking about how The Beach/Riverdale Mirror had covered the contentious heritage designation in the Balmy Beach neighbourhood in the Beach.
In the course of our conversation, I'd explained to her that we had covered the story lightly, deliberately not taking sides in the dispute that had arisen between two factions in the neighbourhood, so as to maintain a degree of objectivity. I'd never suggested -- as Ms. Boyd's article claims I did -- that we stay away from local disputes in our community newspapers. That's an absurd statement; it's simply not the case.
And for the record, it's David Nickle, not (as appears in the piece) David Nichol.
[Our apologies Mr. Nickle for the incorrect spelling of his name.—ed.]