John Gordon Miller's Blog This page contains the blog. Thu, 26 Apr 2018 13:14:21 -0400 en Road to oblivion Sat, 02 Dec 2017 12:15:27 -0500 John Miller General
When the history of Canadian newspapers (or, more likely, their obituary) is written, this may go down as the week we heard the first death rattles.

It started with the largest mass closure of newspapers in Canada’s history. Staff at 11 Ontario community newspapers and two free dailies in Toronto and Vancouver arrived for work Monday morning to find the doors locked. Their jobs were gone just like that. It was part of a swap of 41 newspapers by Canada’s two largest publishers. Thirty-six of them were or soon will be closed forever.

Three hundred jobs went down the drain to achieve what John Boynton, CEO of Torstar, described as “increased, geographic synergies.” That’s a corporate weasel language that means Torstar and Postmedia traded and closed those papers to give them monopolies for advertising in their chosen areas of Ontario.

Monopolies are good for business (Postmedia shares tripled on the stock market overnight) but readers were the losers. Thousands of citizens in towns from Collingwood in the north to Fort Erie in the south, and Belleville west to St. Mary’s, have lost a paper, and many will be served in future by a monopoly handout weekly whose thin news content serves as a wrapper for flyer advertising.

Want to know why neither of Canada’s two major publishers can make a daily newspaper work in Barrie, one of the fastest growing communities in Canada with a population of 140,000? It’s because, through neglect and cost-cutting, the Examiner could only attract a paid readership of 2,000. Now it’s been put out of its misery. So has Northumberland Today, a daily serving Port Hope and Cobourg whose circulation fell to less than a thousand.

The tragedy is that many of the shuttered papers had served their communities for more than a century, creating unique time capsules of how life has been lived there for future generations.

Had the Torstar-Postmedia deal been announced 30 or 40 years ago, it would have prompted a royal commission. Much of the impetus for the creation of the Kent commission in 1980 was the virtually simultaneous closure of two major daily newspapers, the Ottawa Journal (owned by the Thomson Corporation) and the Winnipeg Tribune (owned by Southam Inc.). These closures gave each chain a monopoly in the two markets, Southam with the Ottawa Citizen and Thomson with the Winnipeg Free Press. The resulting allegations of collusion prompted nation-wide hearings and a series of recommendations that the federal government never acted upon.

Nothing will happen now because there is little national political interest in the closing of newspapers in such small places.

Alarm bells rang again on Friday, when the newspaper crisis got even more serious.

The Globe and Mail officially ceased to be a national paper. It stopped delivering a paper to the Maritime provinces, a move that its publisher said will save it $1 million a year. (In response, 220 readers in Halifax signed up to pay $9.50 a copy for the Globe's Saturday edition to be loaded on a plane and flown halfway across the country, indicating there is a market for the product).

The Globe prints about 202,000 editions across Canada on Saturdays and about 132,000 on weekdays.

The very same day, the Globe unveiled an expensive new redesign, shrinking its format to 12 inches wide and 21 inches deep, narrower and shorter than a traditional broadsheet. To handle the new format, its contracted printer Transcontinental installed four high-tech German printers across the country. The paper made its debut on glossy and matte paper, whiter and slipperier than traditional newsprint.  “People haven’t seen anything like it in North America,” crowed Globe CEO Phillip Crawley.

The rationale for the revamp is largely economic. The smaller Globe stands to save $1 million a year in printing costs.

But it was the newspaper’s redesigned content that drew critics. Friday’s paper eliminated the Arts/Life and Friday film sections, reducing the paper to an A-section combining News and Life and Arts, and a B-section combining Report on Business, Globe Investor and Sports. A new national real estate section ran Friday and the Drive section will move from Thursday to Friday.

The Globe claimed its A section contained as much arts and life coverage as there was in the paper before, but that clearly was not true. Crawley says the amount of space for news stories will remain the same but if you believe that you probably still believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

Michael Hollett, founding publisher of NOW magazine, posted: “New look @globeandmail actually makes me sad because it's so ill-fated. Why do publishers think giving people less will stave off readership decline? Whole look says ‘we've cut back.’”

The website Torontoist summed up reaction this way:Within a few hours, consensus on the Globe‘s new face in print was already clear, country-wide: it’s the best/worst, and the paper’s brave/foolish move will save/doom print media forever.”

Next day, when the Globe published its premium Saturday edition, the new presses broke down and thousands of subscribers across Ontario didn't get the paper at all. Others, who did, found the paper's Books section emasculated, with fewer reviews and no best-seller list.

It was colossal bad timing. Saturday-only subscribers in Toronto had just been informed that their subscription will cost $5.55 per week, an increase of 24 percent. 

As a project that had been months in the making, the paper's redesign launch was a clusterfuck.

Other details about the Globe content changes are even more concerning. It apparently acted on information gathered in focus groups conducted with readers in Toronto and Vancouver, that they wanted the paper to have a “friendlier” look. Friendlier usually means a smaller format, more white space, shorter stories, grabbier graphics and more colour. But the actual look was quite different. Great rivers of gray, small type spilled down pages.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Crawley said online data collected by Sophi, the Globe's proprietary data analytics tool, have influenced the redesign, just as it is influencing daily editorial and advertising decisions.
"Sophi analyzes not only what kind of traffic it's attracting but it also analyzes how many subscribers it converts," he said.
"We know on a particular day which stories are drawing subscriber engagement, where people are saying, 'OK, I want to read that, I will pay for it, I will go behind the pay wall and buy a subscription.'"

For instance, Crawley said Sophi has found that readers prefer to consume content from Globe staff over freelance or wire content, a hard-to-believe finding that perhaps explains the departure of a couple of prominent freelance columnists.

Oh, that’s great then. We have a smaller Globe and Mail. It's practically unreadable. And we have news chosen not by experienced editors but ... by robots. You wonder how long will it be until artificial intelligence writes the news too. 

Twenty years ago I published Yesterday’s News, a book intended as a warning to Canadians that traditional daily newspapers were drawing away from their communities and jeopardizing readers’ trust. I offered solutions but, to my knowledge, no publisher ever read it.

Yet what I wrote back then is even truer today: “The old mission upon which freedom of the press is based – to inform the public so that democracy can work – has given way to a marketing agenda that emphasizes shorter stories, crime, violence, celebrity, conflict and other unusual happenings as the surest way to win readers’ time. Newspapers turned away from their traditional strengths – sophistication, depth, complexity, analysis, background explanation – to copy the strength of other faster media – simplicity, hype and ease of use. This was a fatal miscalculation.”

The second major miscalculation I identified in 1998 was what the Globe seems to have done again this week: “Newspapers are achieving their financial goals by short-term solutions. They are downsizing staff, contracting out delivery and printing services, reducing the newshole and trying to attract readership by marketing … and the cosmetics of redesign.”

I likened that to a sick patient seeking out the worst doctor in town just because he’s got all the latest gossip and he won’t keep her long.

Events of this past week show that newspapers seem to be too far down their road to oblivion to change now.
]]> Step up to plate Sat, 28 Oct 2017 16:21:55 -0400 John Miller General  
The Toronto Star welcomed news that a majority of its city's population now identifies as non-white by issuing a challenge to what it called the leading civic institutions: It's time to step up to the plate and reflect this diversity.

In an editorial, the paper said "there's still a yawning gap between Toronto's demographic reality and the makeup of its leadership in almost all sectors -- political, economic and social."

Its warning came the day after results of the 2016 census were released, showing that 51.5 percent of Toronto's population identified as a member of a visible minority. It's the first time more than half the population of Canada's largest city has said that.

But instead of earning points for courageous leadership, the Star is guilty of myopia. Or, to extend the baseball analogy, it took its eye off the ball and struck out swinging.

To bolster its case, it quoted from a 2011 research report from Ryerson University showing that visible minorities comprised only 11 percent of the region's elected officials at city hall, Queen's Park and Ottawa. Nor did big business measure any better. The report showed only 4.2 percent of corporate leadership roles were held by visible minorities.

It's perhaps telling that the Star didn't refer to the previous year's report of the DiverseCity Counts project, which used the same standards to look at Toronto's media representations of diversity.

Or perhaps the paper no longer considers itself one of the city's "leading institutions."

I co-authored that research, and it showed the following:

Only 5 of 138 senior managers of the city's leading newspaper and television companies were non-white -- a meagre 3.6 percent. That's far behind the corresponding percentages of elected officials, public sector employees, the voluntary sector and government agencies, boards and commissions.

Newspaper columnists? Only 16 of 471 columns (3.4 percent) were written by visible minorities, including none in sports and only one in the business sections of the Star, Globe and Mail, National Post and Sun.

Broadcasters fared a little better, but visible minorities made only two of 42 appearances as hosts (4.8 percent) and 56 of 244 appearances as on-air reporters (22.5 percent).

These numbers are unfortunately reflected in news coverage. "Everyday life stories" on television news, for example, included visible minorites only 23 percent of the time (46 of 200 speaking sources on CBC, CTV, City TV, Global and TVO). These are stories that affect everyone, from weather and traffic to reports of local community events and consumer activity.

That was the picture seven years ago. No similar research has been conducted since, but I believe the percentages of visible minorities in media could be much lower today, since many newsrooms have undergone economic layoffs and buyouts, which usually result in the most recent hires getting let go.

Diversity in our media matters because our newspapers and television stations are supposed to reflect reality. If our mirror on society is distorted, our opinions gets skewed, and most people form their opinions about contentious issues like race, immigration and social justice by reading newspapers or watching TV news.

When the Star says "all sectors in the city must seek out the best talent for leadership positions, regardless of background," we have the right to ask it if it's really walking that walk, or just talking without doing.
Fight the right Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:27:16 -0400 John Miller General
After Charlottesville, Ezra Levant sounds like a man who long ago jumped into shark-infested waters, and is only now starting to complain about the swimming conditions.

His far-right Rebel Media website is under fire for celebrating and catering to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who fomented violence and death on the streets of the Virginia city last weekend. It is a charge Levant tries to deny, but the facts point in the opposite direction.

If you can believe it, his statement of defence is that he was, well, naive.

“When I first heard of the alt-right a year ago, I thought it simply meant the insurgent right, the politically incorrect right, the grassroots right, the nationalistic right … It was unashamed right-wingedness, with a sense of humour.”

(Errr ….funny that no one else noticed the side-splitting humour involved in vilifying immigrants and Muslims.)

“But the alt-right has changed into something new, especially since Trump’s election,” Levant wrote to his staff the other day, after Charlottesville. “There are white supremacists, and even some neo-Nazis… Sorry, that’s not conservative, that's just racist, and I think it’s unpatriotic to mimic one of America’s greatest historical enemies.”
(So it shocked him to see all those torch-carrying, right-wing marchers in Charlottesville doing “Sieg heil” arm salutes and shouting “white lives matter.”)  

“There were actually some Nazi swastika flags in Charlottesville,” Levant says incredulously, then raises the possibility they were planted. “Whether or not they were being genuinely carried, or carried by agents provocateurs trying to embarrass the alt-right isn’t even important. They were there.”

Levant reminds his supporters that it’s left-wing critics and the news media that are falsely trying to “paint us as racist or even neo-Nazi.” He reminds them that he, himself, is a good Jew and “simply covering controversial figures doesn’t mean we agree with those controversial figures. It means we’re covering the news, not just covering Justin Trudeau’s socks.”

Oh yeah? So let’s examine the coverage of Charlottesville by Rebel Media.

They sent their high-profile host Faith Goldy to cover it. Why would they do that? Ezra himself has since dismissed it as a news story. “The alt-right, as it now constituted and led, is an obscure, small, ineffective movement. Their Charlottesville march, that had national media coverage for weeks in advance, mustered fewer than 500 people altogether. They hold no elected office, hold no prominent positions in academia, media, or any other institution.”

And so what part of this non-story did Goldy report on? Well, she called the heavily armed right-wing protesters “patriots” and said “they’re here for your freedom.” She praised a manifesto written by right-wing leader Richard Spencer as “robust” and filled with “well-thought-out ideas.” The manifesto actually states the following: “Whites alone defined America as a European society and political order….The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is an invasion, a war without bullets, taking place on the fields of race, religion, sex, and morality.”
Even Levant describes Spencer’s manifesto as “explicitly racist.” He also boasts that “we’re the most honest reporters out there.” As justification for that outrageous remark, he says several news agencies, including NBC, CBS and Reuters, asked for permission to use Rebel Media footage from Charlottesville.

It’s true that Faith Goldy happened to be standing next to the accident scene where peaceful marchers were crashed into from behind by a runaway Dodge Challenger, killing one woman and injuring 20 others. It was gripping footage. But just a few minutes before, she was criticizing those same marchers as aggressors who were in the street illegally without a permit.

One of her broadcasts from Charlottesville said: “The ex-military guys were just walking through the parking lot, a bunch of young Black men started inciting them, saying, ‘Go back home! Go back to where you came from. No one wants you here.’ The sort of language that if ever, I believe, a white man were to say that towards a Black man, you would see it played ad nauseam at any one of the major cable broadcasters. The double standards are just so gross, right? And that’s what people are seeing. And that’s why they’re getting more and more pissed off. And that’s why they’re becoming more and more frankly hard-lined in their views. Not a justification for one side or another, but I mean, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there is a double standard at play.”

Let’s be clear. Faith Goldy is not acting like a journalist. She was not there to cover the news. That’s not her job.  She was there to cheerlead and Ezra Levant, the self-styled Rebel Commander, is responsible for sending her there.

Rebel Media’s worrisome biases are so obvious that even some of its ardent supporters are jumping ship. Yesterday, Brian Lilley, who joined Levant in founding The Rebel, parted company saying it suffers from “a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it.”
He asks: “What anyone from The Rebel was doing at a so-called ‘unite the right’ rally that was really an anti-Semitic white power rally is beyond me. Especially not a rally dedicated to keeping up a statue of Robert E. Lee, a man that whatever else he stood for, also fought on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of America’s bloodiest conflict.”

He said he is also “not comfortable with the increasingly harsh tone taken on issues like immigration, or Islam.”

Although Lilley, at his worst, was a leading perpetrator of the Rebel’s brand of agenda journalism, he portrayed himself as “a serious journalist with nearly 20 years experience at the highest levels in this country, and abroad. I cannot be a part of this.”

Rebel Media also became a wedge issue in the United Conservative Party leadership race in Alberta this week. Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer, urged rivals Jason Kenney and Brian Jean to denounce Rebel Media for its close association with white supremacists. "It has no place in United Conservative Party, we cannot be playing footsie with this….Enough is enough. We have to be better than this in Canada. Stand up to them for a change. We all need to lead by example.”

Rebel Media was closely associated with the union of Alberta’s Conservatives and Wildrose Party, and one of the directors of Rebel Media, Hamish Marshall, is Jean’s campaign manager.

In fact, The Rebel has had a long association with the principal figures of the Unite the Right movement.

Richard Spencer has been gently interviewed several times. Just four months ago, he and David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was also prominent in Charlottesville, praised a Rebel telecast from Israel that was widely seen as being anti-Semitic. Host Gavin McInnes used air quotes to describe “the Holocaust” and explained why a visit to the Holocaust Museum had inspired anti-Semitic feelings – so much so that he now felt like “defending super far-right Nazis.”

Well, the Nazis have been seen in their obscene glory, carrying torches, shouting “Jews will not replace us” and snapping forth their odious salutes in the streets of Charlottesville for all to see.

It’s time to identify and isolate all who support them.

Ira Wells, a professor of English at U of T, writes about this in The Walrus: ”Levant, Southern, and McInnes are of one voice in disavowing the violence, while trafficking in (and profiting from) the resentment that produced it. Their entertainments confuse conspiratorial fantasy for education, race hatred for cultural tradition, and bigotry for strength. They appeal to our most barbaric selves, and the key to fighting back will not lie in pretending their noxious views don’t exist.”

This ship of fools Fri, 04 Aug 2017 16:45:38 -0400 John Miller General
“Do you need a break from Liberals and socialists?”

That’s what Rebel Media, Canada’s poor cousin of right-wing Breitbart News, is currently advertising on its website – a week-long November getaway to the Caribbean aboard a luxurious cruise ship.
The catch? You have to spend most of your seven days hanging out with Rebel Media’s loonie bin of right-wing commentators.

Imagine yourself relaxing with a book on a deck chair and who sits down right beside you, wanting to talk? Ezra Levant, perhaps going on about his latest rant – why Muslim immigrants have made Sweden the rape capital of the world.

Or say you’ve just been overtaken on the rock climbing wall by David Menzies, who Levant calls “the craziest man I know.” Menzies has this show called Mission Menzoid. In one program, he dressed up a 14-year-old boy in a burka and sent him into an LCBO store. The stunt showed him buying a $13.25 bottle of booze, no questions asked. The headline was “How to buy alcohol when underage - Wear a burka.”

Or let’s say you’re settling in for a lobster dinner in the ship’s posh Le Bistro restaurant, and your assigned seat companion is Gavin McInnes, who trashes Jews and Muslims with impunity and founded a right-wing group called The Proud Boys, which believes in "minimal government, maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt, pro-gun rights, anti-Drug War, closed borders, anti-masturbation, venerating entrepreneurs, venerating housewives, and reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism."

Lounging by the pool? What better sunbathing companion than Faith Goldy, who Rebel Media describes as “a passionate Christian who loves family, freedom and firearms.” She recently supported Donald Trump’s proposed ban on transgendered people serving in the U.S. military on her Rebel Media program On the Hunt: “Tonight, I tell you why people who live with the DSM-5 mental disorder of gender dysphoria ought not be given special privileges, because — newsflash — serving in the military is a privilege, not a right.”

Or you’re unwinding at the casino and who cozies up? Sheila Gunn Reid,  who made her name getting punched in the face at a women’s march and “has strong ties to the oil patch.”

I don’t call that a cruise. I call it a Ship of Fools.

The purpose of the gathering, says Levant, is “a winter vacation, a dose of conservative politics, and hanging out with like-minded Rebels!

“In addition to all of the regular fun of a cruise, we’re organizing special Rebel-only events, including private welcome and farewell cocktail receptions, nightly dinners with your fellow Rebel enthusiasts and a special Rebel celebrity guest at your table.”

There are scheduled panel discussions with Rebel contributors “where you can interact with them on all the hot topics of the day.”

That’s the formal part.

Levant, who hosted a similar cruise last year, says ”there will be countless informal opportunities to connect with your favourite Rebel personalities throughout the week, whether it’s over breakfast, on a shore excursion, or just on deck getting some sun!”

In other words, you’re on a nice ship in the sun with 4,000 other vacationers, and you have no chance whatsoever to distance yourself from the nutbars.

What’s more, it’s not cheap. Rebel Media is charging $2,075 per person for a room with balcony, including discounted alcoholic drinks. Wait a minute. Norwegian Cruise Line charges only $1,271 per person for that – its regular fare for that embarkation date aboard its liner Getaway. Gee, does that mean Rebel Media is keeping $800 per ticket for itself? Does it?
Plus you have to find your own way to Miami for the Nov. 12 departure. Stops on the cruise include Roatan, Honduras, and Harvest Caye, Belize, and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico – hardly a gold ribbon itinerary.

Five years ago, I lampooned another getaway, Freedom Weekend in Muskoka, that Levant organized for the now-defunct Sun News network. I joked that it "makes you wonder when was the last time a group of ideological warriors went north to train in the backwoods and plot to storm Parliament, blow up the CBC, seize the airwaves and spread terror across the land. Oh yeah, the Toronto 18 did that.”

Ezra and his minions went crazy over that bit of clearly satirical hyperbole.
So this time I’ll let the cruiseratti talk. What is a cruise in the Caribbean on the Getaway really like?

A bare majority of the reviews on TripAdvisor – one of the most respected travel sites – rate it as better than average, and 30 percent say it was poor or terrible.
You can see that, having spent so much, some travellers try to put the best spin on things. One wrote: “Yes pool was small, but then again you have to look at the big water park nearby.” Another said: “Another great feature of the cruise was the freestyle philosophy that allowed us to pretty much do whatever the heck we wanted when we wanted.”

Others were not so charitable: “Extremely noisy ship. They seem to think that music, movies etc. need to be at the highest decibel possible…The sound even penetrated the library. Very difficult to find a quiet enough place to have a drink in the evening where you could chat in comfort. Everywhere that there was music, it was played at the loudest it could possibly be.”

Another traveller said: “FREE DRINKS created many drunks on board… I am very uncomfortable among drunks. I'm OK with enjoying liquor/beer but drunks are another issue.”

Other travellers complained about there being only one swimming pool for 4,000 people, with bathers usually lined up three deep around it, and one pool for the 500 kids. Another said the mandatory tips took him by surprise – better count on $300 extra for the week. Someone else said she found herself in a crowd of 300 waiting for the same bus because the shore excursions were unorganized.

And that’s all before you add in the daily right-wing propaganda sessions.

I can’t see the situation improving when a handful of drunken Rebel Media fans start bellowing their bat-shit bigotry from the poop deck.

UPDATE: Two weeks after I wrote this column, Norwegian Cruise Lines cancelled Rebel Media's booking because its values were incompatible.
A terrible idea Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:48:10 -0400 John Miller General Once upon a time, any possibility of the government intruding in the affairs of Canada’s newspapers elicited great caterwauls of protest from righteous publishers, who feared the alien hand touching their hems might be about to make a grab for their virginity.

That’s no longer true. Now publishers have their hands out and are shaking their booties.

The sluts! Things are so bad they want government to bail them out.

Last week, following a year of hearings, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage tabled a report recommending more than 20 ways the federal government should consider supporting the news media. It said, “Given the media’s importance as a reflection of Canada’s diversity and a pillar of our democracy, the Government of Canada must implement the necessary measures to support the existence of a free and independent media and local news reporting.”
There are several reasons why this is a bad idea.

For one, calling today’s stripped-down newsrooms “a reflection of Canada’s diversity” is laughable. Newspapers employ more journalists than any other media, and for years they have been resisting making their staffs representative of the racial and gender diversity of the population they are supposed to serve. It’s so bad they no longer keep count.

And calling the news media “pillars of our democracy?” Many newspapers and television networks have abandoned covering vital local institutions like the courts, police and city hall, particularly in smaller communities where they may be the only sources of local news.

The CTVs and Toronto Stars and Winnipeg Free Presses of this country are still important gatherers of local news, but they have dug their own graves, choosing to cling to broken business models that have cost them readers, viewers and advertisers. There are simply better ways to find out what’s going on.

What’s more, they have lost the ability to convince us that they are important enough to save.

A fascinating new poll by ABACUS DATA INC. shows that 86 percent of Canadians believe they would still be able to get the news they need if their daily newspaper went out of business. Only 14 percent felt they would not.
A majority disagreed that “the federal government has a responsibility to do something to make sure there are strong local media serving communities across Canada.” Fifty-six percent of the 1,518 Canadians aged 18 and over polled online said “this is not an area where government should get involved.”  Only 44 percent agreed the government has a responsibility to do something. Those with only one newspaper were just as likely to oppose government intervention as those served by more than one newspaper.

Why this resistance? According to the polling firm’s Bruce Anderson, the public simply may be misinformed. “Because people consume information using a variety of digital platforms, they may not be as aware as used to be the case of the sources of their news, and the important role of local newspapers in newsgathering.  It’s also possible that they believe that different media outlets will fill in the gaps that would occur with newspaper failures, using different business models.”

Or maybe people just turn a blind eye when once-profitable, unaccountable and failing businesses stick their hands out rather than try to change the way they operate.

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, is chairman of News Media Canada, an organization that he says represents “virtually every general interest, mass circulation newspaper in Canada – big and small, French and English, dailies and weeklies, from Victoria to St. John’s.”

Praising the proposals the MPs put forward, he wrote: “This is not a public bailout of poorly run, big newspaper companies. Money would not go to pay executive bonuses or dividends to owners and shareholders.”

Oh yeah?

News Media Canada is asking Ottawa to subsidize 35 percent of the total of all journalists’ salaries, with a cap on the maximum subsidy per journalist of about $30,000.

So the reporters and editors responsible for analyzing the performance of government and other democratic institutions would have more than one-third of their salaries paid by the people they are supposed to cover. That doesn’t sound like journalism to me. It sounds like prostitution.

While a government subsidy to keep feet on the ground might stop the gutting of newsrooms, no one is offering to scale back the huge salaries earned by the top media executives who are responsible for the decline of the news industry.

Take Postmedia as an example. Canada’s top newspaper employer has eliminated 800 jobs in the past year and recently extended the contract of its chief executive Paul Godfrey, a man who recently boasted “Are our papers as good as they used to be? No, but they haven’t become unacceptable.”
Godfrey earns a base salary of $950,000 a year, but incentive plans and other compensation top it up to  as much as $1.7 million.

This is not a man who deserves a handout.

Some other recommendations of the heritage committee are perhaps more worthy of debate, but the government going into the business of paying reporters does not fit any definition of independent journalism that I’m aware of.

For instance, the government is being urged to expand an existing fund, which currently helps mostly magazines and some paid-subscription community newspapers, so it can support all general interest newspapers – dailies and free papers, in print and digital form.

Doing that would not be cheap. Its cost would go to about $350 million a year from $75 million today.

But that’s not going to happen until taxpayers understand the value of propping up our news media. And our established media have done a dreadful job of explaining themselves to their customers.

As I wrote in my book Yesterday’s News nearly 20 years ago: “Newspapers behave as if they’re serving themselves, not us. When the motives and agendas of newspapers are hidden from us, when they arrogantly refuse to explain their behaviour or listen to another side, when their sense of independence seems to isolate them from their communities, when they are owned and edited by people without local roots, then we don’t have to be malicious to conclude that they are in business to make money and not to serve the public.”
Missing the story Sat, 20 May 2017 09:50:09 -0400 John Miller General
Sometimes if you need to wander into a forest to look for something, you can't find it. But you’re often so busy looking, you miss something more important – like a hungry bear stealing up on your flank.

That’s what happened to one of my favourite journalism sites, J-Source. “Canada’s National Newspaper Awards have a diversity problem,” it announced recently, following an analysis of the National Newspaper Award winners for the last 10 years. What sounded like a worthwhile test of representation went awry, however, when it presented its findings: Men, not women, were being honoured as the best in their fields in overwhelming numbers.

The actual breakdown: Since 2007, there have been 157 male winners (68 per cent of the total) and 74 women (32 per cent).

First you should know that the National Newspaper Awards honour the best print journalism of the year. They are Canada’s version of the Pulitzer Prizes. They honour the people who wrote the best stuff about the most significant news of the year.

The J-Source article named several categories in which women were being shut out – for instance “in the last ten years, no woman has won the award for news photo, editorial cartooning or news feature photo. In fact, no woman has ever won an award for editorial cartooning since the award was established in 1949.”

It advanced several theories about why men win so often, including a suggestion there might be a male bias on the part of judges, although it said “NNA staff try to ensure diversity in age, gender, region, race and ethnicity among judges.”

So why did the article get things so wrong?

Well, for one thing, women winning 32 per cent of the awards probably more or less reflects the percentage of women working in newspaper newsrooms today. We don’t know this for sure because no one is keeping count. The industry association, now called Newspapers Canada, has long resisted tracking the demographics of who works in its newsrooms. The last academic research on the subject was done in the late 1990s by Gertrude Robinson, a mass communications scholar at McGill University. Then, women made up 28 percent of Canadian newspaper newsrooms. It’s not clear what has happened since, although more up to date research in the United States (the 2015 diversity census by the American Society of Newspaper Editors) shows a higher figure for women in U.S. newsrooms – 37 percent – but it notes that percentage is largely unchanged since 1999.

Second, women are overrepresented, not under-represented, on the NNA judging panel. This year, 34 women and 32 men served as judges in the various categories. This is the result of hard work by NNA consultant Ray Brassard to make the judging panels more balanced. In 2012, when he took over the job, there were 28 women and 41 men, which he felt was too wide a gender gap.

“My priorities were gender balance and bilingualism,” Brassard, a retired managing editor of the Montreal Gazette, told me by email. “Geographic balance is a must, for obvious reasons. Bilingualism is a requirement if we want the French-language media outlets to realistically compete. And gender balance is important, too.”

But – and here’s the hungry bear they may have missed on their flank in the forest – why has no one thought about prioritizing racial and ethnic diversity?

Only one, just one, of the 66 judges is non-white. Asmaa Malik, a former newspaper editor now a journalism professor at Ryerson University, is certainly qualified to judge entries in her category of international reporting. But I can think of many other non-white journalists equally qualified in other categories. Kamal al-Solaylee, former theatre critic of the Globe and Mail, would be an excellent judge of critical writing, for instance.

While J-Source painstakingly counted the number of women winners over the last 10 years, it did not track those who are non-white. It would have made for a much better story, I think.

Much has been made of the lack of racial diversity in Canada’s newsrooms, and how it puts newspapers out of step with the increasing diversity of the population. But if geography matters, and language matters and gender matters to the people who adjudicate the best of this country’s print journalism, why doesn’t race?

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say anyone declared it NOT a priority,” Brassard said. “Every year, when I thank judges for their service, I ask for recommendations for future judges. I specify the regions and bilingualism. I could have, and perhaps should have, mentioned visible minorities. I did not. I will mention this to my successor.”

Fair enough, no one thought about it.

But even a cursory examination of past winners indicates that the National Newspaper Awards – and print journalism – have another kind of diversity problem. Minority winners are a lot rarer  than women.

In the breaking news category, you have to go back to 1996 to find non-white winners. Philip Mascoll and Donovan Vincent shared an NNA with Dale Brazao of the Toronto Star that year.

In international news reporting, the last non-white winner appears to be The Globe’s Jan Wong in 1992.

In columns, Richard Wagamese won in 1990 for the Calgary Herald. That’s it.

Other categories are dotted with non-white winners, but they are rare. Vinay Menon of the Toronto Star won for critical writing in 2014. The Star’s Jennifer Yang won for explanatory reporting in 2010. The Globe’s Omar El Akkad shared with Greg McArthur in investigations in 2006. Morgan Campbell of the Toronto Star won in sports reporting in 2003.

If you have to go back 25 years in some categories to find non-white winners, that’s a stark reminder that our daily newspapers remain just about as white as the paper they’re printed on.

The last census of Canadian newsrooms was done by me, more than 13 years ago. Who’s Telling the News 2004 showed that visible minorities made up just 3.4 percent of the newsgathering staffs of 37 daily papers (meaning they were six times under-represented when compared to the 16.7 per cent of visible minorities and Aboriginal people in the Canadian population in that period).
It’s anyone’s guess what has happened to those numbers since, at a time when almost every newspaper newsroom has been either cut or merged or closed.

It’s time for Newspapers Canada to act. An annual census of newsrooms, such as is done in the U.S. by ASNE, would spotlight misrepresentations and track progress.

It's time.
A humble suggestion Sat, 13 May 2017 15:00:32 -0400 John Miller General
Since I wrote about the controversy over a columnist’s activism at my old newspaper, I have been criticized for betraying long-held standards of journalism that say editorial employees cannot be both actors and critics. Journalists, in other words, cannot allow their outside activities to taint the paper’s reputation for objectivity.

Desmond Cole resigned his twice-a-month column on the Toronto Star’s Op-Ed page after he was informed by his editor of the paper’s rule against mixing activism and journalism. His crime? Disrupting a meeting of the city’s police services board to protest the continued use of carding information, something he has written almost exclusively about. I said the Star’s policy is outdated.

The Star’s principal columnist, Rosie DiManno, objected. She did not name me but said most competent journalists understand that “you can’t — shouldn’t —function as ringmaster and audience simultaneously. And you don’t get a pass because you’re black or racialized (an invented word) or female or transgendered or — by all outward measurement — part of a marginalized group.”

She continued: “I’m dismayed this even needs saying. I’m dismayed any journalist would say different.”

Fair enough. She’s entitled to her opinion. But even the paper’s public editor, Kathy English, acknowledged the appropriateness of that policy is worthy of discussion. So, as a contribution to that debate, I offer a policy the Star could put in its place. It reflects current practice better than the standards I wrote for the paper more than 30 years ago – standards that included the policy that led to Cole’s departure

Here it is. (Full disclosure: I have drawn from more contemporary policies adopted by other newspapers, principally the Washington Post and Los Angles Times).

At the Toronto Star, the separation of news columns from the editorial and opposite-editorial (Op-Ed) pages is solemn and complete. This separation is intended to serve the reader, who is entitled to facts in the news columns and to opinions on the editorial and Op-Ed pages.

When reading news reports on the daily news pages, a reader should not be able to discern the private opinions of those who contributed to that coverage, or to infer that the newspaper is promoting any agenda. A crucial goal of our news and feature reporting is to be nonideological. This requires editors and reporters to recognize their own biases and stand apart from them. It also requires them to avoid any open advocacy that calls into question their impartiality about matters they write about or edit. It is unethical to march in the parade and cover it too.

Reporters and editors of The Star are committed to fairness. While arguments about objectivity are endless, the concept of fairness is something that editors and reporters can easily understand and pursue. No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness. No story is fair if it includes irrelevant information at the expense of significant facts. Fairness includes relevance. No story is fair if it consciously or unconsciously misleads the reader or masks some personal agenda. Fairness includes honesty – leveling with the reader.

Besides straightforward news coverage, the Star’s news pages contain other journalistic forms that provide additional perspective on events. These special forms — news analysis articles, opinion columns and others — adhere to the same standards of fairness, accuracy and transparency. They are usually distinguished from news reports by columnist logos, labels or differentiated typography.

On its editorial and Op-Ed pages, writers adhere to different standards. Editorials reflect the newspaper’s opinion about the news, and in the Star’s case, generally follow the ideology of the Atkinson Principles. Columnists appearing on the Op-Ed page are treated differently than columnists appearing in the news pages. These are often people not on the staff of The Star, reflecting opinions about topics on which the author is an expert or has provocative and well-reasoned ideas. They are not intended to give a balanced look at both sides of a debate. They are often solicited by editors from people who are actively involved in causes or consider themselves activists. In the interest of transparency, such involvement is mentioned as an editor’s note in italic attached to the foot of the column. Indeed, the Op-Ed page is seen as a forum to air diverse and challenging viewpoints.
Wake up. It's 2017 Sat, 13 May 2017 10:29:06 -0400 John Miller General
Sometimes, when you do something stunningly boneheaded, you can get away with it. More often, you do not.

So it doesn’t take a genius to know that, if you’re devoting an issue of your magazine to a celebration of Indigenous writers, you don’t take the opportunity to encourage more white people to write about those subjects.

I mean, as if we haven’t had enough of that!

Hal Niedzviecki paid the price. This week he resigned as the editor of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s magazine after he wrote a piece called “Winning the Appropriation Prize.” He said he didn’t believe in cultural appropriation, and that writers (he meant white writers) “should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.”

Many people -- including the writers published in his magazine – thought it was insensitive and inappropriate. The Writers' Union, which exists to promote "the rights, freedoms, and economic well-being of all writers," had to apologize for its editor's defence of cultural appropriation.

You also don’t have to be a genius to know that trying to paint Niedzviecki as a victim of a politically correct “mobbing” was also a grievous mistake. Yet that’s exactly what some of Canada’s top editors and news managers – all of them white and mainstream -- did on Twitter.

It took Scaachi Koul, the wise young writer at Buzzfeed, to decode the racist semaphore for those who just don’t get it.
“The conversation was so nakedly cruel, with no shred of possible empathy for people who are really struggling to get their work read, recognized, and appreciated not only by an audience, but by these exact editors who act as gatekeepers to said audience,” she wrote.

“Even more egregious is that this whole argument was rooted in appropriation of Indigenous voices and stories, people who we’ve taken so much from already. Physical space, safety, bodies, culture — we can’t even let them tell their own stories in an issue of a magazine dedicated to their narratives without undercutting them first.”

So who are these news managers and why do they see Niedzviecki’s forced resignation as PC culture gone wrong, or (if you can believe this) an example of how free speech is being eroded in Canada?

First, you need to know their ugly shower of tweets happened around midnight, when most savvy Toronto journalistic blue bloods are usually heavily sedated with scotch at the Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt or somewhere.

Ken Whyte, formerly the president of Rogers Publishing, started it off, tweeting that “I will donate $500 to the founding of the appropriation prize if someone else wants to organize.” That was apparently prompted by a tweet from Jon Kay, editor of The Walrus, who said “the mobbing of Hal Niedzviecki is what we get when we let identity-politics fundamentalists run riot. Sad and shameful.”

The fundraising quickly developed momentum. Whyte’s campaign was joined by Anne Marie Owens, editor in chief of the National Post, Alison Uncles, editor in chief of Maclean’s magazine, Steve Ladurantaye, the CBC’s manager of digital news, Steve Maich, head of digital content and publishing for Rogers Media, Maclean’s columnist Scott Feschuk, and Christie Blatchford of the National Post.

Within three hours, Whyte announced: “Yay AMO! We have a $2000 prize, 500 for drinks, 500 for a room and $200 for canapés! Keep it coming. Look out.” He urged them to push for $5,000.

Say what you want about the spectacle of the cream of Canadian journalism staying up half the night engaged in a (perhaps jocular) challenge that was about as credible as Donald Trump praising the role of women in business. Just locker room humour. You know, like saying you can grab someone’s pussy. A few walked back their support the next morning when the shit hit the fan, but the fact is, the whole thing was deeply offensive, and they deserve to be pilloried.

And it certainly raised larger questions, about the embarrassing, stone-deaf whiteness of the Canadian media.

If these news leaders are serious about free expression, why don’t they encourage the people they say they want to see in stories to write their own stories?

Why don’t they choose to publish more Indigenous writers, or better still hire them?

Why do some of them talk about the importance of diversity, but don’t walk it?

Why do they seem to fear their white voices will be relegated to the sidelines if they allow marginalized minorities to speak for themselves?

Why don’t they stop waving the false flag of free expression when they’ve demonstrated they don’t know what the fuck it means?

Another journalist of colour, The Star’s Shree Paradkar, explained the betrayal behind their Twitter yukfest.

There’s a difference between allyship and appropriation, she wrote. “Fighting for the idea that we should all have the freedom to tell each other’s stories is a mere affectation, a call to action for a phoney cause, when it comes from the only group of people that gets to tell those stories. This is white people saying, allow us to tell other peoples’ stories because we’re not going to let the others tell them.”

If we’re going to raise money, let’s raise it to make Canadian journalism more representative of society.

It can't afford to remain as white as the pages it’s printed on.

You know, because it’s 2017.
Silenced! Thu, 04 May 2017 14:38:08 -0400 John Miller General
This is a tale of two columnists, and how they were treated very differently by Canada’s largest newspaper.

All they have in common is that neither is still writing there.

That loss, I say, is the reader’s.

Catherine Porter is white and a longtime staff writer who wrote a column on social justice issues -- climate change, international development, women's rights, poverty and community activism. She described herself as an “activist,” a role her editors endorsed and encouraged. They even stood by her when she and her daughter clashed at a rally with climate change denier Ezra Levant and she wrote about it -- an account that Levant’s videotape later showed she got very wrong.

Porter resigned earlier this year to join the New York Times.

Desmond Cole is black and a twice-a-month freelance columnist who wrote mostly about the Toronto black community’s problem with carding, the police practice of stopping, questioning and documenting people accused of no crimes. No one in mainstream journalism knew about him until he appeared on the cover of Toronto Life with a powerful story of how carding is stigmatizing the black community. His activism on that issue is presumably why the Star hired him.

Desmond Cole left the paper this week because his editor told him that activism and journalism don’t mix.

As he put it in his blog: “If I must choose between a newspaper column and the actions I must take to liberate myself and my community, I choose activism.”

So one activist was given the green light, the other was warned to stop. What’s going on?

In contrast to the very public Porter controversy, the Star has so far said nothing about Cole and why his treatment is so different (see update below). But we can guess – the paper is uncomfortable with his anti-establishment  views and has been for a while. So much so that it has disavowed everything it said less than two years ago when it excused activist columnist Porter’s far more serious public indiscretion.

At issue here is a Star editorial policy that says “It is not proper for journalists to be both actors and critics. It is a journalistic obligation to ensure that our reputations as fair-minded fact-finders are not compromised by any open display of political or partisan views on public issues nor tainted by personal involvement or personal axe-grinding on issues the Star covers.”

There are two problems with it. First, it does not distinguish between reporters, who are supposed to gather the facts as objectively as they can, and columnists, who are supposed to take sides. And secondly, Cole says no one told him that such a policy exists.

He learned about it when his boss, editorial page editor Andrew Phillips, called him in after Cole disrupted a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board on April 20. The Star reported how Cole raised his fist and occupied the speaker’s rostrum in a protest against continued use of carding material by the police.

Here’s how Cole tells it on his blog: “Phillips said this action had violated the Star’s rules on journalism and activism. He didn’t discipline me or cite any consequence for my actions—Phillips said he just wanted me to know what the Star’s rules are.” The message was clear: Stop this.

It wasn’t the first time the paper expressed its unease. The space devoted to his column was cut in half eight months after he started writing it in 2015. Shortly after that, Cole was called in by John Honderich, the chairman of the board and acting publisher at the time, and told that he was writing about racial issues too much, and he should diversify his topics.

Cole was the only columnist at the paper writing about race and carding – an issue the paper’s reporters have spent years investigating.

Crusading for social reform is supposed to be bedrock Star editorial policy, part of the Atkinson Principles that Honderich is supposed to uphold. The paper proudly highlights that goal on its web page.

Part of the problem is the Star’s editorial policy, and who knows about it. Kathy English, the paper’s public editor, admitted in a column about Porter’s spat with Levant that “the policy is murky about whether Star columnists – who have wide latitude to express their own opinions — can act in public in line with those opinions, so long as they are fully transparent.”

But then she wrote: “Porter is right in her understanding that she has explicit permission – and encouragement – to take a public stand and act in line with her views on social justice issues.”

Furthermore, the paper allowed Porter to write her own defence. “People have suggested there is a conflict between being a journalist and engaging in social activism,” she said in her column a few days later. “Well, that’s what I do. I am a columnist who is also a social justice activist. I don’t always get involved in the causes I write about, but when I do, I am transparent about it — to my subjects and my readers. My bosses at the Star not only condone this, they encourage it.”

Fast forward to right now. One thing is clear – the Star’s editors neither condone nor encourage Desmond Cole’s activism, and he feels he has no choice but to choose what’s most important.

On his blog, he observes: “The Star invests heavily in reporters whose excellent work inspires much of my commentary on anti-Black racism and white supremacy in Canada. Yet it seems the Star is reluctant to invest in columnists who relentlessly name these racial power imbalances, who call out the political and institutional forces responsible for white supremacy and Black suffering.”

Instead of fixing a “murky” and outdated policy, instead of supporting its crusading columnist, the Star chose to play it safe and snuff out a voice.

As a role model for journalistic integrity and crusading for social reform, we are left with … Desmond Cole.

Who you’ll have to read somewhere else.

UPDATE: The Star essentially confirmed Cole's account on Saturday, May 6. A column by English stressed that Cole was not fired (I didn't say that) and that she regretted his decision to leave. She stood by the paper's policy against activism, and claimed that Cole's disruption of the police board meeting took his activism "to a new level" that was much more serious than what Porter had done (even though Cole did not, like Porter, write about it).

Then, in a curious admission, she said that she "sees merit" in discussing whether the policy is outdated and whether columnists should be exempt from it. "But no news organization that cares about its integrity should make or amend policy on the fly simply to accommodate any one voice or any one cause." In other words, she is saying that what Cole did isn't important enough to accelerate that discussion.
The Desmond Cole rule Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:55:17 -0400 John Miller General
Shortly after his most controversial public appearance yet, Desmond Cole tweeted: “Have y'all noticed that when I speak my truth, I'm often described as an activist, but no longer as a journalist or author or radio host?”

Toronto media reports told how Cole, who writes for Torontoist online and the Toronto Star in print, disrupted a meeting of the Toronto Police Service Board this week by raising his fist and refusing to leave after giving a short presentation. The meeting was adjourned and Cole was escorted out by police.

Sure enough, the CBC described Cole as “the journalist and activist,” but did not mention who he writes for. The Sun reported it this way: “A Toronto Police Service Board meeting was hijacked and forced to adjourn Thursday by an anti-carding activist.” It did not identify him as a journalist.

Only the Star identified him fully, running its story under the tag “The Star’s Desmond Cole makes a stand.”

Other journalists either did not appear to understand Cole’s mission, or disagreed with a journalist creating such a scene. The Sun’s Joe Warmington, for example, tweeted: “This is u acting disgracefully. Not police. Not mayor. U r wasting their time. And embarrassing yourself.”

So who is Desmond Cole anyway -- a journalist or an activist? Is it possible to be both?

Apparently not, according to the paper he writes for as a freelance columnist. The Star, in its Newsroom Policy and Journalistic Standards Guide, says the following:

“It is not proper for journalists to be both actors and critics. It is a journalistic obligation to ensure that our reputations as fair-minded fact-finders are not compromised by any open display of political or partisan views on public issues nor tainted by personal involvement or personal axe-grinding on issues the Star covers.”

That would seem to prohibit what Cole did. He writes about issues affecting Toronto’s black community, especially the police practice of “carding’ – stopping, interrogating and documenting people not suspected of any crime, a practice that has been shown to overwhelmingly target young, black males. So what is this columnist doing disrupting government in order to draw attention to things he writes about?

The meeting he spoke to was discussing new provincial guidelines that set strict limits on carding. Cole and other critics say Toronto police should not be allowed to continue to access information gathered from carding. Another speaker, lawyer Peter Rosenthal, said he couldn’t understand how Toronto police could continue to condone carding when a recent report by two University of Toronto criminology professors said its usefulness is “substantially outweighed by convincing evidence of the harm of such practices.”

Cole’s protest – after which he said “F--- the rules of procedure”– prevented others from speaking on the issue and left much of the agenda untouched. That sounds like a violation of the Star’s rules against “active participation in community organizations and pressure groups that take positions on public issues.”

I wrote the paper’s first editorial policy manual in 1984, and included that very rule.

The Star invoked it in 1986 to win a landmark labour arbitration case against a general assignment reporter named Susan Craig, who challenged the paper’s attempt to prevent her from heading a labor organization called Organized Working Women, or giving her another job until her term as president expired. The paper’s concern was the possible perception of bias in her reporting. The arbitrator in the case ruled that “the employer is entitled to take reasonable precautions to ensure that its public image is not tainted” because readers might doubt the objectivity of the Star 's reporters and their ability to report the news impartially and fairly.

So what should the Star do about Desmond Cole?

I hope they do nothing to him. I hope they instead rewrite their ethical guidelines to distinguish between what’s expected of a news reporter and what a crusading columnist like Cole should be allowed to do.

Given years of foot-dragging by Toronto police on the issue of carding, what Cole did was understandable, dramatic and courageous. That shouldn’t upset any of his readers who understand the passion he brings to this issue. They do not expect him to be objective or impartial.

Furthermore, he did not prevent the police services board from conducting its business. They decided themselves to adjourn their meeting. They could have simply had Cole escorted off the podium for overstaying his welcome, something they eventually did anyway after everyone had gone home.

I think his action to sabotage the meeting was extreme and perhaps excessive. But, at a time when newsroom cutbacks are curtailing newspapers’ ability to cover civic events, I think his role as a journalist-activist is essential. The ethical rules that govern newsroom behaviour need to catch up to him.

Cole rose to prominence on the cover of Toronto Life in May, 2015, when he wrote a personal story titled: “I’ve been stopped by the cops on the street 50 times. I’m not a criminal.” His story not only swept the 2016 National Magazine Awards (winning one gold and two silver awards), he told J-source that he was pleased with the reaction to the article: “Our media doesn’t like to talk about racism. One of the interesting things about this piece is that it’s sparked a conversation about race that I haven’t seen in this city before.”
Cutbacks in the Star newsroom have reduced its editorial staff from 450 to 150, eroding the precious little diversity it once employed. Over the years and now, Star reporters have done notable investigative work to expose the racial bias in carding, and editors stood fast against an ill-advised lawsuit filed by the Toronto Police Association. But no one on staff today is able or willing to advocate for change like Cole.

Columnists perform a special service for newspapers, and the best ones are often described as activists. One of the best at the Star was Michele Landsberg, one of the first journalists in Canada to address sexual harassment in the workplace, racial discrimination in education and employment opportunities, and lack of gender equality in divorce and custodial legal proceedings.

In 2005, the Canadian Women's Foundation established the Michele Landsberg Award in her honour, to recognize outstanding young women and their accomplishments in media and activism.

That award, however, tends to honour conventional journalists. The 2017 winner was Tavia Grant, a reporter at The Globe and Mail for 12 years who wrote the series "Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked" focused on how Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by human trafficking. Other winners have included Star columnist Heather Mallick, and Janet McFarland, a business reporter with The Globe and Mail whose reporting raised the issue of gender inequality on corporate boards.

Cole has certainly won his share of awards already in his young career covering race in Toronto. But I think he needs the Star’s endorsement to continue his activism, without seeming to operate outside the paper’s outdated ethical rules.
Don't be objective Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:31:31 -0400 John Miller General
In his fine new documentary All Governments Lie, Canadian producer Peter Raymont presents an indictment of mainstream journalism, which proved to be too complicit with government and power to warn us of calamities like the Vietnam war, the wars against Iraq, the banking collapse of 2008, and the ongoing war on terror, including weekly U.S.-directed drone strikes.

The documentary noted that, on the eve of the first Iraq war, the Washington Post ran a story debunking every rationale the U.S. government offered for attacking that country. But the story was buried on page 19.

At a showing of his film the other evening at Ryerson University, Raymont asked a crowd of journalism students: “Do they still teach objectivity in journalism school?”

He confessed he considers himself an activist not a journalist. “An activist for the truth,” he said.

Surely we need lots more of that in journalism today.

Every day in Washington, 70 of the most senior journalists in the United States dutifully sit down for a staged briefing  at the White House -- stenographers writing down what they’re told -- but no stories appear for weeks examining poverty or hunger among the dispossessed 99 percent. Pictures of CEOs fill the financial pages daily but no one bothers to cover the world’s 65 million refugees. Newsrooms are being hollowed out because the economic model that’s sustained mainstream journalism is broken. News is often reduced to clickbait to attract eyeballs. Publishers are usually hired for their business or marketing talents rather than any passion or understanding for how to cover the news.

All this has left journalists vulnerable to governments – especially the Trump administration – who demonize them as liars and providers of “fake news.” Public trust in the media has fallen to the level of used car salespeople.

When your job depends on getting along rather than going out on a limb, journalists tend to go along. They often hide behind the excuse of “being objective.”

Being objective means reporting what people say, but not what they do. It means reporting the claims but not the proof. It means being “balanced” and not taking sides. It often causes you to be distracted by flashy bits of tinsel – like Trump’s exaggerated claims of crowd size – and not having time to report what he’s actually doing to the environment.

We need better from our journalism today.

We should be outraged when Gerald Baker, editor-in-chief of the formerly august Wall Street Journal, declared his newspaper would not refer to false statements from the Trump administration as “lies,” because doing so would ascribe a “moral intent” to the statements.

The “public interest” demands that journalists today should be advocates for truth, transparency, justice and equality. They should free themselves of the shackles of objectivity and approach each story as skeptics, demanding evidence that government and business are acting truthfully and in the public interest. Too often, history tells us, they have not.

Stop teaching objectivity in journalism schools. No one, including reporters, can be truly “objective,” especially when they spend most of their time covering news emanating from people in positions of privilege and power.  

When Donald Trump says the press is “the enemy of the American people,” and his chief strategist says “the media here is the opposition party,” that is so far from the truth that it’s laughable.

The answer is not cool-headed impartiality, as Fred Hiatt, longtime editor of the Washington Post editorial page, suggests.  “The answer to dishonest or partisan journalism,” he assured readers, “cannot be more partisan journalism, which would only harm our credibility and make civil discourse even less possible.”

What if, as Leah Finnegan recently wrote in the New Republic, “the press can find a way to conceptualize itself as a true opposition party, then perhaps American journalism might stand for something that would be of value to readers and viewers.”

When reporters understand that it’s actually their job to expose the government’s misdeeds, crimes, and lies, being the opposition means nothing more than doing your job.

Dumb and dumber Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:28:34 -0500 John Miller General
Scientist Carl Sagan once wrote: "There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question"

Unfortunately, journalists covering Donald Trump's first press conference as president-elect proved Sagan wrong. They asked a ton of dumb questions.

And if the four years of a Trump presidency are going to be any good for democracy, journalists need to stop trying to be sycophants and shouters and start trying to be who they need to be: Watchdogs, holding power to account.

They can start by embracing one fact: A dumb question is a question that doesn't get an answer.

Last week's press conference was the first for Trump in 167 days, since late July, a sign that the new president is not going to give reporters many opportunities to question him. There was a lot to cover – his refusal to release his tax records, the choices he has made for his cabinet, his agenda for the first 100 days of his presidency, and sensational allegations that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election.

The best question he was asked was this one: “Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?”

Unfortunately, the reporter made a fatal error and added a second question before Trump could answer:“And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?"

Naturally, Trump chose only to answer the second one. He said Putin should stop. "Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I'm leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that."

It was a liminal moment and does not bode well for how journalists will behave. The press conference degenerated into a shouting match between Trump and reporters for CNN, which a day earlier reported that the heads of the major U.S. intelligence agencies had briefed Trump and President Barack Obama about claims that Moscow had mounted a secret operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump, that there were extensive communications between people close to Trump and Russians during the presidential campaign, and that Russia had collected compromising material on Trump during his travels to the country

Trump was asked to deny that, and the clumsy double-barrelled question allowed him to slip away without answering. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

A few days later, Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed that “there were contacts” with the Trump team. “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” he told the state news agency, which obviously knew how to ask a good question.

The reporters in Washington, on the other hand, seemed to act as show-offs, firing off their rehearsed questions like machine-gun fire and giving him the opportunity to pick and choose.

Another example: “Do you believe the hacking was justified? And will you release your tax returns to prove what you're saying about no deals in Russia?”

Trump merely repeated what he's said before – no tax records because they're being audited.

Another example of a grab-bag question, for which I would have failed a journalism student: “Are we living in Nazi Germany? Were you driving at there? Do you have a problem with the intelligence community? And on the Supreme Court, what's the timeline? You said a while ago you are down to four. Have you conducted those interviews yet? What the timeline for nomination? And on the border fence, it now appears clear U.S. taxpayers will have to pay for it upfront. What is your plan to get Mexico to pay for it?”

Trump addressed only the last one, saying it's a wall and not “a fence.”

And what are we to make of this exchange, which also yielded nothing but dead air?

Q: Do you think President Obama went too far with the sanctions he put on Russia after the hacking?

Trump: I don't say he went too far. No.

Q: Will you roll them back? What do you think of Lindsey Graham's plan to send you a bill for...

Trump: Plans to send me a bill for what?

Q: Tougher sanctions.

Trump: I hadn't heard Lindsey Graham was going to do that.

Canadian journalist John Sawatsky, who has trained print and television journalists across North America in how to ask good questions, could use the transcript of Trump's press conference as a case study in how not to do it.

The best questions, argues Sawatsky, are like clean windows. “A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it’s like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn’t notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn’t notice the window. They should be looking at the lake.”

Instead, the reporters in Washington did not follow up on previous questions, allowed Trump to insult and dismiss CNN as “garbage,” and they let him to ignore the questions he didn't want to answer.

Asked what reporters need to do to cover Trump, former CBS anchor Dan Rather suggested this test:  “Do the reporters who are called upon ask tough questions? Do they ask the necessary follow-up questions? If these questions go unanswered, will reporters show some solidarity of purpose by following up on others' questions -- even it means discarding their own prepared questions?”

But the big question is whether the news media are going to stop being cheerleaders and rediscover their spines. Their bosses might not like it.

Remember what CBS Chairman Les Moonves said not long ago about the Trump campaign: "It may not be good for America but it's damn good for CBS."  He added: "Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ... The money's rolling in and this is fun ...I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Oh dear.

Dumb. Dumb and dumber.
Ezra in extremis Fri, 06 Jan 2017 16:30:00 -0500 John Miller General
Ezra Levant is to Canadian political dialogue what The Iron Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher once were to big-time wrestling.

A cartoon figure.

A hateful blowhard.

At least with big-time wrestling, you got the entertainment.

With Ezra, what you get are hate, lies, manipulated arguments, ill-advised stunts and his unshackled ego, none of which are entertaining, and much of which is just cruel and ill-informed.

He's a self-styled troublemaker who always seems to find himself in trouble.

The latest: He's being sued for libel by an organization called Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). It runs campaigns encouraging the boycotting of goods from Israel to protest that state's treatment of Palestinians. The late Liberal MP Warren Allmand, was on its  board.

Levant used his blog on Rebel Media to compare the group to Nazis and said it was abusing its charitable status to spread anti-Semitic propaganda. He urged his followers to sign a petition (Tax dollars subsidize Jew hatred in Canada) urging the federal government to revoke the group's status as a charity and contribute to a fund that would allow Levant to hire a human rights lawyer to go after it.

Aside from the damaging opinion – which Levant can probably try to defend by saying it's freedom of expression – he overplayed his hand and made statements of fact about the group that he cannot possibly justify.

Why? Well, for starters, because CJPME is not and never has been a charity.

It’s seeking $100,000 in damages and $20,000 for punitive or exemplary damages, and says Levant must be confusing it with a separate foundation that has no role in its political campaign in support of Palestinian rights.

It's not the first time Rebel Commander has been found to be reckless with facts. He seems to have made a career of it.

He's lost two expensive libel cases, one last year in which Judge Wendy Matheson of Ontario Superior Court ruled there is “ample evidence before me demonstrating express malice on the part of [Mr. Levant],” especially the fact he “did little or no fact-checking regarding the posts complained of, either before or after their publication.” She found that Levant's “dominant motive in these blog posts was ill will, and that his repeated failure to take even basic steps to check his facts showed a reckless disregard for the truth.” Levant was ordered to pay a law student $80,000 in damages plus $70,000 in costs. He appealed, lost, and was assessed another $15,000 in costs.

That's the case in which his lawyer, Iain MacKinnon, mounted an amazing defence. He argued that Levant’s readers would know not to take what he writes “at face value” and that he has a “penchant to stir controversy and make outlandish comments at times.”

True enough, but it didn't help him in that case.

In another defamation case he lost in 2011, Justice Robert Smith of Ontario Superior Court ruled that Levant “spoke in reckless disregard of the truth and for an ulterior purpose of denormalizing the Human Rights Commission across Canada which makes his statements malicious in that sense.” In that one, he had to pay a human rights lawyer $57,000.

Levant has raised the Nazi card before too. In 2010, he wrote a column for Sun Media accusing international financier George Soros of a childhood collaboration with the Nazis. Soros threatened to sue and Sun Media had to issue a retraction and apology.

Two years later, Sun Media had to retract and apologize to the Romani people after Levant broadcast a commentary that he titled "The Jew vs. the Gypsies." Levant opined that Romanis were a group of criminals: "These are gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers. The phrase gypsy and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb: he gypped me. Gypsies are not a race. They’re a shiftless group of hobos. They rob people blind. Their chief economy is theft and begging.”

That reckless diatribe prompted a remarkable op-ed piece in the National Post co-authored by Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger. They condemned Levant's commentary as a "contemptible screed" and argued that "the time has come for all of us to reject hate and bigotry — against any group."

Levant apologized for his remarks, stating that he hoped this "will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues."

But he keeps on doing it. He can't help himself, much like the Iron Sheik always kept going back to the eye gouge.

That's one reason Ezra Levant's career as a commentator has regressed from national television to tabloid columnist to low-rent self-published blogger, and why Levant deserves to wallow at the bottom of the commentary barrel, among the fellow travellers of right-wing gripe sites like Small Dead Animals and Blazing Cat Fur.

People who are read by almost no one and whose arguments fall apart by the seams.
Media culpa Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:59:03 -0500 John Miller General By one count, only 19 newspapers in the United States supported Donald Trump for the presidency.

The only one you ever heard of was the National Enquirer. All the rest were small papers with questionable influence, including The Crusader, official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan.

So what did they know that the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times missed? Hillary Clinton was endorsed by 243 newspapers, including all of the most important ones.

There is no question that the election of President Donald Trump reflects a backlash against America's elite institutions, and the news media must bear their fair burden for being so far out of touch that they didn't see it coming.

Almost no one did. The major opinion polls also got it wrong. All of them predicted a Clinton victory. The major election forecasting models got it wrong. The professionals who worked for both major political parties got it wrong.

The only ones to get it right were the amateurs, included a search engine and filmmaker Michael Moore.

It's fashionable to blame the Internet for contributing to the post-factual society, but Google Trends analyzed not what its customers said but where they were clicking and converted it to potential Electoral College votes. The results were eerily similar to what actually happened: Google predicted:

Donald Trump: 309
Hillary Clinton: 229

And Moore, who identifies with the white blue-collar voters he feels have been dispossessed by the System, said in the summer that “'Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full-time sociopath is going to be our next president.” He predicted Tuesday's vote was going to be the “biggest fuck you in human history.”

Why did this happen?

The Trump-supporting Bowling Green Daily News in Kentucky shone the spotlight on the central issue in the election better than most. “Trump wears the crass label while Clinton carries the corrupt label,” the newspaper said. “Given what we believe is at risk in this election, including the erosion of our individual liberties by an overreaching government and the rule of law, we believe that crass trumps corrupt by a wide margin.”

Some might call it the “clean house” syndrome. History shows that it’s been difficult for any party to hold the presidency for more than two terms in recent decades. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman’s combined five terms from 1933 to 1952, it’s only happened once, with the Reagan-Bush administrations of 1981 to 1992.

In this “fuck you” campaign, it's possible that voters saw newspapers endorsing candidates as just another sign of the Establishment trampling out popular voices. Eight years ago, when Barak Obama was first elected, the Pew Research Center did an opinion poll that showed just 14 percent of Americans said a local newspaper endorsement could make them more likely to vote for a presidential candidate. The same percentage said an endorsement could make them less likely to vote for a candidate. Sixty-nine percent said it made no difference.

It's very probable that Trump's election win verifies what recent opinion polls have shown -- that confidence in America's major institutions continues to lag below historical averages. Two institutions -- newspapers and television news -- dropped to record lows this year. The overall average of Americans expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in 14 institutions is below 33 percent for the third straight year, says Gallup.

Approval ratings

June 2006

June 2016

Difference, 2006 to 2016



percentage pts.









Church or organized religion




Medical system








U.S. Supreme Court




Public schools








Organized labor




Criminal justice system




Television news








Big business








Gallup polls, June 1-4, 2006, and June 1-5, 2016

Another trend may be at work too. One of Trump's supporters, British politician Nigel Farange, predicted that he would benefit from the same nationalist backlash that caused Britain to vote to withdraw from the European Common Market. Farange said “I think Brexit is the first kickback against the establishment. It's not a British event, it's not a European event. It's a global event and I think it has implications for every Western democracy. In the case of America - absolutely.”

If so, it's important to know the people who say they stand closest to Trump and what they represent.

None of the living former U.S. presidents or presidential candidates endorsed him, but two former vice-presidents did, Republicans Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle. The only foreign heads of state who spoke in his favour were Hun Sen of Cambodia, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic. So did the leaders of three ultra-right, anti-immigrant parties, Jean-Marie LePen of France, Geert Wilders of Holland and Farange (Britain).

Trump was endorsed by institutions like the National Rifle Association, the Ku Klux Klan, the National Right to Life Committee and the Tea Party Patriots Fund.

Celebrities like Conrad Black, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and golfer Jack Nicklaus endorsed Trump, and he managed to grab the support of aging pornographic film stars Jenna Jameson and Brandy Love.

Cabinet material? Let's hope not.

Cure for "too white" Sun, 06 Nov 2016 13:59:19 -0500 John Miller General
Shree Paradkar sure knows how to launch a column.

The Toronto Star has chosen her to write a new weekly column on race and gender, and she courageously focused very close to home for her first one – on the unbearable whiteness of newsrooms, including her own. She even criticized her editor-in-chief for being wrong about how accurate such newsrooms can be when they write about other cultures.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. But blunt courage like this may be required to make newsrooms more reflective of their communities. The honest truth is that, as newsrooms shed staff to keep afloat, the few non-whites hired in newsrooms over the years run the risk of being squeezed out.

There's no proof of this because nobody's keeping count. The last research into the diversity of newspaper staffs was my own, in 2004. The findings showed that racial minorities were more than five times under-represented in daily newsrooms. Moreover, the commitment of editors to change their hiring patterns had declined, not risen, in 10 years. One of the reasons they gave was that “journalism schools are not producing them.”

Luckily, institutions can change if they really want to. As an example, Ms. Paradkar briefly pointed to my experience as head of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University. I'd like to say more about that.

In 1994, the editors actually had a point. Ryerson is located in the most multicultural city in North America, but our student body at that time hardly reflected the diverse population of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Other journalism school were even less diverse. I set a goal for our school to change that.

The problem was, we didn't know what our problem was. Were non-white students just not applying? We drew applicants from across Canada and our standards for acceptance were high – high A averages and previous media experience were pretty much the norm. We turned away 10 students for every one we admitted. We certainly didn't want to sacrifice quality, which would be unfair. If we had to mount a nation-wide recruitment drive for visible minority applicants, we would need expert advice and it might take years for anything to change.

So we decided to act like journalists and get to the bottom of this. I secured approval from the Ontario Human Rights Commission and we asked all students applying to our school the next year to self-identify whether they were Caucasian, Black, Asian, South Asian, Aboriginal, etc.

Guess what? We found our applicant pool almost exactly reflected the percentage of each of those groups in the GTA.

Our problem was that we were not selecting them.

So what to do? Not everyone on faculty agreed with me that we needed to look at our admissions criteria. Why change anything, some said. Many minorities are under pressure from their parents to become doctors and lawyers, not journalists. Continue to admit the best. Period.

“But how do we know we're admitting the best?” I asked.

Faculty member Gail Scott volunteered to track the performance of our best students and cross-reference back to their scores on entry tests. She determined that graduating averages from high school (which made up 50 percent of our entry criteria) were strong determinants of success at our university. We decided not to change that. But the other 50 percent (made up by a current events test, an interview, and previous experience in media) had little connection to subsequent success. So we decided to rethink that.

I didn't say it out loud, but I suspected that our entry criteria actually acted as an institutional barrier to students who came from non-Caucasian cultures. There were no visible minorities on faculty. The literature we published about ourselves showed no students of colour attending class. The current events test usually focused on mainstream Canadian politics, sports and entertainment. It was labour-intensive for us to mark and Gail's research told us it didn't really tell us anything valuable. So we agreed to drop it.

Then I asked: “Is there anything we should be valuing in incoming students that we're not?”

Previous experience in journalism or writing still seemed to be important. How about knowledge of a second language? Or world travel? Or volunteering for a community organization? We agreed those should be added to the mix, and we picked students for the following year using a new yardstick.

The change in the make-up of our first-year classes was remarkable. We still admitted the best but the best looked different. By updating our value system, we opened the door to students who better reflected Canadian society. Within four years, our graduating class was 30 percent non-white. And I can tell you that those students won more than their share of achievement awards.

We also introduced diversity to the curriculum. Covering Diversity, a course I designed as a result of my research (and also my frustration that newsrooms weren't changing), was compulsory for all journalism students for many years and won for Ryerson the coveted Award of Excellence from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. The citation read: “"The winning program was distinguished by the long term impact that Ryerson journalism students will have on the quality of reporting as they enter their profession. Congratulations to John Miller, designer of the course, for an extraordinary and courageous effort towards bringing a higher level of balance to journalism."

Still, there were gaps. We discovered that few Black males applied to our school or were chosen.

An opportunity to do something about that came in 2004 when I organized a panel at Ryerson on Youth at Risk, part of then-mayor David Miller's community safety initiative. The chair of the mayor's advisory panel was Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, who was impressed by someone I invited to talk about engaging young people in media projects. Adonis Huggins for years has headed Regent Park Focus, which produces a newspaper and video projects for his community. What would it take, McMurtry asked, for something similar to happen in other disadvantaged communities? Could Ryerson help?

As it happened, a new faculty member, Vinita Srivastrava, was already interested. An online journalist who joined us from New York Times Magazine, she began work on what eventually became Verse City, a program aimed at getting racialized and marginalized youth interested in pursuing careers in news media.

A tip from lecturer Cathy Dunphy put us in touch with East Metro Youth Services, which was working with youth from Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods who face multiple barriers to education and employment. Together we got funding from the Pinball Clemons Foundation and in 2008 Vinita created the Verse City Workshop, a series of workshops held in Scarborough and at Ryerson culminating in a four-day intensive multimedia camp. The program produced a newspaper (the VIP Voice) and a magazine (Say Word). Some of the young people who participated were in gang recovery programs.

More importantly, it took less than a year for the first graduate of Verse City to be admitted to our full-time program.

You can read more about our Boot Camp here, written by Omair Quadri, one of the students Vinita recruited to help in training. Faculty members were proud of how well our students quickly morphed into fellow teachers of journalism.

Newspapers that say they can't afford diversity, or that “minorities just don't apply here,” are hiding from reality. They can do something about it, just as we did. All it takes is will.
Unwarranted power Fri, 04 Nov 2016 16:25:44 -0400 John Miller General
Until this week, Josée De Carufel was an obscure Quebec justice of the peace, one of 10 toiling at the Montreal courthouse at 1, Rue Notre-Dame Est.

Appointed for life, JPs in Quebec handle a range of lower-level judicial proceedings, including bail hearings and applications for search warrants.

Now, because of her repeated and outrageous authorizations of police surveillance of a journalist, De Carufel stands at the centre of one of the most important debates over freedom of the press in recent memory.

Here's why you and I should care about it.

1. Journalists should not be treated as investigative tools of the police.

According to La Presse, De Carufel issued most of the 24 warrants that allowed Montreal police to track phone calls made by one of its columnists, Patrick Lagacé, for more than a year. Using the warrants, police were able to obtain  the identities of the people he spoke  and texted with as well as to track his whereabouts via his iPhone's GPS.

La Presse quoted one of the investigators who met with Lagacé as saying:“You were like an investigative tool, in a sense.”

This seems to fly in the face of what the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010. While Canadian journalists do not have an automatic right to protect their sources, they will not be compelled to reveal sources without a good reason. The revelation of a source's identity must have some public good or else it will not be ordered.
De Carufel's actions do not appear to pass that test. We do not yet know how police justified the warrants to her, but we do know this: Lagacé was not suspected of any crime, nor was any member of the public. The target of the police investigation was one of their own, an officer who was suspected of leaking information to criminals. But no information gathered by the surveillance resulted in any criminal charges. And the head of the police unit that applied for the warrants was investigated not long ago for allegedly lying in an attempt to get other search warrants.

And that, it seems to me, amounts to no justification at all.

2. Trust lies at the heart of good journalism.

Although Montreal Police Chief  Philippe Pichet  defended the warrants and said the police broke no rules in obtaining them, the Quebec government has moved to protect journalists from such surveillance and is investigating the actions of the Montreal police. Montreal Mayor Denis  Coderre  sounded a welcome note of concern: "Democracy is fragile. We have to make sure we're protecting it, and one of the reasons why we have democracy is freedom of speech and freedom of press."

Lagacé, the columnist whose phone was compromised, said it best, though. “I was living in the fiction that police officers wouldn't dare do that, and in the fiction that judges were protecting journalists — and hence the public — against this type of police intrusion. Clearly, I was naive.''

Journalism is important to democracy but isn't effective unless there is trust – the trust of readers that what is printed is verified, the trust of editors in the ethics and tactics of their reporters, and – above all – the trust of journalists in their sources and the trust of sources in the integrity of journalists.

That trust is fragile and it was broken by the police decision to track whom Lagacé chose to talk to. Suppose he'd spoken with someone who asked for anonymity because she was a government employee who could be fired for leaking information that the public was being misled by an action of a minister. That person would surely go to ground if she knew or suspected that police were monitoring everyone who was speaking to the journalist. The duty of the media to inform citizens about issues that are in the public interest is one reason why freedom of the press is guaranteed in Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights.

In the case at hand, police clearly violated that right, and for no good reason.

Evidence that police were  tracking Lagacé came to light accidentally, when another  LaPresse reporter looked  into a police investigation about anti-gang officers fabricating evidence — and Lagacé's  name kept coming  up.

Investigators met with Lagacé last Friday to explain the context in which police wanted access to his phone. “We were not  legally  obliged to, but wanted to meet with him to explain what we were doing," Montreal's police chief said.

According to La Presse, they told the journalist that they found Lagacé’s telephone number among the contacts during a search of the telephone of a police officer who was suspected of leaking information to the Mafia. They also noticed that sensitive newspaper articles had been published a short time later that involved files on which the officer was involved.

But La Presse said that none of the articles in question were written by Lagacé. At times they were not even published by La Presse. The police officer in question, Faycal Djelidi, was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, but not with leaking police information. So the invasion of the reporter's telephone produced nothing.

This violation of impartial journalism is important because fewer and fewer Canadians say they trust the news media. According to the results of a national poll released last month by CBC and the Angus Reid Institute, 64 percent of people aged 18 to 34 said most of the stories you see in the news can't be trusted.

3. Abuse of power is the real issue.

 A  committee reviewing judges’ compensation in Quebec last month  said justices of the peace bear "a heavy responsibility"  because many of their decisions are heard in camera and based solely on documents prepared by peace officers or public officials. It noted  the vast majority of JPs have previously worked for the government, which could lead to “an appearance of institutional bias.” Before she became a JP in 2012, De Carufel spent two decades as a lawyer employed by the provincial government.

Given the seriousness of the intrusions into freedom of the press, it seems strange that the Montreal police force would rely on the same justice of the peace, and not a judge, to grant its warrants.

In its only statement on the case, the Quebec Court refused to comment on the role played by De Carufel. "The fundamental principle of judicial independence guarantees their freedom to decide without fear of interference, control or influence on the part of anyone,” it said.

There is also no explanation for the sudden reassignment of Chief Inspector Costa Labos, who approved the application for the Lagacé warrants as head of the Montreal force’s internal affairs department and who defended them as the “least intrusive” way to gather information in the case.

The day after La Presse learned police had spied on  Lagacé, Labos  was transferred to another department.
This summer, Labos was himself investigated by the Sûreté du Québec over an allegation that he lied to a judge in 2014 to obtain a search warrant to wiretap the phones of former police officer Roger Larivière, as well as to search his  home. Labos suspected Larivière was leaking information to a journalist. The Crown prosecutor's office found evidence that Labos lied but decided against laying charges.

Some commentators are blaming the contentious anti-terrorism legislation passed by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Bill C-51.  Although it was originally passed to curb cyberbullying, Bill C-13  amended the  Criminal Code to allow police to, among other things, track an object, person, or transmission of data if the  authorities have the suspicion or belief that doing so could assist an investigation.

Technology expert Christopher Parsons told CBC that “we have an absolute deficiency in accountability” when it comes to how police obtain tracking orders. "These orders that were used to conduct surveillance on the journalist and his respective sources, those are all powers that can be used in ongoing investigations, so most Canadian citizens will be subject to them."

What's more, the target of such surveillance "won't necessarily be notified that they were targeted by the surveillance unless charges are brought against them," Parsons told CBC. "So the police could conduct surveillance and the target would never know."

It wouldn't surprise me if, in the coming days, we find other journalists coming forward to say they've been spied upon by police.

And that should concern you, me and every Canadian.
Bail out yourself Sun, 02 Oct 2016 11:31:19 -0400 John Miller General
Let's say your great-grandfather once made a wonderful living selling expensive fountain pens.

The man made a fortune because that's all people had to write with in the 1920s. He enjoyed his monopoly for years. Then along came a guy named Laszlo Biro with a better idea: a pen with a tiny ball in its tip that was free to turn in a socket.

The ballpoint pen was cheap, simple to use and less messy. Predictably, it began to eat holes in your grandfather's business. He had to lay off workers. Quality control went out the window. He still made money but not nearly enough to suit his lifestyle. Then he got this great idea: He'd ask the government to bail him out in the interest of freedom of expression.

What do you think his chances might have been?

Right .... I thought not.

But that seems to be what most Canadian newspapers seem to be asking for today: a government handout, or at least substantial tax credits to help them stave off this thing they didn't see coming at them at 200 kilometres an hour: The Internet.

The House of Commons Heritage Committee, chaired by Liberal MP  Hedy Fry, has so far held 15 meetings and heard from 88 witnesses on the declining state of the news media. It will ultimately publish a report for the government to consider.

One delegation last week, a coalition representing 146 newspapers in Quebec including Montreal's Le Devoir, wants Ottawa to abolish the sales tax on newspapers. It also wants Quebec to set up a five-year temporary financial assistance program for newspapers which includes a refundable tax credit covering 40 per cent of the production costs including journalist salaries and 50 per cent of their investments in digital platforms.

“We’re stuck between a rock and hard place because we need to secure our future and the future will be digital, but we lack the oxygen or the funding to fully implement our digital strategy,” said Brian Myles, director of Le Devoir.

The coalition says newspaper revenue is declining, in part because advertising spending has flowed toward social media platforms like Facebook and Google. An earlier witness highlighted the plunge in newspaper advertising spending by the federal government. Bob Cox, chair of Newspapers Canada, an industry organization representing 850 daily and weekly newspapers, said Ottawa spent $20 million in newspaper ads a decade ago but only $357,000 in fiscal 2014-15. It spent $13.9 million on the Internet, most of it going to U.S. firms like Google.

“Why is the federal government spending millions of dollars in Silicon Valley instead of supporting Canadian media?” he asked when he testified last May.

Newspapers Canada was joined by Quebec publisher Claude Gagnon, president of Groupe Capitales Medias, in asking for changes to the federal copyright laws to protect the unlawful use of an author’s work. Newspapers invest heavily in creating local content, only to see reporters' work reproduced without compensation on the Internet.

Publishers also are asking Ottawa to give tax credits for digital enterprises that provide public interest journalism or do digital development related to it. They want  tax relief to encourage reinvestment in newspapers, perhaps by suspending income taxes on those companies' net profits.

Wait. Say that again? Newspapers still make profits despite all the layoffs of journalists and the crocodile tears about  the threat to democracy if newspapers are allowed to wither?

Well, yes they do.

Cox, speaking on behalf of 850 newspapers, admitted that “most individual newspapers make money on an operational basis. They generate revenues greater than their expenses.”

So there we have it. Newspaper managers are swinging a scythe through their newsrooms and contracting out editing and advertising and even phasing out print editions ... all so they can keep generating profits? And they want taxpayers to help them out?

I can remember the day when these same publishers fought tooth and nail to keep the government out of their business affairs and newsrooms, and argued strenuously that they operated selflessly, not for profit but in the “public interest.”

I never bought it then and I certainly don't buy it now.

Newspapers deserve no bailouts. It is up to them to own up to the mistakes they've made and build new business models that can survive the Internet age.

To his credit, John Honderich, chair of the board of Torstar, which publishes Canada's largest newspaper, did not ask for government tax credits when he testified at the Heritage Committee last week. But he did wax nostalgic about better days not so long ago when careers advertising brought in $75 million a year and classified ads filled an entire section of each day’s paper. He did refer to “relentless” pressures which have cut the size of the Toronto Star's newsroom from 470 journalists to just 170 in 10 years. He did say our very democracy is at stake when the news-gathering capacity of newspapers has been so severely impaired.

What Ottawa should say to him and other publishers is this: You owned that advertising then and you could have done anything you wanted with it, including adapting it to the Internet. But instead you stuck your heads in the sand and squandered your advantage. You let all that money, which paid for all those reporters, slip away to more nimble and effective competitors.

It should say to John Honderich: Sir, you earn $275,000 a year and enjoy $13 million in equity from your business. Run your frigging business.

And it should ask him why newspapers appear to be still in the fountain pen business. Today, in case you haven't noticed, most people write with something else.
RIP newsroom diversity Thu, 16 Jun 2016 13:50:27 -0400 John Miller General
If you Google "diversity in Canadian newsrooms," you will find that seven out of the first 10 results still cite my research prominently -- something that both surprises and concerns me. You see, the last research I did on that subject is now more than 10 years old.

Isn't that proof enough that diversity at news organizations has fallen off the radar?

No news organization seems to be openly championing it. No one is even keeping track of it. There are no models to tell us whether diversity can make a media outlet more popular or profitable. We have no idea how the massive layoffs in mainstream media have affected diversity. No one has checked whether online news start-ups are more diverse in their staffing or merely repeating the hiring habits of the media they are usurping.

What little evidence there is suggests that 97 percent of people gathering our news are white. Nothing has changed in 15 years.

Why does this matter? It matters because we are in the midst of a revolution in how Canadians access their news, at a time when Canadians are becoming more diverse than ever, in their ethnicity, in their race, and in their religion.

It matters because most of the news on the internet is still gathered by professionals working for  mainstream newspapers, television and radio. They have the largest staffs and they are our windows on social change.

It matters because fair, accurate and inclusive coverage is essential to public awareness of issues related to social cohesion. Witness the current shouting match over whether the Orlando shooter was motivated more by homophobia or "radical Islam." How many reporters are qualified and have the contacts to do the hard work of delving into his background and sifting through the evidence to find out?

One of the first results to come up when you do that Google search is my 2004 study entitled Who's Telling the News: Racial representation among news gatherers in Canadia's daily newsrooms. It remains the last such attempt to count diversity in our country's newsrooms. Then, my survey of managing editors showed that racial minorities were more than five times under-represented in daily newspaper newsrooms. Moreover, the commitment of editors to change their hiring patterns had declined, not risen, since I did a similar survey in 1994.

It's impossible to know if things are any better today. Canadaland tried to find out earlier this year, sending a similar survey to 18 of the country’s largest daily newspapers. Only three of them replied. No editors would agree to be interviewed about diversity.

I'm not surprised. Editors are too busy today identifying victims for the next round of layoffs as their industry hemmorhages readers and advertisers. They have blindly ignored evidence that readers and viewers will respond positively to more diverse news coverage.

The latest data on that came in a recent U.S. study by the Media Insight Project, a partnership of the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. African American and Hispanic Americans were more likely than white Americans to say it is very important that they see their communities and people like them in the reporting, the report said. Still, 56 percent of whites said “diverse points of view” were very important or extremely important in their news sources. The figure was 65 percent for African Americans and 61 percent for Hispanics.

Many once looked to online start-ups to change the pattern on diversity. BuzzFeed, one of the more popular on-line news sites, openly subscribes to the business case for diversity. According to editor-in-chief Ben Smith: “Diversity helps editorial organizations avoid the bland and often false conventional wisdom held in a room full of people who come from similar places. Having diverse writers on staff also brings a much wider array of stories that matter, and to more people.”

Unlike mainstream news outlets, BuzzFeed is quite open about its own hiring trends. Smith voluntarily released details of how diverse its newsroom is -- 28 percent of employees were non-white. While that is still less than the percentage of minorities in the U.S. population (37 percent), it is better than the makeup of so-called legacy media (which has stalled at between 12 and 14 percent over the past decade).

Yes, in the United States, they do keep track of diversity levels in media organizations. They've been doing it for more than 30 years.

That just doesn't happen in Canada. Newspapers Canada, and its predecessor the Canadian Daily Newspaper Publishers Association, flatly refused my recommendations to keep count of diversity hiring. Private television executives were pressured by their federal regulator, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to undertake a comprehensive study of diversity in programming in 2003. It produced a fine report that is gathering dust on the shelf because its sponsor, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, went defunct.

What's left is mostly words, not action. For example, 10 years ago the Radio and Television News Directors Association, representing private broadcasters, prepared a diversity news kit that instructs newsrooms how to make their broadcasting more representative. It is couched in vague language and cites unproven evidence: "In today’s global economy, diversifying your staff is not about preferential treatment, employment equity, equal opportunity or affirmative action. And it’s certainly not a numbers game. It’s simply good for the bottom line – making money. In broadcasting, diverse staff and diverse coverage equal growth in ratings and viewers."

No one has checked to see if it's used in any radio newsrooms today.

Despite the opportunity to turn over a new leaf, there is no evidence that online news start-ups are really hiring more diverse staffs and providing more diverse coverage. When the American Society of News Editors first surveyed online news operations in 2014, it received responses from 68 organizations. Forty-three reported zero minorities on staff.

If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced. That's not all. By denying media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society. And that's a recipe for social conflict -- the kind of blind fear of "the other" that Donald Trump is stoking in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Today one in five Canadians is a member of a visible minority. That's going to increase. If our news media remain overwhelmingly white, reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV will be like looking at one of those ancient maps ... you know, the ones that showed dragons and monsters lurking out there in uncharted waters. 
An affair at work Thu, 09 Jun 2016 13:52:17 -0400 John Miller General
Office affairs. They happen. Many are consensual, stay private and hurt no one. Some endure and can lead to marriage; of course, they can also break marriages up. Some simmer for a while and die out without affecting anyone else. Others can turn toxic and infect the entire workplace.
On balance, you can't call them good or bad. When so many of us spend as much time at work as we do at home, they're inevitable.
They're also in the news again because of a tragic situation at the Toronto Star. A much-loved and respected reporter has committed suicide, a senior editor she had been involved with was fired, and the managing editor (with whom the senior editor also had a personal relationship) has been moved to another job outside the newsroom. This has left that workplace in turmoil.
It interests me because 30 years ago, I too had an office affair at the Toronto Star.

What astounds me is that, three decades later, the newspaper still seems to have no commonly understood way of dealing with such situations. The Canadian Press asked a spokesman the other day if the Star had any written policy about office relationships, and he admitted it did not.
When it happened to me, I wished there were company guidelines to tell me what to do. The personal decisions I had to make were clearly mine alone -- what my feelings were about this woman, what this meant for my marriage, for my family, for my friends. Those were incredibly wrenching to make. But it was the workplace implications that I found almost as tough to navigate.
My job was deputy managing editor, the No. 2 job in the newsroom. I was in charge of news and feature planning, I oversaw the editorial budget, and I had overall responsibility for our staffing levels. While I did not directly supervise the woman I was involved with, who was a reporter in one of the feature departments, I could anticipate the potential conflicts of interest. What if we had to cut back the budget and I had to advise the managing editor on who might be let go? What if the reporter wanted to apply for another job in the newsroom and I was part of the screening process? What if our affair went sour and she felt my presence in senior management was an impediment to her career? What if rumours of the affair caused fellow workers to suspect favouritism?
I thought there must be some policy that told me what constituted an improper relationship. There was not.
I knew of other personal involvements in the newsroom at the time. There were undoubtedly many others I was not aware of. In one case, an editor was living with someone she was directly supervising, which I thought was even more problematic than my situation. But that relationship seemed to be condoned. Or perhaps it was just tolerated by an office culture in which sexist, racist and profane outbursts were often heard.
There were many reasons for me to keep our affair secret. I didn't want my wife to find out, for one thing. I wasn't yet sure I was prepared to sacrifice my marriage (I eventually did, and subsequently married the reporter).
When it became clear to me that my affair was going to last, I decided I needed to fess up to my boss. I simply said this has happened, and I can see that it might some day affect a decision I need to make at work and perhaps the way management is perceived in the newsroom. Let's discuss what needs to happen now.
We decided that openness and honesty was the best policy, and that I would have to recuse myself from making any decisions about the working situation of my new partner. I stuck to that the rest of my career there, and so far as I know, it mostly worked.

It worked, that is, until my new partner applied to return to her old job after maternity leave. My boss said she wasn't needed there and would have to go to general assignment. She decided that the unpredictable hours were incompatible with new motherhood and had to leave the paper. I was livid. I thought it was unfair, but there was nothing I could do.

My boss' decision was a factor in me deciding to leave the Star when I was offered the job of chairman of the School of Journalism at Ryerson. Worse, my inaction may have been a contributing factor in the break-up of my new marriage.

Like I say, these things can be complicated.
I can only guess about the dilemma facing Raveena Aulakh, the Star reporter who fell into a newsroom affair that left her in anguish enough to commit suicide. Did she know where to turn for help? Was there anyone she could turn to that she trusted? How was she going to complain to upper management when upper management was in a personal relationship with the object of her complaint?
The union representing Star employees is calling for an independent outsider to investigate what happened there and how to prevent it, an indication that management has already lost the trust of its newsroom. The union specifically asks that such a study "include workplace health and safety, and harassment issues.”
My old newspaper is clearly far behind the times in how to deal with the problems that workplace romances can cause. A 2013 survey by the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management found that policies about romantic involvement with fellow employees were commonplace, and they were becoming more restrictive.
The survey showed that 99 percent of companies that had workplace romance policies did not allow love matches between supervisors and subordinates. That was up from 64 percent in its 2001 survey. Almost half of these policies (45 percent) forbid romances between employees of significantly different rank, a significant jump from 16 percent in 2005.
Typically, these rules are designed to protect the company from sexual harassment lawsuits if the relationship ends and the subordinate claims the supervisor or higher-ranking colleague is making unwanted advances. Supervisor-subordinate romances are also problematic because they can spark complaints of favoritism and damage office morale.
The only thing that should matter in a busy newsroom is the quality of the work you do, not who you're involved with. The newspaper's duty is to make sure everyone understands that.

I hope the Star is wise enough to take the union up on its suggestion. A good fresh look is needed in a newsroom with such a long tradition of social justice and excellence, but also problems with nepotism, inbred attitudes, favouritism and occasional swinish behaviour.

That's the only way I can see some good coming out of this tragedy.
Why Wente won Mon, 09 May 2016 20:14:32 -0400 John Miller General
I have never met or spoken to David Walmsley, who is editor of the Globe and Mail. But in many ways I admire the way he has set his paper's course in what are troubled times for the newspaper industry.

Among other things, he has invested heavily in investigative journalism, and embarked on a campaign to document the plight of Canadian victims of Thalidomide (who have not been adequately compensated). Another campaign uncovered new facts about the tragedy of missing (and presumably deceased) Aboriginal women.

This has paid off in industry accolades. Under his leadership, the Globe leads all other news organizations with 19 nominations for this year's National Newspaper Awards. The previous year, it won in five categories (no other media organization won more than two).

That is why it's hard to understand his clumsy ethical tap-dance over allegations that his most celebrated columnist, Margaret Wente, may be a plagiarist.

Since new evidence was unearthed by blogger Carol Waino more than two weeks ago, Walmsley has been largely silent. But he finally went on the record with j-source.

What Wente did, he said, was not plagiarism.

No? Well, it sure seems to me that it was, and it sure seems that way to Waino, who on her blog Media Culpa gives numerous examples of Wente's words and ideas echoing or copying those of other writers. The New York Times and The Atlantic magazine seem to Wente's favourite poaching grounds, if you can believe it. Most shoplifters at least take the precaution of lifting from the back shelves, not the front counter.

The Globe's only problem with Wente, Walmsley told j-source, was sloppy standards.

He didn't specify just what type of standards she was sloppy about. Originality, perhaps? Actually interviewing the people she quotes? Actually reading the books she critiques? We're not told. But Walmsley seems happy enough paying a large salary to a columnist who is habitually sloppy.

Okay, wait, but he was just warming up.

Then he more or less said he had no idea what plagiarism is in a journalistic context. “Where we have a problem that people are still feeling that it is plagiarism,” he told j-source. “I think that’s partly because we don't have an industry accepted standard of what plagiarism is in the news business.”

Well, his own newspaper happens to have an accepted standard for plagiarism. Perhaps he should read it sometime. According to The Globe's Editorial Code of Conduct: “It is unacceptable to represent another person’s work as your own. Excerpts from other people’s prose must be attributed so as to avoid even a suspicion of copying. Although it is sometimes reasonable to adopt a few words without attribution (in a technical definition, for example), careful judgment is required. When in doubt, consult a senior editor. Any extensive unacknowledged use of another’s words, structure or ideas may constitute plagiarism. Exception: Background from previously published Globe staff and news-service items may be recycled, verbatim or otherwise, without credit, although you should not borrow someone’s distinctive prose style in doing so.”

What's not clear about that? Wente writes for the Globe and the Globe has a policy. Did she violate it or not? Has she ever consulted with a senior editor about her proclivity for relying so heavily on the words and thoughts of others?

Judge for yourself. Here is just one of the many examples that Waino documents on her blog.

On July 1, 2012, Clive Crook wrote in The Atlantic that “racial disparities… are narrowing… class disparities…. are widening dramatically.  The prosperous and the poor, regardless of race, are living in increasingly separate worlds.”

Two weeks later, on July 14, 2012, Wente wrote: “Racial disparities are narrowing, but class disparities are widening dramatically. The prosperous and the poor, regardless of race, are increasingly segregated from each other.”

Not plagiarism, Mr. Walmsley?

Even more amazing, the editor of Canada's most prestigious newspaper was asked by j-source what the solution is.Walmsley said that for now, he’s open to any suggestion for how to improve standards in the newsroom. “If someone can come up with a) an agreed standard and b) how you actually place that pre-publication, I'm all ears.”

Hold on a moment here. Instead of taking responsibility for his own problem and solving it, Walmsley is inviting the public to come up with standards? He's crowdsourcing a way to rein in Wente? Is that what the man is saying?

Walmsley is not a stupid man, despite what you may think. As a former newsroom manager myself, I recognize that tap-dance he's doing. It's the kind of weird shuffle you have to do in public when your boss the publisher tells you to eat it and make this go away.

Wente still has a job because she speaks to the one percent. She personifies the Globe's brand.

Walmsley is just her delivery boy.