Blog by John Miller

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Hall of Shame

It's a tragedy, what's happened to the Canadian News Hall of Fame.

It should be a place of honour, where journalists and members of the public learn about the contributions of those who have been enshrined there, from Joseph Howe to Gordon Sinclair to Trina McQueen, and perhaps gain a little respect for a noble profession before it gets buried in the miasma of "citizen journalism" (a misnomer, since none of its practitioners operate remotely like journalists and too many seem like not very good citizens).

Instead, the Hall has fallen victim to neglect and infighting among those who should be protecting it -- the members of a moribund organization that calls itself the Toronto Press Club. It's a club in name only, since it has few members, none of them work for the press, and they have no clubhouse of their own to supply them with their most basic needs, which are old war stories and strong drink.

The club has been custodian of the News Hall of Fame since it was established in 1965, but its doors have been locked for more than three years, the 100 plaques lie packed in cardboard boxes, and there have been no fresh inductions since 2001. When Maclean's magazine investigated the predicament in 2009, it quoted Ed Patrick, the club's president, as saying: "We are waiting for a white knight to come along and say, 'I've got these wonderful premises downtown where you can erect the Canadian News Hall of Fame and people can come and admire it.' We haven't found anything yet."

Since then, a white knight of sorts has come along, in the form of an ad hoc committee of journalists and retired journalists concerned about the state of the Hall. (Full disclosure: I am a member of that group, which was organized by George Hutchison and includes Bryan Cantley, Judith Timson, and Al Dickie). Last year, we met with Patrick and three members of his board and offered solutions, one of which included a partnership with a Canadian journalism school, which would provide a home for the Hall, conduct research to document the contributions of its members, and make it widely accessible online. The press club refused to yield any control to outsiders. If we were interested, we could join the club, which we had no desire to do.

Since then, the press club has been riven with internal dissention. Members are unhappy with Patrick's stubborn refusal to call an annual general meeting or discuss the future of the Hall of Fame or anything else. At a luncheon of 21 dissident members in January, all signed a call for him to call such a meeting or else they would organize a special meeting to elect new directors, appoint new officers "and otherwise deal with the business of the club."

There has been no reply from Patrick -- until this week.

Out of the blue, the following news release, headlined "Call for nominations to News Hall of Fame," appeared on Canada News Wire:

"Nominations are invited for candidates for induction into the Canadian News Hall of Fame.... They should be mailed to: Canadian News Hall of Fame, 206 - 19 Dundonald St., Toronto, ON M4Y 1K3. The deadline for submissions for 2011 is April 30. The successful nominees will be chosen by a panel of selectors from across Canada."

The address on Dundonald Street is Ed Patrick's home.

That further outraged dissident club members led by Bill Somerville, who sent an email to Patrick saying: "I am totally confounded by this press release and its timing.  Being the Past President I am a member of the Board of Directors. I was not aware of any decisions to resurrect and organize a 2011 News Hall of Fame. To my knowledge there has not been a Board of Directors meeting since April 2010 to discuss this or any other issue.

Somerville asked six questions, to which Patrick has not responded: 

1. Who, where and when was a decision made to issue a press release asking for nominees for a 2011 News Hall of Fame? 

2. Who chose the deadline date of April 30th?

3. Who are the national selectors?

4. Is there a presentation event planned?

5. How is this venture being financed? 

6. When Mr. President will you call a meeting?

The performance of Ed Patrick, who seems to have a whim of iron, is astounding. He dishonours the memory of the great journalists the Hall of Fame was set up to honour. Their names ring loudly through our history like the bells that used to signal news bulletins on the old teletype machines -- William Lyon Mackenzie, George Brown, John W. Dafoe, Ralph Allen, Doris Anderson, Max Bell, June Callwood, Norman DePoe, Peter Gzowski, Lotta Dempsey, Knowlton Nash, Peter C. Newman and Joe Schlesinger.

Journalists and their organizations need to rise up and seize back control of the hall, or else we need to start over under new management.