Lullaby journalism is alive and well in Guelph

Posted July 1, 2012

On Canada Day morning, I checked out the local daily newspaper that included an insert, a glossy full-colour magazine titled “My Guelph.”

It represents the soft side of the city and is a stepchild of the newspaper with some of its staffers and contributors supplying the marshmallow content.

It is a thinly disguised advertising vehicle masquerading as a city magazine to extract more dollars from the marketplace. Toronto Life it isn’t.

It is yet another example of how critical thinking and investigation of city affairs has disappeared from the print and electronic media.

Another element of lullaby journalism is the Rogers community channel that features soft and flabby coverage of only so-called good news including a misnamed program called “Inside  Guelph.” It is really an extension of the Farbridge Administration’ s tightly wound control of communications.

In our view, the medium is not the real message.

The other troubling aspect is the how Guelph’s print sources of news is controlled by Torstar, corporate umbrella of the Toronto Star, and its suburban publishing operation called Metroland.

Metroland operates the daily Guelph Mercury, the twice weekly Guelph Tribune and now My Guelph magazine.

In the past six years, it is a rare occurrence for the two newspapers to be critical of the city administration including council. For that length of time, Mayor Karen Farbridge and her majority of councillors rarely deviate from the message that’s controlling this city.

Because of this situation, taxpayers do not receive balanced coverage from the corporate controlled print or the television media.

Indeed, questions involving the real costs of major multi-million projects are withheld. As a result, management of city finances has been so manipulated with the apparent concurrence of the outside accounting firm charged with auditing the books.

Running a $174 million operation requires transparent and responsible reporting

For example, what is the true cost of the new Civic Museum? Such questions as how much was spent on the original $12.7 million estimated budget over five years from general funds? There have been vague hints that the cost ballooned to $15.5 million due to unexpected foundation problems. But this was never confirmed.

The real cost of the new $33 million compost plant has been masked with dodging and obfuscation by the staff leadership charged with executing the plan and contract.

Taxpayers have never been informed of the details of the contract signed by the city and general contractor Maple Reinders. This lush contract included two wholly owned subsidiaries of Maple Reinder that won the right to run the plant and procure addition wet waste (feedstock}. This is why the City of Waterloo entered an agreement to supply 20,000 tonnes of wet waste per year.  This side contract was negotiated by AIM Environmental, wholly controlled by Maple Reinders.

Underlying this, is the plant was over-built to meet the needs of Guelph.  It is estimated that our city will never use the capacity of that plant … when it eventually becomes fully operational … for the presumed 20-year lifespan.

Summing up: Guelph taxpayers must guarantee the amount of wet waste to keep the plant in operation daily.  But Aim Environmental has exclusive right to operate the plant and negotiate contracts to bring in additional feedstock.

The city must finance the construction cost. It also must raise an additional $15 million to provide large bins or carts to property owners along with special trucks to remove the contents of the bins. This was because the Ministry of the Environment told the city the plant could not receive the waste in plastic bags. What a surprise!

Was this ever discussed or considered during the contact talks?

Finally, what happens to the tonnes of compost projected to be the end product of the plant?  What is the cost of the heavy trucks coming from other municipalities damaging Guelph streets over time? What is the true operating cost of the plant?

Why haven’t these and a host of other questions been answered by the city administration?

Is lulling you this warm summer into dreaming about cooking the best steak, or advising you how to budget, or advising singles to get into the social whirl, making important matters that affect you, go away? Think again.

The real news is submerged under a barrage of soft pap, served up by self-serving corporate entities that control the message.

So many questions, so few answers.

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5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “Lullaby journalism is alive and well in Guelph

  1. James

    Then why are you not writing for Sun owned Guelph Review?

    • James: There are a few reasons. They haven’t asked me. The paper is not delivered in my end of town. It is also devoid of critical thinking and writing. From the copies that I have seen it is an advertising vehicle for Sun Media. The late Canadian press baron, Lord Thomson of Fleet, was quoted “news is the stuff you put around the ads.”

  2. Jack Adams

    I find it mildly amusing that you say that the Guelph Tribune and Mercury rarely criticize the city council yet when is the last time you said anything positive about them? If the papers are biased then it would seem you are just as biased as they are.

    Also I find it intriguing that you always write “Mayor Karen Farbridge” instead of using other terms. It reads like this is such a personal issue to you and regardless of what she does it wont be enough, because for whatever reason the relationship/communication or whatever you want to call it has been severely damaged.

    I know I shouldn’t really comment because I don’t know you or the mayor or anyone and I’m just making assumptions based on what I have read here.

    • Jack Adams: Thanks for your comments. Please understand that I am not a civic cheerleader. There are a number of organizations that perform that job. There are conflicts among the sources of news in Guelph. The two established newspapers are operated by Metroland Publishing, a division of TorStar Corporation. As such they are the majority receivers of advertising and that mandates control of editorial content. The city of Guelph spends an estimated $500,000 a year advertising in these two newspapers. Editorial content in both papers is overseen by a senior editor in Kitchener. Likewise, community cable serves up a soft content that represents a video bulletin board for viewers. While the Rogers Corporate ownership broadcasts council meetings, there is no critical commentary of the city administration on their channel.
      As a journalist and resident, I have written extensively on the city administration, often critically. I, like many citizens, are concerned about the spending and huge debt load created by this council. There is also concern about the communications of the city that frequently obfuscates and manipulates the news to suit its agenda. A main issue is the lack of transparency by council, a hallmark plank in the Mayor’s platform in 2006. There are secret meetings held before the closed meeting of council preceding the regular council meeting. Every issue is washed, starched and ready for delivery before the regular meeting.
      After six years, I have a pretty good handle on the impact of long-term excessive debt and dodgy future planning that will fiscally cripple future councils.

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