Posted December 4, 2012
By Gerry Barker
When Guelph’s corporately owned newspapers specifically, the Daily Mercury and twice a week Tribune, cover the news, their obligation to readers is to get both sides of the story.
Newspapers remain a public trust in that they report the news, not the chosen half of it. In Guelph, it is increasingly apparent its two newspapers – both owned by Metroland Publishing, a division of TorStar, are consistently supporting the Farbridge administration.
Right now there is no consistent community content in either paper opposing the Farbridge administration. It’s close to becoming an embarrassment.
Here’s a case in point:
Thursday night, November 29, the public was invited to make representation to council regarding the 2013 budget. In fact, some 20 citizens spoke up about their causes and concerns about the budgeting process. That took about two hours and was completed before 9 pm.
The following day there was a short story in the Mercury about crossing guards and bicycle representations, who spoke in order to address the council. In fairness, the Mercury reporter faced a tight deadline to meet the paper’s press time for Friday’s publication.
The Tribune was down as the paper had been already distributed with the Mercury Thursday afternoon.
On Saturday, I expected coverage in the Mercury of the full meeting in which two of the later presentations were highly critical of the administration, particularly the exploding cost of civic employees. Nothing appeared in the paper.
Milton Burns, a retired accountant, presented figures from the city’s own documents, that saw a 68.1 per cent increase in staff salaries, wages and benefits from 2006 to 2011. Separately, Jeff Burke reinforced the employee costs that now consume 89 per cent of the city’s tax levy.
In the same five-year period, the city population grew by 5.8 per cent.
A presentation made early in the meeting from Sue Ricketts and Bill Tufts of the Fair Pensions for All organization, predicted that staff salaries will double in the next five years. This is partially due to taxpayer guarantees to maintain indexed pensions for all retired employees.
None of this was reported in the Mercury.
Finally, the Tuesday, December 4th Tribune carried a story about the public meeting. It was a planned strike dissing the Burns and Ricketts presentations. With the weekend to prepare the city’s response, the Tribune’s Tuesday report disputed the claims of overstaffing using quotes by various councillors. The point man in the city’s awkward rebuttal was Human Resources chief Mark Amorosi, who apparently doesn’t read his own department’s reports.
In reporting, this story is labeled a “follow” of a news event. It’s common in the news business and necessary. The point is that both sides of the dispute are interviewed to obtain clarity. The Trib failed the readers on that count.
Having worked in a newsroom including being assignment editor of the largest paper in Canada, I have heard all the excuses as to why a story was not a story or it needed more work. As of Saturday afternoon no one from either paper had contacted Milton Burns for more information. He did hear from Councillors Gloria Kovach and Leanne Piper requesting a copy of his presentation.
Is this what has happened to our newspapers? Ignore accurate, documented breaking news about excessive spending by council and staff?
This is a dereliction of responsibility and a disservice to the community. The publisher, (he’s in Kitchener at the Record), should investigate as to why these portions of an important public meeting were ignored and misrepresented.
The simple reason is the credibility of these newspapers is gravely diminished.
And being in that business these days, is not an asset you want to lose.