Newspaper readers deserve better says Torstar Chairman

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 9, 2015

In an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star, the chairman of the Torstar Corporation. John Honderich takes umbrage over Postmedia CEO, Paul Godfrey, ordering his chain of 16 papers to endorse Stephen Harper.

Honderich decries the Postmedia action in the recent federal election pointing out that “owning a newspaper is a privilege, not a right.”

The Torstar Chairman goes further stating “ Newspapers are an essential informing part of the democratic process and their first responsibility must be to the local readers they serve.”

Right on, John.

He goes on to state: “In the interest of transparency, it must be declared that editorial independence has always been the official policy of the Torstar newspaper group.”

For clarity reasons, it is important to know that Metroland Publishing, a division of Torstar, is owner of the KW Record, Guelph Mercury, Guelph Tribune and Hamilton Spectator.

Two people manage the Guelph Mercury editorial department. The managing editor and, who reports to Lynne Haddrall, editor in chief at the Record and Mercury. Donna Luelo is publisher of both papers. The Mercury is now printed in Hamilton resulting in closing down its in-house printing operation.

So, perhaps Mr. Honderich can explain how the Guelph Mercury is independent and transparent? As he pointed out, the first responsibility is to the local readers they serve. So with the publisher of the Mercury and his editor in chief working and living in Kitchener, where is the editorial independence of the Mercury/Tribune readers and citizens of Guelph?

Mr. Chairman, I can help you with this as I have been covering Guelph municipal affairs for nine years. For five years I wrote a regular column in the Mercury that was often critical of the administration.

I was let go about three months after announcing that I started an online blog guelphspeaks.ca to fill the void of three weeks in which my Mercury columns were not scheduled. I have no regrets about that decision. It gave me more freedom to question the administration’s policies and how our city was being managed.

The bottom line is, in eight years, the Mercury suffered staff cuts in the editorial department, thereby reducing its ability to check slanted news releases from the city communication department and investigate the facts and operation of the municipality.

As time went by, it became increasingly apparent that the two-term regime of Mayor Karen Farbridge was in serious trouble. The situation exploded in June 2014, when a superior court judge found the city wrongfully dismissed the general contractor  constructing the new city hall and the renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offences court.

It became known as the Urbacon affair and the current overrun cost to the municipality is $23 million.

Mr. Chairman, the result in the October civic election was the defeat of the mayor and four councillors who either quit or were defeated. This happened because the people were galvanized to bring about change in the operation of the city.

I regret that the two newspapers that Torstar owns in Guelph played so little role in this major political upheaval. Their phlegmatic approach reporting the news over those eight years, and their loyalty to the administration, did not go unnoticed. Record numbers of electors flooded the polls. Shortly after the election the editor of the Tribune retired.

So John, perhaps you ought to inform your Metroland group to grant real editorial independence and transparency to the Guelph Mercury and Tribune.

Otherwise your declaration of the newspaper’s first responsibility is to the local readers they serve, doesn’t wash in this part of the province.

Guelph is not Kitchener-Waterloo nor is K/W, Guelph.

I think you get the point.

Regards,

Gerry Barker

 

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1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “Newspaper readers deserve better says Torstar Chairman

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    I fail to comprehend why the Torstar corporation permits Metroland to have 2 newspapers, the Merc & Trib, in Guelph. They should be rationalized into one so that the reporting staff can better cover Guelph events & politics and not be under the thumb of someone in K-W. At the same time, whoever becomes the editor / honcho of the combined paper should be read the riot act and told to cease biased Farbridge/progressive/ socialist coverage that is reinforced by the recycled politicos on the community editorial board. Then Guelph might have a worthwhile community newspaper. BTW – I subscribe to both the Globe & Mail and Toronto Star in hard copy to find out what’s really going on in Canada & the World. Additionally, La Presse is read via its free digital edition on an IPad. Once the Star gets its digital edition up & running in early 2016 (it’s licensing the software etc from La Presse) it should move the new Guelph paper to a digital format. How 21st century that would be.

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