Reflections on the decay of real journalism in the Royal City

By Gerry Barker

November 26, 2018

I stumbled across an article written by the Mercury Managing editor, Phil Andrews April 3, 2014. Four some five years, I worked for Phil writing a column on the editorial page every three weeks. I’ve worked for a number of ME’s in my life, some really good, talented and could deal with an involved publisher. Others were mediocre, devoid of original thought and officious with staff to cover upon their inability and insecurity. They came and went like ships passing in the night.

Phil Andrews was an “A” list managing editor. Firm but fair and ran a small but productive staff. They are all gone now as the Mercury died in January 2016.

The following is an example of what a news organization should be.   The medium doesn’t matter, and the principles are the same. Phil wrote it in response to a question from the floor when he was guest speaker at the Guelph Wellington Men’s Club.

It is a journalistic mission statement that is now a lost element of good stories, well-written and fair comment based on fact, clearly separating news from opinion.

Here is part of Phil’s reply to his questioner.

“I enjoyed my speaking engagement and Q&A session with the Guelph Wellington Men’s Club this week.

“The first question from the floor for me was posed by a gentleman. I was later advised he was a retired judge.

“He wanted to know who owns the Mercury and how/when we get marching orders to cover certain things and take certain editorial positions. I advised the questioner that the Mercury was a Torstar paper — within its Metroland division — and that it has a set editorial mission statement. I also advised that no corporate-editorial marching orders have ever been issued to me, that the mission statement would likely trouble no one in our market

“The following principles guide our editorial board:”

  1. Community responsibility. The Guelph Mercury will be an advocate for sound planning and good government at all levels. We will encourage local citizens to play an active role in the growth and health of Guelph and Wellington County.
  2. Freedom of speech and thought. The newspaper will uphold and preserve the principles of free speech and defend those who exercise this right. We support academic freedom and universal access to education. We will encourage a full range of opinion on our editorial pages.
  3. Social justice. The Guelph Mercury’s editorials reflect a belief that societies have a shared responsibility to ensure that the most needy and disadvantaged among us have a decent quality of life, including the most basic needs of food, shelter and health care. We support the equal treatment and civil liberties of all citizens as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  4. A United Canada. The Guelph Mercury believes in a strong and united Canada. The newspaper envisions a culturally diverse, bilingual country that plays a positive role on the world stage.
  5. Environmental responsibility. The newspaper supports environmental responsibility through the responsible preservation and protection of the environment for future generations.

I spent 23 years in the editorial department of the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. I was proud that I was a reporter and later editor managing various editorial management areas of the paper.

Some of Canada’s top newspaper people worked for the Star. I covered Marilyn Bell’s swimming across the Strait of Juan de Fuca separating the U.S. and Victoria B.C. then covered the Beatles first North American Tour and went on to conduct a scientific vehicle gasoline consumption test to compare the performance in the leading models of cars at the time.

Through it all, some great bosses who trained me in journalistic principles and accuracy influenced me. I learned during the late and great newspaper daily war between the Star and the Telegram. The name of the game in the Star newsroom was beat the Tely.

Today in Guelph we are bereft of community responsibility with the media being corporately controlled by non-resident corporate owners. There have been several major events in the city of which every citizen’s interest is blocked.

In the first two years of the Guthrie administration, city council conducted 84 closed-session meetings that were never summarized or reported to the public. It is odd that the same number 42 occurred in both years. There are some issues that should be discussed in closed session but not nearly the numbers held by the city of Guelph.

Next comes Freedom of Speech and Thought. City council has the opinion that what citizens don’t know won’t hurt them. That’s a perverse and irresponsible action by elected officials who practise it with the aid of some senior staff. Sadly, news coverage has deteriorated markedly since the Mercury closed in 2016.

Those two principles sum up the decay of news coverage in Guelph. The parade of city softball press releases and the police occurrence sheet is not journalism. News means coverage of events that affect all citizens. It includes the give-away of Guelph Hydro based on a phony premise that the future of electricity distribution is better in the hands of a large power distributer.

As citizens, we are held in the grip of a powerful political organization that has mismanaged our city and in the process has wasted millions.

But if the last civic election is any example of voter apathy, the real reason is they are not informed on a regular basis. The truth, like Elvis, has left the building.

Will the deceit and cover-ups disappear?

Only the people can do that by voting.

We lost that opportunity last October when more than 57,000 eligible voters did not turn up to express their support or denial of those seeking public office.

The enemy of democracy is apathy.

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “Reflections on the decay of real journalism in the Royal City

  1. joseph Phelan

    I totally agree with your article. Apathy will and is destroying democracy. Trump and Trudeau are counting on it.

  2. So many truths are simple but profound. The judge’s question to Phil was such: He who pays the piper calls the tune. I wonder about Phil’s second editorial guiding point “encouraging a full range of opinion” did not in some ways include a form of censorship. There are many ways to skin a cat. Would that not include the editor’s veto power? Gerry, great to hear a bit more of your past. The desire for freedom of the press is honourable. So many people searching for truth are turning to alternative media. Someone famous once said: “To thyself be true”.

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