By Gerry Barker
February 25, 2019
Opinion, based on Facts and News, written by a taxpayer and is Non-Profit
In a recent column written by Doug Coxson in the weekly Tribune, he used the word transparency in running his editorial department. There was no mention of Open Government or Accountability, aka TOGA, the other points of public responsibility of which the paper should base its coverage.
Journalism is not about labeling content so the reader can tell the difference between news, opinion and advertising.
I am reminded of an interview with Mr. Coxson two or three years ago in the Globe and Mail, in which he said that the Tribune would be conducting more “investigative reporting.”
After reading the Coxson column, the evidence shows that he doesn’t understand what or why the City of Guelph is a golden pond of opportunity to dig under the press releases and get the truth.
Here are the paper’s policies of don’t rock the boat that feeds you:
* The $34 million Organic Waste Processing Facility that turns wet waste into compost in which citizens cannot even buy. It was built to handle six times the needs of the city for 20 years and is dependent on wet waste from other municipalities.
* The wrongful dismissal trial of Urbacon Buildings Group, general contractors of the new city hall complex that ended four years later by a ruling of a Superior Court Justice that cost citizens an additional $23 million over the contracted price.
* The deal with a Detroit trucker to receive motor city recyclables. That secret agreement ended up costing Guelph more than $2 million in wages and handling poor quality Detroit feedstock.
* The more recent giveaway of Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities was another creation of closed-session transparency, Open Government and Accountability. But it did get Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong a job as Guelph’s representative on the Alectra board of directors. Our share? That’s only 436 per cent of the diluted Alectra Utility’s profits.
* The unexplained circumstances surrounding the trio of senior managers who received $98,202 in salary increase for 2015. Yes that decision by city council in closed-session was made in Dec. 10, 2015. It became public knowledge when the provincial Sunshine Lists of 2014 and 2015 were compared following release in late March 2016.
The Tribune pretends to be a newspaper. The editorial content is biased big time and could favour the city administration. There are 13 employees on the city staff whose job is communications. The Tribune is a major receiver of the news releases spewing out of city hall. Much of it reflects what the administration wants readers to hear. Any editorial challenge of the city handout material is rarely questioned or investigated.
Why is that? According to Coxson’s lecture on the newspaper’s management principle stating: “We must draw a clear line between journalism and advertising.”
I doubt the paper really follows that line. The city of Guelph buys space to publish pages of City News” over the year. It is the worse example of manipulation of the reader to believe the City News content is news and not labeled “advertising.”
It is advertising, controlled and paid by the citizens
As a reader, would it be fair to assume City News was news or, another way to control the editorial content of the Tribune? It appears that’s the case, judging from the majority of municipal news stories most of which are generated by the city administration. Most of these pieces dominate the news pages without fact checking or critical editing.
Having been commenting on the city administration for 14 years, it is egregious to believe that the newspaper has conducted any investigative reporting. Journalism is about questioning, researching, being curious and truthful, and getting both sides of the story, investigating and fact checking.
Two years ago, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, and CPA completed a detailed analysis of city operations. Using published city financial data and a report by a city consultant reviewing city operations. Mr. Fung wrote a 2,700-word analysis that, among other things, showed Guelph’s operating costs were 50 per cent higher than Cambridge or Kitchener.
That’s a news story, right? It certainly is in the public interest.
When Mr. Fung asked the Tribune to do a news story, the editor said he didn’t have the resources to fact check the material. Her added he might consider it if Mr. Fung would reduce the report to 400 words. Later Mr. Fung presented his report to city council and had only five minutes to present it.
Not one councillor asked a question. When ms. Fung left the chamber, he was mocked behind his back.
I became involved when I attempted to pay $1,400 for a half-page ad in the Tribune. Just hours before the copy deadline, the advertising manager told me the ad would not run because it was, “inflmmatory.”
Briefly, the report stated that Guelph’s operating overhead was too high compared to other comparable sized cities. He explained that by reducing the overhead, the city could save some $20 million annually that could be used to fix the city’s infrastructure over time.
Now you know what happened. In 2016, Council approved a 1 per cent property tax levy to be spent overhauling the aging infrastructure. Note, just last week there were two raw sewage spills that allowed waste to go into the Eramosa River.
The Tribune reported that sewage spill but refused a factual report by a Chartered Accountant on how to meet the infrastructure deficit.
The disappearance of responsible print journalism
Our print media picture changed in January 2016 when MetroLand Publishing closed the Daily Guelph Mercury. That left the Tribune that, at the time, had three reporters. When the Mercury shut down it had an editorial staff of seven plus some freelance writers.
In a nutshell, the politics of administrating the city have barely changed.
The number of closed-session council meetings hit 84 in the first two years of the Guthrie administration. It did not include those closed-session meetings conducted by the Strategic Option Committee assigned by council to negotiate the disposal of Guelph Hydro.
Also for four years, the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc operations were conducted in closed-sessions. Now we know the story, well much of it, of the money wasted trying to establish electric self-sufficiency and District Energy systems.
That abortive enterprise according to the consolidated audit of GMHI including Guelph Hydro by the accounting firm KPMG, cost citizens some $63 million as shareholders. Today the project is still losing money. The last figure was for 2017 and the loss was reported to be $17 million.
This entire GMHI experience was concealed from the public until May 16, 2016 when a report signed by CAO Ann Pappert and CEO of Guelph Hydro Pankaj Sardana revealed the beginning of a financial disaster and gross mismanagement. Ten days later, Ms. Pappert left the city. In July 2016, the staff produced even more details of the collapse.
Newspapers, the media including bloggers are an integral part of media and the responsible dissemination of the news. Unfortunately, more and more newspapers are closing due to dwindling ad revenue to pay the bills.
Journalism still thrives Online but when used to suppress the news then it is no longer journalism.
The Guelph Mercury Tribune is a partner of the city that spends thousands to ensure its message is being controlled, using paid advertising.
Of course MetroLand and Mr. Coxson will deny this is the case. But it’s comfy when you have a secure source of income from a client who will never go broke or leave town.