Tag Archives: Metroland

Is the Tribune a newspaper or a paid lackey of the city administration?

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.
















Filed under Between the Lines

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.


Filed under Between the Lines

Look for MediaWatch exclusively in guelphspeaks.ca

MediaWatch is a new feature on our website that examines the coverage and editorial position of the public print and broadcast media.

Local print media is owned by Metroland publishing, a division of the Toronto Star and corporate parent, Torstar Inc. That includes the daily Mercury and the twice-weekly Tribune. Both papers’ editorial management report to the editor-in-chief Lynn Haddrell based in Kitchener at the Record.

There is no local ownership of these publications. The community editorial board is composed mainly of supporters of Mayor Farbridge. People such as Ben Bennett, the man who stalled the Walmart store from coming to Guelph; or Susan Ratcliffe, a decent but idealistic lefty; or Brian Holstein, actor and unabashed fan of Farbridge. That board does not reflect the views of the majority of taxpayers in the city.

MediaWatch will comment on coverage of these papers and the broadcast media. MW will view content that is self-serving or slanted to serve the needs of the publisher and or the administration. Many papers have what is charitably called a point of view.

Having worked at the Toronto Star for many years, I am familiar with that paper’s liberal point of view. In the old days, it often influenced the news pages. The paper is now more careful and columnists are free to expound the Star’s point of view.

I have no problem with that.

But what has happened in Guelph is that the print media, in the past year has slowly adopted an unequivocal policy of supporting the Farbridge administration. In the case of the Tribune, it is like the mouse that roared. A good little tabloid that many readers like but it is still under the Metroland thumb which supports the Farbridge group.

Why is that?

Here’s the skinny. The Tribune rakes in more than $500,000 from city-paid advertising. This is an account that most publishers would drool over. The question that should be asked is why is that influencing the news coverage of city hall?

As a former senior manager at The Star, the advertising department was never allowed in the newsroom. It was a metaphor that milk and water don’t mix.

It’s different with Metroland. It’s all about financial performance. The company started in the ‘60’s as a community newspaper group operating outside the Metro Toronto area. It bought papers and then a few years ago The Star bought the Hamilton Spectator, The Guelph Mercury, The Guelph Tribune and the Kitchener Record plus the Cambridge paper that was shut down. This put Metroland in the big leagues. Unfortunately, it maintained its principles that the bottom line comes first.

It is mindful of the late newspaper magnate Lord Thomson who said: “We will print all the news that fits around the ads.”

And that folks is where we are today with a print media controlled from outside the community.

Metroland presents itself as community minded, but eschews controversy that impacts its protective shield of protecting the ad base.

Never fear friends, MediaWatch will expose the cover-ups and obvious slanted news published.

Look for MediaWatch in guelphspeaks.ca.


Filed under Between the Lines