journalism

Diversity, Bias, and Workflow

Last Friday, the website of the Vancouver Sun newspaper posted an op-ed article titled Can Social Trust and Diversity Co-Exist? The opinion piece, submitted by Mount Royal University instructor Mark Hecht, argued that “a not insignificant proportion of Muslim immigrants have no intention of assimilating into any western society” and concluded that “the minimum requirement is that we say goodbye to diversity, tolerance and inclusion if we wish to be a society that can rebuild the trust we used to have in one another, and start accepting a new norm for immigration policy”.

As you might imagine, the article caused a firestorm of criticism, and it was pulled from the newspaper’s website – although it still appeared in the Sun’s Saturday print edition, which had already gone to press. Many commentators were asking why anyone at the Sun would have approved this article for publication, with its shoddy argumentation, lack of solid evidence, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bias. (The article is still available on several other Internet sites; I don’t want to give it any more attention by linking to it, but you can find those sites by Googling the article title.)

The Sun’s editor, Harold Munro, posted an apology to readers that included a commitment to a “[review of] our local workflow and editorial processes to ensure greater oversight and accountability”. Since then, he met with Sun staff in person and promised further changes, although it appears there’s still a great deal of internal dissent and dissatisfaction around the matter.

As a former Sun employee, I was deeply upset that this article made it into print and online. I was also very impressed that many current Sun staff members publicly expressed their opposition to the article. But when I read Munro’s apology, I suspected that the “workflow” issue relates to the ongoing extensive staff cutbacks throughout Postmedia, the company that owns the Sun. It may be difficult for Sun editors to identify potentially problematic content if they’re overworked and on deadline, and have a space on a page that needs to be filled right away.

But then I wondered: how difficult is it to tell that Hecht’s article is problematic? So I sat down with (more…)

Back (sort of)

I’ll be returning to posting more regularly in the next little while. But in the meantime, here’s updates on two earlier posts. (more…)

A Strike That’s Gone On Too Long

Last week there was a significant event in Nova Scotia that went largely unnoticed in the rest of Canada. Unfortunately it’s not a positive event, and it deserves more attention.

Over 50 unionized newsroom employees at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax have now been on strike for more than 500 days. Yes, almost a year and a half. (The length of the average work stoppage in Canada is six days.) The strike started on January 23, 2016, after (more…)

Job Churn and Precarious Work

I wrote an opinion article for the Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail newspaper, responding to recent comments by Canadian politicians that workers should “get used to” job churn and precarious work. You can read the article here.

Pumpkins and Pomposity

Margaret Wente, a columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper, isn’t known for having insightful or original perspectives on issues. Earlier this year, it was discovered that some of her columns were truly unoriginal – that is, they contained unattributed material taken from other sources. But the topics of Wente’s columns also tend to be recycled, and two weeks ago she returned to one of her favourite topics: the silliness of some academic research.

Since I’ve written about Wente’s attacks on academics before, I recognize that I’m also recycling topics by devoting a blog post to her latest anti-academic screed. But Wente’s reasoning and analyses in this column are so appallingly weak that they deserve to be called out.

Wente’s column starts (more…)

Misreading the Environment, Part II

Nearly four years ago, I wrote this blog post about how the Globe and Mail newspaper responsed to allegations that columnist Margaret Wente had used uncredited sources in some of her writing. In that post, I talked about the model of population ecology, from organizational theory. The model suggests that if an organization wants to be considered legitimate, and to gain benefits of legitimacy such as resources and power, then it needs to monitor cues in its external environment, and respond to those cues in ways that the environment considers appropriate.

Wente was briefly suspended after those 2012 allegations, but returned to her job. This past week, the same blogger that found problems with Wente’s work in 2012 found uncredited material from other sources in Wente’s most recent column. The Globe‘s response to these findings was to publish a column by its public editor.  The column quoted the Globe‘s editor-in-chief as saying the paper would “work with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again”, and that there would be apologies and corrections to the uncredited material.

After that, in Lewis Carroll’s words, “answer came there none” – despite (more…)

Book Publishing and False Economies

The North American book publishing industry has been disrupted in the last couple of years. Publishers’ revenues are dropping for a number of reasons:  different publishing formats, the increased ease of self-publishing, and upheavals in distribution and sales channels. And in any business, when revenues decrease, one of the first strategic responses is usually to reduce production costs. For book publishers, that can mean reducing the costs of editing or proofreading in the book production process. But cutbacks in those areas can be a false economy, if those cutbacks significantly affect the quality of the finished product. And this week I received a review copy of a book that perfectly illustrates that dilemma.
(more…)

Employee Engagement Surveys (And Doing Them Well)

2015 was a really bad year for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). At the start of the year, business correspondent Amanda Lang was accused of being in a conflict of interest for her reporting on an issue involving the Royal Bank of Canada while having a personal relationship with a RBC executive. (Lang later left the CBC for a new job with Bloomberg TV.) Then radio host Jian Ghomeshi lost his job because of incidents that resulted in him being charged with one count of choking and five counts of sexual assault – and CBC management’s awkward handling of that situation led to the firing of two top executives. And then TV host Evan Solomon was fired after allegations that he exploited his work-related connections to sell high-priced artworks. (He found a new job on satellite radio and as a magazine columnist.)

There was one bright spot for the CBC in October when the decidedly anti-CBC Conservative party was defeated in the Canadian federal election. The potential for change in the CBC’s relationship with Canada’s federal government, which funds the CBC’s operations, was characterized by retired CBC journalist Linden MacIntyre as “the people that are the custodians of this publicly owned institution no longer seem[ing] to hate it” – but the CBC is still struggling with the fallout from the traumatic events that marred its reputation in the past year.

An external review of the CBC workplace was commissioned after (more…)

This is What We Lose

The new film Spotlight tells the story of an investigation by a team of reporters at the Boston Globe newspaper in the early 2000s. The reporters documented extensive child abuse by priests and brothers in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Their investigation also exposed a cover-up by church officials, who knew that widespread abuse had been happening for several decades but failed to do anything meaningful to stop it.

I saw Spotlight this week, and I highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating and engaging film. And as a former newspaper reporter, I thought the film very realistically depicted the work of reporting, especially in showing the amount of legwork and detailed research that goes into writing a major news story. It also illustrated the often-overlooked contexts within which news stories develop – in this case, the elites in Boston society that helped to keep the abuse hidden, and that also discouraged the Globe from pursuing the story.

However, as much as I enjoyed Spotlight, it also made me feel very sad – because (more…)

Newspapers, Endorsements, and Legitimacy

When a newspaper endorses a political party or a candidate during an election, the public assessment of the endorsement tends to turn on two factors: the reasoning leading to the endorsement, and the perceived legitimacy of the newspaper itself. But, as in any kind of legitimacy judgement of an organization, the perception of a newspaper’s legitimacy isn’t based on a single event or piece of information. It’s based on multiple factors, including the perceiver’s beliefs about whether the organization’s actions “are desirable, proper, [or] appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions”. And that is where the Postmedia newspapers in Canada went so spectacularly wrong with their endorsement of the incumbent Conservative Party in the upcoming federal election. (more…)