journalism

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…)

Bridging the Gap between Academic Research and Business

The Report on Business section of Canada’s national Globe and Mail newspaper invited me to write a commentary on how business people and management researchers could learn from each other. It has been a very long time since I wrote an article to a specified length and on a deadline, but it was good to use those skills again – even if at times it felt like running a marathon after doing years of five-kilometer races. Here is the finished product as it appeared in today’s paper.

Business and Creativity: Cautionary Tales

When I worked as a music writer, one of the most fascinating things about the job was getting to see the business side of the music industry. While I met many people who genuinely believed in their company’s artists and did all they could to support them, I also regularly saw musicians and creative people get exploited. Even as a lifelong music fan, the scope and extent of this exploitation was a shock to me. Many artists’ contracts were astoundingly one-sided – and not in the artist’s favour –  and it was very easy for artists to quickly get into financial trouble, even if they were successful and smart.

Those experiences left a lasting impression on me. During the contract negotiations for the first edition of my textbook, I asked questions that my publisher’s representative later told me he had never had an author ask before. I had to explain to him that after seeing things like all the “recoupable expenses” that record companies routinely deducted from artists’ earnings, I wanted to be absolutely sure of what kind of contract I was getting into. And I also wanted to have at least some chance to make money from my work.

I don’t hold any illusions that things have gotten any better for artists in the years since I wrote about music. Taylor Swift recently got a lot of attention for boycotting Apple’s new music streaming service when she found out it wasn’t going to pay artists during its first three months of operation. Good for her for speaking up  – but there’s many, many other creative people who get ripped off and who don’t have the public profile or commercial power to demand fair treatment. Here’s two examples I recently encountered. (more…)

Calling for a Public Inquiry

There is a situation going on right now in my home province of British Columbia that is deeply distressing to me as a researcher, as an instructor who teaches courses about employment, and as a citizen. I’m writing this blog post to join the calls for a public inquiry into this situation.

I have been told that this situation hasn’t received a lot of attention outside of BC, so I’ll explain what has happened.

In early September of 2012, Margaret McDiarmid, at the time the health minister in BC’s provincial government, held a news conference to announce that four employees had been fired and three employees had been suspended from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division. (Subsequently, the suspended employees were fired, and a student researcher on a co-op term was also fired.) The health ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, among other responsibilities, assesses medications to determine whether they will be approved for sale in BC, and/or whether the cost of purchasing the medications will be subsidized by the BC government’s PharmaCare program.

McDiarmid stated at the news conference that the reason for the suspensions and dismissals was an alleged privacy breach involving confidential patient-related data. She also stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were investigating the allegations.

Some of the dismissed and suspended employees were employed through contracts with the ministry, and some were permanent employees. Several of them filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits; others pursued grievances through their unions. One of the lawsuits alleged that (more…)

Disrupting Gender Stereotypes in the Media

My friend Sam Ford does a lot of interesting things, and one of them is teaching in the Popular Culture Program at Western Kentucky University. Last year, at a research conference, Sam was on a panel with another WKU professor, Ted Hovet  – and during that panel, Ted made a provocative proposal: “We should never ask students to do anything again in which the professor is the only person who sees their work”. Sam took that idea to heart. And now, at the end of every semester, he sends out an email with links to students’ videos, presentations, and research articles from his classes.

I always like getting that email from Sam, because his students’ work is so enjoyable. But this past semester, there was a presentation so exceptional that I thought it deserved a wider audience. Sam kindly put me in touch with three of the four students who did that presentation, and the students agreed to share their project on this blog.

Shelby Bruce, Katie McLean, Kalee Chism, and Paige Medlin were students in POP 201 (Introduction to Popular Culture), and the topic they chose for their end-of-semester presentation was “women in the media”. The Prezi of the entire presentation is available here, but the part of the presentation that really caught my eye was (more…)

Up Close and Personal with the UK General Election

Last month I spent two weeks in Britain, and purely by chance those two weeks were during the campaign leading up to the UK general election on May 7th. Elections are an incredibly important part of democracy, and I never forget how fortunate I am to live in a country where I get to vote and where my vote can make a difference. Since I became old enough to vote, I have only missed participating in one election that I was eligible to vote in (I had a good excuse – I was in Antarctica). But my trip to the UK gave me the opportunity to see how election campaigns work in another country with a parliamentary system of government – and that being the country whose legislative structure most strongly influenced my own country’s legislative system. (more…)

Small Business letter to the Telegraph; an attempt to defraud the electorate?

I’ve written a couple of blog posts about media outlets mindlessly reporting information without bothering to verify it first. Here, sadly, is another example. The Daily Telegraph newspaper in England ran a letter it claimed was signed by “5000 small business owners” expressing support for Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party in the upcoming UK general election. Blogger Alex Andreou decided to follow up some of the names of the signatories to the letter, and discovered….that it was not quite what was claimed. And now other bloggers and writers are finding other discrepancies and errors. Good on Alex, and shame on the Telegraph for its carelessness.

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How the letter from small business owners to the Telegraph in support of the Tories fell apart

UPDATE 21:00 The list is back up. Scanning it for changes. It was down for a good twenty minutes, then briefly up then disappeared again and now it is back up. No possibility of mistaken http, as it was open on my desktop when it suddenly refreshed to this. What is going on?

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UPDATE 20:30 on 28/4: The Telegraph has finally taken down the list of businesses which purported to have signed the letter. The link is now dead. The letter is still on their website, but the link to the signatories leads nowhere. No statement or apology has been issued as far as I am aware – from The Telegraph, CCHQ or Karen Brady.

The Charity Commission has become involved now, writing to charities it has identified from the list. A spokesperson…

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Evaluating Historical Research in Business

I started doing research in organizational and business history for no other reason than I like to try to figure out why things are the way they are. I have no formal training in historical research – I’ve learned what I’ve learned mostly from experience, and from very helpful suggestions from more experienced researchers along the way. But I’m also working within an academic discipline that doesn’t have a strong record of historical research, and that only considers certain kinds of historical research to be legitimate or worthwhile.

That background made me very interested in Jeffrey Smith’s recent article “Writing Media History Articles: Manuscript Standards and Scholarly Objectives”, which was published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. While Smith is specifically discussing research in media history, I found that a lot of the issues he discusses in the article are true for research in business history as well. And many of the issues he identifies resonated with my own experiences of trying to get research in business history published in academic journals. (more…)

Society, Power, and “Hack Attack”

Nick Davies’ book Hack Attack  is a powerful read. It’s the story of Davies’ investigation into the phone hacking conducted by several of the British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The investigation led to a judicial inquiry, several criminal convictions,  and the closure of the News of the World newspaper. And since Hack Attack was released last year, eight victims of phone hacking have filed a civil suit against the Mirror group of newspapers for invasion of privacy – a suit that is currently being heard in a London court.

Davies’ book describes the details and scope of the hacking – and how the hacking gradually became exposed, thanks to several anonymous informants – but also illuminates (more…)