The last time Claire Hoy managed to attract my attention was during that thing we loosely refer to as a referendum on voting reform in Ontario. At that time, he was playing a bit fast and loose with the truth. Now he pops up on my radar again, this time writing about the United Church of Canada and its new Moderator, Mardi Tindal, who also happens to be my mom. And again, he’s sayin’ stuff that simply aint true.
For example, regarding the United Church and Israel, Hoy writes:
But as we saw in the publicity leading up to the recent United Church gabfest, once again a host of seriously anti-Israel and yes, anti- Semitic resolutions were being pushed by church activists. To be sure, they didn’t get the church body as a whole to approve them, but then again, the church did the old typical United Church cop-out, and rather than denouncing some rather hateful resolutions, simply set them aside for further study.
Then, Hoy criticizes the Moderator claiming that she “dismisses the word ‘faith’ as ‘too static….'” Since Hoy did not actually interview the Moderator for his rant disguised as a column, one assumes he was attempting to quote a profile that appeared in the National Post. Problem is, the quote that he uses is almost the complete opposite of what Tindal actually said in the Post, which quoted her correctly:
“For me the word ‘faith’ is part of a new paradigm … the word belief sounds too static, where in fact in faith we are invited to participate relationally.”
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the required background knowledge to figure out which things Hoy makes up and which things are real. When someone’s writing is contaminated to such a degree, I think it’s probably best to just avoid it altogether.
One of the most important functions of newspapers, we are told, is that they produce professional content that no one else can. Investigating and breaking news stories is the most commonly referenced example. “If newspapers didn’t exist,” the argument goes, “bloggers wouldn’t have anything to write about.”
There is some truth to that statement: the vast majority of chatter in the blogosphere is reaction and commentary rather than original reporting. Even opinions and analysis are usually rehashed from professionals. Last month at the 2009 Interactive Exchange (IN09) Richard Stursberg, Executive Vice-President of English Services for CBC, repeatedly insisted that blogs and web 2.0 websites do not create content, they only distribute content. “If old media dies,” Stursberg told conference attendees, weeks before announcing massive layoffs at his corporation, “I don’t know who’s going to make content.” (Paraphrased from memory.)
Instead of being honest about examples of bloggers contributing to the news industry, old media, and newspapers in particular, would rather bury those examples in favour of promoting the popular image of bloggers as parasites to media companies.
When I was on staff at Torontoist, a popular Toronto news, events, and culture blog, we accepted with a sense of inevitability that whenever we were lucky enough (or, dare I say, good enough) to get an exclusive story of any significance it would usually appear in Toronto’s newspapers the next day without credit. Proving that we were the source of many of these stories was almost impossible of course, but there was a definite pattern, and I’m told journalists at the Toronto Star sometimes confided privately that we were indeed being cribbed. And then there were some situations, including this January 2008 incident involving the Toronto Sun, where full sections of our writing happened to appear word-for-word in print without attribution. (In that case, the Sun ended up apologizing, kinda.)
This past week, my old Torontoist colleague Jonathan Goldsbie authored an excellent example of the kind light that bloggers can shine through the cracks that news stories pass through as they fall. Responding to a reader letter, Goldsbie decided to get to the bottom of a Virgin Radio bus ad that some found offensive. (And by “some,” I mean anyone who thinks it’s not particularly funny for advertisements shown in the transit system to make jokes about subway suicide.) Goldsbie did a lot of original research, connected dots that others had missed, and ultimately was the catalyst for having the ads pulled.
There’s a reason newspapers are behaving this way. Their industry is in free fall and they don’t know what to do about it or where the bottom is. No one does. So they’re afraid, and fear triggers “behaviors of escape and avoidance.” (Wikipedia)
That’s a reason, but not an excuse. The smart thing to do would be to embrace what may be early glimmers of the future of journalism. Unfortunately, there are indications that at least some papers are more comfortable clinging to the declining models of the past.
I’m hearing the same message from many friends: it’s awful out there. With the economy going from bad to worse, we’re all focused on keeping our heads down and doing our jobs. Some of us have taken on more than one title at the same company in the hopes that it will make us less disposable. For the first time members of my generation know what it’s like to have their job security threatened en masse. We know that if we don’t do our jobs, someone else gladly will.
For me, it relates directly to the very quality of our democracy. In order for all of us to live meaningfully and participate in our community, we must be appropriately informed.
In this regard, the quality of public debate, if not the very quality of life in any community, is a direct function of the quality of media that serve it. Indeed, the functioning of a healthy democracy is predicated on a well-informed populace.
By that measure we must deem the news media in recent years to be a complete failure.
Enter the “well-informed populace,” which, not knowing any better, believed the government’s blatant lies. A survey conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Dominion Institute shortly after the coalition debacle revealed that the majority of Canadians lack an understanding of some of the most basic elements of how their democracy functions.
And what of that “healthy, functioning” democracy? Far better than the countries that have none to be sure, but a far cry from where it should be too. We remain one of the last parliamentary democracies on Earth to use an antiquated voting system that delivers results we did not ask for. This, despite the fact that when citizens have studied the issue, they have chosen change. Of those entrenched institutions standing in the way of democratically-driven voting reform, few have been as staunch as newspapers (including Honderich’s).