A question of credibility

The president of the Canadian Association of Journalists is weighing-in on the controversial firing of Victoria News editor Keith Norbury, who was forced out after publishing a story about a cross-border used car shopper. In an interview this morning with Public Eye, Mary Agnes Welch said, "We don't know all the details of the relationship between the editor and the newspaper. There could have been exacerbating circumstances. But, if in fact, it was this story - and one angry advertiser - that led to the departure of the editor and possibly one of the senior reporters I think this really calls into question the credibility of the paper. And, if I were a reader, I would wonder how many stories got either spiked because of an advertiser complaint or downplayed or soften because somebody complained or because the paper was fearful of offending an advertiser. As a reader, I would really start to question the independence of the paper."

"It's really so petty in many ways," Ms. Welch added. "Newspapers are a business. We are, to some degree, at the mercy of advertisers. It's just really unfortunate that - over such a small story - the newspaper would apparently cave like that."

In an earlier interview with Public Eye, Vancouver Island News Group president Mark Warner confirmed Mr. Norbury's firing was, in part, connected to a complaint by Dave Wheaton Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. dealer principal Dave Wheaton. Reporter Brennan Clarke, who wrote the offending article, resigned earlier last week. The Victoria News, which is owned by Black Press Ltd., is part of the Vancouver Island News Group.

7 Comments

Are any of the mainstream media breaking Omerta on this, or has the cone of silence descended as usual? Funny how any crack in the integrity of food/consumer product supply systems, health systems, etc. is headline news anywhere, whereas a flaw in the integrity of the information systems we rely on daily to keep tabs on everything else is generally taboo.

Sad and sordid as this story is, it's really just the logical outcome of the distorting effect that advertising - especially automobile advertising - has on newspapers. Look at any major daily paper on a Friday (the Vancouver Sun, for example). It'll have one - or maybe even two - sections devoted solely to automobiles. Is this because there's so much news about automobiles that a special section is required? No, it's because car dealerships advertise heavily on Fridays in order to entice people into their showrooms on Saturdays. And to justify all those ads, a few stories about automobiles (all positive of course - nothing about congestion, pollution or hit-and-runs) are thrown onto the front of the section.

The Victoria News may have overstepped the line, but it was a tenuous line in the first place.

According to the Wheaton website, Wheaton owns 17 dealerships in the Western Provinces. Obviously any sort of criticism from Dave Wheaton would carry a lot more weight than a single dealership in a single Black Press market.

Dawn uses the mafia term omerta, and I agree. There seems to be a code, not just among news managers and owners, but among reporters and pundits themselves, that they don't criticize one another, no matter what. And this is important because the Fifth Estate is the information channel we all rely on, ... whether we particularly feel like it or not!

Conservatives criticize government monopolies on the ground that citizens are left with no choice in service providers. The point has some validity, although it's hard to conceive of alternative providers of police, defence or highway services, except where this amounts to privatizing parts and pieces of an overall public system. However, it's curious that conservatives, in both the US and Canada, are reluctant to criticize the monopoly or near monopoly in the media industry. And just as curious that liberals and the left haven't been able to make a persuasive issue out of the situation.

Media omerta isn't quite true. A-Channel reported on this on their 6 and 11 pm newscasts Monday, and CBC Victoria discussed it Tuesday morning with a media professor. The Tyee also linked to Sean Holman's original story. But the Times Colonist will remain silent as they would look like big fat hypocrites. I'll be interested to see if (Black Press owned) Monday magazine tackles this one.

I left the newspaper business over fifteen years ago because they were more focused on keeping advertisers happy or promoting a publisher's pet projects than actually objective reporting. I see things haven't changed.

A few years ago magazines started cowtowing to advertisers by hiding their table of contents, thereby completely disregarding the people that actually BUY the magazines, so why anyone is surprised by this I don't know. The ONLY objective publication i've ever known is Consumer Reports who don't allow any advertising because ANY third-party advertising automatically constitutes a conflict of interest. T'would be nice if there were more publications out there like Consumer Reports but as long as advertising pays the bills true freedom of speech won't exist.

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