Fishing for sources

Fishing for sources

Two independent filmmakers producing a video about diseases on salmon farms have been offering $100 to ex-aquaculture workers who agree to be interviewed - a practice frowned upon by most North American journalists. But they've now rescinded that offer following an inquiry from Public Eye.

That offer came to light when one of them - Paul Ross - posted the following advertisement on craigslist: "Are you an Ex Fish Farm Worker? Worked on a farm in the last 5 years? Know someone who has? We may want you for an interview! You may choose to remain anonymous. We'll come to you. $100 for 1 hour of your time."

Speaking with Public Eye, the filmmaker said he's looking for those workers as part of a video that will be released online within the next two to four weeks and linked to on Websites like that of activist and marine biologist Alexandra Morton.

"Me and my partner are doing a video on diseases in salmon farming and some of the practices that they should probably clean up if they have any kind of conscience of any kind," explained Mr. Ross.

"Really what we just want to find out is if there is disease on the migration route of the Fraser sockeye when they exited in 2007 when the juveniles went to sea," Twyla Roscovich later elaborated in a separate interview, adding the video "is not necessarily for broadcast."

"We just want to bring this forward to say to the government, 'Look, these guys are saying there was this disease on this farm at this date. You need to consider this in this judicial inquiry" - a reference to the Cohen Commission, which is investigating the reasons why those sockeye numbers have declined.

Asked whether anyone has responded to the advertisement, Mr. Ross said there have been a few calls.

"Some of them have been inquisitive and somewhat hostile and a couple have been really open and forthcoming. I've had some people just asking me about our credentials - 'Are you a scientist? Are you a biologist?' and saying, 'Well, I don't want to participate in any rogue journalism on YouTube.' Click."

But why offer ex-fish farm workers $100 in return for a one-hour interview?

"They are working people. It's going to take time out of their day. And if somebody asked me to do a survey with them I'd say, 'Well, I'm busy.' And they say, 'Well, I'll pay you $100 dollars.' Then I'll say, 'Well, I'm not so busy.' It's not cynical. It's just sort of realistic," explained Mr. Ross.

Most newsrooms on this continent would never consider making such an offer, though.

"The standard practice in North America is that you don't pay for interviews. It's common in Britain," explained former Georgia Straight editor Charles Campbell, adding there have also been exceptions to that rule. "But, by and large it's considered offensive and compromising to pay money for information."

He said the same standards should apply to Mr. Ross and Ms. Roscovich.

"If they're documentary filmmakers, they're journalists," Mr. Smith stated. "While not unprecedented - while there isn't a written code that says they can't do that - I think whenever you pay for information, sources or more likely to give you what they want to hear than what's true."

But when we made that point to Mr. Ross this is what happened: "You know what, I wouldn't respond to that at this point in time. I'm kind of in the middle of welding. My friend is helping me here. So I'd like to sort of regroup."

"We are not hiding behind anything. We're open. We ask for openness. And we do this with integrity and honesty. And we have absolutely nothing to hide," he continued. "I do sort of take your point. It's a reservation I had about offering any money. I'm sure as a journalist your sources ask you to make it worth their while at times and it's only just meeting in the middle."

For the record, Public Eye has never done anything like that. However, Ms. Roscovich said she and Mr. Ross have previously offered honorariums to people after interviewing them. The difference this time is that interviewees are aware of that cash prior to sitting down in front of the camera.

"What were we going to do, go around and ask people on the streets, 'Are you a fish farmer?' It's nothing we would normally do. But with a lot of these guys we thought, 'Maybe it's just a way to actually get people to contact us.' We're not influencing what they're going to say."

That being said though, the filmaker - who stressed the offer had "nothing to do" with Ms. Morton - stated, "I'd hate to be labeled as activist media and I'd like to keep it as clean as possible. It's the first time we've run into this. It's the first time I've been confronted with this question. It's kind of come up just in the last few days going, 'Is that okay? I don't know.'"

But, by the end of our interview, she came to this conclusion: the $100 offer would be removed from the advertisement.


I see nothing wrong with this tact. They would still have to decide whether the sources that come forward are credible or not.

Think about it, our governments think nothing of offering huge dollars to supposed experts in many fields to create reports that support an agenda they wish to pursue. Many businesses do the same.

The only thing is that I wouldn't have used Craigslist, but the local community papers in the towns that have fish farms in their area. Chances are that they would have gotten a greater response and therefore a better chance to separate the wheat from the chaff.

If you want to find out information about anything, you have to interview the so-called grunts that work on the front lines, not those occupying the ivory tower.

The biggest problem today with the news we are served up is that it is so sanitized that it is of little to no value.

Here is their latest craigslist post. Twyla's middle name must be Jean.

It's ridiculous! By offering cash for interviews it shows a complete lack of integrity and an obvious bias. Previous films by Ms. Roscovich have been blatantly against salmon farming and in support of Ms. Morton. Why would there be any reason to think that she is offering people money to provide her with 'interviews' that offer any other perspective? Because she says so when she is caught out and questioned about her methods? It's offensive to me as a consumer of information that this film will be passed off as an unbiased documentary. Mr. Ross and Ms. Roscovich should be ashamed of themselves.

The folks we want to talk to are most are likely just concerned with making a living and wouldn’t take the time to call otherwise. To interview them, we take up their time, put in front of a camera, which is uncomfortable, - what’s in it for them? We are not after opinions, we just want straight facts about what diseases who saw and when to see if we can detect a pattern. If we find a handful of people saying the same thing about a certain disease at a certain location at the same time, which fits with a pattern of missing fish, then perhaps we have a lead that to investigate…

We are not influencing what our interviewees say, as that would get us nowhere in this case, we just want to know what they saw and where they saw it. We can’t get disease records from the companies, as it is “proprietary information” so if anyone else has an idea about how to find out what farms had what disease and when, I’d love to hear it. We are just trying to get to the bottom of what happened to our fish.

Does it not bother you to know that the farms could have had a disease that devastated the Fraser sockeye and nobody would even know?

We posted this after a night of scratching our heads trying to figure out how to locate the people we wanted to speak to. At the time it seemed fair enough, but after talking with Sean and hearing this isn’t industry practice in Canada, I pulled the compensation offer. Nobody has actually received any compensation.


Ms Roscovich,

If people have information they want to share, they will. Soliciting people for interviews through craigslist is the journalistic equivalent of ambulance chasing.

It bothers me that the Fraser sockeye had a collapse and the blame is being placed solely on salmon farms. That's akin to blaming all obesity issues on McDonalds, while ignoring all other factors.

The diseases that are present in fish farms in BC are well known and have specific horizontal transmission methods and don't occur 'willy nilly'. There is an actual science behind it. The background of a subject should be learned before attempts to document it occur. There are hundreds of publications available on fish diseases.

With the recent spat of vitriol against salmon farms, it saddens me to see that the 'enviro groups' and 'advocates' are ignoring all other probable causes and dismissing anybody who does not agree with them as 'industry stooges' and the 'industry pr machine'. I am neither. I am simply an individual tired of hearing the same claptrap over and over. If I was paid for this I would sure be a lot more vocal all the time.

As for reasons for the Sockeye collapse, look at river conditions/pollution, climate change, water conditions, and overfishing for starters. Why would you base your film on possible disease issues from salmon farms as a reason for the Fraser sockeye collapse instead of focusing on other, more probable explanations, if there was not a bias? It's easy to interview an ex-fish farmer that is, in all likelihood, disgruntled with the company he left and will make false claims, all the while claiming to be doing it because he 'couldn't keep quiet any longer'. It has the earmarks of a bad Hollywood movie.

The simple fact is that another hatchet job is on the way blasting the salmon farming industry based solely on hearsay and conjecture. As a filmmaker, you should be open to more than just one side of the story, and not completely disregarding the other side as lies. It's a slippery slope and one on which it is easy to lose all journalistic integrity on.

Dave S

Ms Roscovich’s claim that “I’d hate to be labeled as activist media and I’d like to keep it as clean as possible” is complete rubbish! Any amount of research will clearly show that she is firmly entrenched in the anti-salmon farm movement. Start your research here:
As for her outrageous claim that this has “nothing to do” with Ms. Morton”, count the number of videos on her site that include Alexandra Morton as her focus.
You can fool some of the people some of the time…
What says you Ms. Roscovich?

Dave S took the words out of my mouth.
I understand Ms. Roscovich's thinking regarding compensation for the Ex-fish farm workers time, but you have to think carefully about the situation. You are paying for someone to share their experience obviously they are going to say what you want them to say-it's an incentive. A true journalistic approach would have posted without compensation, the people you're looking for Ms. Roscovich, will come if you find the right recruitment channels. Which seem to be lacking.

Transparency is key especially in creating a documentary. But I'm not sure the last time I saw a truly transparent documentary, you always have to wonder where the funding to produce the documentary is coming from...

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