The editor replies to Councillor Wallace's recent comments

The editor replies to Councillor Wallace's recent comments

In Andrew Bennett's two articles on the Columbia rebuild this week (here and here), Councillor Kathy Wallace speaks to the 'tiny little discussion' that's been taking place in these pages--but makes a few errors and crosses a line or two in the process. Respectfully, I'd like to take this opportunity to offer our response.

  1. The discussion wasn't about parallel parking or no parallel parking, or about our own views on this issue. It was, fundamentally, about process in a democratic society. So when Ms. Wallace refers to '600 signatures' as if that was the be-all and end-all of democracy, we disagree. Same for the recent pool issue. Same, for that matter, the eternal 'closing RSS issue'. In all these cases the Telegraph has been responding to legitimate issues of procedure, not pushing our own views. In the RSS case (wher we happen to agree with council!), we think it's wrong for non-locals to decide the fate of a local school against the will of the community. With regard to the parking issue, we think it's wrong for council to ignore the will of the people as expressed through the planning process. And so on.
  2. There have been ten conversants so far in our tiny discussion, not four. Just had to get that off my chest! Now, that may sound pretty tiny still (despite being five times larger), but we're a tiny town. On a per capita basis, eight commenters who aren't Andrew or I is the equivalent of a Globe and Mail story on a national issue having 80 000 commenters. So it ain't bad. Further, many people are reluctant to participate in fairly detailed discussions like these (especially in small towns, where they feel exposed) and prefer to simply follow along, especially if the varied views on display match their own. For the record, the story in question has been read almost 1500 times so far. There's a tendency among certain figures in local politics to try to minimize the importance of a media source that questions their decisions. So, to clarify: the Telegraph has over 900 subscribers compared to the Trail Times' 300 or less here in town. Our 900 subscribers are also a greater number than the distribution of the Rossland News. And that's not including the 4000 other weekly visitors our paper enjoys. So if there's any substantive conversation about substantive issues taking place in town, big or 'tiny', it's basically taking place here. With this in mind, the good councillor shouldn't be so quick to disparage it.
  3. Controversy may sell newspapers, but we give ours away! We get all our revenue from local advertisers and are proud to say that we've never sold or lost an ad (that we know of) due to anything we print or don't.
  4. If our coverage of this issue seems 'controversial' that's due wholly to the fact that hard questions are being asked. However, read these stories and you'll see that most councillors agree with us that the parking discussion should have been held in public, not in camera. So where's the gosh darn controversy we're supposedly desperately milking? Seems to me Mr. Bennett's reporting here is helping create clarity and build consensus. Thanks Andrew! I'm glad it's over...
  5. Councillor Wallace states that "I think that democratic representation means that you are electing us to manage these decisions". Well, obviously we disagree and view democracy as a conversation. Surely council agrees with this view, at least in theory, or why would they have OCPs and design consultations? I'd hate to think those things existed just to shut us up. We're always discouraged when elected officials feel that power is 'theirs' and that they don't owe the public full engagement and ongoing disclosure.
  6. Similarly, we disagree that there's "got to be a little bit of trust" in these situations. We sincerely respect the work that all our elected representatives do, including that of Ms. Wallace, but--respectfully--that ain't the job. Politics is a messy job that requires a lot of discussion. And the public has a right to know why decisions are changed. The only reason we know as of today is because of Andrew Bennett's fair and balanced reporting on this issue.
  7. When Councillor Wallace says that "just because you put 'comment' on top of it [in the title of the article] doesn't mean that you can make things up", we're flabbergasted and feel the councillor is on dangerous legal ground. It's worth noting, yet again, that comment is a legitimate and necessary part of journalism. As for "mak[ing] things up", all I can think of is one recent incident where Mr. Bennett relied on some faulty information. When informed of his mistake, he immediately and sincerely apologized in these pages to the full satisfaction of the offended party. Since Ms. Wallace is effectively calling Mr. Bennett a liar here, we hope she takes the time to clarify these serious accusations. We're definitely curious to see this mysterious letter. If we've made any mistakes we're eager to correct them (and curious as to why they weren't pointed out when they occured), and if unfounded accusations are in the offing, we're equally desirous of hearing those.
  8. It's far from reassuring that some see disagreements as attacks or annoyances. None of this is personal, people. Those who make decisions, whether to change plans or attempt four season pools, CHOOSE to be in the public eye and have their decisions scrutinized. They should be proud of their choices and the processes they involve--and glad to justify their actions when asked politely. When they aren't, we find that disturbing.

In closing, journalists are gadflies: they're supposed to be a little annoying or they're not doing their jobs properly. Socrates was the ultimate gadfly (and the origin of the term comes from his story) and was put to death for his preoccupation with logic and rationality. Here at the Telegraph, we're grateful that all we have to put up with is the occasional dirty look and snarky comment!

Thanks to all on council for the work they do--and thanks to Andrew Bennett for the work he does. My sincere belief is that all parties are honest and well-intentioned. It's never easy to be criticized--I don't like it more than anyone else in town. But we have to be open to it, because when criticism doesn't happen, worse things follow.

Comments

info

I am curious - what professional or industry association do internet news media providers belong to and where can i find some kind of code of ethics that is followed?  Newspapers and other "mainstream" media belong to associations or bodies, and those with concerns can submit their complaints to those organizations.  I am not aware of the equivalent for internet news sources, but I must just not be looking in the right place, because there must be an equivalent.

At present, we're not aware

At present, we're not aware of any such organization for this relatively new field. However, if you have any concerns about material in this paper, we're always happy to hear about them. Please contact us via our contact page.

Time Out

So the contract is signed and the work is being done - we have what we have - we get what we get.  Enough of the argument.

Please concentrate on keeping our merchants busy during the mess. Shopping local has never been so important.

Offer to help your elderly neighbor with their shopping.  Offer to babysit for your neighbor if they can't get their chariot down the sidewalk.

Smile at the construction workers and flag people. Watch where you jaywalk. It's the biggest show to happen in Rossland in years, so lets make the best of it.

 

 

Agree wholeheartedly...

Yes, absolutely, thanks for the inspiring and worthy attitude.

The question here, however, is not about the streetscape—which will be as it will be—but about the importance of participatory process, the role of the media in that process, and of course Coun. Wallace's (as yet) unfounded accusations that I've "made stuff up." 

Clearly, to my knowledge, I have stuck to the facts.

We're still waiting on the accusation's foundation, at which point we'll see if it's mortar and bricks or just good ol' fashioned slingin' mud...

Yes, you have a very

Yes, you have a very important newspaper on par with the Globe and Mail.  Too bad the Globe and Mail isn't all editorial as well.

You're not a statistics teacher, too?  Your extrapolation of numbers is astounding.  I suppose if you want to suppose, those 1500 hits on the story could have been done by the same person or 10 people 150 times or 100 people 15 times.   Or 142 might be East Kootenay hits or 186 from Castlegar....etc.

Huge point made on the 10 vs 4 conversants.  Good for you to get that off your chest.  Normally you and Andrew internalize so much and would be the last people to exhaustively tag-team people's comments and suggest why your view is more valid.  With such distribution, it's amazing that the paper has time to write so many of it's own letters and comments. 

There are never any snarky comments coming from the paper's side, so can't imagine why you'd ever be on the receiving end of such things.  How could that happen when everything is always so balanced with absolutely no hint of opinion on even the most benign of topics.

There is never anything too small to zero in on.

As for the project - finally, it's started.  The street will look awesome despite the changes in design and save us a couple of bucks (a positive). Good thing that we have a gentrified town where the next sewage system upgrade bill will be easily absorbed by homeowners along with this one. 

 

Sorry we got on your bad

Sorry we got on your bad side, Rico. However, let's not resort to personal attacks--the idea that we're puffed up little minnows comparing ourselves to the Globe and Whale is amusing but not really to the point. We know what we are: keener, independent news types in a tiny West Kootenay hamlet. All this hoopla over a couple of metres of cement? Believe me, we see the irony!

What we also are, despite your attack, is the only forum in town where serious discussion of the issues takes place. 900 subscribers: the fact remains.

When David Livingstone and I started the Telegraph it was in the wake of the fabled golf course-at-the-base-of-Red fiasco when a lack of open discourse and blatant media bias poisoned the community's interactions. We felt Rossland could do better and tried to pitch in and do our bit. No matter what you think of our views, it's always worth having a conversation and we always make sure all voices are heard.

Yes, we can be snarky--but we don't object when you're snarky back! Grant us that...

Thanks for taking part in this discussion.

All editorial, eh?

Since Dec. 21, 2011, when I reported both the failure of the Columbia-Washington grant application and council's passing of the now failed swimming pool grant application, I've published 82 news stories and four editorials.

Maybe it seems like a lot of editorial to Rico because we actively editorialize in the comments section, like I am doing here.

For "news," the point is to concisely and precisely convey the most important facts within a fair and balanced reconstruction of the context.

For editorials, I write as I please so long as I stick to the facts and my argument is reasonable. 

To my knowledge, with the exception of a few mistakes for which I published errata—and most notably the error to which Adrian referred—I have not strayed from facts or reason.

If I have, I expect people to alert me so I can assess their claim, publish corrections, and amend my future reports accordingly.

When I point out mistakes made by council and the CAO, it's understandable that they should accuse me of "bias"—understandably human, yes, but logically incorrect.

Nobody likes to be told they've done a bad job, but guess what? When the facts are there, it's my job to report them. If the reasoning could use elaboration, that's where editorials come in. More often than not, however, it's enough to report the facts and our intelligent and educated readers can connect the dots themselves.

Permit me to elaborate on the "story" part of the news, the part derided as "spin" by those who dislike the narrative. I will use one of my "controversial" news pieces as an example.

On Jan. 11, I reported that the mayor had apologized for "dropping the ball" during the swimming pool mess.

Now, a good reporter asks, what does this guy mean by "dropping the ball?" So I asked, and repeatedly got stonewalled. 

A fair and pertinent question deserves a fair and pertinent response, so it is "news" when a political figure refuses to answer simple questions like, "Why did the process break down? What would you have done differently?"

Someone with a pro-mayor bias may try to argue that it is biased to report this, but they would be wrong. Yes, it makes the mayor look bad, but it was his own doing. He could have made a straightforward apology and addressed the issue. He could have answered the questions. Then my fair and balanced report would have made him look good.

But instead he hid behind "dropping the ball," and then "no comment," unable to articulate the mistake or recover from it.

I was doing a public service, and a fair and balanced one at that, by reporting that the mayor chose not to point the way forward to a brighter, consultative future, and instead chose to sweep the problem under the proverbial rug.

]Furthermore, when a ball has been dropped, I think it's in the public's interest to know some detail about any related exchange that takes place in the council chambers.

In this instance, the mayor treated Coun. Kathy Moore with contempt and cut her off mid-sentence as she tried to explain that "dropping the ball" wasn't the problem so much as a failure of process. She didn't even get a chance to hit the crux, which was how to learn from the mistake and improve processes and policies as a result.

Now you tell me which option is more biased: 1) To ignore this exchange and print merely that the mayor apologized for dropping the ball, or 2) To report the exchange exactly as it took place, as can be verified by video and audio recordings?

I argue that while the mayor would prefer I had gone with #1, that would have been biased. Nothing controversial here, not trying to sell newspapers, no hidden agenda, just doing my job to comprehensively cover local politics, and I clearly went with #2.

If there's a third option that is even more precise and factual—that is, if you know a better way to write this story, or any story—let me know.

Sure, as a person, as a resident in this town, I have an opinion on many issues. We all do. I've written out a few of these in four editorials since the Winter Solstice.

But as a reporter, I've reported the facts in context for 82 stories in the same time. If you want to argue otherwise, please do, I welcome the constructive criticism ... but do so with facts rather than rhetoric.

We're not Fox News here with an axe to grind against black presidents. We're a local paper—the only locally owned and operated paper—and we have a vested interest in democracy, and making sure process gets followed and people have a voice.