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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.