Municipal Election 2006

A Word in Edgewise

Regardless of what happened on Tuesday night's mayoral candidates debate, the Spectator decided early on which candidates are "high profile" enough to warrant coverage.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 20, 2006

In the brouhaha that ensued after Mayoral candidate Diane Elms accused the Hamilton Spectator of favouritism toward incumbent Mayor Larry Di Ianni, his comment that Elms should spend more time "sharing [her] vision of the city" was interesting, considering she has had so little coverage in the Spec.

Her most recent mention was on October 16, when Evelyn Myrie wrote about the mayoral candidates debate, hosted by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, Hamilton Halton Construction Association, and Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association.

The Chamber charged a $10 admission to non-members of those organizations, and Elms was quoted near the bottom saying, "I didn't know they are charging an admission fee or I would have protested against it."

Before that, Elms had brief mention on September 20 in a column by Andrew Dreschel; in a September 13 report on Dave Braden by reporter Nicole MacIntyre; in a September 7 article about Fred Eisenberger by reporter Fred Vallance-Jones; in a September 6 Dreschel column on Eisenberger's candidacy; in an August 30 Dreschel column on incumbents not seeking re-election; an August 24 MacIntyre article about Brad Clark's run for Stoney Creek councillor rather than mayor; an August 23 Dreschel column on Di Ianni's campaign finance trial; and an August 18 article by Daniel Nolan on crime in the North End.

In every case other than Myrie's op-ed, Elms was mentioned simply as part of a list of mayoral candidates, with no further reporting on her campaign or her platform.

I'm a regular Spec reader and occasional contributor (through letters and the odd opinion piece). I have generally found its 'straight journalism' to be fair and objective, particularly in the case of Nicole MacIntyre, the reporter involved in the accusation Elms made against the Spec, who really does show every sign of taking "objectivity and ethics very seriously," as she wrote in her reply to Elms.

However, as important as this is, it's not sufficient merely to consider how a journalist reports the news. A larger issue is what news the newspaper decides is worth reporting.

I understand that a daily paper has many obligations to meet and has limited resources to devote to any single issue. In fact, as the editor of an independent publication with effectively no budget, I'm painfully aware of the many valuable events and issues we simply cannot cover at all.

However, the Spec has only ever paid significant attention to three of the mayoral candidates (one of whom has since withdrawn his candidacy) and effectively ignored the rest.

Can anyone blame Elms for suspecting unfair treatment by the city's only newspaper? She has a website that provides biographical information, a platform, and detailed contact information. She has always responded promptly to requests from RTH. If the Spec wanted to know what Elms believes in and advocates, it would not be difficult to find out.

The exchange Elms observed was probably just what Di Ianni claims: a friendly exchange among people brought into regular contact. However, the Spec leaves itself open to credible accusations of favouritism when it decides at the outset who is a "high profile" candidate and who is not.

Fred Eisenberger, for example, is considered a "high profile" candidate, even though he is only polling one point higher than Elms, and has had the benefit of several articles devoted to his campaign. Some have been positive and some negative, but at least he enjoys name recognition among regular Spec readers.

Elms, along with Michael Baldasaro, Steve Leach, and Martin Zuliniak, have received only perfunctory mention.

In this issue of RTH, all candidates for mayor and the fifteen council positions have been given an opportunity to advocate five specific actions they believe will improve the city. I wish the city's daily newspaper was willing to do the same, instead of deciding at the start who will have a voice and who will not.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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