Accidental Activist

The Shaping of the News

What is the value of good writing, of authentic high quality journalism?

By Ben Bull
Published September 28, 2007

Ever wondered if your newspaper is biased? In this era of mega-corporations and newspaper conglomerates, how do we know if we are getting a true representation of the facts, as opposed to what the owners want us to hear?

Well, I had a few interesting insights into this during a journalism seminar I attended last week. The reporter, an ex-Vancouver Sun employee, explained to us two ways in which newspaper stories can be shaped.

Step 1 – Dump the bureaus you don't support. Conrad Black took over the Vancouver Sun during the instructor's stay. During his reign the paper allegedly lost their entire Environment bureau simply because Black "did not support the cause."

Step 2 – Put your weakest reporters in the key posts. After Black arrived, the Business and Labour dispute features were assigned to generalist (a.k.a 'General Assignment') reporters with little or no insight into the nuances of the issues they were covering.

Clever, eh?

The reporter went on to explain that at no point during her tenure was there any attempt to influence the actual reporting that was carried out. The bias - if that is what we can call it - was created "in other ways" (see above).

Asked if advertisers today influence the content of our daily news, the reply was, "Probably."

"Beyond the manipulation of the special sections our articles are routinely whittled down due to the last minute requests of advertisers requiring more space," the reporter explained.

I'd love to get an inside view of a newsroom. The CBC sitcom, 'The Newsroom', was purportedly an almost-accurate portrayal of the lunatic world of TV news. As for what really goes on behind the scenes in our daily broadsheets and tabloids, we can only wonder.

On a side note, another journalistic issue arose during the seminar: Pay. How much are journalists paid? we wanted to know. Well, apparently, in Hamilton a junior reporter gets about $40,000, a senior staffer in TO - $70,000. A feature-length article will get you anywhere between $300 and $400 dollars.

So - what do these numbers say to you?

As the seminar host noted at the end of the lecture, "Nobody is in this for the money."

All of which makes me wonder why we undervalue our reporters so much. What is the value of good writing, of authentic high quality journalism? We are very fortunate in Hamilton and Toronto to be treated to such a wide array of quality reporting.

The only thing I wonder, when I look at what these journalists could be earning over on the 'dark side' of PR, and Governmental communications, is why they even bother.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By Maestro*F (registered) | Posted October 08, 2007 at 08:43:10

We wondered whether the Spectator's less than enthusiastic response to the prospect of a CBC Radio One station serving Hamilton was a result of the Spec being owned by a media conglomerate for whom the CBC is a competitor for market share.

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By Genghis (anonymous) | Posted October 21, 2007 at 18:44:33

Media Bias???

Dont be absurd.The Toronto Star's unparalleled coverage of the Afghan Poll on page E4 next to the "articles wanted" indicates they are not afraid to report the truth no matter how much it hurts.

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