Media

Hamilton's Fourth Estate or Fourth Branch?

By Jeff Reid
Published November 29, 2010

this blog entry has been updated

Former Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni made his retirement announcement in November of 2010, saying he would be "leaving politics". This past week, we found out why, and how far away he was going. Hamilton's Cable 14 revealed Mayor Di Ianni now joins the ranks of local journalism, as host of the civic-minded broadcast For The Record (FTR).

This was a third bizarre stride toward inter-breeding the city politico with our local media coverage in Hamilton.

A broad step down this unusual path occurred in the 2010 election. Not only would broadcast legend Bob Bratina win the three-way Mayoral race, but also colleague and former FTR host Jason Farr won his bid to back-fill Bratina's vacated Ward 2 council seat. Farr was victorious with just 1607 votes total, about 21% of those cast, for an area of approximately 38,000 residents.

This is not a slight to either man. To me, they appear loyal, hardworking and smart... True Hamiltonians, if you will. In other lines of work, this is typically a laudable shift of career toward civic duty.

For media personalities, name-recognition is organic, press communication can be a familial exchange, and the public trust is previously established. That respect, however, derives from a prior objectivity and lack of bias that must disappear once in office. Popularity can win, without a single firm policy, plan or qualification.

The next major step towards a strange era here came with a loud criticism by Hamilton Spectator City Hall reporter Emma Reilly. It appeared Bratina refused all other media interviews, while the Bay Observer offered readers an exclusive with the Mayor-elect. This came after Peggy Chapman, the Observer's top reporter, accepted Bratina's offer to be his Chief of Staff.

The local media became the story. Reilly must now work with former Chapman as the subject, and bias about peers or rivals can be hard to put aside.

Larry Di Ianni hosting FTR must come as good news to some yet not so pleasing for others. Can our former Mayor put aside 25 years of politics - decades of party loyalty and activity - and sever himself from the political agendas of friends?

I understand why Bob Bratina and Jason Farr want to help steer Hamilton towards a great future. I appreciate why Peggy Chapman would take a position where she could really make a difference. And it is completely reasonable for any politician to jump at the chance to speak for two hours a week on TV.

I do not understand why Cable 14 would think this is healthy or wise for Hamilton. Attention-grabbing, to be sure, but it could appear to be a very partisan program move for public-access television.

I'm not alone in raising the question of journalists entering (and exiting and re-entering) politics. J-Source.org, a collaboration of leading journalism schools and organizations from across Canada, just presented a panel report by on the subject, entitled Journalists seeking public office: what are the ethical issues?

In journalism school, they teach in medias res is Latin for "into the middle of things", and that the media are required to stay in the middle, without taking sides. This wisdom is equal parts ethics and self-preservation: political tides will change, and partisan journalists and organizations are often swept away when they do.

Update: this blog entry originally listed the Cable 14 program as "On the Record", not "For the Record". RTH regrets the error.

Jeff Reid attended Humber College for journalism before starting an internet development firm in the 90s. As a proud Ward 3 homeowner, Jeff lives, works and has three children in school on Wentworth St with his wife Heather, in the city of Hamilton, ON, Canada. In 2010, launched Hamilton-ON.ca to expand mobile news coverage.

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By Mark-Alan Whittle (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 11:22:52

The Cable 14 Program that Larry Di Ianni will host is called, "For The Record", or FTR for short.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2010 at 11:36:56

Hi Mark Alan, thanks for pointing out the error. We've corrected the text.

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By whocares (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 12:13:49

good thing no one watches cable 14 anymore. i mean with digital cable and satelite tv, local stations have a hard time competeting for viewers, nevermind community access chanels!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2010 at 12:38:35

@whocares

Honestly, I've watched a bit of Cable 14 while waiting for CTV's miserably-late Daily Show... particularly since prime-time cable and network news coverage wears out my eye-rolling muscles and there's not much else on at 11 pm.

C14 runs the Bill Kelly show. At that point Di Ianni really can't make it any worse for Hamiltonian ex-politicos that I can't stand.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-11-29 11:40:04

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By realitycheck (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 12:56:48

Cable 14 had the best live coverage of the 2010 municipal election in Hamilton. I was simultaneously watching their coverage along with the web updates from theSpec and CHML sites (and here) and they were consistently first with the numbers along with some pretty decent colour commentary from the Opinionators (regular panel on FTR). They certainly outshined CHCH's coverage. Cable 14 had reported the winners of just about every ward race before CHCH even started to broadcast their live coverage of the election results.

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By wentworthst (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 16:20:27

Mark-Alan... Thanks-- Jeez, I had it all over too! Just stuck in my head that way.

Who cares? I suppose-- but an ongoing negative commentary will take a toll on the process itself. People who are the subject of critique will always care a great deal, especially when its put on TV; ratings aren't the only measure of impact.

I do agree about the Cable 14 coverage of election 2010. As someone who feels more "reported on" than "reported for" in Ward 3, I was very happy with the job done there by all. And Dave Shuttleworth deserves a hand for a solid job, IMHO.

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By Punditry (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 16:57:04

Already DiIanni has brought more attention to this program than anyone else might have. Let's see if he can handle his post-political career. I think he can. He is bright and can speak and should know the issues by now. As for Jason and Bob let's give them a chance too.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2010 at 20:10:51

A dysfunctional city in decline + corporate media + incestuous politicians = Ménage à trois. Citizens get screwed every time.

Journalists our only defence?

Can our former Mayor put aside 25 years of politics - decades of party loyalty and activity - and sever himself from the political agendas of friends?

That sentence and the tenor of this article (and also the Spectator article by Coleman) strike me as more than a tad naive. I thought journalism schools taught students to question everything. In this case, party and political agendas are not nearly important as business agendas - ie. development. The test will be in the viewing. Will Di Ianni use his new megaphone to pump all his/our favourite projects. Money money money. What song do you think he will sing?

AEGD, LRT, Stadium, hurrah hurrah! Can't ya hear the excitement?

Unavoidable maintenance & serious flood control can always be ignored for another day!

If you value your city, turn off the TV, cancel the Spec. Media only understands one thing, one message. Advertizing revenue. Think of all those ads for new houses. Act accordingly.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 21:46:12

The man is an attention whore, nothing more. Yet another ego boost for Larry. I agree that he will most likely steer debates to make his old decisions look amazing. I think the hiring was a very good publicity stunt for cable 14 and for Larry (if it worked for Jason it will work for me in 4 years!) however I do worry that the show will become Larry Land and not a credible forum for local debate.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 00:28:58

I absolutely love Cable 14. If you're interested in local politics or any local goings on, it's the only worthwhile station on the dial.

I'm not sure about this new programme, though. And to be honest, I don't think I could stand listening to DiIanni's voice for two hours, ethical issues notwithstanding.

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By CableGuy (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 10:20:58

The program is only half hour folks and the best thing the station did was bring in someone who is informed. Let's see how it develops.

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By Mr.Clean (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 12:54:17

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2010 at 13:31:59

This makes me really really glad I don't own a television.

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By Wentworthst (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 16:28:32

@BobInnes... Sometimes naive, sometimes just diplomatic. Is there a usually a big difference in golf club tee-off times between those two agendas-groups? ; )

@CableGuy... 2 hours a week; Mon-Thurs @ 5pm, I believe. Sorry, but I think the job should go to a local informed journalist, not political leader.

Perhaps more so, electing media is my point, as their reputation is built on the work product of producers, editors, writers, etc. I feel it is dishonest to campaign on that as a typical personal record.

I am looking forward to seeing how it goes, and did not say Mayor Di Ianni could not be objective. I like the role models he sited yesterday on Bill Kelly, so... Good luck to all; it was not about any individual mentioned above, but the state of my industry.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 18:00:55

"Mr.Janitor sounds like a pompous ass who doesn't know from junk."

I guess that means I'll be getting a Cable 14 show of my own as well as Larry!

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By SadPart (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 08:18:11

Undustrial..what's really sad about you not owning a television set is that you also apparently don't even own a book as an alternative to TV.

Even a colouring book might teach you something.

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By CableGuy (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 12:22:15

Hey, watched the first show. It WAS only half hour and had some opinionators and the host (Larry) even said something nice about Fred. How do you like them apples? Go figure.

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By Wentworthst (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 15:21:49

@Cable - 2 hrs/week... And "lack of bias" is not about saying nice things too, it's about not expressing personal feelings.

For journalists, "objectivity" is like drinking and driving: any recent personal experience and you should surrender the keys, not just try to drive really carefully under the influence.

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By MapleTree (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2010 at 07:58:18

Wentworth St...of course if Larry had your bias then all would be ok, right?

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted December 04, 2010 at 08:25:18

The Twelve-Step Approach To Becoming Mayor of Hamilton- 2010 Edition

  1. Become a local media personality.
  2. Run for political office in a city where low self-esteem, short attention spans and low voter turnout are now the norm.
  3. Double dip as a broadcaster and a city councillor whenever possible.
  4. Benefit from the radio station you work at regularly playing sound bytes of your views on its newscasts.
  5. Pick one major issue.
  6. Benefit from one of your radio station cohorts daily attacking the incumbent mayor on that issue for the first several months of 2010.
  7. Directly participate in a public fear mongering campaign on that issue for six months. Bring to a boil.
  8. Vacillate to and from every possible position on that issue over time and wear a t-shirt for two hours to prove your new “commitment” to the proposal against which you had fear mongered for six months.
  9. Say whatever you want to say to the Toronto media about Hamilton because your Hamilton media cohorts will not report it.
  10. Wait until the latest possible date to leave your broadcasting job and declare your candidacy for mayor so you don’t have to declare the previous nine months of media “advertising” or the t-shirts as an election expense.
  11. Benefit from one of your print media cohorts painting you as an independent thinker and the other two main competitors for mayor as part of the “old boys’ club” even though you are chronologically older and more connected to the “old boys’ club” than they are.
  12. Promise everything to everyone.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2010-12-04 07:33:08

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2010 at 19:24:11

The Twelve-Step Approach To Becoming Mayor of Hamilton- 2010 Edition

Addendum:

  1. Rely on an under-informed, under-engaged citizenry rife with unqualified opinions (extrapolated from the statistic of 60% of votes cast in the 2006 Election 'based on name recognition').

(Sorry, my formatting skills don't include getting standalone-numbering to work.)

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2010-12-04 18:25:35

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By Wentworthst (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2010 at 17:31:13

@MapleTree

I guess I do a better job because, at least in political principles, I do admit to much of the same center-left bias as Larry Di Ianni. I just have no political affiliations.

I also have no negative opinion of any of the last three Mayoral candidates, just a list of strengths and weaknesses I observed while trying to cast an informed vote.

Heck-- the only thing I was sure of was they were all much better men than me!

I do think the host should present as unbiased, like Dave Shuttleworth did, and let the Opionators do the opining.

Comment edited by Wentworthst on 2010-12-05 16:34:20

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By Mark Coakley (anonymous) | Posted January 06, 2011 at 15:17:44

I was one of the first group of Opinionators, back when Cable 14 manager Elizabeth Dubek created the show in 2000. (It was broadcast live, was an hour long, there were four panelists and no "host", and we answered random phone calls from the community.) It is sad to see the direction that the show has recently taken, and that my voice (and the voices of much of the community other than the Chamber of Commerce) are no longer welcome there -- but Cable 14 is a private company that has the right to put on whatever programming is most profitable for its owners. I moved on to other things (look for my book in April!) and wish the folk at Cable 14 nothing but good luck.

Mark Coakley (ex-Opinionator, 94 episodes, 2000 - 2010)

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2011 at 14:59:37

Hamilton is always ready to serve Canada's comedy needs.

http://www.thehamiltonian.net/p/crime-stoppers-arrests-di-ianni.html

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