The Endless Debate About Who is a 'Real Journalist' at Hamilton City Hall

By Joey Coleman
Published September 12, 2013

The debate about who is a journalist is old and tiring, and the only people who seem to care about debating it are those afraid of the growth in journalism outside of traditional power structures.

The debate was settled years ago and those who wish to preserve top-down, one-way power structures need to accept that times have changed. Even if they don't accept this change, they are powerless to stop it and trying to decide who is a "real journalist" won't stop the free (as in speech, not beer) exchange of information on the Internet.

The question of who is or is not a journalist is irrelevant. The proper question is: what is journalism and how do we define the act?

At Hamilton City Hall, the debate was settled two years ago, after the Mayor's Office stated they were rewriting the media policy to define a journalist as someone who has "a boss that I can complain to", as chief of staff Peggy Chapman said on CHML on May 25, 2011:

What I'm trying to bring in is a press gallery. What that means, and it's going to bother a few people... is I will recognize you and give you as much access to the mayor, as need be, or information that I have - and especially at council, if you have a boss. If you're a journalist that has a boss that I can complain to, if I think that information is incorrect. If you don't have that, it's, you know- how do we control, um, the information? I don't mean control like I want to control what's being said, but my first priority is the public. I would hope in media your first priority is the information to the public too. But that's not my responsibility. My responsibility is information coming from City Hall, to the public. And how do we get that? [emphasis added]

The resulting outcry from the community, an open letter signed by nearly all of Hamilton's independent journalists, and strong support from mainstream media outlets, led Council to adopt a permissive media policy that defines media as:

any print, radio, television or online media outlet. This includes national, regional, local, neighbourhood, community and ethnic media outlets, Online media refers to websites that publish news, investigative reports, analysis, commentary, events and/or general information.

City Hall's media policy allows anyone engaged in responsible coverage of civic affairs and meetings - regardless of revenue, platform, or audience size - to be at public meetings, request information from City Hall, and access to the same resources as any other person engaged in journalism.

While there have been hiccups, the new media policy is working well at Hamilton City Hall.

Too Much Journalism at City Hall?

I've lost the past few days reacting to a complaint seeking to restrict the journalism I practice at City Hall.

The complaint alleges that I'm overusing City Hall resources because I'm at every meeting. The complaint seeks that I not be allowed to use the media room to work between meetings and that I not be allowed to store my camera gear, sound equipment, and lights in the media room.

I do not know who the complainant is, or if they are internal or external to City Hall.

Instead of covering the Scott Park high school partnership or the final steps towards implementation of the Cannon Street bike lanes, or the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, I've been engaged in trying to appease a complaint about my being at City Hall using city resources including the media room.

Variations on this complaint have been filed repeatedly during the past year: that I'm covering too many meetings and City Hall should impose restrictions on the amount of coverage any one 'blogger' should be allowed to produce.

Specifically, this time, the complainant alleges I'm using the media room too much, without keeping it well-organized and clean at all times.

Joey Coleman's messy workstation at 10:00 PM after a Council meeting
Joey Coleman's messy workstation at 10:00 PM after a Council meeting

My coverage of City Hall is extensive. I usually arrive at City Hall no later than 7:30 AM to set up for the day, and it is rare for me to leave before 7:00 PM at night. Some nights, meetings continue into the late evening and I'm at City Hall past 10:00 PM.

Some days I have a pile of cords and papers stacked on the table I use. Sometimes, I even leave a half-eaten sandwich on the table when I run out to quickly interview a Councillor in the hallway before returning to finish my lunch.

There are evenings during which meetings run past 10:00 PM and I'm expected to be out of the building within 15 minutes. This means I quickly bring my equipment into the media room and leave it in a pile to organize in the morning.

This complaint is just the latest in a long series of frivolous complaints designed to harass and bully this non "real journalist" into no longer livestreaming meetings and to stop coverage of meetings at City Hall.

Equipment in use to record an interview. (May 2013)
Equipment in use to record an interview. (May 2013)

Should City Hall Limit Coverage?

Should City Hall limit the number of meetings one outlet can cover to manage saturation of journalism at City Hall? Is one media outlet over using resources? Are they covering City Hall too much?

Again, this isn't the proper question. The proper question is: Are these resources equitably available to all outlets and persons engaged in journalism? Are others allowed to cover all public meetings?

The same resources are available to all media outlets, and any outlet that wants to cover every meeting at City Hall can do so as well.

There is no special treatment of one outlet or person over the others.

This is not the first time I've lost time dealing with frivolous complaints. We've lost many days that could be spent covering City Hall affairs.

My responsibility here at City Hall is not to be in meetings and discussions about who is or is not a journalist. It is to produce the most accurate, comprehensive coverage of as many public meetings as I can possibly attend in a week, no matter how small or lacking in popular interest.

I do this because of passion for civic engagement and journalism. I am able to do this because of the support of readers who generously - and voluntarily - contribute to support my journalism.

Ban on Cameras

There have also been repeated complaints that the privacy of Councillors and Staff is violated by livestreaming of meetings in Council Chambers.

In December, the facility manager for City Hall announced a ban on cameras from the Council Chamber for more than a few hours a week.

A comparison was drawn between the "real journalism" of CHCH-TV and livestreaming all meetings - CHCH only films a couple hours each week and engages in "real journalism" by making an editorial decision of what is or is not important.

To their credit, CHCH immediately intervened in the dispute, opposing the attempt to restrict livestreaming. After numerous media outlets stated they would go public about the matter and seek a judicial injunction against the restriction, City Hall abandoned the new restriction.

If those engaged in journalism decide to attend City Hall to cover meetings, this should be facilitated by City staff or other media outlets. There should be no ban imposed for covering "too many" meetings.

Why Are We Debating This?

City Hall, the Mayor, and Council support the City's media policy, so why are we still debating it? Each time a frivolous complaint is made about the media policy, the Mayor's Office, the City Manager's Office, and members of Council quickly move to support the media policy.

The Clerks have become very proactive in providing the public - and by extension the media - with copies of agendas and are quick to assist all media with access to set up before meetings.

There are some at City Hall and beyond who oppose this policy. They should go public with their opposition and lobby Council to change the policy if they disagree with it.

Unless those opposed are willing to bring the debate about what is journalism to the Council Chambers, why are we continuing to debate the City Hall media policy?

Going Public with Future Complaints

For the past year, I have resolved each one of these disputes without making them public. The reason was simple: I don't want this to be the story from City Hall. I want the story to be matters of public interest being debated by Council.

However, by keeping these matters private, I'm allowing the campaign of harassment to continue and interfere with coverage of more important matters.

Starting today and moving forward, I will disclose whenever a frivolous complaint is filed that attempts to stop my coverage and livestreaming of all public meetings.

Below is a list of some of the frivolous complaints I have dealt with in the past year:

I will no longer deal with these kind of frivolous complaints nor will I attend any meetings that do not involve all those engaging in journalism at City Hall.

Local Media Support

Local media outlets have quickly intervened to support the media policy when it has been challenged in the past year.

When attempts have been made to block my work, other media have provided support to allow livestreaming and other coverage to continue. Thank you to TheSpec, CHML, CFMU, and CHCH.

Hamilton's local media outlets enjoy a respectful and professional relationship.

We all work to be the best at what we do, and are working with limited resources to provide high-quality journalism while the business model that use to support journalism is gone and new models to replace it are being experimented with.

The crowdfunded model is one of many attempts to rebuild local journalism.

The Media Room

The latest complaint is about the amount of equipment and workstation I have within the City Hall media room. setup in a corner of the media room at City Hall, approximately 20% of the space setup in a corner of the media room at City Hall, approximately 20% of the space

The media room is shared-space provided by City Hall for working media to use to facilitate coverage of City Hall.

Prior to the City Hall renovation, there were two rooms for media. As outlets stopped full-time coverage of City Hall during the past decade, City Hall decided to provide one large room for media to share.

Prior to my outlet forming, the media room was a large empty space, rarely used, because journalists rarely attended meetings.

The room is available for use by anyone engaged in journalism at City Hall as defined in the media policy.

I use the space to store my livestreaming equipment (lights, tripods, sound board, folding chairs, cords, extension cords, and network cables). During the week, I work in the room between meetings.

Other outlets borrow cables on a regular basis as I keep extras in case something fails.

Other than myself, other media sometimes use the space as a lunch room and work during closed session portions of meetings.

I use approximately 20 per cent of the room. The other 80 percent of the room is empty with the exception of one table and a couple of chairs.

Unused space in the City Hall media room accounts for 80% of the room.
Unused space in the City Hall media room accounts for 80% of the room.

There are times, when others are not using the room, that I set up my lights and interview staff and Councillors on issues being considered by Council. This takes up most of the room for about an hour and has never interfered with others using the space.

'Messy' Area

The latest complaint alleges I'm taking up too much space and my area is sometimes "messy" with wires, cords, and equipment not neatly stored in a visually appealing manner.

Yes, I keep a messy desk with all the documents I'm reading.

Does this interfere with other outlets using the space? Apparently, if I were a real journalist, I'd know that newsrooms are quiet organized clean spaces with no stacks of paper or any other visual clutter.

Should a media room should be like an IKEA showroom at all times?

Having worked in numerous newsrooms, I have never seen a newsroom that fits the restrictions the complaint seeks.

Clearly, this complaint angle is designed to frustrate and prevent coverage of City Hall meetings by myself.

As a fellow journalist at TheSpec put it, it doesn't matter how much space each outlet is using: if more media space is needed, we should jointly request more space.

With 80% of the room rarely utilized, the complaints are frivolous.

Making Up for Lost Time

I am now behind on preparation for meetings, editing and conversion of video for upload, and stories I need to complete.

My first priority is the completion of a feature story for Hamilton Magazine.

My second priority is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the City's proposed rental housing bylaw for Monday.

Third, I will edit and convert the videos from this week.

All of this will require the weekend to complete and I will be skipping most of Supercrawl to get this done.

On Monday, I will release a new format daily newsletter. I've spent time in Photoshop creating the layout and I believe you will enjoy it.

Uploading of video will likely take a couple of days.

To achieve all the work I do, I cannot allow frivolous antics by those upset by the amount of my coverage win by stopping journalism at City Hall.

I like how another media outlet's journalist summed up the situation: You know you're doing a great job when this is all they have to complain about and they waste their time complaining about it.

Am I a journalist? That's the wrong question.

The right question is: am I engaged in journalism and should journalism be allowed at City Hall?

I'll leave it to you to decide.

First published on Joey Coleman's website.

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 12, 2013 at 11:35:37

I'm actually offended that council doesn't livestream all council chambers stuff themselves automatically, start-to-finish. The fact that a volunteer does this instead of a permanently-installed automated system is utterly absurd. Trying to limit that volunteer's access is doubly so.

The average Wal-Mart doesn't trust their staff to operate without cameras, but we expect the people who control hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do it?

Permalink | Context

By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted September 13, 2013 at 12:16:34 in reply to Comment 92087

It doesn't surprise me that council doesn't do it themselves - its actually not an easy thing to do, it takes some expertise and energy, and the idea of doing it is pretty new. It would be good of them to do it, but I don't think its necessarily 'absurd' that their priority is not to do all the work of participating in city affairs for viewers. They already have to do a lot and lets be honest, governments don't move fast (there are good reasons why, to) and the technology has only become mainstream in the last few years.

However, I like what you said about walmart, that is so true. The idea that any public official at a public meeting should complain about their privacy being invaded by having to do their public job in public is unreasonable.

Permalink | Context

By Edward (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 14:40:00 in reply to Comment 92087

They do for all the standing committees, and they post a video of it onto the website within 24 hours. I've watched/listened sessions while at work, including this week's GIC meeting on Cannon Street. They even have archives of videos of years past.

Audit Finance and Administration, Board of Health, Council, Emergency and Community Services, General Issues Committee, Planning, and Public Works committee meetings are all streamed live (slight 1-2 min delay).

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By An onny Musslicious (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 12:00:30

What a fascinating discussion. In other locales I've either lived in or visited, Council meetings are broadcast uncut, unabridged, showing the warts (and worse) of Council members.

It's funny; for a community where so little good is accomplished by its elected officials we have these officials wanting more control over proceedings. As if so many fabulous things are being created and moved forward 'in camera' that, to ensure that these fabulous things are actually given a chance to unfold, restrictions need be placed on public access. Or that 'too much clarifying journalism' will gum up the machinery.

I'd be curious as to what the 'on the record' responses to this situation from all Councillors would consist of.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 12:08:24

Joey, just let us know what you think we can do to help, and I know that the people who enjoy your livestream coverage will be more than willing to do whatever we can.

Permalink | Context

By Core-B (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 15:55:00 in reply to Comment 92090

If you get onto Joeys mailing list, he sends out notices of upcoming streams. On very rare occasions he asks us to contribute via indiegogo if memory serves. A small price (you decide how much) to pay for a fantastic service.

Comment edited by Core-B on 2013-09-12 15:55:49

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Mal (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 12:09:39


Even if the public wasn't factored in, this would be an excellent way to loop in staff whose personal or professional obligations might not permit them to be in all places at once.

There are around 400 City employees taking home six-figure salaries, and few of those appear in-chamber with any regularity.

There are many thousands more whose ideas and expertise are relevant to discussions and decision-making going on around the table at any given point.

If city employees had indication that their involvement was being actively sought, maybe that would make for a more engaged workforce.

Even if there's limited appetite for new media journalists or open-tap public input, shouldn't we be aiming to at least goose up internal communications?

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 14:58:03 in reply to Comment 92091

Exactly. Which is why the last complaint - too many staff are watching the livestream! Heavens! - is so hysterical.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 12:41:44

This in Camera thing should be band and everything should be braodcast live to the public

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 12:59:55

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By rednic (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 13:14:31

How can you invade an elected officials privacy when they are 'at work' in a public place, you are not filming them in their bedroom. My suggestion if the current councillors feel filming meetings is an invasion of privacy, don't run for reelection simple as that... Let someone who is not afraid, of their decision being aired publicly run...

On a positive note it's god to see you get some support from the 'big boys' in the media world.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Concerned Citizen (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 13:50:23

I stand by the excellent work that you tirelessly perform for the benefit of the people in this City. I sincerley hope that "one day" the citizens of Hamilton will wake up on election day and choose to "uninvite" the dinosaurs of our City Council to the table and completely revamp our governing body from the Mayor's seat down to each and every councillor.
Integrity is non existent currently, nor has it been for a great many years. It is time for the people of Hamilton to stand up and make a big change at City Hall and get rid of the arrogant attitude from the people that have become way too comfortable sitting at the table making the decisions on our behalf.
Bravo to you Joey, keep your thumb on them to the last minute!!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 14:09:22

I simply do not understand why a volunteer has to step up and take live streaming of council on. This should be streamed on the City web site, using city owned equipment and staffed by city employees. It always amazes me that Joe has to put himself out there like he does just for the love of it. Hard wire cameras in council, hit 'stream' for every meeting in chambers. Side room meetings may need sepera.te set-up and staffing

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 16:06:38

Joe, I love the stream. I frequently catch up in your archive. I just think the City should be providing this service. I have no issue with you or an army of volunteers doing it, I find it disturbing that you have to do it for taxpayers to have comprehensive coverage of meetings.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By kathy (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 16:34:52

Just read this very informative article { by a real journalist} what on earth are the folk at city hall thinking? I know Miss Peggy C is protecting her boss { when she allows him to speak} but, I feel having someone like Joey on site and writing objectively as he does he is providing the citizens of this city a fine service. In camera conferences are sometimes necessary but in my opinion there are too many in camera huddles. Someone else remarked that councillors and public figures are not having their privacy invaded by streaming etc. If they don't like the heat they should get out of the kitchen.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted September 12, 2013 at 16:35:31

"If the public cared about this meeting, they'd be here "

What a load of crap. If the public showed up in droves, they'd be kicked out every single time.

And these people report to the citizens of the city, and are paid with those same citizens tax dollars. If they don't want to be followed up on by the people paying their salaries, they can give it back and go home. We're their bosses, and if they don't like it, they can get a new job.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 09:57:51

So much for "if they the public were interested they would come to the meeting":

Here we have an example of a public meeting the public attended and were then told to leave because there were too many of them.

So much for Hamilton vision of becoming the best place to engage citizens!

But the worst part is that several police board members and the Mayor actually argued against moving to City Hall which is both more accessible and allows live streaming.

Permalink | Context

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2013 at 10:24:46 in reply to Comment 92264

I should note that Mayor Bratina's comments were beyond the pale. I stood (and you can see me in the video) in shock as the Mayor asked people to leave.

He should apologize for the comments and commit to ensure such incidents of limited capacity never happens again at any public meeting in Hamilton.

Permalink | Context

By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2013 at 10:22:42 in reply to Comment 92264

I've been livestreaming Police Services Board since last November. The Spectator did some wordsmithing to avoid acknowledging this fact.

Ironically, The Spectator uses my livestream to report "live" from meetings they are not attending.

In terms of PSB Board members being opposed to the move, the Mayor's statements were lukewarm. I know for a fact that Levy is very supportive of the move, and I was present for this meeting. Her statement of "pilot" is similar to Farr supporting a "pilot" project for bike lanes on Cannon Street.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools