Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nov. 15: As well as ethics, The Moncton Times needs editorial skills

A heading over a news story is supposed to give the reader a clear idea of what the story is about. There's a good example of that on p. A7 of today's Moncton Times. "Woman charged in bank robbery". Good. That's simple, short, and clear.

The story itself gives the details, starting with the most important ones, and then to lesser ones so that the reader can stop any time he/she has enough information.

The person most responsible for both of these is the editor. Usually, the editor writes the head and, if there is one, the sub-head. The editor also checks the story to make sure it goes from the general to the particular, and that it explains the subject clearly to the average reader. You can also check p. A7 for an example of what happens when the editor either can't or won't do what an editor is supposed to do.

The headline is "Proportional representation makes 'little sense: ' advocate".
Proportional representation where? And isn't an advocate a person who speaks FOR something? Is this some sort of renegade advocate who has turned against a cause he is associated with?

The sub-head isn't much help. "Group calls for referendum on decision to change New Brunswick's system of democracy." What group? Is the advocate speaking for or against the group?

Now we come to the story - and I'm wondering, "Who is this advocate? Who does he represent? The first sentence tells me he's a political watcher. Big deal. Aren't we all?

Not until the next sentence do we learn he is named Chris Baker. Well, thank you. But Chris Baker is not one of those names that everybody recognizes immediately. I mean, he's no Lady Gaga.  A third of the way down, we learn he runs (no other title is given) something called Continuum Research, a piece of information that still tells us nothing.

Not until a large step further on do we learn that Group (The Group?) is some 54 academics, union leaders, political organizers and citizens who wrote a letter to the premier advocating a form of proportional representation. One person, who is less well known than any good bartender, wrote a letter disagreeing.

So surely, the should be a story about the Group (or The Group) and it's proposal, with Mr. Baker coming toward the end of it as one person who disagrees with 54. And surely a half-decent editor would have pointed that out to the reporter. (Of course, a half-decent editor would never have written that heading and sub-head in the first place.) Why is this storty presented as though Mr. Baker is the main feature of it? In checking his credentials, I saw no reason to believe he knows any more about democracy than the 54 who wrote supporting proportional representation. So why focus the story on him?

Shucks. Let's try to connect the dots.

The Moncton Times is owned by the Irvings. The Irvings are wealthy, corporate leaders. Both the Liberal and the Conservative parties in New Brunswick have money to fight elections. That's because they get lots of money from corporations and wealthy individuals. The Green Party and the NDP and any others have very little money. So the lap dog parties win all the elections; and it really doesn't matter which of them wins.

However, even on the low funding, the other parties could get enough votes in a proportional system to get a few members into the legislature. And corporation leaders wouldn't like that, would they?

So now you put in the last dot.

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