Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30: How to spot bad editing...

Opinion columns normally appear clearly labelled as opinions (as on the editorial and op ed pages). Opinions that appear as news stories are deceptive. Though appearing as objective news of something that has happened, they wre usually opinions of what has happened.  In fact, they are commonly just propaganda. .On the front page of today's Moncton Times&Transcript are at least four stories that are more opinion than news.

This sort of thing is not the fault of the reporter. The person who decides what will appear on a page, and how it will appear, is the editor. Young reporters learn the basic principles of their craft from good editors. That's a tough break for young reporters who make their start with Brunswick News.

"City's recreation plans on track" screams a headline on page 1. ":...each park will be defined by its surrounding community's wants and needs, all thanks to public input." Nonsense.

What happened is  the city held public meetings on the subject. That city plans are on track is simply an opinion of the City government. So ar the statements that the community will make the decisions, and all this is thanks to public input.

We have no idea whether the plans are on track. We have no idea how influential public opinion was (or how many of the public expressed no opinion at all). We don't know whether there will be a "vast improvement", not unless some of us can see into the future. We don't even know the qualifications of  the city's parks and leisure services. It takes considerable training to do such work. I know that because it happens I taught a university course in it.

In connection with that training, the parks and playgrounds movement in Canada was begun over a century  ago by Mabel Peters of Fredericton (And I can safely guess that no member of Moncton City Council has ever heard of her.) The idea was not just to provide play space, but to offer programmes run by people trained in using the playground to develop intellectual and social skills.

Public consultation is not much help in that. If you think it is, then you must be all in favour of holding referenda on how brain surgery should be performed.

Then there's "NB Liberals begin to rebuild". In this one, we are told that the "renewal" process (so much nicer than rebuilding) has notthing to do with losing the last election, but with "isolating areas of inefficency". If the report had mentioned this beginning with the words - "according to chairwoman Kim Rayworth..."- that would have been fine. That would have presented the view as simply her opinion.

But it began, "However, as chairwoman Kim Rayworth said..." The However, as... turns this from ms. Rayworth's opioin into a statement of fact. That may seem a small point. But it twists the meaning of the story; and a good editor would notice that.

"Moncton beer fest a big hit". Well, again, this is an opinion. A statement of fact might be a whole lot of Monctonians enjoyed doing at the Coliseum what they normally do most day, chugging brewskies. When you see "Moncton beer fest a big hit", you know this is a story of pure fluff.

"Sea Dogs make N.B. proud". Well, I feel happy to live here. Nice province. Nice people. But I really don't give much of a damn who wins the Memorial Cup. Nor, I'm sure, am I the only person in the world who feels that way. And if I did give a damn, I can't see why it should be a cause of pride for me; I didn't score any goals in the game.  Nor am I blown away by the personal pride of the office clerk in Singapore whose soccer team just won a trophy.

Anyway, the headline should be about the story. But the story is a standard one, much like the story of any hockey game that has ever been played. There's not a word in it about who is proud or why. This is just feel-good slush.

More slush on page A3. "McKenna gives $1M to the Miramichi."  It is full of gushing opinion. "  heartfelt expression of gratitude to his beloved Miramichi...."   Unless writing gush, a reporter should report only what can be seen and heard. Nobody can see or hear whether anything is heartfelt.

Too bad. There was an interesting story tucked away in this blurb. How come a man who spent fifteen of his prime earning years as an MLA has a million dollars to spare?

In other questionable editorial work, the skimpy NewsToday section squeezed out some space to cover the war in Libya, passport changes, a Canadian soldiers' death in Afghanistan, the plight of flood victims in Quebec and Manitoba. But at least a quarter of the section was devoted to Prime Minister Harper's visit to a war graves area in Greece. It was certainly thoughtful of the Prime Minister to do so as a gesture to his communications director, whose grandfather was killed there.  But over a quarter of a cramped NewsToday section?

The editorial was its usual, knee-jerk  vapidity. It calls on government to bring in more immigrants (largely, as has always been true in Canada, as a source of cheap labour). It also fears that if we don't get such labour, business may move elsewhere. For that reason, the editorial also suggests a law to force New Brunswick immigrants to stay here for at least five years - so they won't drift off to jobs in Ontario and Alberta.

Let's seen, now. As I understand it, big business in New Brunswick insists that goernment intervention in the capitalist process is bad, that capitalism words best in free markets because the free market is a sort of magic wand that solves all problems.

If we insist people stay here instead of going to where the good jobs are, isn't that interfering with the magic wand of the free market? And if the government spends money to bring immigrants here to supply jobs that Candians, in a free market, are not interested in - well, isn't that inteference in the free market?

What are you, Norbert? Some kind of a communist?

Finally, check out the letters to the editor. Two of the letters concern shale gas. The government and the Moncton Times have both said development of shale gas lies at the heart of NB development. But we've only had one news article on it. Most of what we know we have to get from the letters to the editor.

Donne-moi un break.


  1. In my opinion, best commentary yet.

  2. You can always calculate the rank of daily or weekly newspapers by the amount of local or military boosterism found inside the pages. If I were to invent a scale, this Moncton daily would be over the top for this. A little bit of this "feel good" boosterism is okay once in a while when warranted, but a steady diet can lose the publication credibility. Of course, this newspaper is without a good reputation to lose according to Graeme Decarie's blog.

    David Leonardo
    St-Lambert Journal