Friday, February 3, 2012

Feb. 3: evening thoughts....

Lots of activity on the blog site today with a record reading audience for a single day - and some interesting comments. It's hard to respond to all comments in the response box; so I decided to try it here.

The broadest comment is one that cited useful articles in the Times and Transcript, and said that these should have been noted by me. Special reference was made to stories about problems faced by the poor and the elderly. The comment also said that in reporting them the paper was doing what a newspaper SHOULD be doing. (It's true that I often don't mention good articles. But it's also true I don't mention nearly all the bad ones, either. Putting together a commentary on that would take all day - and nobody would put in the hour or two to read it.)

All newspaper sometimes do what a newspaper SHOULD do. That does not make them good newspapers. I can remember my time in China when I often read translations from the New China News Agency. Some of them were quite factual, honest, informative. But the paper as a whole was a propaganda sheet notable mostly for its omissions.

I try to examine the TandT as a whole - using whatever examples seem to be striking ones for the day. Yes, some of the time what appears in the TandT is what a newspaper SHOULD be doing. But that bit of should is 'marred' by masses of omissions, loaded language to set up emotional responses, and propaganda.

Admittedly, the same could be said of newspapers across North America and other parts of the world. But the Irving papers are really bottom feeders. Nor am I the first one to notice this. They have been condemned in federal studies, and are generally held in low regard by journalists (even though those other journalists come from  heavily biased papers, too.)

What I have tried to do is to show when a story or commentary is a good one; and when it's a bad one.(misleading, unethical, trivial). "Should" has nothing to do with quality. All papers print at least part of what they should. That doesn't make all newspapers good.

Yes, the TandT will sometimes talk about the problems of poverty - but always in a way that nobody of any importance will object to. For example, one of the problems of poverty is the damaging effect it has on children in school. It's been proven many times. Kids from poor backgrounds don't do as well in school as kids from middle class backgrounds. In fact, it's quite common - even normal - to find a direct link between economic background and school grades.

But you've never seen a story on that in the Times and Transcript. And you never will. Nor will it examine whether there is any possibility of some link of the problems of the poor in this province, and the lack of problems of the rich.

That's partely because the wealthy of this region support a so-called think tank whose purpose is to spread propaganda to help  them become wealthier. It's called Atlantic Institute of Market Stidies. Like related institutes in the US, for example, it wants to privatize large areas of the public education system so the wealthy can make money on the backs of our children.

In the US, where this movement began, it has opened up public education to private entrepreneurs - at an extra charge to parents. Result, the schools of the poor, the ones that most need the money, have suffered cuts. Middle class parents, who can afford it, pay extra to send their children to better funded schools. Educationally, it's been a disaster.

A 'should' newspaper would run storys and commentaries on this - as the TandT did. Mostly, it ran commentaries by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies. It also ran editorials so shrill and ranting and so ignorant of education that it was embarassing to read them.

A 'good' newspaper would have pointed out that AIMS has a long association with the owner of the TandT and with others of his circle. It would also have taken the trouble to explore the opinions of, say, faculties of educatoin in this province.  It didn't.

I believe it was about a year ago that Jim Irving wrote a column for the TandT in which he said that he had formed a coaltion with the government. He later added an announcement that he had formed a group of his friends who would plan the economic future of the province. That group larter morphed into an official government group which advises the Minister of Finance on the budget.

The TandT reported that - as it should have.

But  good newspaper would have noted a good deal more.
1. that Mr. Irving had no right to declare a coalition with the government. You have to get elected to do that. And the government has to ask you.
2. that he had no right to appoint a group to plan our economic future. That's what we elect governments to do.
3. That in accepted such a group into official status, Alward was showing himself as either ignorant of the basics of democracy, or as a puppet. Or both.

The TandT runs foreign news - as it should. A good newspaper lays out its news in a pattern so we can see links between stories, and get an understanding that is  broader than isolated pieces. It also draws on a range of news agencies for its stories. The TandT does neither. It relies heavily on two sources for foreign and national news, both of them notable for their use of loaded language and for bias. I believe I once wrote a blog on that.

Another reader commented that is it surely reasonable for a local newspaper to draw attention to anything favorable that is said about the community. Of course. That means it would have been quite reasonable to draw attention to a favourable article in a real estate magazine. What was not reasonable was to gush that Moncton is now the centre of attention for all Canadians. What was worse, was to toss in buzz words as a subtle bit of promotion.  Nobody in Canada calls Moncton "the little city that could'. This term was invented by city council and by promoters that want Moncton to go deep into debt to build a new hockey arena that will benefit only a very few. That is using loaded language.

Finally, yes, it's true that commercial expansion is something a local newspaper should report. But the normal story we get is pretty small stuff - a new shop, a new kind of sandwich at some cafe, major stories about an autobigraphy of a former employee of Irving news media complete with information about where you can get your very own copy - and all spread out day after day.

Most of that doesn't amount to news, and certainly not front page news. This is free advertising.

Sometimes, the TandT does what it should. Sometimes, any newspaper does. But it stays far away from any story that might offend the boss; it openly pitches for whatever the boss wants; and most of it, even the commentary, is just trivial.

As for local news, the only section that carries honest local news is the sports section. Well, possibly the weather forecast. Sometimes.


  1. Actually I don't really disagreee with any of that.

    I think you take it a bit too seriously though and maybe there's an element of preaching to the converted about your blog.

    Without resorting to a quota system, a few more positive comments on what the paper has done well, might win some over from 'the dark side' and that's got to be a good thing.

    At the moment I think the response to your blog might well be divided into "he's so right" or "here he goes again" and that just maintains the status quo.

    Then again, it is your blog :)

  2. Actually, I don't really disagree with you. The problem is how to do it.
    There is very little in the TandT - or any of the Irving papers - that can be pointed to as well done. Most "news" is trivial with major issues regularly ignored. Commentary, with notable exceptions, is juvenile, and often is propaganda. Editorials, with very few exceptions are either trivial or ignorant rants.
    I see no sign of ethics in this paper, no sign of intelligent story choices. This is a paper designed to do what its owner wants it to do - keep people in the dark, propgandize them, and focus them on the trivial.

    I do comment on what it does well. Alec Bruce is a class act. So are Jody Dallaire and and the teen columnists on Saturdays. Bill Belliveau does his homework and writes well. I just wish he were not quite so obviously a Liberal.

    I spent a lot of years in journalism - radio,TV, and print. I even taught it on some occasions.I have never seen a news medium so unethical, so biased, and so incompetent as the TandT. (But that may be because I seldom look at the rest of the Irving media.) This is a paper which does real damage to the people of Moncton.

    But I know you're right. It would be more effective to spend more time on the good points. It's just that it's so hard to find them.