Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jan.19: The business of reporting....

This is not (read NOT) a criticism of reporters. It is a criticism of editors and the whole news business.

Back when we were both starting out in the world world, a classmate became a journalist - and a very good one, retiring as news chief for CBC in Montreat. But his first job......

......was with Canadian Press. It assigned him to cover the Quebec assembly. He couldn't speak a word of French. (He would later become  quite fluent in it but, oh, it was hell trying to cover Quebec politics without any ability to speak the language.  And that sort of assignment is not unusual in journalism.

No editor would think of sending a reporter to cover a hockey game if the reporter had never even seen a game in his life. Readers would be enraged if he did. But that sort of standard is to be found only in sports spages and Hollywood gossip columns. Otherwise, reporters are commonly assigned to topics they know nothing about. That's why they end up writing whatever they're told; there are no probing question because the reporter has no idea what to probe.

Today has two, big stories on education on A1 and A15. The headline for the first is "Student success depends on monitoring". (standardized testing).  Oh? Really? Then how come millions of schools all over the world have produced successful students without monitoring?   (This one shows us that the editor is ignorant of education, too, because it's the editor who writers the headlines.)

If you read those two stories, it's obvious that the reporter wrote down only what she was told to write down. There appear to have been no questions except, perhaps, for, "could you repeat that last line, please?"

But there were questions to ask. The reference is to standardized, province-wide testing. And there are lots of questions to ask.

The pressure for these exams began with Atlantic Insitute of Market Studies (which itself knows nothing about education.) Thanks to its connection with names like Irving, it got a contract to set up and administer such tests. And why would Mr. Irving (who almost certainly also knows nothing about education) have such a keen interest? Well, it might have something to do with the big push for privatization of education in the US which has produced great profits at the expense of parents, made a shambles of the whole US education system, and left the remaining public schools as an (underfunded) jungle for the poor.

Does AIMS still hold that contract? Is privatization of our public schools still the objective?

The results show improvement in learning. Yes, indeed. But could a smart exam-setter rig that by making the exams a little easier each year - or by easing up on the marking?

What also can (and does) happen is that the exam can determine what the curriculum will be. In other words, schools are forced to teach for the exam, rather than for the students. And, no, the two are not the same.

There are lots of other questions. But you'll find none of them asked in this "Special Report". The result - a story that really tells us nothing - but does feed us a propaganda line favouring the Department of Education and, possibly, AIMS and Mr. Irving.

Again, it's not the reporter's fault. It's the fault of a journalism tradition of laziness and sloppiness at the highest levels. That's why the only pages you can trust are sports and gossip. (Usually).

There's a good story on C1, "Native Women lash out at Harper". One of the women is quoted as saying, "There are strong and growing racial undertones to much of the reaction seen so far to protests over aboriginal treaty rights." Of course there are.

Canadians have a powerful tradition of racism. They don't know it, partly because you'll find very little of it in school history courses, and partly because very few racists ever realize that they are racist. Nothing wrong with them. It's always that other group that looks different from them that's the problem.

Harper is quite deliberately exploiting the racism he knows is there. O, Canada.

Incidentally, some news sources carried the story that the Queen has announced that she does not wish to become involved in the Idle No More controversy. Very impressive. I'm surprised to see it not quoted in today's editorial. However, that story just takes us back to the sloppiness of the world of journalism.

The Queen can say only what her advisor tells her to say - and she MUST say that. Her advisor in Canadian matters is Harper. Most of the stories I've seen don't mention that.

You will learn nothing about Syria, Mali, Algeria, Libya or most of Africa. The suffering is terrible. But it doesn't matter because they aren't real people like us. Most of the fighting is inspired, supplied and encouraged by us. But that doesn't matter because they aren't real people like us. In Syria the foreign mercenaries, heavily made up of Al Quaeda and other jihadists are still called "rebels" even though they aren't Syrians at all.

Our "liberation" of Libya has created a dysfunctional country that is a safe haven for Al-Quaeda and a great supplier of weapons. France's intervention in Mali, now spreading to Algreria, has provided a great boost for Al Quaeda, making it more powerful than it has ever been - and rolling in money donated by our good allies in Saudi Arabia (the country which supplied most of the 9/11 terrorists but was never even slapped on the wrist. Quite a contrast with Afghanistan and Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11. Israel is moving even further to the far right, is determined to rule Palestine forever (according to Nethanyahu) and determined to attack Iran. But it has nowhere close to the population to do all that. However, it does have some 200 (at least) nuclear weapons. Something to look forward to.

Iraq is on the edge of collapsing into a civil war. Afghanistan has been a military, economic and human disaster with no hope of a win for us - or even a definition of what a win could possibly mean.

What a comfort to know that American big business has been in control of all this (a sort of PPP), and has also driven the US into unadmitted bankruptcy and poverty.

So just trust the wisdom of big business to look after these things. Just read your Times and Transcript; and you won't even know anything is happening.

Oh, a recent BBC polls shows that a majority of Syrians actually support the government, not the 'rebels'. However, our business leaders are confident they know better.  That's why they're supporting the 'rebels' and want to make them the government - even though Syrians don't want them, and even though the 'rebels' are heavily jihadist.

Our business leaders are deep thinkers. Deep. It's the old delusion, "If I'm rich, I must be smart."
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Our beloved Health Minister seems to be pushing himself into the news a great deal lately. He publicly humiliates his chief health adviser ;and ignores her advice so he can support shale gas. He has launched a pre-emptive and scatter-gun attack on the whole medical profession over a billing story whose facts, as even he admits, are not clear. Now, he announces that the Emergency Room system doesn't make sense.

Medical professionals, some of whom know almost as much about medicine as Mr. Flemming does, say that what he labels as not making sense because of its cost does make sense. It doesn't make sense on a corporate balance sheet; but it make sense because of patient needs. (And one would think that patient needs are kind of important in all this brouhaha.)

What's obvious is that Mr. Flemming is seeking attention (perhaps socially lonely; and I could understand that),perhaps because he has some political objective. What's also obvious is that he is publicly humiliating and damaging the whole medical system in this province. And he's doing it with stunning arrogance, and arrogance that does not seem to be matched by his intellect.

He might also consider buying shirts one size (at least) larger so he can do up the top button, and properly align his necktie.

Norbert Cunningham's column should be on the Faith page. Quite seriously. It's far better than anything else I have ever seen on that page. Agree with him or disagree (and I pretty much agree) this is a well-researched and we-expressed opinion. This is exactly what we should see on an editorial page.

Bill Belliveau is enthusiastic about Obama's plans for gun control. I do wish I could agree. The US, from years of illusions created by super-patriotic classes, movies, books about American history and further brainwashed  by news media, is a nation os people who live in fear and paranoia. And who worship violence. Generals are heroes and serious possibilities for president in the US that in any other democracy I know. Then take a look at the latest issues of Batman and Superman comics. The heroes aren't only violent; they're seriously mentally disturbed. Evil is everywhere. Violence is the only answer.

Already convinced that government threatens freedom (in fact, personal freedom was destroyed a long time ago in the US - by government, but by government controlled by big money), gun-owners, already driven to a frenzy by the NRA in addition to the regular brainwashing, are almost certain to react with violence.

Incidentally, one third of all gun deaths in the US are suicides. Another big bloc of deaths is children, often by accident with a gun owned by a family member. Then there's domestic violence. I could not find any shootings in the US related to defending freedom.

Brent Mazerolle's column is the usual trivia that should not be on an op ed page. It belongs on a page with the game, "How many differences can you find between these two pictures?"

Gwynne Dyer's column is superb - and more than a little frightening.
Letters to the editor has a letter than is painful to me. "Was Samaritan victim of scam?" It's from a reader who was approached by a pesentable young man who told him he needed $13 buy milk for his baby. Next day, he met an old friend who had been approaced by almost certainly the same man with the same story. The writer was embarassed at feeling he had been naive. Let me ease his embarassment.

In downtown Montreal, I was on my way to meet friends at a watering-hole. A shabby man with his hand on his throat apprached me. He was stranded in Montreal on his way to a hospital for treatment for cancer of the throat. Could I help him get something to eat?

Well, gee. Cancer. Stranded. So I gave him the price of decent meal. He took the money with the hand that had been on his throat,and breathed a thank you on me. He reeked of alcohol.

I prefer to think someone must have spilled it on him.


  1. When I was living in Montreal (for a second time in my early twenties), I became very accustomed to seeing panhandlers trolling for Samaritans downtown on Ste. Catherine street.

    One morning on my way to work (a temporary job I saw as pretty useless) I was asked once too many times for spare change and lashed out at a kid a couple of years younger than myself, "Get a job!" I yelled. Other passerby's turned to look.

    Afterwards, I realized how ironic I'd sounded, something akin to a complete mainstream moron.

    It's not a job young people should feel they have to obtain as much as they need guidance in how to perceive and critically think about the world they find themselves in.

    Having to fall into line to get a job as soon as you're ready to work, is simply another indoctrinating device that's led us into a society of complicity, and of remaining silent and obedient.

    As you say, another reason why standardized testing is a very poor idea. But great public policy for big business and administered by their toad politicians.

    1. Excepting..... once you have made the choice, to take some kind of responsibility for yourself, it "normally follows" that you figure out a way to pay for those things you might need/want.

      You are not doing ANY one a "kindness" by digging in your pocket and handing out, in fact you are doing them a disservice, by allowing them to transfer their responsibility to you.