Can singing the praise of media hit a sour note?
It’s just human nature to enjoy receiving positive comments — to be praised, loved and admired.
Who doesn’t wake up each morning wanting to do good at whatever chores are set out for them that day? We are, after all, rewarded for doing well and penalized for failure.
But journalists toil in a unique universe. In the search for truth we usually end up making enemies, as the real story often lies between competing factions.
On the bright side, readers often really appreciate the end result and will respond via a letter to the editor, a phone call into the newsroom, or an online comment.
However, sometimes praise comes from a podium. In my case, that happened a couple of time during my tenure writing a hard-hitting political column in Manitoba.
As it happened, I wrote a piece to advance a weekend convention coming to my hometown of Brandon of Progressive Conservatives. I was well-known as a columnist who wrote from a right-wing perspective and the leader of the opposition Tories must have liked my piece.
“You are lucky to have a columnist like James O’Connor in Westman,” said Stuart Murray in his opening remarks on the convention’s first night.
He went on to say something about how I spoke the truth about the follies of the governing NDP.
But I didn’t really hear anything else other than my name. Sitting in the audience at the rear of the hall — not at the media table, I generally shun media tables — I was embarrassed when delegates turned and applauded.
Was I really regarded as a Tory hack? Is that what readers thought as well? I was friends with many Conservatives and did once work for the party many years prior. But after I returned to journalism, I did write pieces critical about that party, but clearly I needed to re-assess my viewpoint as I felt very uncomfortable hearing those words from the Tory boss in public.
Recently in Yellowknife, a politician heaped praise on a local upstart media outlet. And the reaction has been interesting.
Cabin Radio and its journalist/editor/co-founder Ollie Williams received encouraging words from Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne.
Cabin Radio is making a name for itself for both its colourful roster of volunteer community radio show hosts and the tireless work of Williams, who works day and night providing timely coverage of city and territorial news events.
When I was an editor at one of Yellowknife’s legacy news companies, now called Northern News Services Media, my envious displeasure at how often Williams would be first to break a story or get a tweet out was well-known in the newsroom.
(Full disclosure: I am now an unpaid contributor to Cabin Radio. It’s one of many of my volunteer and professional endeavours.)
Here is Vanthuyne’s Feb. 10 Facebook post on his personal page, just after a territory-wide strike by some 4,000 GNWT union members was narrowly averted:
“Now that we can breath a little easier I want to take a moment, and I think I can speak on behalf of all Yellowknife residents (…and NWT residents), that in a time when both social media and mainstream media are so impactful in our lives, and when those sources are often the means for which we get our daily information, and that all to often that information is lacking authenticity, genuineness, and sincerity, it was Cabin Radio and in particular Ollie Williams, that lead us down the path of being truly informed! Ollie, your frankness, your openness, your ability to keep people in check when they questioned your reason or source, your impartialness and often humour, allowed all of us to be fully, fairly and properly informed. Your company deserves all the accolades it has coming and you, this Englishman from afar, have cemented yourself into our city and territory’s history by being honest with us when we needed it most. You have clearly bought a direct pass to forgo the mandatory 10 year waiting period to officially call yourself a YELLOWKNIFER…welcome to the club!”
Very, very nice.
And very, very unusual.
Comments from the public that followed that post were many in number and almost all shared Vanthuyne’s enthusiasm. Here are a few:
- “Cabin has been my go to radio station since they’ve been officially on the air. Keep up the great work!”
- “Couldn’t agree more! Ollie and Cabin radio have always been a cut above our mainstream media!”
- “Cabin Radio has been an excellent source of NWT news on this and so many other stories. Thanks Ollie”
Now I said almost all, as one local journalist — a veteran reporter out of southern Ontario, now employed at his third media outlet in the city — had a different view. Here’s what John McFadden posted:
“JFC Cory…give me a freakin break!…some of the members were a little less enamoured with Mr Willlaims after his inaccurate story about strike pay…It’s completely inappropriate for a sitting politician to sing the praises of a given reporter and thereby selling the rest of the media short. What happens now if you were a scandal…how could anyone now trust Williams to properly cover it….How the hell did we ever get by before Ollie got here?….There’s lot of good journalists in Yk who don’t have British accents.”
A bit over the top, but McFadden does make a point. A couple of other members of the media mentioned to me it looks a bit too cute by far that Vanthuyne also runs a small ad with his constituency contact information on Cabin Radio. I note that several other politicians also run similar ads on Cabin’s site and with other media in town. I can’t see that as any type of real conflict.
I note when Vanthuyne stood in the NWT Legislative Assembly a day after his Facebook post on Feb. 11 and made a member’s statement on the topic of “Importance of Northern Journalism,” it wasn’t only Cabin Radio that received his positive comments. Regional media was praised in general and CBC was name-checked. From Hansard:
“Mr. Speaker … it is important to recognize the work of members of the media who help people understand complex public issues. We live in a time when the media has a huge impact in our lives, so it is increasingly important that we can trust what we see and hear.
“In context of recent weeks, I would especially like to compliment the work of Ollie Williams at Cabin Radio.
“Another example of the northern media providing important understanding was at the AME Roundup in Vancouver. Northern media, including CBC’s Hilary Bird, were covering roundup for the first time this year and were able to better convey the importance of the work that happens there.
“Mr. Speaker, sadly, we live in days of “fake news,” when even known facts are argued, debated, and disputed. In such times, honest, balanced, and fair journalism is crucial in providing people with real understanding of public issues.
“In the small, close-knit community of the North, we are fortunate to be well-served by a principled and impartial journalistic community. I am pleased to take this opportunity to acknowledge their important contribution.”
As a resident of that “principled and impartial journalistic community,” I thank the Yellowknife North rep for his comments. Even though having politician praising the media still goes against the grain a bit for me.
I imagine the relationship between the press and pols as being sort of like that 1962 Merry Melodies episode of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, where the two supposed natural enemies are seen walking to a time-clock at sunrise, chatting amicably, before engaging in their cartoonish life-or-death workday routine of snatching and guarding sheep. We can be guarded friends at best.
Boy, that cartoon reference really dates me. But I was really young when I watched that cartoon. And it wasn’t in its first run.
But I digress.
Another member of the NWT’s “principled and impartial journalistic community” also weighed in on Facebook about Cabin Radio’s strike coverage a few hours after Vanthuyne’s comments were posted on Feb. 10. Here’s some of what Loren McGinnis, host of CBC North Radio’s The Trailbreaker morning show, had to say at the end of a very well-reasoned piece on the strike:
“Finally, let me get in line to say thanks to Ollie Williams for a master class on labour and conflict journalism. While people debated salaries, benefits, all the good things that come from stable public sector employment (things which I enjoy and value as an employee of the CBC and a member of the Canadian Media Guild), Ollie hustles without that safety net. I’m signing up to make a monthly contribution to Cabin today. Hope you’ll consider doing the same here: https://www.patreon.com/cabinradio. Have a good day, all.”
While I remain uneasy about politicians complimenting a media outlet, I’m pleasantly gobsmacked that another journalist — especially a leading voice such as McGinnis — would take the time to pat the back of a competitor.
I’m just not used to that type of camaraderie in the press. My media upbringing led me to believe reporters treated the opposition like the enemy. Fierce competition, backstabbing and source stealing was de riguer.
But then again, we did at times come together for a pint at the press club.
In the end we are all just people who want the best for our community. And that is a strong tie that binds us together.
I’ll end with another bit of praise for local media that came from a podium in a completely different situation. And this was completely welcome.
At a tearful celebration of life for two Air Tindi pilots last week, Air Tindi president Alasdair Martin was speaking in front of more than 300 people in the airline’s hangar at the airport.
Will Hayworth and Zach McKillop died after their King Air 200 crashed on Jan. 30 during a flight from Yellowknife to Whatì.
“Look around this room. This is a hangar, but it’s not a hangar today,” said the clearly emotional airline executive.
At the end of his speech, after thanking those involved in the search and rescue and paying tribute to the lost men, Martin spoke about the pubic coverage of the sensitive event.
He thanked the local media, for “very accurate and respectful reporting.”
I’m thankful all involved could get the information out while respecting the emotions of those grieving the loss of the two men.
(EDIT HISTORY: Removed a reference to Williams having worked with McFadden, my mistake.)