Has the Ottawa Citizen Become a Blogspaper?

Economic Reality, Financial Crisis, Political Reality, South March Highlands, Virtual Reality

Today, Jan 12 2013,  there is no news article to be found anywhere on today’s front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s print edition.  The only article is a columnist’s opinion piece.

The Ottawa Citizen, which has recently been steadily displacing news with opinion on its front page, appears to have taken another step in a transition from being a reputable newspaper to being primarily a compendium of opinion articles – in effect a blogspaper.  Actual reporting of news appears to have become a scare commodity on the front page where opinion-based articles written by columnists appear to be increasingly crowding-out fact-based news.

The reason for this is probably economic as more and more people rely on Internet news sources than print sources.  I’ve been told by former Citizen reporters that fewer than half the reporters that worked at the Citizen in 2005 remain due to rounds of budget cutbacks.  Many of the columnists employed by the Citizen are syndicated across more than one newspaper to reduce costs.

The need to protect non-subscription revenue – i.e. advertising – appears to explain why news reporting over the past few years at the Citizen seemed to become skewed, by what appears to be selective editing, in favour of the interests of its largest sources of ad revenue: new home sales, real estate, car sales, and city notices.

Selective editing is invisible to those not intimately familiar with an issue being “reported”.  It wasn’t until I participated in the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands that I personally realized the extent of news that simply was not being reported in the Citizen.

  • For example, on more than one occasion I or someone else in the Coalition would be interviewed by a reporter, only to see the Coalition’s perspective omitted or under-represented in the subsequent article.
  • Other media (TV, radio) would report our perspective in a more balanced way, but compared to the print space allocated to support a developer’s or the City of Ottawa’s perspective, it appeared that an editorial slant was silently at work.
  • From discussions with spokespeople for other environmental groups in Ottawa, it appears that selective editing is widespread.  One can only wonder if it will naturally lead to selective reporting by reporters who will see the futility in reporting more than will ever be printed.

I also see the same signs of lack of depth & balance in the reporting of the Idle No More movement that I also have first-hand knowledge of.  For example, prior to running sensational headlines about the audit at Attawapiskat, did the Citizen bother to investigate the other side to the story?

  • How many qualified accountants even exist within a 1000-mile radius of a tiny, isolated, northern community in which few have any opportunity for post-secondary education?  Attawapiskat has an on-reserve population of less than 1,600 people and 1/3 of them are under the age of 19.  Most of its 1000 adults are unemployed, living in crowded, substandard, housing with no running water.
  • As for education, the state of deteriorating buildings caused the elementary school to be closed in 2000 and replaced by crowded portables which hardly promote a positive educational experience in the average -30 C weather during the school year. The space in those portables is only 50% of the standard that is supposed to be funded by the Federal Government.
  • So is it surprising that record-keeping is not to the standard expected by Certified Public Accountants?  There isn’t even a doctor in Attawapiskat, so why would anyone expect to find a professional accountant in a warm and comfy office diligently recording receipts?  The real story is that the Chief’s husband upgraded his accounting skills in a best-effort to try to improve financial accountability and, according to the audit, this resulted in fewer audit concerns.  Much has been made of the daily rate charged for this service, but has anyone inquired into how many days he billed?
  • More to the point, is there actually any evidence of misappropriation of funds?  Or is it possible that it was more expedient for the Citizen to run a story that required less investigative journalism?

The Federal government, who does not advertise much in the Citizen, appears to be the main target for investigative news which provides the illusion of continued balanced reporting to many.   But with fewer reporters on payroll, how long will even this continue?

Today may be remembered as a day of infamy for journalism as no news content at all was reported on the front page.  Headlines and a columnist’s article do not make much of a newspaper – especially for the advertising enriched weekend edition.

There once was a time when the Ottawa Citizen won awards for the high-quality of its investigative journalism.  Sadly those days appear to be gone, and so now I personally rely on the Globe and Mail for old-fashioned, real “news”.  Most bloggers like me are not trained journalists.  Some of us, like some of the columnists in the Citizen, try to present facts along with opinion but our primary service is to share our fair comment on the news – not report the news.

As the Internet inevitably eviscerates the Fourth Estate and replaces it with the Fifth Estate, I for one will miss its professionalism.  Meanwhile I still subscribe to the Citizen because my wife enjoys its extensive funny papers.

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