This is part two of a series on Abbotsford news, the way it is reported and the possible impact on the historical record that may result.
For Part One click here.
What will future citizens or students of the history of Abbotsford make of current Abbotsford news and the impact current events have on the future? In the past, newspapers were the first source of information for researchers trying to figure how or why seminal events had occurred.
A case can be made for the argument that the last ten years represent the worst decade in our city’s history. It will be difficult to understand based on what the local, out-of-town, newspapers have had to say about it.
Reporting, by its very nature, is selective.
From selecting the story to tell, the facts to include and the presentation of those facts, to the headline, the placement and the decision whether or not to run the story … these are all tremendously subjective decisions.
Objectivity in journalism is a myth promulgated by those who have either fooled themselves into thinking they have no point of view (and are thereby fooling their audience as well) or those who are hiding behind a carefully crafted artifice which allows them to get their point of view across without letting the reader know the many subjective factors that have gone into the story.
All that a responsible journalist can possibly promise is a fair description of events from an admittedly biased observer. Anything else is a lie and those who seek to use the media have been skillful at tying knots around the old media to the point where very little of any use to the historical record is reported anymore – especially in communities like Abbotsford where news is reported in chain-owned, free-circulation, corporate newspapers which have, in many important ways, lost their connection to the readers who were once subscribers.
A two-way relationship develops between those who pay for the delivery or the purchase of a publication and the publisher – that of business owner and customer. In communities like Abbotsford readers are no longer customers of the newspapers.
Readers are what the newspapers are delivering to advertisers, most importantly – national and regional companies which rely on the door-to-door delivery service offered by the newspapers which offer the most cost effective means of getting their flyers past the front porch and into the living room.
With readers no longer being customers and a total reliance on advertising for revenue, today’s newspapers in communities like Abbotsford, like most businesses, don’t have much to gain by making enemies in the community, especially within the power structure.
Where old time newspaper publishers of paid-circulation newspapers were constantly having to weigh the risk of losing support within the power structure against the value of maintaining their readership – especially in competitive markets – today’s newspaper publishers are simply mid-level functionaries in large corporate enterprises who simply operate on the basis of quarterly profits and losses.
Those who chose, back in the 1990s, to use the free, full distribution circulation model in order to take the flyers away from Canada Post and make them a profit center for their newspapers, would argue that they removed an unnecessary complication from the lives of local publishers by removing the need to fight for readership.
What they didn’t understand was that, by removing that critical client – business owner relationship between readers and newspapers they also removed the incentive for a publisher or an editor to have the balls to piss off anybody at City Hall, the local Chamber of Commerce or any of the local organizations they now have to rely on to tell them whether or not they are doing a good job.
Readers were unforgiving. They cancelled subscriptions, refused to buy the paper and threatened its existence. They had to be placated.
Now social and business aquaintences and head office are the only people influencing a chain-owned, flyer delivery, free circulation newspaper.
There is simply no longer anything whatsoever to be gained by a local publisher or editor in rocking anybody’s boat. Those back in the ’90s who thought had removed a problem had actually created a much larger one. As local newspapers stopped rocking boats the number of people who received the newspaper who actually paid attention to it began to diminish.
People know when you are not trying hard to gain their attention and there’s nothing colour pictures, full advertising wrap-arounds, phony front pages paid for by advertisers or other similar gimmicks can do to change their minds.
Journalists are caught in the middle. The tension between their journalistic principles and the realities of the need to pay their mortgage are fairly easily resolved and, if they stay in the business, they become unwilling partners in the fatal assumption that promoting the community is what newspapers are supposed to do.
They quietly swallow the reality that promoting special interests is what they are really doing.
It is happening to journalists everywhere. Abbotsford is not unique in facing these issues. It is perhaps unique in the extent to which the newspapers have been either willfully blind or simply incompetent at telling citizens what is happening in their city.Before anybody mounts some form of challenge to my thesis I simply ask that, if you disagree, you should come up with examples of either of Abbotsford’s newspapers publishing stories explaining the reasons that Plan A, as proposed by John Smith and Bruce Beck was a bad idea or what would likely happen if we followed their advice in anyway comparable to the thousands of column-inches devoted to promoting City Hall’s point of view.
I challenge the same people to demonstrate any serious journalism committed to and published in advance of the historic P3 Water Referendum sharing facts which were known at the time which proved we had no need for a new $300,000,000 water supply and contradicted the the pro-international water lobby editorial stance taken by both newspapers.
Voters rejected the newspapers’ full-court-press in favour of the unnecessary project by a factor of 75% to 25%. People either didn’t read the newspapers or didn’t believe what the newspapers told them.
Either way, the P3 Water referendum removed the newspapers as serious arbiters of opinion on local issues. When 75% of the people to whom you deliver your version of history disagree with you … you have to wonder what you’re doing wrong.
A couple of interesting issues arise from Abbotsford’s latest and most current reason (07/25/13) for embarrassment on the world stage – the Abbotsford Chicken Manure Homeless IncidentFirstly; The story, which quickly garnered worldwide attention, originated in a column by James Breckenridge on Abbotsford Today. Homeless advocates maintain the practice of abusing the homeless in Abbotsford has been going on for years; so it is worth asking whether or not the issue would ever have come to light had residents relied on the corporate newspapers to report it. In the wake of the incident those who work with the homeless said they were not the least bit surprised because this sort of thing has been going on for years.
Neither newspaper told anybody that story until Abbotsford Today told the world.
Secondly; In an editorial entitled, “An old sore exposed“, The Abbotsford News stated, ““We are led to believe this was the work of a handful of lower level authorities in city hall who thought they were taking affirmative action on a long-standing problem.”
Despite repeated demands by Abbotsford Today for the newspaper to come clean and tell its readers who led it to believe the incident was the work of a handful of low level city workers, especially in light of the fact the the top managers in the departments involved lost their jobs and emails published by CBC revealed that senior managers in five departments were involved, to date there has been no explanation.Thirdly; When Abbotsford Today revealed the memo, which was somehow overlooked by the corporate newspapers, implicating the Abbotsford Salvation Army by indicating it was “in agreement” with the City’s plans to dump manure on the homeless, the Abbotsford News only altered its story on the subject to include excerpts from the Salvation Army’s response to the story, without mentioning what the comments were about.
In other words; armed with the information and a copy of the email, the News chose to report the Sally Ann’s response but not the story itself.
This kind of selective reporting and after-the-fact explanations based on what unnamed sources have explained to reporters or editors is going to make it very difficult for those searching the historical record to find out what was actually going on in Abbotsford at the beginning of the 21st century.
Perhaps more importantly, it is making it difficult for the community today to come to terms with this defining incident since not everyone in the community has all of the facts.
When people outside of the community are more familiar with the facts the community needs to know in order to deal with historic decisions than those who live here, … someone has failed the community.
Someone should explain why citizens, voters and taxpayers weren’t told what was going on.
*Note: In both of the Chicken Manure stories both the Abbotsford News and the Abbotsford Times were provided with copies of the Abbotsford Today stories and rebuttals, and, while news organizations from the CBC to the BBC ran the stories, the two local papers either delayed publishing the information or, in the case of the Sally Ann revelations, ignored them completely.
There has still been no local coverage of Chief Constable Bob Rich and his staff’s astounding email discussions of the incident – Abbotsford Police Emails Reveal Demeaning Attitude Toward The Homeless.