UPDATE (June 8): The Telegraph-Journal responds. See below.
The media concentration outrage of the week (Hitler comparisons and all) concerns Matt McCann, an intern at the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal who wrote an article about teachers’ reaction to the University of New Brunswick giving an honorary degree to premier Shawn Graham.
You’d think such a thing would be a conflict of interest, an academic institution presenting an honour to the man responsible for the government that funds them, but apparently UNB does this as a matter of routine.
The story made the front page. It included quotes from professors and students (none of which were anonymous) who were upset at the move. It quoted a university spokesperson who explained the policy and made counter-arguments, as well as a note saying that Graham’s office did not wish to comment. In all, a fairly standard newspaper political conflict story, and a pretty good one for an intern.
After the story was published, the newspaper fired him.
According to McCann, he was told his story was “seriously unbalanced and severely underplayed the university’s side of the story” and that “the newspaper has worked hard to establish a good relationship with UNB and that I had damaged that relationship”. The newspaper refused to give its side to the CBC, so we have only McCann’s word on this.
On Saturday, the Telegraph-Journal, which had refused to comment because it was a “personnel issue” (a policy many companies have to avoid lawsuits and such), decided that policy has a scandal-annoyance exception clause to it, and published an unsigned Page 3 story with an inflammatory headline that falsely accuses the CBC. (Thanks Josh) In it, the paper said McCann was fired because he misspelled a name, got a title wrong (his “university secretary” was actually a “university secretary” … wait, what?), and didn’t correctly list the premier’s degrees. It also repeats that that McCann didn’t “adequately portray” both sides of the story and “did not seem to fully grasp the seriousness” of his errors.
Are we to believe that the Telegraph-Journal has such absolute integrity that minor factual errors lead to immediate dismissal? If it was, why haven’t the errors been corrected on the original story online? Is balance in stories so important that a 149-word rebuttal to a 368-word argument is so outrageously biased it constitutes an error in judgment? (And just what part of the university’s argument did McCann leave out of his story?) Shall we go through Telegraph-Journal stories with minor factual errors and where the word counts of both sides of an argument don’t exactly match and demand those journalists be fired too?
This isn’t just wrong, it’s cartoonishly-evil wrong. The kind of stuff you see on TV and scream “that wouldn’t actually happen in real life.” It’s so bad, in fact, that Premier Graham took pity on the kid and asked for his CV. Even Graham, who the newspaper considered the victim of McCann’s “reckless” reporting, thought the punishment was too severe.
This is an abhorrent act and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. Other than the minor factual errors, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that story.
A little context is necessary here: The Telegraph-Journal is owned by the Irving family, a very powerful family that owns almost all news media in New Brunswick (the exceptions are a Transcon-owned community paper, L’Acadie Nouvelle and sister francophone media, bureaus of Global Halifax and CTV Halifax, CBC/RadCan stations, private radio music stations and small community publications). Of note is the fact that outside of CBC New Brunswick, there hasn’t been any original reporting of this story. Not only is this kind of monopoly unique in Canada, but unlike Canwest or CTVglobemedia, the Irvings also have non-media corporate interests, including big-money forestry and oil businesses. Their media holdings have been repeatedly accused of being soft on the Irving empire.
And now a young reporter has been dismissed because he made the premier look bad.
New Brunswick needs a media revolution. The Irvings’ control over the province needs to be pried off with a crowbar.