Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"It would probably be appropriate for you to post an apology on your blog"

Mainstream media, through industry associations, promise to be accurate, unbiased and accountable to readers, viewers or listeners. However, in words of Hamlet,
". . . it is a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance."
This is not a hugely egregious example but it is illustrative. A publication slants news by headlining a personal opinion that is given more than deserved weight by exaggeration of the source's credentials. The quoted authority, it turns out, rather than being a professor of TRU as stated by the newspaper, is a retired instructor, teaching part time to cover temporarily for illness. In the ordinary use of the word, professor is a teacher of high rank at a college or university. These are the usual ranks of university teachers:
  • Professor
  • Associate Professor
  • Assistant Professor
  • Lecturer or Instructor
Probably, Mr. Pillar should have been referred to as a Sessional Instructor or Sessional Lecturer. The news writer does not balance, examine or evaluate Pillar's opinion, he simply repeats it because it serves the purpose, in this case, of giving readers a negative vision of the New Democratic Party. Then, as the correspondence below reveals, the respondent editor seems deliberately obtuse and in effect thumbs his nose at disapproval.

This my correspondence with Kamloops Daily News regarding their story headlined: "Infighting, lack of platform crippled public interest in NDP, says political scientist":

Me to Kamloops News, March 22, 7:20 AM:
I believe you may have misidentified Ray Pillar in this article. It needs correction and a notice to readers of the error.

Me to Editor Mel Rothenburger, March 22, 1:16 PM:
I submitted a question about your source for a particular story headlined: " Infighting, lack of platform crippled public interest in NDP, says political scientist"

Are you not prepared to answer questions about your source? That calls into question your headline. That would seem to contravene the Canadian Newspaper Association statement of principles, which include:
" to be accessible and accountable to the readers it serves."
If I hear nothing, I will deal with the BC Press Council instead.


From Rothenburger to me, March 22, 4:21 PM
What was your question?

From me to Rothenburger, March 22, 4:26 PM:
Above message forwarded.

From Rothenburger to me, March 23, 12:32 PM:
Could you clarify in what way we have misidentified Ray Pillar?

From me to Rothenburger, March 23, 12:39 PM:
The headline is drawn from comments by one Ray Pillar, who is identified as a Political Science Professor of Thompson Rivers University, perhaps known to some as Cariboo College. I looked for information about Professor Pillar but found almost none. There is no one by that name listed on the college's website, even on the faculty list for Philosophy, History and Politics.

The term "Thompson Rivers University professor" causes a reader to infer that Pillar is an active faculty member, with professor ordinarily defined as:
" a teacher of the highest academic rank in a college or university, who has been awarded the title Professor in a particular branch of learning;"

From Rothenburger to me, March 23, 12:54 PM:
Good afternoon, Mr. Farrell. I've just had a phone conversation with Ray Pillar and you may wish to contact him with your questions, since you claim you haven't been able to locate him. His email address is as above, or you can call him at TRU through the switchboard . . .  It would probably be appropriate for you to post an apology on your blog.

Me to Rothenburger, March 23, 12:56 PM: 
Are you in fact saying that Pillar is a Thompson Rivers University professor?
As opposed, say, to a part-time instructor?

Rothenburger to me, March 23, 1:30 PM:
Well I suppose you could track this down by checking with the union on whether Prof. Pillar is a designated professor under the contract, as opposed to a designation by this newspaper and the general public based on the fact he has instructed political science classes for years (one definition of professor being an expert who teaches in his area of expertise, commonly applied to those in universities), has been a resource person for local media on political matters for several years as well, and while he has officially retired currently instructs a number of political science courses due to an illness within the political science faculty at TRU. When he returns to full retirement at the end of this semester, we will likely continue to rely on his expertise and insights into matters political, and will refer to him as a retired university professor.
Me to Rothenburger, March 23 1:36 PM:
Thank you. I think you know that Mr. Pillar, no matter how valuable a resource you find him, is not a professor of TRU in the usual meaning of the term and that identifying him as such misleads and was done to lend meaning to his disputable opinion. I think that is a failure of journalistic ethics by your newspaper.

I don't know for what you think I should apologize to Mr. Pillar since my words have been precise, accurate and not defamatory.
By the way, in checking, we determined that Mr. Pillar himself did not exaggerate his qualifications. While retired from his job of a TRU administrator, he is teaching two sections for an instructor who is on medical leave. I do not imply here that Pillar has been anything but honorable nor does he represent himself inappropriately. The ethical failing here is with the newspaper, particularly editor Mel Rothenburger.
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7 comments:

  1. Way to go Norm!

    You doggedly pursued the editor right to his door, and revealed him to be the grand obfuscator that he is.

    By your classy actions, you have shown how we can cast aside the shackles of our quiet and deadly subservience.

    Yours is leadership by example.

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  2. A google search showed Kamloops Daily News referring to Ray Pillar as a "TRU political science instructor."(April 5, 2006) I guess the News gave him a post-retirement promotion for this story.

    In 2002, Mr. Pillar was Manager of Admissions and Records for University College of the Cariboo (TRU predecessor).

    In the 2003-04 TRU Calendar, Pillar is still listed as Manager of Admissions and Records in the Office of the Registrar. In another TRU document dated 2009, Pillar is listed as Registrar's Office/Admissions. In 2009, he is noted as a presenter for the Kamloops Adult Learners Society.

    Perhaps "political science professor" is a bit of a stretch but that is a criticism of the Kamloops Daily News presentation, not of Mr. Pillar, who has given long service to academics in BC.

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  3. Another example, where the media is caught out being not so honest in their reporting.

    The "Eye" had a similar episode with the Vancouver Sun over a two decades ago, where the so called expert (as stated in the Sun in a news story), was not an expert at all.

    I called for a clarification of the so called expert and a retraction of his comments. Of course the sun would have none of it and threatened me with legal action for defaming the non expert.

    Not to be out done, I sent the Editor and Publisher a file, including letters from two 'real' experts (both with engineering degrees and one with an added Masters degree in Planning) denouncing their so called expert and his assertions.

    No apology, nothing was heard from the Sun since.

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  4. Yes Norm, classy actions says it all...good documentation and sticking to the facts cannot be disuputed. Any rebuttal that starts with the phrase "well, I suppose..." shows great weakness in ones position on an issue.

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  5. Let us hope the Internet and independent blogs can at least continue to point out their faults and lack of accountability.

    Most people are probably aware that the professional media is trying to dominate the blog world. They promote their own product and ignore or denigrate the independents. The best of example of that has been the way CKNW's Bill and his Friday friends routinely frequently make false claims by generalizing about blogs.

    Good blogs can only grow through word of mouth from their readers and that is actually a pretty good way of identifying the ones worth reading.

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  6. Way to go Norm. And I didn't expect anything less from Mr. Rothenburger's. After all he is an ex politician.

    Guy in Victoria

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  7. I love it when Good and the Friday chaps always claim that it is; "Almost impossible to sue a blogger............for libel."

    I find this laughable, when your name, or Grant G's, or Alex T's and scores more are right there, easy to find. Of course what they don't say is that the defense for libel is the truth.

    The "Eye" has been threatened with libel three times, I have received threatening letters from lawyers for retraction,yet no court case - why?

    Simple, I was able to back up my statements with facts; I was able to to prove that no libel had taken place. Indeed, it was those who threatened me with action, who were not able to produce facts.

    So when the Friday crew chortle away debasing the many blogs, the bloggists, and those who respond, I hope they take action and sue.

    They won't, because they can't - which makes them sound like jealous schoolboys arguing in the playground.

    ReplyDelete

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