Time pressure is a daily reality of journalism. A complaint is an illustration of the cost.
By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
Time pressure is a daily reality of journalism. A complaint from Nicole Babineau of Dexel, a firm with development proposals before the Halifax Regional Municipality, is an illustration of the cost. She complained about two errors in a story about her firm’s projects in a CBC Halifax TV news piece. Assuming has no place in reporting. Fact checking does. There was a violation of policy in the errors themselves, and a further problem with the corrections.
You are part of a development team working in the City of Halifax. One of your development proposals, Spring Garden West, was mentioned in a CBC Halifax evening newscast on December 7, 2016. You were concerned that there were two errors about your project. You contacted production staff at CBC Halifax to tell them that a graphic was incorrect, because it placed some proposed new towers in the wrong location, and erroneously reported that four heritage homes would be destroyed. You informed Ken MacIntosh, Executive Producer of News and Current Affairs, that the buildings would be restored should the project go through.
You were concerned that the reporter on the story, Pam Berman, did not do any fact-checking before she aired her report. You explained she was at an event where these projects were featured, and could have approached the owner of the company behind the proposal at any time. You added that correct information was also available online. You noted that fact-checking is a basic standard in journalism, and felt this report fell short.
Our team takes great pride in what we do, along with so many other developers in the city. It is upsetting that so little research was done for this report. I am not a journalist but I do think it violates the professionalism standard between the news and viewers can be repeatedly exposed to the wrong information and a simply, whoops is acceptable.
You acknowledged that the news team committed to correcting the errors on the following day’s broadcast, but in doing so, they actually made another mistake. Rather than saying the heritage homes would be restored if the project went ahead, it was reported that they had already been restored. That error was corrected a week later.
You expressed frustration with the professional standards of the newsgathering and reporting. You also said that there has been an erosion of public support for the project because of these errors.
We have been working extensively on this proposal for 18 months, we did a 6 month public engagement as well and with 1 report, our public credibility has been shot.
Nancy Waugh, the Managing Editor of News for CBC Atlantic, replied to your concerns. You also contacted and heard from the host of the programme, the executive producer and the reporter.
Ms. Waugh told you that she “regretted CBC News had failed to meet your expectations.” She explained the TV report of the open house, where citizens were able to review over a dozen development proposals, was an “overview of the meeting rather than an exploration of any individual development proposal.” Your project was not the focus, but one of three examples used to illustrate the boom the municipality is experiencing. She disagreed with your assertion that the reporter did not fact-check, pointing out that she actually spoke to a city planner, some citizens who were present, and one of the developers. She noted that the reporter apologized to you and took responsibility for her errors. The reporter, Ms. Berman, explained to you that in the case of the demolition of the homes she made an assumption, and was incorrect. The error in the placement of the proposed new buildings on the map was the result of a miscommunication between Ms. Berman and the graphic artist.
Ms. Waugh said that the news team let you down by compounding the error. In doing as CBC policy demands, issuing a correction the next night, another error was made. She stated said “This for me is where we let you down.”