Globe and Mail Public Editor: Knowing about local communities is important right of the public

Authorities instinctively put a positive spin on everything and avoid talking about painful problems, but the journalist’s instinct is to pick at that scab. Continue Reading Globe and Mail Public Editor: Knowing about local communities is important right of the public

By Sylvia Stead for the Globe and Mail

Last weekend, Globe and Mail senior media writer Simon Houpt wrote about how the Ontario city of Guelph is coping without its newspaper. While alternatives have sprung up, that community has lost a vital source of information.

Newsrooms are shrinking as advertising dollars fade, but it’s important to consider the heroic work being done in small newsrooms – work that might not be known if those papers don’t survive.

A few recent journalism-award winners make that case loud and clear. When the city of Penticton, B.C., announced a deal with the Penticton Indian Band that would give the band $160,000 a year – a tenth of the annual grant the city receives from the local casino – in exchange for “co-operation on joint initiatives,” reporter Joe Fries covered the announcement for the Penticton Herald, but right away he suspected there was much more to it.

“My editor and I knew in our guts there was much more to the story than the City of Penticton was letting on when it announced it would give 10 per cent of its casino grant to the Penticton Indian Band for seemingly little in exchange. As it turned out, we were right. Everything I reported, from the mayor getting a major campaign donation from the casino developer to the Penticton Indian Band holding the casino relocation hostage, is part of an important chapter in the city’s history, and the public has a right to know about it. It’s offensive to me when government bodies withhold information from the public simply because it doesn’t reflect well on them,” he told me in an e-mail.

Mr. Fries was a finalist in the National Newspaper Awards for local reporting this year. He had spent six months working through access-to-information requests, reading hundreds of pages of documents and calling key people, all while writing about 15 news stories a week.

Continue reading this story on the Globe and Mail website, where it was first published. 

Sylvia Stead is the Public Editor of the Globe and Mail.