So here we are, one year into what may become the longest newspaper strike in Canadian history. The real reporters, editors, and photographers walking the picket line — those that haven’t accepted jobs elsewhere — may be demoralized, but it hasn’t translated into their content. You can still find excellent journalism at the Local XPress. Because that’s what real journalists do: They continue to report, even when their usual platform is ripped out from under them.
Whether you’re a regular reader or not, having a newspaper that can present stories accurately and can dig into what people with power would rather you not know, influences your life as a citizen. If that’s replaced by scab writers who, for a significant part, are rewriting press releases, there’s a disconnect between the media and the public.
Still, as a journalist, I felt it was my duty to fact check Jesse’s question. Is the Chronicle Herald the shittiest newspaper in Canada? After much research, I can quantifiably confirm that the answer’s a solid “yes.”
As background, in a previous job I spent a significant part of my week scouring small-town newspapers from across the country. I became familiar with the bylines and beats of papers like the Lloydminster Meridian Booster, the Digby Courier, and the Gander Beacon. These papers were often three- or four-person operations: a reporter (who was required to provide their own computer, camera, and car), a publisher, and an ad salesperson. If they were lucky they might have a receptionist.
These papers had their share of mistakes. How could they not, when they often only had one reporter to cover an entire community, from crime to courts, to council, to community events? Still, I was always impressed with the overall quality, and how well they appeared to inform and reflect the communities they served.
To research Jesse’s question, I decided to pore over a week’s worth of the current iteration of the Chronicle Herald. I hadn’t looked at an issue since the day the strike started but, really, how bad could it possibly be? Surely there was no way the paper of record for an entire province could possibly be worse than a weekly tabloid out of small town Saskatchewan, right?
What I found was a paper rife with typos, spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and basic ‘Journalism 101’ fuck-ups.
A few caveats:
- A sizable proportion of stories that appeared in the Chronicle Herald for the week of January 2-7, 2017 were wire stories, which means they were basically copied-and-pasted, and weren’t written by Chronicle Herald staff. There was no point in digging into these;
- I used my copies of the Canadian Press and Associated Press Style Guides as reference material, where required;
- I purchased, to my great shame, print copies of those six editions of the Chronicle Herald. The total cost was $13.80. I was seriously conflicted about this, as I have several friends and colleagues still on the picket line and didn’t want to give the management a dime. To compensate, I vow to donate double the amount I spent on the papers to the Halifax Typographical Union;
Finally, it’s interesting to note that not a single error pointed out in the following article was actually corrected in the Chronicle Herald’s print editions.
Here we go.
Monday January 2, 2017
A couple of issues here. First, Thaddeus was not the first “Bluenose baby.” As the Local Xpress correctly reported, the first baby born in Nova Scotia in 2017 was born at 12:01am in Kentville.
The remaining issues here are aesthetic. A solid editor would never have allowed a reporter to refer to a newborn child as a “young gentleman,” nor a woman’s fourth pregnancy as evidence it was not “her first time at the rodeo.”
Finally, it’s not actually notable that Thaddeus’s older sibling was born on – gasp – September 11, 2015. Is that a date that’s supposed to live in infamy? Will this child grow up scarred for being born a mere 14 years after terrorists leveled the World Trade Center?
Yup. That’s not a sentence. A Grade 10 English teacher would’ve given you an F.
My 11-year-old knows better than this.
Read it. Read it a second time. Is it a sentence? No, it is not.
A standard in journalism is that when you first introduce someone in a story you refer to them by their first and last name and, if applicable, their title (Senator, MLA, Vice-President Operations, etc.). Subsequently through the story you only refer to them by their surname, though in some human interest pieces it’s acceptable to just use their first name. So why is Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Drake Batherson referred to by his full name not once, not twice, but three times? Maybe the Chronicle Herald hoped to capitalize on web searches for a certain well-known Toronto rapper? Fortunately they also mention Batherson’s (see what I did there?) paternal lineage twice so readers can be sure the music megastar isn’t moonlighting as a scrappy Sydney hockey player.
Well, that’s just fucking sloppy.
Ferguson’s what remained in the Montreal farm system? His hockey sticks? Infant daughter? Particular strain of gonorrhea?
…the spirit of the place.
I challenge you to read the highlighted graf twice without jamming your red pencil into your eye sockets.
The Dalhousie Tigers’ point guard’s name is spelled “Jarred.”
And … ? Did they find it? Maybe people would be interested in that niggling little detail.
While the town of Sydney Mines mourns the death of a young man, maybe the province’s “paper of record” could spell his name correctly? It’s “Kobe,” not “Kolbe.”
Best guess is the Chronicle Herald’s computers autocorrected this to the name of Nova Scotia’s second-largest city. But, seriously? Perhaps the editor had never heard of this obscure iced hockey aficionado who toils away in a decaying American rust belt city? Makes sense to me.
A lovely tribute to an immigrant entrepreneur who made Nova Scotia home and built a thriving independent business. Too bad you misspelled his name.
Also, where I come from turkeys and ham are meat. They don’t need to be listed as separate items.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “pedlar” is a somewhat archaic British spelling of “peddler.” The definition describes a peddler as “… an itinerant trader or dealer in small goods … who goes from door to door.” The editorial doesn’t specifically say Mr. Kelbratowski started as a vagabond hawking cuts of meat out of a sack, but if he didn’t, that’s kind of insulting, isn’t it?
Wait, what locked-down school? You didn’t mention a school, just three young men getting off a bus.
Okay, first of all, it’s “recent,” not “resent,” unless you think Disney actually resents the half-billion dollars they earned in the first two weeks the film was in theatres. Also, do you really think the new Star Wars will be a big test for Disney? I dispute this because — now hear me out here — it’s fucking Star Wars.
Is it the Shoveller Tournament or the Shoveller’s Tournament? (Answer: it’s the former. That took me 3.5 seconds on Google to ascertain.)
Fact-checking is your friend, Mr. Scab Journalist. A quick Google search shows that neither Saskatchewan nor Manitoba signed the agreement. Also, it’s the Pan-Canadian Framework, not the Pan-Canada.
I don’t even know where to begin with this feature. First of all, what is an “impoverished coastline?” What’s it lacking? Sand? Water? And “tattered children“? My first image is of frolicking kids with their skin peeling off and hanging down in ragged strips. Call it Hiroshima on the Aegean (too much?)
The Chronicle Herald dedicated an entire page of their first 2017 edition to what’s essentially a listicle. I have no idea how they compiled this list. Was there an online poll? Did these stories have the most clicks? The largest number of reader comments? No idea. Interestingly, none of these stories dealt with legitimate newsworthy events like October’s municipal election, the teachers’ labour unrest, or the crippling strike that’s fucked Nova Scotia’s “paper of record.”
And what does the phrase “best-read stories” mean? Did readers approach these stories with enhanced clarity? Did they glean a level of comprehension unparalleled with the paper’s usual rantings about elementary school Muslim bullies? We may never know.
Figure out the correct spelling, morons.
Thus far we’ve mostly seen misspellings and incomplete sentences. All hallmarks of a newspaper operating without the necessary infrastructure required. And sure, maybe the few remaining editors were still hungover from New Year’s Eve, but it’s still pretty damning.
This article, however, breaches one of the most basic tenets of journalism: you don’t write a story based on a single source.
This article posits that the federal government’s commitment to providing high-speed Internet to all Canadians could cost billions of dollars. That’s a pretty reasonable conclusion. But, despite the statement in the lede that some Internet providers believe this, the reporter only interviews one spokesperson from one company. Not only did Mr. Dinshaw not speak to other companies, he also neglected to call, say, the CRTC, Industry Canada, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, or any number of academics or other experts.
As I said, it’s not far-fetched that this plan would be extremely expensive to implement, but you need additional sources to back up your claim.
Tuesday January 3, 2017
Through the duration of the strike, the Chronicle Herald has had enormous difficulty tracking down people willing to be interviewed by scab reporters. A number of arts organizations, for example, have flat out refused to grant interviews to the paper, preferring instead to speak with picket line reporters Elissa Barnard, Stephen Cooke, and Andrea Nemetz over at LocalXPress.
So what do you do when you’re an enterprising reporter and can’t get somebody on the line to talk? You can lift their thoughts from their Facebook page or Twitter account. Or you “borrow” quotes from another media source. The latter, anyways, is done all the time in reporting, but like any reporting, you’ve always got to identify the source. So if the CBC is reporting that Premier Stephen McNeil said he eats babies, and you can’t get the Premier’s office to confirm that, you write that “The CBC reports that Premier Stephen McNeil admitted to eating babies.” You cannot, however, simply repeat the statement without attribution.
Yet the Chronicle Herald has done this on more than occasion, even lifting from the Halifax Examiner. So I’ve been making a number of calls to people quoted in Chronicle Herald pieces just to see if they were, in fact, directly contacted by the paper.
The article above, written by scab reporter Heather Desveaux, was one of the first pieces I dug into. I called the two Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff quoted in the article. Interestingly, according to the communication logs in the media division of the DFO, there was no logged contact between the DFO and Desveaux between October 6, 2016, and January 2, 2017, the day before this article was published. I also spoke to Doug Wentzell, quoted in the article, and he couldn’t recall whether or not he spoke with Desveaux for the story.
Now that’s not to say that Desveaux didn’t speak to the DFO staff. Maybe the log is inaccurate. Maybe she spoke to the staff members at some location outside the office. But we don’t know, and the Chronicle Herald’s habit of lifting quotes from other sources without attribution calls all of their journalism into question.
For the record, I contacted Deveaux to ask her about the story. She responded:
Desveaux did respond to me later in the day:
So she says did, but it still seems odd that the DFO has no record of it.
What is the Coady International Institute? What do they do? Are they affiliated with a post-secondary institution? If so, where? From where did Hany Ghaly make the trek? It says he’s currently based in Egypt, but is that where he came from? Remember those five Ws? It seems like four of them were missed here.
Crusty crustaceans? Really? I know that’s alliterative, but not appetizing.
The Chronicle Herald has been playing around with advertorial (or “custom content” as it prefers to call it) and the paper hasn’t exactly been diligent about labeling this content as such. So this 400-word article about a company that makes paper rolls for cash registers raised a red flag. Let’s face it, paper rolls don’t really make for engaging journalism. There’s nothing in the article or above it that marks it as advertorial, so I decided to give the company a call. I spoke with co-owner Denise Lees about the article and asked her if they’d paid for it. She said they hadn’t but mentioned that they’d been advertising in the Chronicle Herald for the month leading up to the article’s publication.
Okay, that’s interesting. I then asked her if the Chronicle Herald’s sales representative had promised her a story in exchange for her buying an ad package. No, she said, there were no promises, but he suggested they might write a feature.
Wait a minute. This means the Chronicle Herald’s advertising department is influencing the newsroom, going against one of the hallmarks of modern journalism: the separation of sales and editorial departments. Many newspapers even go so far as to keep the two departments on separate floors of their buildings to preserve the split. But at the Chronicle Herald this isn’t the case. If advertisers can influence what’s written about in the paper it calls the fairness and balance of all their coverage into question.
Wednesday January 4, 2017
This sentence is an ugly, ugly mess. Did the summer camp host 530 in 2016? Or have they hosted 530 children since 2011?
This sentence makes it sound as though Brigadoon Village is staffed by epileptic doctors and nurses. I mean, I suppose that may be the case, but I have a feeling it’s not.
Desveaux again. Analysis is singular, analyses is plural. The latter is correct in this case.
Plural bags but singular sneaker? How big is this damned sneaker that it requires multiple bags to ship it to Africa?
This is not a sentence.
Thursday January 5, 2017
Thank you for explaining what the campaign is all about, as the name of it was awfully unclear.
Celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial here in Halifax. We have Tall Ships, the anniversary of the Explosion, and Swedish meatballs!
This story, about a Barrington Street pot dispensary that’s selling to the public whether or not they have prescriptions for medical marijuana, focuses on the store’s shutdown by Halifax police. The owner, Shirley Martineau, hasn’t returned reporter Jordan Parker’s phone calls, yet he knows she’s vowed to reopen. How does he know this? Maybe Auntie’s Dispensary posted this on social media? Maybe he spoke to some of the volunteers at the shop? Maybe Jodie Emery told him? The point is that he doesn’t identify where he got this information. You can’t do that, Jordan.
An interesting profile piece about a young entrepreneur who’s teaching financial management to her fellow millennials. They give the name of the podcast, Mo’ Money, but they don’t give the URL for her website. Which is strange, because they did for the paper roll company story back on Tuesday. Maybe this young businessperson didn’t offer to buy an ad package with the paper?
I’m not sure which annoys me most: the annoying pseudonyms or the fact that one of the columnists can’t correctly spell the name of his (her?) own column.
No, it’s “marquee.” See?
This is a backgrounder story about resources for veterans with PTSD that was published a couple of days after the tragic murder-suicide in Upper Big Tracadie. Again, we have a statement provided as fact without the attribution to back it up. Is the need there? Presumably, but is that because the founder made that claim? Or did the reporter check with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs? This could’ve been solved by simply writing ‘Bungay said’ at the end of the sentence.
I’m sure that winning helps winning far more than losing helps winning. Seriously, though, go back and check your tape. Direct quotes need to be verbatim and unless the coach was having a stroke at the time of interview, I don’t think that’s what he said.
Friday January 6, 2017
I’m sure the home is where you last left it.
His name is Mike Poole, though the image of a mime playing basketball is pretty frickin’ funny.
This is from the story about the firebombing of a west end Halifax home. Except for the two highlighted sentences, the entire article is focused on the plight of the family affected. I don’t understand why they were included, frankly. Police cars near the home is different from police cars in front of the home. Maybe the police were there for purely inocuous reasons, maybe they were at a neighbour’s house, or maybe the Rasleys were running a meth lab in the basement. Did Jordan Parker ask the family? Did he ask the police if there had been incidents at the Rasley household? No idea, and he didn’t think to clue the readers in either.
Math is hard. If teachers are showing up at 8:40am and leaving at 3:20pm., then they’re at school for a total of six hours and forty minutes. That’s not a five-hour work day. Maybe there’s an hour lunch? Then the reporter should say so, but one of the teachers’ complaints is that they’re working through lunch.
Jesse Brown was right. This is the shittiest newspaper in Canada. If the Chronicle Herald continues down the path of shoddy journalism and a lack of editorial standards, people will simply give up reading the paper altogether or, worse, come to believe that this level of quality is the best they can expect from their province’s “paper of record.”
I’m going to be a Torontonian next week and will have my pick of five dailies, not to mention print editions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal six days a week. But I’ll miss Halifax and will consider buying an online subscription to the Chronicle Herald to keep up with the news from home, but only if the talented reporters, editors and photographers are comfortably back at their jobs.