1. Paying for journalism
“The federal government is giving a tax break to digital news subscribers, a refundable tax credit to news outlets and will allow non-profit media organizations to give charitable receipts to donors, all to help journalism in Canada,” reports the Toronto Star:
The measures were outlined in Wednesday’s economic update and will cost a total of $595 million over five years.
“We’ve made some investments to ensure that we continue that we have an important free press to ensure that we have a strong and healthy democracy,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters.
Under Wednesday’s measures, the government will introduce:
• A temporary, non-refundable 15 per cent tax credit for qualifying subscribers of eligible digital news media, meant to help support digital news organizations in achieving a “more financially sustainable business model.”
• A new category of “qualified donee” for non-profit journalism organizations. This will allow these organizations to issue receipts for donations from both individuals and corporations. And it will open the door for foundations to provide financial support. This measure builds on a pledge in the 2018 budget to explore new models to enable private giving and philanthropic support for journalism.
• A refundable tax credit for qualifying news organizations that “produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians.” The tax credit will apply to the labour costs associated with producing original content and will be open to both non-profit and for-profit news organizations. The measure will allow outlets to claim a portion of their labour costs. An independent panel drawn from the news industry will be established to define eligibility of the measure, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.
Details haven’t been released, but there’s little doubt that the “independent panel” will be composed of Ed Greenspon and Big Media execs from News Media Canada, the lobbying group that represents the largest players in the industry.
Will the panel dole out some of that subsidy money to Joey Coleman, the indefatigable reporter and publisher of the Public Record, which provides exclusive in-depth coverage of Hamilton City Hall? What about Maureen Googoo’s Kukukwes.com, or the Cape Breton Spectator, or for that matter, the Halifax Examiner? Not a chance.
First of all, none of us produce “a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians”; I joked last night that in order to get that “wide variety,” the Examiner is going to have to hire El Jones to write our own “Ask Ellie” column, and our sports coverage will include detailed reports from the Locas billiards tables and Henry House dartboards. But the entire point of our independent start-up news sites is to break the old “all things for all people” model of the legacy media; we don’t have sports departments or crossword puzzles or advice columnists — we provide news on local issues, period. The “wide variety” language is specifically written to exclude us.
Moreover, none of us have much in labour costs to which a tax credit would apply — the Examiner has one employee; otherwise, all the independent start-ups I can think of use freelancers or volunteer labour.
In short: the government subsidy for the news industry is a government handout to the Globe & Mail, Torstar, Postmedia, the Irvings’ Brunswick News, Sarah Dennis and Mark Lever’s Saltwire, and possibly some Quebec papers. No one else need apply, because the deck is stacked.
And really, $595 million over five years — $119 million a year — isn’t squat for the corporate newspapers. They’re lumbering old dinosaurs, enfeebled by giant corporate structures, indebted to American bond holders, leashed to expensive printing presses, incapable of moving quickly in today’s online world. Torstar blew $40 million in its ill-advised pursuit of a tablet publishing effort, but sure, give it another $10 million a year in taxpayer money so it can, I dunno, create a snazzy iphone app?
No, the Trudeau government’s subsidy won’t save the legacy newspapers, which will soon die no matter how much money is dumped into them. But in the meanwhile, the subsidy money will buy some good press for the government; I fully expect to soon see a Saltwire editorial praising the subsidy as an “innovative solution” that will “save democracy,” or some such nonsense.
Anyone who wants to seriously argue that government subsidies do not make corporations politically indebted to the government is simply delusional. No matter that it’s framed as “hands-off” or will be administered by an “independent panel,” corporate execs are quite aware of where the subsidy money comes from and will be wary of biting the hand that feeds them.
“I tip my hat to the prime minister and the finance minister,” said Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey after last night’s announcement, proving my point. “Everyone in journalism should be doing a victory lap around their building right now.”
He has a building, of course. I guess I can trot around the table at the coffeeshop, I say as I’m trying to figure out how to pay a single freelancer for an extensive investigation in the works.
My point here isn’t jealousy. I’m not complaining simply because the Chronicle Herald will get a giant tax subsidy and the Halifax Examiner won’t. I know well-meaning readers will urge me to try to get some of the subsidy money, but I wouldn’t reach for the money even if I thought I could get it — the arrangement is just too fraught with potential conflicts of interest.
My promise to readers is that the Halifax Examiner is independent, and we will not be swayed by commercial or tax interests. No advertiser is going to determine what we cover or how we cover it, because we don’t have advertisers. No government is going to pull on our subconscious to get us to self-censor our editorial line, because we won’t be dependent on government.
Rather, the Examiner is dependent upon small-dollar subscriptions from a diverse and diffuse readership pool. We lose subscribers all the time — I get nasty emails from people cancelling their subscriptions because of something I or El Jones wrote, or because we refuse to promote this or that interest of the subscriber — but no one subscriber is going to influence our coverage because, frankly, the dollar amount is so small. It’s your collective subscription revenue that has made this operation function, and it’s your subscriptions that will keep us in business.
So, please subscribe.
2. Suzanne Hood and Glen Assoun
Supreme Court Justice Suzanne Hood is retiring, according to a press release issued by the court:
Born in Windsor, N.S., in 1950, Justice Suzanne Hood received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Acadia University in 1971 and went on to graduate with a law degree from Dalhousie University in 1977. She was admitted to the Nova Scotia Bar the same year and was designated Queen’s Counsel on March 30, 1993.
At the beginning of her legal career, Justice Hood practiced municipal law with the Dartmouth firm Huestis Holm, formerly known as Drury Huestis. She became a partner there in 1981. In 1993, she went on to join the former City of Dartmouth as City Solicitor, where she remained until her appointment to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Dec. 19, 1995.
During her time as a lawyer, Justice Hood served on Bar Council and several committees, including the ethics and discipline committees for the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the Queen’s Counsel Appointments Committee. She also served on the Board for the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia, the Executive for the Canadian Bar Association – Nova Scotia Branch, and the Board for the Municipal Lawyers Association.
On the Bench, Justice Hood acted as the judge in simulated proceedings for the Criminal Trial Practice course at Dalhousie and was regularly involved in the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service’s professional development program on jury trial skills. She chaired the Rota (scheduling) Committee for the Supreme Court for almost 10 years, beginning in 2005. As a member of the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Committee, she led a project to develop a workbook to assist self-represented litigants with their civil matters. Justice Hood also worked with the National Judicial Institute on the Civil Law Seminar organizing committee and served as co-chair of the Judiciary’s Community Liaison Committee.
Before becoming a judge, Justice Hood spent much of her free time giving back to the community. She volunteered regularly with the Boys and Girls Club, she was a founding member of the the City of Lakes Kiwanis Club, and she served on the interim board of the QEII Health Sciences Centre.
Lawyers who have appeared before Hood tell me they respect her. I’ve watched a couple of trials she presided over, and found her professional and, well, judicious. Likewise, her published decisions were well-reasoned.
But for me, she will always be the judge who oversaw the conviction of Glen Assoun for the 1995 murder of Brenda Way.
Assoun was released from prison four years ago by Justice James Chipman, who said that Assoun’s 1999 conviction was a probable miscarriage of justice; indeed, after reviewing still-secret “new evidence” presented to the court, Chipman declared that Assoun was likely “factually innocent” of the murder.
The Assoun trial was early in Hood’s career as a judge — it was one of her first, if not the first, murder trials — and Assoun was a difficult defendant, to put it mildly.
There were many factors that led to Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction, and Hood played a role in it. Here’s how I assessed it:
It’s my opinion that this likely miscarriage of justice started with a police investigation that was focused on simply getting a conviction, as opposed to getting the right person convicted. Glen was an unsympathetic defendant, and if the evidence was pushed and pulled this way and that, and if other evidence was ignored, then police could put a case together.
The “pushing” of evidence included taking seriously Jane Downey’s conversation with a psychic and subsequent discovery of a knife without a tip at the murder scene, and the far-fetched corroborating claim by Tina Cameron that she had overheard Glen admitting to the murder, with the added benefit of saying that the knife was missing its tip. An objective view of these claims would raise at the very least skepticism, but police investigator Dave MacDonald appears to have accepted them without question. Additionally, an investigator who hadn’t already made up his mind about the case might have looked at the nexus of [witnesses] David Carvery, Wayne Wise, Tina Cameron, and Jane Downey and suspected collusion. But not Dave MacDonald.
The “pulling” of the evidence included Robin’s muddled and incoherent ramblings. The street cops who first heard those ramblings rejected them as nonsense, but Dave MacDonald accepted them and Constable Derek Williams, the KGB interviewer, pulled her story along (by leading the witness) to get it to fit into a preconceived narrative of the crime.
Most importantly, Stephen Angle’s evidence that he saw Brenda alive more than an hour after Glen supposedly killed her was simply ignored. It was inconvenient and didn’t fit the accepted narrative.
I also think the crown knew, or at least should have known, that the case against Glen sat on the shakiest of evidence, and the case should have never been brought to trial. I can’t get in prosecutors Ron Fetterly’s and Dan MacRury’s heads, so I don’t know their motives; the simplest and perhaps most charitable read is they simply took police investigator Dave MacDonald’s case at face value.
As for Justice Suzanne Hood, my sense is that for whatever reason, she refused to call a mistrial out of a sense of decorum and an unbendable desire to keep order in her courtroom. Decorum and order in court are important — but should they trump justice?
On its website, AIDWYC [the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, now called Innocence Canada] has a page listing the causes of wrongful convictions. I would argue that many of the listed causes apply in Glen’s case:
• Eyewitness identification error (Roberta)
• Jailhouse informant testimony (David Carvery and Wayne Wise)
• Tunnel vision — focusing on one suspect to the exclusion of all others
• Systematic discrimination (AIDWYC points at racism and sexism, but I believe in Glen’s case the discrimination was class-based.)
• Professional misconduct — how lawyers and police contribute to causing a wrongful conviction.
“I believe this will someday be a case study in how justice can be derailed,” AIDWYC lawyer Phil Campbell said when Glen was released.
The issue of Hood’s future retirement actually came up in Assoun’s 1999 trial. At one point in the proceedings, Assoun (who was representing himself) was trying to get a witness to admit he was lying on the stand. I noted this exchange between Hood and Assoun:
“At the end of the day,” said Hood, “you get to say to the jury, ‘She said this, she said that, she said this, she said that’… and leave the jury the thought that the person wasn’t a very reliable person. That’s the objective of cross-examination. Not to get the witness to break down and say, ‘I’m lying!’ I mean, it just never — maybe before I retire it will happen, but I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Well,” said Glen, “I hope to get to the bottom of this, Your Honour, before you retire, with all due respect. And to the truth.”
“Oh,” said Hood. “I hope this trial will end before I retire.”
“Yeah,” agreed Glen.
Glen sat in prison for 16 years for a crime he didn’t commit, but he indeed did get “to the bottom of this” before Hood’s retirement, hence Chipman’s extraordinary court-ordered parole from prison before Assoun was technically eligible. But Assoun still sits in a legal limbo, as the federal Justice Department can’t seem to take any action on his case. As I wrote last month:
What was supposed to happen after Assoun was paroled was that the Justice Department was to review the case and take some sort of action: either say the “new and significant information” isn’t as strong as was argued and send Assoun back to prison, or order a new trial, or declare Assoun innocent. But it’s been three years and seven months, and the Justice Department has done none of the above…
This is no small deal. Assoun made it through 16 years of prison and kept his sanity, but while on parole has suffered a mental breakdown. It’s an indicator of his character that when he realized his condition, he didn’t lash out, he didn’t commit any crime, he didn’t run, he didn’t drown himself in drugs or alcohol, but rather, he checked himself into a mental hospital. He is now being treated, and is under the care of a family member. By all reports even now he has abided by every condition placed on him, and yet the legal limbo and the strict conditions continue.
The justice system is destroying an innocent man…
One injustice done 19 years ago (Assoun was convicted in 1999) has ripples that run all through Halifax policing, the crown prosecution office, and the courts, right to the present.
I intend to see this story through to the end.
3. Deep-dive local journalism
I try to plug Mary Campbell’s Cape Breton Spectator as often as I can, not just or even primarily because we share some subscription revenue, but rather because I find her in-depth coverage of local issues indispensable. I learn something, and usually something quite important, from her every week.
But it’s been difficult to link to her work the last couple of weeks because it’s so amazingly in-depth and detailed that there’s no easy take-away or short encapsulation I can pull.
So let me just say that her two-part series on council remuneration is a veritable textbook on the issue.
Everyone should subscribe.
Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
4. Fire news
As I’ve written, the Camp Fire in California strikes near and dear to my heart. Many people I know have lost their houses, although thankfully so far I’ve received no word that anyone in my circle has died.
It’s weird to think about, but had I never left Chico, I would have been spending the last 10 days reporting on the fire non-stop. I think I would have been of some use. But of course I’m now a continent and a country away, and have a new life and new job, so I can only add a few insights here and there.
Yesterday, however, Oakland-based freelance writer Rebecca Bodenheimer gave voice to something I’ve been thinking about:
California is still burning. Millions of residents across northern California have experienced dangerously unhealthy air quality for 12 days straight, and Bay Area schools were closed last Friday because we were “in the purple” or the very unhealthy air quality range.
As I sit here writing in Oakland, our air quality index is at 165, which is in the “unhealthy” range where all populations (not only sensitive ones) may experience adverse side effects. Rain is forecast for late tonight and tomorrow, and it can’t come soon enough.
Meanwhile, in Butte County, the Camp Fire has now claimed at least 81 lives with 699 people still missing [the number of dead increased to 83 overnight]; we are almost certain to see deaths in the hundreds.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed in the past two weeks, I’ve been disheartened by the lack of attention to the Camp Fire by most of the people I follow. I’ve also noticed that many national media outlets haven’t provided adequate coverage of this major catastrophe.
The New York Times has included photos of the devastation on its front page most of last week, but what about people who get their news either from the TV or their social media feeds? When I turn on CNN I see little in-depth coverage beyond a daily update of the numbers of dead and missing. After five minutes, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon return to the neverending analysis and debate about Trump’s latest scandal.
I still feel there is an East Coast bias that pervades national media outlets that prevents them from adequately covering the Camp Fire. When a hurricane threatens the southeast or Atlantic Coast, or there’s a major snowstorm, I see 24-hour news coverage on CNN.
I don’t see the same depth of coverage on California wildfires.
Last week when I noticed that Dan Rather was sounding the alarm about the Camp Fire and the lack of media attention, I became convinced that my instincts were right. He took notice early, Nov. 9, and continued posting about the Camp Fire, but his Nov. 15 tweet was dead on: “The full extent of this natural disaster hasn’t penetrated the Northeast News Bubble enough.” Later that day, he wrote: “Please America take notice of California wildfires. Dozens confirmed dead. Hundreds missing. Thousands homeless. Millions choking on toxic air. Closed schools. People wearing masks. No immediate end in sight. Oh, and please do not neglect #climatechange in your coverage.”
The destruction of Paradise is an enormous news story. We in the media need to keep our eye on it, and continue to give updates.
No public meetings today or Friday.
A Large Eddy Simulation Study of the Formation of Deep Chlorophyll Maxima: The Roles of Turbulent Mixing and Grazing (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Joseph Siddons from the University of Liverpool will speak. His abstract:
Deep chlorophyll maxima (DCM) are typically attributed to a balance of two opposing gradients that contribute to phytoplankton growth, namely nutrient resources and light availability. Recent observed measurements of fluorescence values and turbulent energy dissipation rates recorded in weakly stratified ocean boundary layers have highlighted a significant correlation between the formation of DCM and turbulent mixing. In particular, the depth of many DCM are observed to form below, but within approximately one standard deviation of, the depth at which the energy dissipation rate reaches its maximum. This correlation is surprising, as turbulent mixing is generally considered to be a destructive force in regards to the formation of DCM.
In order to investigate this phenomenon, I will introduce a three-dimensional large eddy simulation (LES) of the ocean boundary layer which has been coupled with a generic nutrient-phytoplankton-zooplankton (NPZ) type biological model. I will present simulation results, based upon various sets of biological and physical parameters, that demonstrate DCM formation occurs under similar conditions to those seen in the experimental observations. The simulations support the hypothesis that DCM are generated by a combination of high grazing pressure restricting phytoplankton growth near the surface, and a decline in the strength the vertical mixing processes advecting nutrient through the boundary layer. This results in a zone of low grazing pressure and high nutrient aggregation, suitable conditions for DCM formation.
Ethics in Action Gala (Thursday, 6pm, Pier 21) — if you haven’t bought your ticket yet, you’re not going. It’s all about Roméo Dallaire.
Social Determinants of Health Among Indigenous Peoples (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, Marion McCain Building) — Debbie Martin will speak.
Partners in Swing and Dal Jazz (Thursday, 7:30pm, St. Andrew’s Church, 6036 Coburg Road) — the Dal Jazz Ensemble and the Halifax All-City Senior Jazz Ensemble, directed by Ryan Froude and Chris Mitchell. Tix are 15 bucks, from the Dal Arts Centre Box Office.
Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Friday, 9:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Ehsan Sherkat will defend his thesis, “Interactive Text Analytics for Document Clustering.”
Of Bricks and Blood: Institutional Conscience Objections to MAID and Abortion (Friday, 12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Daphne Gilbert from the University of Ottawa will speak.
Coherent Nonlinear Optical Raman Microscopy: Label‑free, Chemical‑specific Imaging for Biology, Mineralogy and Material Science (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Albert Stolow from the University of Ottawa will speak.
Reasoning on data and algorithmic bias: explaining the network effect in opinion dynamics and the training data bias in machine learning (Friday, 2:30pm, in the auditorium named after a bank, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Fosca Gianotti from the University of Pisa will speak. Her abstract:
Data science is creating novel means to study the complexity of our societies and to measure, understand and predict social phenomena. My seminar gives an overview of recent research at the Knowledge Discovery (KDD) Lab in Pisa within the SoBigData.eu research infrastructure, targeted at explaining the effects of data and algorithmic bias in different domains, using both data-driven and model-driven arguments. First, I introduce a model showing how algorithmic bias instilled in an opinion diffusion process artificially yields increased polarisation, fragmentation and instability in a population. Second, I focus on the urgent open challenge of how to construct meaningful explanations of opaque AI/ML black-box decision systems, introducing the local-to-global framework for the explanation of ML classifiers. The two cases show how the combination of data-driven and model-driven interdisciplinary research has a huge potential to shed new light on complex phenomena like discrimination and polarisation, as well as to explain how decision making black-boxes, both human and artificial, actually work. I conclude with an account of the open data science paradigm pursued in SoBigData.eu Research Infrastructure and its importance for interdisciplinary data driven science that impacts societal challenges.
Liturgy, Music, and Hildegard of Bingen’s Chant Repertory (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Jennifer Bain will speak.
Tragedies of the English Renaissance: An Introduction (Thursday, 1pm, LI 135) — Goran Stanivukovic and Jackie Cameron will talk about their book. Info here.
Mount Saint Vincent
Presentation by NS First Nation Health Directors (Thursday, 11am, Seton Auditoriums B and C) — speakers include Carla Moore, Millbrook First Nation; Sharon Rudderham, Eskasoni First Nation; and Philipa Pictou, Pictou Landing First Nation.
In the harbour
06:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
06:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
07:00: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Argentia, Newfoundland
10:30: Selfoss sails for sea
16:30: RHL Agilitas sails for Kingston, Jamaica
Don’t forget our subscription party Sunday. Here’s our Facebook event for the, er, event:
Come celebrate with us! Investigative journalist Linden MacIntyre joins us as guest speaker. He’ll be announced by former CBC radio host/ spice merchant Costas Halavrezos. Music by Museum Pieces. We’ll have Halifax Examiner swag, cake, and a surprise or two.
That’s Sunday, November 25, 4-7pm at Bearly’s. Free entry for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.
I communicated with Linden MacIntyre last night, and plans are proceeding as, um, planned. I’m trying to convince Mary Campbell to come down as well.