1. Erica Butler
As the Examiner’s transportation columnist, Erica Butler gets into the nitty gritty of, yep, transportation: she attends the planning meetings, pesters the bureaucrats for more information, and interviews the experts and advocates. The resulting columns are incredibly detailed and thorough.
For some readers, this holds little interest. But for others, Butler’s work is essential, valued more than anything else the Examiner does. I’ve had quite a few readers tell me they’ve subscribed to the Halifax Examiner just to read Butler.
And I value her work, and almost always learn something when I read her columns. Here’s a few samples that show the depth of Butler’s coverage:
• “The lowly bus stop, and why we have so many of them” looked at the spacing of bus stops.
“If not corrected, city staff’s irresponsible side guard report will lead to more deaths” argued for a requirement for side rails on trucks in order to protect pedestrians and cyclists.
• “We need a simple and fair low-income transit pass solution,” and thanks in part to Butler’s effort, we got one.
• “Snow, sidewalks, and setting our sights a little higher.” Remember the winter of 2015? Uggh.
• “Accessing Africville,” on how bad transportation planning has left one of the city’s important cultural destinations unreachable by foot.
I’ve been particularly impressed with Butler’s ongoing coverage of a handful of issues: the Macdonald Bridge bike ramp, the Cogswell redesign, and the Gottingen Street bus lane, to name a few.
It’s beat reporting at its best, and we have far too little of that in today’s short-sheeted journalism world. If we had the resources, the Examiner would hire six more beat reporters for similar deep dives into other topics.
And that’s where readers come in. It costs real money to employ Butler and publish her work, and that money comes exclusively from subscription money. If you value this kind of beat reporting, please subscribe.
And if you buy an annual subscription this month, we’ll mail you a free T-shirt, so you can be as styling as my pal Lisa:
2. Southwest takes court action against picketers
I reported this story yesterday:
Southwest Properties is asking the court to intervene in what Southwest calls “illegal picketing and related activities” by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 721 at the South Park Street YMCA project.
More than 100 union members embarked on a legal strike last week. The union represents both crane operators and heavy equipment operators.
The Y site is being developed by Southwest Properties. Southwest filed paperwork with the court Monday afternoon, but as of this morning, the file was still not available for review by the Examiner. The title of the file, however, reads:
Southwest Properties Limited v International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 721, its business agent, president and members, and unnamed persons engaged in illegal picketing and related activities at the South Park Street Project.
I’ll attempt to update the story later today.
3. Plane crash
There’s not much new information about the cause of yesterday’s crash of Flight GG 4854 at the Halifax airport, except for this bit from CTV:
Aviation analyst and former safety board investigator Larry Vance says it appears the plane was landing with a strong tailwind — something he called an “immediate red flag.”
I happened to be at the airport yesterday afternoon so drove around to have a look at the crash. The plane came to a stop about 30 metres from Old Guysborough Road.
4. Sports journalism
Local media have been providing good coverage of the CFL/stadium issue: there’s been a healthy skepticism and lots of good reporting on the stadium issue in particular.
But sports journalism often plays by different rules than apply when reporters are writing about politics or crime and so forth. When it comes to the local sportsball team, objectivity gets chucked and reporting blurs into boosterism. Reporters tend to value access over impartiality. Critical perspectives are self-censored.
So I’m worried about how reporting on the prospective CFL franchise will evolve.
Yesterday, prospective team owners held a press conference to announce a non-contest for the team name and that people can put deposits down for season tickets. Is that news? I tend to look at it as promotion, full stop.
The team owners can do whatever they want in terms of promotion, but do news outlets have to follow? Isn’t that a job for the advertising department? Sobeys is having a sale on lean ground beef this week, just $2.99/pound; should that be the subject of a front-page news story, or do we kick that one over to the sales team?
Oh, I know: the lines between objective reporting and advertising were blurred long ago. Media outlets have become business promoters, running uncritical promotional columns about “entrepreneurship” and new retail outlets. The inbox of every reporter in town is filled with press releases from corporations promoting themselves, and it’s easy and cheap to regurgitate those press releases.
But the coverage of yesterday’s press conference seemed particularly over-the-top. Was live-streaming it really necessary? To me, that clearly crossed the line of objective reporting. Opinions will differ on this — I can see the counter-argument — but if that wasn’t crossing the line, where is the line? Have reporters and editors thought about it? Would they even know when they’ve crossed it?
5. Business journalism
Congratulations to reporter Quentin Casey and the folks at The Deep for their investigation of “omnivorous entrepreneur” James Drage.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Drage played all the usual characters:
He’s gone bankrupt, and has been successfully sued many times throughout his career by business partners, investors, banks, and even his own lawyers. His companies have secured, collectively, nearly $2 million — at least — from public funding bodies including Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) and the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), even as Drage himself faced litigation. Far from a business titan with a golden touch, Drage has failed over and over again.
We also learn that the “economic development” agencies are stocked with credulous fools:
I asked NSBI how Drage was able to attend [a NSBI-arranged trip to Miami], given his history. Spokesperson Emily Neil said only that Drage’s company successfully navigated a “criteria-based application process.” NSBI would not address Drage’s legal history and why it didn’t disqualify him from getting money for Orpheus in 2013.
The regional ACOA offices in Nova Scotia are located in downtown Halifax, steps from the province’s Supreme Court, where it’s possible to view documents detailing Drage’s lengthy legal history. Some of those past lawsuits have even been reported in the media. So how did Drage secure so much ACOA money for Orpheus?
“It wasn’t him who was getting money from ACOA. It was the company that was getting money from ACOA,” said ACOA spokesperson Alex Smith…
In a follow-up email, I pressed further: Drage’s legal history never factored into the assessment? “ACOA conducts its due diligence on the applicant leading a project based on the information available,” the agency responded. I asked if Drage could ever get ACOA money again. “It’s a hypothetical question,” Smith said. In fact, within ACOA, the money provided to Orpheus is still viewed as a big swing that could have been a wild success.
But what really got my attention was this bit about the promotion of one of Drage’s companies, Orpheus, which was supposedly producing a “Sons of Anarchy” video game based on the TV series:
Despite the game being clearly behind schedule, and the fact that RBC had investigated Drage, ACOA approved its third contribution to the project that September, again for $500,000. Finally, in January 2015, one month after Sons of Anarchy ended its final season, Orpheus released Sons of Anarchy: The Prospect. The release of a single episode months behind schedule was essentially a failure for the company, yet the game’s launch was celebrated in local media. A story on entrevestor.com, a business and start-up blog frequently re-published in the The Chronicle Herald, claimed that Orpheus “has quickly and quietly become a major addition to the gaming community in the region.”
I’ve written many times before about the foundational conflict of interest of the Entrevestor column:
Peter Moreira is paid by publicly funded economic development agencies to promote the businesses the agencies support financially. Moreira does this in part by writing his “Entrevestor” column, which is published in the Chronicle Herald.
I don’t know if Moreira is additionally paid by the Chronicle Herald, but even if he’s not, there’s a clear conflict of interest for Moreira. He’s not about to write critically (in both senses of the word) about a company in his newspaper column if he’s getting paid to promote the same company by the agencies. And he’s certainly not going to cast a discerning eye on those agencies by, say, providing an independent assessment of their success or lack thereof (or pointing out that there is no metric available to measure success), or by looking at the potential for corruption.
Moreira’s column is government-financed propaganda.
The most obviously glaring conflict of interest I’ve discovered in the Entrevestor column (I suspect there are many more I haven’t discovered) was Moreira’s coverage of Unique Solutions:
I’ve learned that all investors — both investors in the CEDIF and directly into Unique Solutions — have been kept abreast of the devaluation of their investment. That means that Moreira — who plugged the company as a worthy investment in 2012, and who has a personal investment in the company — has been fully aware of the tanking performance of Unique Solutions, but has not kept his readers up to date on the story.
As Moreira is an investor with direct knowledge of the company’s financial position, his failure to convey that knowledge to Chronicle Herald readers is at best a disservice to those readers, and at worst dishonesty in order to protect his own investment. The failure to tell readers of the company’s falling financial position also underscores Moreira’s continued conflict of interest as a paid promoter for start-ups while writing about the same companies for the Chronicle Herald.
There’s no evidence that Moreira had a direct financial stake in Drage’s company, Orpheus. But certainly Moreira had a financial interest in promoting the company. And uncritically writing about the company was not journalism. More: uncritically writing about the company was a disservice to the public, which should have been warned that their tax dollars were going into a quite questionable venture operated by someone with a shady history.
Decades ago, back when I was in college, a buddy of mine who was in the journalism school was required to write a profile of a mid-level bureaucrat. My buddy lined up an interview, talked to some of the bureaucrat’s friends, and wrote a completely uninteresting puff piece, a real yawner, the kind of thing people send to their moms. A couple of weeks later, someone made allegations of sexual harassment against the bureaucrat, and then the story blew up: right there in the court records was a long history of charges and allegations of similar alleged behaviour, but no one had ever bothered to check — not even the J-school student assigned to write a profile of the bureaucrat.
So now I tell journalism students that they should always check court records. Even for an entertainment profile of a rock star: trudge down to the courthouse and see if they have any restraining orders or civil judgments against them. Writing about a business owner? See who’s sued them and for what. That is: do journalism.
Once more: uncritically writing about a business is not journalism. It’s propaganda. That’s true if you’re writing about a local gee-whiz tech start-up or a “business incubator” or a “supercluster” or a CFL team.
And again, congratulations to Quentin Casey and the crew at The Deep. That is journalism.
6. Tourism promotion trip begins
“The official Boston Christmas tree for 2018 has been chosen and will make quite the journey over the next month,” reports WCVB in Boston:
The 46-foot-tall white spruce from Nova Scotia will be celebrated in a public cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15.
The tree will be on display over the next two days and will then appear in the Chronicle Herald Holiday Parade of Lights in Halifax on Saturday, Nov. 17.
The farewell ceremony is set to take place at 10 a.m. the next day, and the spruce will travel over 680 miles from Nova Scotia to Boston.
The Boston Tree Lighting is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. in Boston Common. The ceremony will be broadcast live on WCVB.
How’d the Herald weasel itself into this tourism promotion thing?
Yes, it’s my job to unpack the mythology that’s grown around the tree:
I’ve got no problem with spending a quarter of a million dollars on sending the tree to Boston.
What I do have a problem with, however, is the mischaracterization of the exercise as a “thank you” to Boston for the help Bostonians gave Halifax after the Explosion. It’s nothing of the sort.
Of course, in 1917 and 1918 Bostonians (and others) provided medical and material relief that saved many lives. There was a terrible disaster relatively nearby, and people rose to the occasion.
And so in 1918, as the city of Halifax was getting back on its feet, the province sent a Christmas tree to Boston as a token of appreciation for the help. All very good. But from 1919 through 1970, the people of Nova Scotia were completely ungrateful for that help, at least not so grateful as to send another Christmas tree.
The “give a tree to Boston” thing was revised in 1971, not out of gratitude — most of the people who survived the Explosion were long dead from less spectacular causes — but to promote the provincial tourism and Christmas tree industry industries. Like all good advertising campaigns, the promotion was wrapped around mawkish feel-good sentimentality, and everyone in Nova Scotia and in Boston got to pretend that they were somehow basking in the reflected kindness and gratitude of people who lived two generations before — “Hey, your grandma was a nurse who came to Halifax to help my grandfather… maybe we can make a buck on this thing, eh?”
Immediately after the Explosion, relief trains came from Moncton and Saint John, but we don’t thank those communities with trees because, let’s face it, we don’t need a bunch of New Brunswickians wandering around aimlessly downtown; rather, we need Americans spending their high-valued greenbacks. So: tree for Boston, continued ridicule for Saint John.
Let’s recap: a quarter of a million dollars for tourism promotion is chump change, especially given all the press it generates south of the border. It’s certainly nothing to get worked up about. But tourism promotion has nothing to do with actual gratitude.
Also, there’s no Santa Claus.
No public meetings today or Friday.
Bulwark of the Revolution: The Roles of the Cuban Armed Forces Today (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 332, Life Sciences Centre) — Hal Klepak, Professor Emeritus from the Royal Military College of Canada, will speak.
Mini Medical School (Thursday, 7pm, Theatre B, Tupper Link) — Leanne McCarthy will speak on “Menopause and Treatments including Non-Medicinal”; at 8:15pm Trish Brady and James Brady explain “A Day in the Life of a Dentist.”
Just Sustainabilities in Policy, Planning and Practice (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, Marion McCain Building) — Julian Agyeman from Tufts University will speak.
Thesis Defence, Physics and Atmospheric Science (Friday, 9am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Chi Li will defend his thesis, “Trends and Sources of Atmospheric Aerosols Inferred from Surface Observations, Satellite Remote Sensing and Chemical Transport Modeling.”
The Fab Five: Cooperative C−H, C−S, C‑C, and C−O Bond Activation by Nickel (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Samuel A. Johnston from the University of Windsor will speak.
$\rho$-orderings and valuative capacity in ultrametric spaces (Friday, 3pm, Room 227, Chase Building) — Anne Johnson will speak. Her abstract:
We present some basics facts on ultrametric spaces and show that several properties of valuative capacity, as defined on the integers, carry over naturally to compact subsets of an ultrametric space, $(M,\rho)$. We then give a recursive algorithm for computing the $\rho$-ordering of a compact subset $S \subseteq M$ and show how it can be used to calculate a $\rho$-ordering from the topology of $S$.
Bring your own $(M,\rho)$.
Subscription to Literary Periodicals as Evidence for an Intellectual History of Soviet Society, 1950s-1960s (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Denis Kozlov will speak.
Red Road Project (Thursday, 12pm, Room 340, Atrium) — Skyler and Kyler will speak. From the listing:
Conceived in early 2012 by the Mi’kmaq Chiefs of Nova Scotia, the Red Road Project aims to educate First Nations youth about the dangers of using illegal substances and to encourage healthy lifestyles through culture, fitness, language & connecting with elders & peers.
Displacing Blackness: Planning, Power, and Race in Twentieth-Century Halifax(Thursday, 1pm, LI 135) — Ted Rutland from Concordia University will speak.
Our Place in the Universe (Friday, 7pm, Halifax Convention Centre) — Jason Kalirai will speak. Info and registration here.
In the harbour
06:00: Arsos, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
07:00: Baltic Leopard, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Wilmington, Delaware
07:15: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Reykjavik, Iceland
11:00: Skogafoss sails for sea
12:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Autoport
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves from Autoport to Pier 41
21:30: Arsos sails for Kingston, Jamaica
As is often the case, I ran out of time this morning.