The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bandidos, Rutherford, Ritchie and more

Unbelievable. What do they teach people in journalism schools these days?

Once upon a time reporters were told to always look for a local angle to a national story.

Does it get any better than learning that a suspect in the murders of eight motorcycle gang members in Ontario was spotted palling around with five "burly men from Winnipeg" a week before the killings?

Well, nobody at the Winnipeg Sun thought that was important.

Monday, they buried the information -- in paragraph seven of an eight paragraph sidebar on the murders. Nobody thought it would make a great top to the story. Or a headline. Or even an overline.

It just goes to prove that the Sun's editors either don't bother reading the stories they're laying out , or else there's nobody working there who knows what a news story is. And these are the people the mainstream press calls "professional journalists.

* The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/ published a telling comment from organized crime expert Antonio Nicaso, who said "There is speculation that the decision for this massacre was orchestrated outside of Ontario, probably with the assistance of other Bandidos from other provinces."

* London Free Press reporter Randy Richmond considered several scenerios for the massacre including "Bandido overlords from the United States and possibly using a Winnipeg puppet club called Los Montoneros hired hit men to take down the eight Bandidos."

* Richard Brennan writes in the Toronto Star today "Sources say it was the refusal of five of the victims to follow explicit orders to go on a "national run" to Winnipeg to carry out enforcement and connect with other bikers that led to the slayings."

The best the local Sun can do, is -- one day late -- reprint the London FP story with still no attempt to add any Winnipeg input other than a knee-jerk reaction from the police. It seems they've forgotten what journalism is, if they ever knew.

And speaking of the forgotten ... Did you catch the mention of Ross Rutherford in Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press?

Rutherford, for the uninitiated, was a household name in Winnipeg not so long ago. He was a reporter with CBC's 24 Hours, and eventually with the show's I-Team. He was famous for his ambush - and - attack style interviews. He quit CBC in the late 90s to join Protos, the company formed by his friend David Wolinsky.

Well, both Wolinsky and Protos have fallen on hard times lately. Saturday, the FP reported that an unhappy group of prominent shareholders has gone to court to get repaid $1.4 million they invested over the past six years.

In affidavits filed with the court, the shareholders claim Ross Rutherford was one of a group of people given "preferential treatment" by Wolinsky and his partner Costas Ataliotis.

Rutherford et al were allegedly allowed to cash out their stakes in Protos or get repayment for debts owed to them, although no other shareholders were offered the same sweetheart deals.

We wonder if CBC's Cecil Rosner, Rutherford's I-Team producer partner, will assign a reporter to bang on Ross's door or ambush him outside his house for a comment on camera?

Do ya think?

Nahh, that would be too Old School.

One person who's so New School that he's running a newspaper without any journalism background at all is the new boy at the Winnipeg Free Press, publisher Andy Ritchie.

Ritchie has 19 years experience in the business, but it looks like zero years of that was spent in the reporting or editing trenches. He worked in advertising sales at the Daily Mail in England, he oversaw printing at the New Zeland Herald, and he was vice president of operations at The Globe and Mail in Toronto where he coordinated the paper's printing operations across six commercial plants.

He joined the FP in January, and he has already made his mark. We speak, of course, of the bold decision to take news stories off the front page and replace them with headlines, photos and more headlines.

We're not sure we can attribute other odd directions in the paper to him, like having their gossip columnist cover police stories, moving the neighborhood section out of the paper.

Ritchie love his consultants. Their latest brainwave, met with open-armed acceptance, is to move sports, entertainment and classified ads onto the Free Press website and charge people to read them. Perhaps someone on staff should have informed the new publisher of Winnipeg's hard-won reputation as the "wholesale" city where you never pay for something you can get for free somewhere else.

Or would that be a career-ending conversation?

In any event, Ritchie appears to be enjoying his move to the small city. Maybe it's the Manitoba Advantage at work, but he seems to be living large and letting people know it, fancying himself to be Austin Powers.

The invitation to his meet and greet, using the same artwork as the paper's lame "Licence 2 Win"/British Airways contest, actually used the hook "Come meet an international man of mystery" at the MTS Centre.

The result was a poorly attended soiree where Free Press types outnumbered the actual guests.

Another soiree, a charity Blackjack tournament at McPhillips Street Station, was attended by many genuine media celebs. Yet somehow a picture of Ritchie, grinning like a rube at the Red River Ex, found it's way into the story with quotes from - guess who?

Austin Maxi has now sold his Austin Mini, we're told, and replaced it with a brand new gun-metal grey Range Rover (sticker price--$78,000).

He's so proud of it, he parks where everyone can admire the publisher's success.

Even as they ponder how to achieve his edict to cut 10 percent from all department budgets, in addition to trimming another $2 million from the overall bottom line to pay the consultants to come up with ways to find more room for advertising, even if news get squeezed out (onto the website?).

Now that's bold.

We may soon see just how bold he is, though if, as suspected, the FP is in the sights of the Canwest news empire. It seems that Ritchie was at another kind of society event one December evening in Toronto, and downright pessimistic about Canwest's flagship The National Post.

An account of that night made its way onto Bourque Newswatch, one of the best-read websites in Canada:

IS THE POST TOAST ?

Is the National Post not long for this world ? So claims Andy Ritchie, the Globe & Mail's VP of Ops, as he singlehandedly held up one end of the chi-chi Avenue Bar on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto on an icy-cold Wednesday evening.

This in a conversation with a bearded bald-headed fedora-wearer who once edited the Toronto Star. "The Post is the enemy", claimed the bearded one, "look at the Post, it's all yesterday's news".

Ritchie responded, saying, "I think the Post is going down. It's now a vanity ... I think they're going to close the Post down in January ... They're dead ... The Post is going to shut down".

Who's this print media oracle Richie, you ask ? A tubby white wine enjoying fellow-well-met shorn in red tie and off-the-rack grey suit bearing a non-descript anglo accent, part New Zealand, part Liverpool.

"The executive team of the Globe and Mail just had dinner here tonight", he divulged to his chit-chat pal and those nearby who couldn't help hearing the overflow conversation, "Phil Crawley is the best publisher in the country", he added, "I just sent an email to him, he's a difficult man, you know, he's had 16 VPs in 6 years. I told him Phillip, you're the greatest boss I've ever worked for, just stop listening to the bloody office politics".

Soon, a young female arrived and the conversation moved on to other matters.


We're sure Ritchie meant no offence, though he has had a few brushes with offensive journalism in his brief tenure at the Free Press.

He joined the rest of the New School of journalists who decided that the best way to illustrate a cartoon that Muslims said was offensive, was not to show it but to write about it. Only the blogosphere published the cartoon and let people know what the hell anyone was talking about.

And then came this week's story of a Manitoba highway official who was suspended for making allegedly offensive/sexist comments about a chief of Tadoule Lake.

The Free Press under Andrew Ritchie decided that the comments were so racist, so sexist and so offensive, that they should be recounted in full in the newspaper and a transcript posted on the website.

See? What do we know about New Journalism?

Here's one thing we do know. The Free Press published half of a story Monday.

School enrolment in Winnipeg has dropped by 2,420 students this current year. "In some schools, just a handful of children are attending Grade 1" said the paper.

Here's the other half of the story. Six years ago there were 3,366 abortions in Manitoba.

Someone should be asking the obvious questions.

That's Old School.

Believe it.

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