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.

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:

Saturday, June 10, 2006

We welcome our blogging paisanos


They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So imagine our surprise when the Winnipeg Free Press honoured us by announcing the newspaper was going to start blogging.

It's been a rocky road to the blogosphere.

First they just stole our stories.
"Crocus redemptions need probing: critics" Paul Egan, A5, April 15/05

Then they asked for our help. (Ephedrine arrests/ Bandidos in Winnipeg)

Then they ignored us. (The real story behind the shooting of Matthew Dumas/ Seven Oaks School Division land development scam known as O'Learygate/ Winnipeg Bandidos connection to the mass murder of Ontario Bandidos gang members)

Then they attacked us.
"Rogue journalists- Bloggers take on the world in cyberspace"George Stephenson, op-ed, Jan. 26/ 06

And now -- they want to be colleagues. Paisanos. Birds of a feather.

Well, not everyone. Apparently it was a hard sell in the newsroom. The newspaper had to---how shall we say it----"encourage" people to become bloggers.

But newspaper blogs are the hip new thing, and God knows the Free Press wants to be hip. Their highly paid consultants have told them that hip is, well, hip.

Newspaper blogs help you connect with the community, they told them. They humanize reporters; and best of all, they may build readership, something desparately wanted by the hip publisher of the broadsheet, Andy Ritchie. So, blogs it is, ladies and gentlemen. "Volunteers", anyone?

Ten at last count.
Six columnists: Randall King Brad Oswald Paul Pihichyn Lindor Reynolds Gordon Sinclair Jr. Doug Speirs
Two editors: Bob Cox Morley Walker
Two reporters: Dan Lett Ed Tait

Blogs first came onto the Free Press radar during the election campaign, a mere six months ago.

At the time, Lindor Reynolds showed she had no clue what blogs were, what bloggers did, and how influential blogging could be. Assigned a story on political blogs, she couldn't find any, and had to settle for a politician's blog which consisted of his news releases.

While the paper's Ottawa reporter, Paul Samyn, wrote about Kreskin the Mentallist, bloggers were breaking stories about the income trust scandal, the single issue that tipped the election.

Even today, reporter Dan Lett confesses he's not familiar with the medium. May we be so indelicate as to ask HOW CAN ANYONE PROFESS TO BE A REPORTER AND NOT KNOW ABOUT BLOGS IN THE AFTERMATH OF RATHERGATE?

There's been a revolution in journalism and you missed it, Dan. By, about, A YEAR AND NINE MONTHS.

This may go a long way to explaining why the Free Press is losing readers by the thousands.

The Free Press may get around to reporting the true Matthew Dumas story when an inquest is finally held, in a year,or so or TWO YEARS AFTER it was reported in The Black Rod.

And O'Learygate may make the paper after the Auditor finishes his report, ONE YEAR OR MORE AFTER the details were reported in The Black Rod.

In the meantime, we have the Free Press blogs.

Let's see:

The blogs by Morley Walker and Paul Pihichyn read like columns you'd expect to see in the regular newspaper.

Lindor Reynolds offers comments on eight stories and ideas, then communicates with a reader. Actually, she learns that her readers include a 911 conspiracy nut who tries to convince her that the attack on the World Trade Centre was a government plot.

Brad Oswald wants to be known as Couchboy. Okay, if you're comfortable with your sexuality, Brad, go for it. He thinks he can engage readers in a discussion of popular television shows. Note to Brad: there are hundreds of blogs devoted exclusively to every popular television show; yours can't come close.

He misses what can make his blog interesting. Almost as an afterthought he gives the dish on insider backbiting in the television industry.

One interesting side note to the CTV presentation was the amount of Global-TV-bashing that went on during yesterday's show. It felt like CTV's executives felt it was almost as important to convince advertisers NOT to spend money at Global as it was to get them to write ad-buy cheques to CTV. It'll be interesting to see how Global's bigwigs respond when their fall-launch show takes place tomorrow.

Gordon Sinclair proves he can be just as lazy a blogger as he is a columnist. He's done some research, though. He blogs in his pyjamas. He tells us what he's thinking after watching the National on CBC.

Randall King offers the worst blog. He starts with "a joke I made up" and goes downhill from there. Note to Randall: to be a comedian, you have to be funny.

Ed Tait shows he understands. Blogging from Blue Bomber training camp is exactly the sort of thing that makes a blog work.

We didn't read Doug Speirs, anymore than we read his daily column. But anything that keeps him out of the daily paper is a good idea to us.

Editor Bob Cox tries to lead by example and tell the readers (and his staff) how the newspaper blogs should work.

"I'm going to relate and explain what is really happening inside our newsroom - the debates, the criticism, the controversies."

You got us excited, Bob, but you have a long way to go to deliver.

Cox confesses embarrassment at a mistake on a Page One.
There is a picture that graphically shows the damage from flooding along the Red River - a building collapsed on the riverbank. The photo caption says the property is on Churchill Drive. It is not. It is on Jubilee Ave. In fact, it is visible from the Foot Bridge on Riverdale if you look west. I pointed it out to my wife on Sunday when we were at the Bridge Drive-In.
So how does a mistake like this happen? Our reporter and photographer were on a boat tour to view the damage along the riverbank. People on the boat believed the property was off Churchill Drive, which is nearby and also runs along the river. But Churchill Drive does not start until the east side of the Foot Bridge. We should have checked more closely.

He should be more embarassed at not publishing a correction in the newspaper and relying on cyberspace to hide the error. Is this how mistakes will be dealt with in the future?

We did see how he reacts to reader feedback. When readers objected to a headline that cast doubt on the true intentions of a Nazi-hunter, Cox acted quickly.
"I have advised editorial staff to avoid the use of quotation marks for the purpose of casting doubt or colouring the meaning of a word or phrase. It is always best to simply say what you mean. If you doubt someone is a Nazi, you should say so, instead of using quotation marks."

Interesting to know. Now, Bob, tell us why you allowed the Free Press to engage in two smear attacks on Mayor Sam Katz? Tell us why you don't insist that "facts" used by your columnists be the truth.

Tell us what you think about your Parliamentary Press Gallery reporter Paul Samyn refusing to do his job as a reporter in Ottawa and instead engage in a public war against the Prime Minister. Is he acting on your instructions? Or against your instructions?

You've got a lot to blog about and we're eager to read it all.

Lett admits he had to do some research on blogging before he tried it. (Although he didn't mention them by name we can only assume that the relentless critic of Free Press columnists,, showed up on his computer screen).

Mainstream media reporters usually throw their noses up at bloggers and sniff that they're not "real journalists." Real journalists---like, say, newspaper reporters--- have editors, and deadlines and don't write in their pyjamas. We're beginning to think there's something to this, because, as a blogger, editor-less Lett writes some real howlers.

I'll try not to become the newspaper apologist. That kind of blog doesn't contribute to the delicate balance created by the ideological apologists blogging right now. We get our say in some 160,000 copies of the dead-tree version of the paper everyday. And now to the inaugural entry on this inaugural blog - drum roll please.

Oh, Dan. If you want to know the real circulation of the Free Press, you could read it in The Black Rod.
Or even in Bob Cox's blog.

It's 125,000.

Why would you inflate it by a whopping 35,000? Did you think nobody would know? Or check? Or mention it?
In the blogosphere, errors are pounced on rapidly and fiercely. We have the scars to prove it.

We were pleasantly surprised to see you mention us in your blog.
There are the Tory apologists (blackrod, hacks and wonks )

Except, Dan, the first rule of journalism is: spell the name right. It's 'The Black Rod' at

And what's this about Tory apologists? You obviously didn't get that from Stu Murray or Hugh McFadyen, nor did you read our stories about them. Federally, you say? Well, you yourself wrote
Even hard core Liberals are having a hard time coming up with the right apology.

But you could at least have given a nod to someone who tries, Curtis Brown at Endless Spin Cycle in Brandon.

Lett's blog, errors aside, consisted of observations that a) the provincial Liberals are moribund and b) federal Conservative Party MP Steven Fletcher has connections to the provincial Progressive Conservative Party. Uh duh.

What we want to know, Dan, is what was behind the attempted smear stories on Sam Katz? Did Harvey Smith file a conflict of interest charge against the Mayor as you reported? Or not?
If not, why didn't you correct your mistake?

Was the first story your idea? Or did an editor assign you? Which editor?

How do you, as a reporter, feel about Paul Samyn being so deep in the Liberal Party pocket that he got bruises on his high forehead when they dropped pocket change in? Do you miss those Saturday "scoops" provided by Reg Alcock? And how far should a reporter go in accepting such "exclusives" without telling readers who may, you know, wonder what he's giving the political party in return? How's the James Driskell defamation lawsuit going? C'mon, you can tell us. Blogger to blogger.

Oh, and Dan, if you're still doing research, Google 'Rathergate' and settle in for a good, long read. You've got two years of journalism history to catch up on.

And while you're at it, send this link to Andy Ritchie
and tell him to read Bob Cauthorn.

"Jon Stewart put it nicely when he said mainstream media blogs 'give voice to the already voiced' "he said.

And Cauthorn summed it up neatly:

" Look, it's easy to get this right: don't have staff members blog and instead bring in the legitimate outside voices. There are many ways that a mainstream media organization can do this -- make a blog about *outside* blogs, point some of your traffic to outside voices (even those who, gasp, criticize you!), invite some of the best outside bloggers in your community to post right on your pages."

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