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 since 2005, 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:

Sunday, October 22, 2006

FP admits bad reporting; still says paper right, Katz wrong

The hubris of the Winnipeg Free Press is breathtaking.

For the past two years the newspaper has been flogging a series of "controversies" involving Mayor Sam Katz, none of which has had any traction outside their offices on Mountain Avenue.

This weekend the FP, via reporter Dan Lett, finally conceded that, contrary to their own stories, Sam Katz has always followed the rules, acted within the legislation, and behaved properly on all votes at City Hall.

Not good enough, says Lett.

His proof? Why, the many controversies surrounding the Mayor, of course.

The Free Press, with a straight face, declares that the existence of the alleged controversies shows that what wasn't wrong, should be wrong, and therefore, Katz was wrong, even if he was right.

To buttress this argument, reporter Lett, cites his own story from 2005 accusing Katz of conflict of interest in voting to put a Salisbury House restaurant on the new Provencher bridge. Katz had previously loaned money to David Wolinsky, who was a director of Salisbury House.

What Lett failed to mention was that his story inaccurately stated that a complaint against Katz had been filed with the city auditor.

The Black Rod exposed this within days and brought it to the attention of the broadsheet brass.

The Free Press never corrected the error, never apologized for the inaccurate reporting, never even published a "clarification" (a new tactic pioneered by editor Bob Cox on his blog to hide errors without actually acknowledging them to readers of the physical paper).

In other words, the inaccurate information was allowed to stay on the record as if it was true, which, in newspaper terms, is the same as publishing a lie.

Dan Lett is the last person at the Winnipeg Free Press who should be writing about conflict-of-interest. He won a newspaper award for a series of stories on convicted murderer James Driskell's fight for a new trial. You could say he has an interest in Driskell's case.

But when the Winnipeg Free Press fabricated a quote that acted as the basis of a front page story (by another reporter) at the inquiry looking into Driskell's conviction ( ), Lett was silent.

He has never, to this day, commented on his newspaper's used of a phony quote to support its own coverage of the case.

Perhaps Lett has been taking lessons in the fine art of the cover-up from one of his sources. In his Katz/conflict story, Lett actually used former Liberal MP Reg Alcock as an expert on Ottawa standards for politicians.

Yes, only the Free Press would go to a member of the defeated, disgraced Liberal government as a suitable source on ethics.

The Winnipeg Free Press has a double standard when it comes to conflicts-of-interest. Just days before the newspaper started its latest campaign against Sam Katz, it carried a story by its Ottawa reporter Paul Samyn headlined "Feds probed cabinet leak to Free Press."

The story was an inside-joke.
Samyn wrote that the federal Liberal government tried, unsuccessfully, to find the source of a leak to the Free Press, of a confidential memo to cabinet. The leak became the story "Secret native housing cure?" printed Wednesday, Oct 26 2005.

What he failed to report was that the leak came to him. He knows who leaked the memo. You might say he had a conflict of interest in writing the story about the probe. You can bet he was laughing up his sleeve as he wrote it. Ha ha ha.

Strangely missing from his story was the name that was so prominent in Lett's story---Reg Alcock.

All official leaks to the FP had to be approved by Alcock, the senior cabinet official in Manitoba.

The FP and Alcock even had an agreement. Whenever Alcock was to make a formal announcement in Winnipeg of some federal funding or some new program the Free Press would get an advance copy the day before. The newspaper would then have a Page One story on the day the announcement would be made to the rest of the news media in the city.

This quid-pro-quo agreement has never been discussed because it immediately raises questions about how far the FP would go to slant its stories in favour of the Liberal party to continue to get their "exclusives".

But what the stories by Samyn and Lett show is how selective the newspaper is about its sources. Who they interview and on what subject, depends on what spin they want to put on the story that day and not on any obligation to inform the public of the facts.

Samyn's story was a mockery of the process. And by laughing in the face of the public, it was a mockery of the readers of the Free Press.

But maybe the readers are laughing back.

New information has made us rethink our previous post on the circulation of the Winnipeg Free Press. We used the figure of 125,000 which we took from the FP's own claim to the investors in its income trust.But then we took a closer look at that claim.

It actually says "...the marketing reach that comes with the ability to distribute newspapers to an average of 125,000 readers seven days a week, including over 162,000 on Saturday."

This is cleverly written to inflate the truth.

The industry rule of thumb is 2.1 readers per copy sold. The latest estimate from the Newspaper Association of America is 2.3 readers per copy. In other words, the actual circulation of the Winnipeg Free Press ranges from 54,000 to 59,500.

The newspaper is telling its advertisers on the QT that their ads will go to 75,000 subscribers. Comparing that figure to paid circulation means that about 15,000 copies are distributed free to new subscribers, as promotions, and on airplanes and in hotels in discount deals.

54,000 is a far cry from 125,000.

In fact, you might say the distance is humbling.

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