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:

Monday, October 02, 2006

Political Reporting--a rave, applause and a pan

The Black Rod has discovered the best civic election coverage in town.

Reporter Michelle Dobrovolny has been doing a series called Candidate Profiles, in the Uniter, the University of Winnipeg student newspaper. It's terrific.

Just as sketch artists at the Fringe Festival can capture a person's key features with a few deft strokes of a charcoal pencil, Dobrovolny, with only four questions, manages to provide a sharp snapshot of the candidates in each ward.

Her take on the election in St. Boniface is a gem. The Winnipeg Free Press keeps saying how tight and how important this election is. But Dobrovolny gives us such a concise comparision of the three men running that any voter can instantly pick a favorite.

Everyone knows the heavyweights in the election--- former councillor Dan Vandal and incumbent councillor Franco Magnifico. Dobrovolny introduces us to the third candidate, Murray Cliff, who "is running a virtually unpublicized campaign due to his pledge not to spend a dime on elections in an effort to "revolutionize" the Canadian electoral system." We liked him already.

Question No. 1 set the stage. "Other than previous terms in city council, what professional experience can you offer City Hall?"

The answers (abridged here):

Cliff: I sit on the policy committee for the Manitoba Liberal Party.
Vandal: I've been a social worker.
Magnifico: I worked for the railway for 13 years in union, then management positions. I bought a hotel when I was 31 years old, ran that for 19 years and sold it. I currently run two rural hotels.

A policy wonk. A social worker. And a business owner.

Who makes a better city councillor? Who do you think understands the challenges of the city best from their perspective and who can offer the best solutions to problems?

Question No. 4 left no doubts. "Why should young people stay in Winnipeg?"

Cliff provided a nuanced, saying nothing political answer.
We have a great quality of life, and a vibrant arts and cultural scene. We have interesting architecture in the city, and our music scene is second to none in Canada.
Magnifico: Young people need jobs. They need to know when they graduate they"ll have opportunities. They need to know that their quality of life will be ensured. That goes to things like bike lanes, NHL teams, the Human Rights Museum. Those are the kinds of things that improve the quality of life. They need to know that when they graduate, they will have a job to afford those things.

Four questions. Stark contrasts. Clear choices.
Somebody hire this girl now.

We can't wait for her profile of River Heights because it looks like something's brewing there.

Going into the election incumbent councillor Donald Benham was Sam Katz's bete noire. He could always be counted on to vote No for anything the mayor supported and to say something to get Sam mad.

But when the lunatic fringe of council (read Jenny Gerbasi) led the predictable shrieks of opposition to Katz at a meeting into whether to lease some land to Katz's baseball stadium for a parking lot, Benham, for the first time ever, wasn't around fighting for the spotlight.

Could it be he's found that travelling with Gerbasi's Moonbat Circus isn't the vote-getter he thought it would be?


When a story leaps out at us, we frequently wait to see if the mainstream press will cover it, even as we begin our research.

Just as frequently we're disappointed and we step into the breach when the MSM fails to do its job.

But this Sunday we were applauding Winnipeg Free Press national reporter Paul Samyn for his commentary on the hypocritical attitude of native "leaders" over smoking on Indian reserves.

First Nations want it both ways on smoking issue
Sunday Oct 1 2006
OTTAWA -- So let me see if I've got this straight. Manitoba's native leaders want judges, politicians and pretty much everyone else to butt out when it comes to aboriginal rights to light up on First Nations. At the same time, they are fuming at the Harper Tories for last week's $11-million cut to the First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Control Strategy designed to get natives to stop smoking.
Huh? They want to smoke. They don't want to smoke. They can't have it both ways, can they?
Well, apparently that is exactly what native leaders are trying to do, given their anger at federal-government budget-slashing last week and at the province for baby steps to extend the Non-Smokers Health Protection Act to reserves.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. But we have to wonder why Jen Skerritt, the reporter who covered the Chief's' protest at the Legislature, didn't make this connection in her story?

Even as we give Samyn a pat on the back, we shudder at the bad reporting by his Free Press colleague Lindsey Wiebe who also wrote a story about the federal government spending cuts. It was such a classic of a bad story (or a good example of bad reporting) that it should be studied in journalism schools.

Literacy group's future in peril. Ottawa is cutting $28,000 in funding.
By Lindsey Wiebe
Manitoba's premier literacy advocacy group may shut its doors in six months because the federal government cut $17.7 million in literacy funding this week.
Lori Apps, executive director of LiteracyPartners of Manitoba, said her group found out Wednesday that the $280,0000 they receive in federal funding was pulled, effective immediately.

What followed was a stereotypical kneejerk victim story.
Apparently reporter Wiebe thinks that you can get away with shallow reporting as long as its on motherhood issues like 'literacy.' C'mon , who's against literacy? Those evil Conservatives, that's who, right Lindsey?

Unfortunately, it was immediately obvioous to anyone who bothered to read the story why the funding was cut.Other than going around cheering "Literacy, Literacy, Rah Rah Rah", the group doesn't do anything. It has no measure of success, because, obviously, just talking about literacy is sufficient.

Wiebe couldn't find a single real person who credited Literacy Partners for getting them into a literacy program. That should be the first red flag when the only people supporting a program are the bureaucrats being paid by the program.

Second, Wiebe just didn't do her math. She wrote that Literacy Partners "has distributed more than $70,000 in Raise-a-reader money to roughly 40 literacy programs over the last few years."

Divide $70,000 by 39 (which is roughly 40) and you get $1,700. Divide that by 3 (last few years) and you get $600. Got that? They've provided about $50 a month to fewer than 40 programs for at least three years in a row. Whoop de doo.

What kinds of programs does Literacy Partners fund? Well, they brag about two on their website.

One is called Certified Literate Community Project in Beausejour. What does it do? Well, apparently it "certifies" a community that meet its criteria as "a "literate community", a good place to live and a good place to do business."
And what are these criteria? These:
· increasing public awareness of the benefits of raising literacy levels,
· encouraging everybody to take responsibility for literacy,
· bringing adults who have dropped out, back to lifelong learning programs,
· promoting the use of plain language for effective communication.


Just as good is the other program, Literacy and Health: Defining Links and Developing Partnerships.

"Our purpose in this project is to bring literacy and health people together at training sessions to look at ways of improving health and raising literacy levels in the "hard to reach" segment of the population. Literacy workers will learn how to incorporate health materials into their classroom. Health care workers will learn how to reach low literacy clients. Resources will be offered to both groups."
On their website Literacy Partnerships offers 15 training sessions to health care professionals to get them to promote literacy.

Wiebe can't bring herself to report honestly that nobody will miss these training sessions because they're a total waste of everybody's time.

The federal government is cutting these programs because they achieve nothing. They are examples of how the Liberal party spent taxpayers money to create the appearance of caring, of doing something about a problem without ever measuring what was being done, if anything.

But the appearance of caring is the only thing reporters like Wiebe care about. Hence the pathetic reporting.

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