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:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Smug Free Press labels Winnipeggers scairdy-cats via self-sourced "news"

Without any fanfare, the Winnipeg Free Press has blazed a trail towards a New Journalism, one which abandons the outdated reliance on informed sources for stories.

Instead, the FP has instituted a journalism where reporters simply cite themselves as the experts on issues.

It's so simple, why didn't anybody think of this before?

Take the full page devoted Saturday to the news that 78 percent of Winnipegers are scared to go into certain parts of the city.

"A city of fraidy cats?" boomed the editorializing headline across the TOP NEWS page.

Half the page was a story written by Aldo Santin about a Canada West Foundation survey of the citizens of seven of the country's larger cities from Vancouver to Toronto. It found that Winnipeg was tops in the number of residents who agreed with the statement "There are parts of the city I am scared to set foot in."

The second half of the page was a story by City Hall reporter Bartley Kives who wrote, and we paraphrase, that Winnipegers who are worried about crime are too stupid to know how good they have it here. He quoted himself as the authority for his story.

For those purists who insist on a second source, he threw in a quote from another Free Press reporter.

Kives flashed his street cred---for four years he's lived in West Broadway which, a decade ago, the Free Press once called "Murder's Half Acre", whatever that means.

The bad areas of town aren't as scary as people think, he wrote. If someone steals your child's bicycle or your barbeque, it's your own fault. "---actively seeking to prevent a civic duty."

Winnipeg just has an undeserved bad rep on crime. Sure, car theft is "out of hand" but the murder rate "is a pile of hooey... no statistical significance whatsoever."

Which should come as a surprise to the statisticians who thought by reporting murders per 100,000 population, they were making a useful comparison of the relative safety of communities. It took a Free Press reporter to set them straight.

Winnipegers who feel crime here is worse than other centres should need to travel more, said Kives. Crime is worse in Vancouver and Toronto.

And Detroit, we bet, only he forgot Detroit.

"The notion this city is actually one of the most dangerous in Canada is mildly insane."

Uh, whatever. Maybe we'd listen to this argument if anybody has actually compared Winnipeg to other cities in Canada or the world. Which they didn't. Neither did the Canada West Foundation survey. But it's a great Straw Man to knock down and Kives gave it a good licking.

His coup de grace was in citing "my colleague, Dan Lett" who "brilliantly wrote in his blog 'the plural of anecdote is not data'."

Well, so much for the exercise in New FP Journalism. Kives and his "brilliant" colleague Dan Lett couldn't be more off base.

Kives set up his sole source story by claiming "a survey suggests we think our city is more dangerous than it really is."

He got it wrong right from the get-go.

Winnipeggers know their city is more dangerous than it ever was.
That's the point.

Kives and Lett are willing to accept the "new normal".
Winnipegers not working for the Winnipeg Free Press are not.

- Crack dealers operating openly on Portage Avenue in front of Air Canada Park is not normal.
- Teenagers carrying concealed handguns is not normal.- Fights used to mean fists and bloody noses. Now it means knives and dead bodies. That's not normal.
- Girl gangs trying to beat a girl to death on Main Street is not normal.
- Stolen cars used as weapons to ram into innocent motorists is not normal.
- Gang shootouts in residential areas is not normal.
- Prostitutes walking the same residential streets is not normal.

These are all signs of urban disorder which scares people for good reason.

But, but, but...the statistics....Oh, you mean the "data" that trumps the anecdotes of crime. The "data" that shows the crime rate is falling, that arrests are down, that there's less crime than last year.

* Who keeps data on the number of crack houses on your street?

* Who keeps data on the number of gang members in your neighbourhood?

* Who keeps data on the gang graffiti that blankets your part of town?

* Who keeps data on the threats made to honest homeowners?

* Who keeps data on the number of crack needles and used condoms found on the boulevards when the prostitutes pack it in for the day?

* Who keeps data how often a motorcycle gang member drives by to collect his drug money?

* Who keeps data on the number people wearing gang colours that pass your house each day?

* Who keeps data on the garage break-ins, bicycle thefts, and car vandalism that are never reported because it's no use, the police don't care and it's cheaper to write off the loss?

* Who keeps data on the knives pulled on students to intimidate them?

* Who keeps data on the number of criminals out on bail, on probation, on house arrest, in breach of recognizance in the house across the street or down the block?

* Who keeps the data on the number of children who see ambulances arrive to pick up the bodies of murdered people?

But every single incident is an "anecdote". A story that's told to someone and repeated to someone else. A story that paints a picture of a part of town. Together the anecdotes make up the life of the city, a life that escapes the criminologists in their offices in Fort Garry as they pour over the "data."

Maybe the brilliant Dan Lett should have tempered his own cleverness with the rule of thumb that real scientists never forget: GI = GO.

Garbage in equals garbage out.

And what readers of the Free Press should never forget, is that City Hall Reporter Bartley Kives believes that anyone who thinks crime is a serious issue is either deluded or promoting a hidden agenda. His "reporting" will reflect that view.

Even if he has to quote himself to prove it.

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