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:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Black Rod: Where True Journalism Lives

How low have the standards for mainstream news media fallen?

Look no further than the latest Excellence in Journalism Award handed out by the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

The award was given to the Winnipeg Free Press, which Wednesday trumpeted its win without a trace of irony, shame, or the slightest understanding of the joke.

Staff Writer celebrated the win this way:

"The Winnipeg Free Press has won this year's prestigious Excellence in Journalism Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation.
The national award is given annually to a news organization for 'overall extraordinary performance.'
The Free Press's body of work, including sending staff to cover the Afghan war, the puppy-mill investigation, Greatest Manitobans initiative and our Pink Paper helped garner prestigious award."

More details surfaced deeper into the story:

"The Free Press submission included the country's first paid-circulation Pink Paper, its investigative series into the province's puppy mill industry, its court challenges, charitable campaigns, and other facets of the paper such as its local arts coverage, independent Ottawa bureau, the contest to find the Greatest Manitoban and the subsequent best-selling book.

One of the CJF judges called the submission "dazzling."

Dazzling? Hardly.

Razzle Dazzle, the art of the con, is more like it.

Let's see, the Winnipeg Free Press got the award for:

* its Pink Paper (supporting breast cancer research). AKA a one-day gimmick.

* its Greatest Manitobans initiative. AKA a contest.

* its puppy-mill investigation. AKA huh? Does anyone remember anything about this major investigative piece? Anything?

*sending staff to cover the Afghan War. AKA assigning reporters. Shouldn't the quality of stories sent back be more important than the act of sending reporters out the door?

The FP submission boasted of the newspapers court challenges (like going after the Mayor's divorce papers?), its charitable campaigns (we have more to say about their support of Winnipeg Harvest, or is that vice versa), and its independent Ottawa bureau.

Have you noticed what's missing?

Right, a simple thing called---journalism.

Reporting good stories was apparently an afterthought, although they did find one---about cute puppies. Who doesn't like cute puppies?

The award was given, obviously, for marketing, not journalism.

Marketing is the new excellence.

But it got us to thinking. What would a submission by The Black Rod to the Canadian Journalism Foundation look like?

* We didn't have an independent Ottawa bureau, but we did break the biggest election story in Manitoba, which had the Winnipeg Free Press and every other news organization here and in Ottawa chasing us for days.

* And we did expose the phony pre-election claims by NDP MP Pat Martin and Liberal MP Anita Neville of supporting tougher legislation against car theft. It turned out that when given the opportunity to vote for the very laws they said they supported, they voted NO.

* We didn't send anyone to Afghanistan, but our weekly War in Afghanistan reports provided more relevant information than the FP could muster at the best of times.

* The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was the subject of a multitude of stories in The Black Rod in 2008, as we red-flagged the demonstrably false claims for what the project would cost. Titles like 'BUSTED: The Human Rights Museum shell game' and 'Follow the Money' give the flavour of those stories. It took another year before the CMHR confessed that we were right in our suspicions, and in our estimates of the cost overruns.

* We were the first to report how Premier Gary Doer doubled the Manitoba contribution to the museum from $20 million to $40 million without notice or debate.

We exposed that the museum's advisory board included Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who opposed applying human rights laws to Indian reserves.

And we revealed that another advisory board member, Anthony Hall, was a 9/11 Truther, who was using his connection to the CMHR to promote his oddball conspiracy theories.

Fontaine saw the light and reversed his opposition to extending Canada's human rights laws to reserves. And the museum dropped Hall from the advisory board within a month of our story.

* We didn't need a court challenge for our three part series on Manitoba Hydro.

We revealed how the NDP is selling parts of our Hydro resources to Indian reserves which are buying in with money given to them by Manitoba Hydro. And we detailed how Manitoba Hydro plans a multi-billion dollar expansion on the basis of half-baked assumptions of future demand, assumptions which have the Public Utilities Board so scared they have demanded Hydro provide detailed risk analyses of their future projects.

* In June we covered the inquest into the death of Matthew Dumas, the doped up car thief shot by a police officer he tried to stab with a screwdriver. We particularly noted how the MSM reporters had to report on the story broken exclusively in The Black Rod literally three years earlier that the shooting of Dumas occurred just after he punched and fought with a police officer in a back lane.

* In July, in the finest journalism tradition, The Black Rod stood up to the lynch mob mentality of virtually every other news organization in the province covering the public hearing into the death of Crystal Taman. We reported facts found nowhere else in the MSM, proving that the predetermined findings of the inquiry couldn't stand up to proper journalistic scrutiny.

* We put a microscope on the claims of a severe nursing shortage by the Manitoba Nurses Union to justify a blank cheque on wages from the government. We reported how full time pay for part time work had created an artificial shortage which nobody wants to talk about.

The non-existent nursing shortage is a strategic tool of the NDP which relies on the nurses lobby to win elections. It's not as sexy as cute puppies, but we think it was a good story.

* In the time honoured tradition of localizing a national or international story, we reported last April on the local angle to the news that U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy had inoperable brain cancer. It turned out that Kennedy was being treated by "Winnipeg native John Sampson, a neurosurgeon at Duke University in North Carolina" who has uses a unique vaccine that's "helped some patients survive for three to six years" with the brain cancer that kills most in six to 12 months. Kennedy is still alive.

* In October, we broke the story of Winnipeg Free Press strikers helping themselves to half a ton of pork that was either stolen from a Winnipeg Harvest satellite foodbank or was being discarded as waste because Winnipeg Harvest failed to distribute it to the poor for whom it was intended. Does that count as a charitable campaign?

Not a word about the mysterious picket line appearance of the pork, packaged and labelled as Winnipeg Harvest meat, appeared in the pages of the FP. Not a word was said about the poor who never got the meat because it wound up in the freezers of FP employees. Not a word was written on the editorial pages about Winnipeg Harvest's lack of accountability for so much food, or lack of interest in where it wound up.

But Free Press editor Margo Goodhand did have this to say about those employees who knew all about the missing pork yet failed every test as journalists by not reporting on it.

"This is for the most creative, hard-working, talented people that I know," she said as she accepted the award on behalf of the newsroom. "Every day, they set the bar higher for themselves and the rest of us. And every day, they make it fun to come to work."

Maybe she needs to get out more and meet a better class of people.

* We could go on about the real reason the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority fired Dr. Larry Reynolds, which we reported and the MSM didn't, and how we got Crimestat changed to make it more up-to-date for citizens, and why the word perjury no longer appears in Free Press stories about James Driskell, but our submission is getting long enough.

We'll leave it for you to decide where true journalism lives---The Winnipeg Free Press or the blogosphere.

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