John Gordon Miller

John Gordon Miller has been an award-winning reporter, a senior news executive, chair of a journalism school, an author, a teacher, a researcher and a consultant. He's been professor of journalism at Ryerson for 21 years, following a 20-year career as an editor and reporter. Most of that was spent at the Toronto Star, where he was foreign editor, founding editor of the Sunday Star, weekend editor, deputy managing editor, and acting managing editor. He is author of Yesterday's News, a critique of daily newspapers in Canada. He is active as an expert witness in legal cases involving journalism.

Jun 242013

Barrie Advance editor published account of PMO's effort to manipulate coverage.

by John Gordon Miller

Why do Canada's news media fall so easily for the political spin-doctoring being dispensed by the Prime Minister's Office? It's almost as if Stephen Harper can seize the news agenda these days by simply dragging a mildly odiforous and vaguely crimson herring across the path of reporters. Away they go.

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Jun 102013

Stephen Harper should have known that longtime journalists would pad their expenses.

by John Gordon Miller

No journalist should ever be appointed to the Senate.

I could have told Stephen Harper that years ago, before he decided that Mike Duffy would make a dandy senator representing PEI (which is only his home address when he's at the cottage) and Pamela Wallin would be just a peachy choice to represent her native Saskatchewan (which is actually even further away from her current home address in downtown Toronto).

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Jun 032013

Toronto Star adhered to its professional code, retains keen libel lawyer.

by John Gordon Miller

There are many tools in a journalist's drawer, and the Rob Ford drug scandal certainly justifies pulling out the sharpest ones.

Here you have the mayor of a large North American city, who was seen on a video apparently smoking crack cocaine, refusing to answer any questions from the media for more than a week and effectively calling the country's biggest newspaper a liar. "The video," he said on radio, "does not exist."

If that's his line in the sand, it's good enough for me. Let's get it on.

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May 202013

Ethical considerations seem overlooked in the Star's rush to print.

by John Gordon Miller

So this is what passes for "news judgment" in the age of instant information? Give us a break. Beneath an advertising wrap-around for President's Choice proclaiming "Get fired up for the weekend," the Toronto Star's front page today featured what it said was an "exclusive" — Mayor Rob Ford in crack video scandal.

Except it wasn't an exclusive. News of the video was posted earlier on Gawker, a New York-based celebrity gossip website.

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Apr 292013

Amid newsroom purges, career guidance website warns new graduates to look elsewhere.

by John Gordon Miller

It's official: Working as a reporter is the worst job you can get — if you can get one, that is, and if you are lucky enough to keep it.

That's what the American-based career guidance website says anyway. Thanks to shrinking newsrooms, dwindling budgets, the stress of deadlines, low pay and competition from online news organizations, newspaper reporter ranks last among 200 jobs — behind enlisted soldier, lumberjack, dairy farmer, meter reader and roofer.

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Mar 142013

Outsourcing editing and design to lowest bidder threatens journalistic integrity.

by John Gordon Miller

As usual, Monty Python was way ahead of its time.

In 1975, the British comedy troupe created a fictional character called the Black Knight for its movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The movie featured a hilarious sword fight between King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and the Black Knight (John Cleese). One by one, the Black Knight's limbs are hacked off, but the stubborn combatant refuses to acknowledge any serious damage, insisting "Tis but a scratch." Finally, when the Knight is reduced to a writhing torso, he offers to "call it a draw" and then yells at the victorious Arthur: "Running away, eh? …Come back here and take what's coming to ya! I'll bite your legs off!"

The Black Knight came to mind as I read the justifications of the publisher and the editor of the Toronto Star for their decision to effectively decapitate their newsroom.

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Dec 102012

Feds fend off delivering cost figures for Port Hope clean-up.

by John Gordon Miller

You are about to read a cautionary tale, illustrating how badly we need to fight back against the Harper government's determination to keep us in the dark about how it spends billions of dollars of our money.

The story begins in May 2008, when I made what I thought was a reasonable request under Canada's Access to Information Act. I wanted to know how much the Department of Natural Resources was planning to spend to clean up my hometown.

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Dec 032012

Niagara Falls community paper filled with sexism, racism and poorly written copy.

by John Gordon Miller

Warren Buffett, whose portfolio includes newspapers, once said: "Thirty years ago if you had an idiot nephew, you bought him a newspaper to run, but it's not that easy anymore.”

Wait a minute. Can't idiots still become publishers? Based on recent evidence, Buffett may have been wrong — it still seems ridiculously easy enough. And it usually has disastrous results.

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Nov 152012

Newspapers desperately seeking online business model.

by John Gordon Miller

Why are newspaper publishers so obsessed with shooting themselves in the foot? The Toronto Star's John Cruickshank performed the feat wonderfully the other day when he announced a new subscription plan to deliver "exclusive long-form journalism" to readers on-line.

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Oct 022012
Margaret Wente, from YouTube

Post-Wente complaints, NatPost columnist rises to defend all news media from criticism.

by John Gordon Miller

Maybe it's time for The Globe and Mail to change its motto. Maybe Junius really meant to say "The subject who is unintentionally loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to oversight."

First Margaret Wente unintentionally forgot a quotation mark. Then she remembered that she must have unintentionally copied something another columnist wrote. Then — oopsy — Globe and Mail editors let another columnist sell her own home by featuring it in Home of the Week, but of course that was "an unintentional oversight" as well.

Just try to use that excuse the next time you're in court fighting a speeding ticket.

Maybe this is how the legacy media lets the little moral crisis of Wentegate go, though: By denial and obfuscation. Standards? Ethics? Sure, we have 'em. But we're so busy putting out the paper we haven't gotten around to training anyone and, well, you can't expect to be perfect every day, okay?

No apoloigy to readers. No further internal investigation. Onward and upward. There's even a backlash starting. Just look at Terrence Corcoran writing in the National Post:

"But there’s a bigger story here, and it’s this: Newspapers and journalism in general, once bastions of press freedom, are now under the thumb of throngs of second-rate moralizing “experts” and outsiders who like their press freedom tightly controlled and monitored. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing writers, but there is a problem when outsiders can use artificial structures to suppress and control those writers."

Terrence Cocoran complains that newspapers… are now under the thumb of throngs of second-rate moralizing “experts.”

And what are some of those "artificial structures," good sir? Oh, yes… public editors. Ombudsmen. Press councils. All those terrible social media sites. And of course "a burbling academic community, whose members have emerged as a cheering section for the public humiliation of Ms. Wente."

I think he may be talking about moi.

Sure enough. "There’s also John Miller, former Ryerson Journalism chair and now a blogger who calls himself The Journalism Doctor," Corcoran writes.

Corcoran calls me "a creative soul," and says I have the effrontery to treat Wente's cheating "as if it were a major story."

Here's where he's going with all this:

"Are newspapers (and other media), once free to run their own operations in the context of freedom of the press, now running scared of these outside watchdogs?

"What journalists do should be determined by the people who run and own the media, and readers/viewers. Nobody is expected to produce truth or perfection. The exchange of ideas, from the craziest to the sanest, should not be in the hands of government regulators, nor self-righteous academics who have axes to grind, ideas to sell and their own ideologies to propagate."

The particular axe I'm supposed to be grinding? He doesn't say. He just wants all of us to back off. Wente's only sins, he claims, were "petty, insignificant allegations that are mostly matters of technique and perhaps sloppiness on her part." They "look to me like a trivial bit of laziness that deserves nothing more than a reprimand from her editor."

So there you have it. The Titanic is sinking and the officers on the bridge are busy debating the "agenda" of icebergs and why they shouldn't be allowed in the ocean on busy shipping lanes.