Oct 022012
Margaret Wente, from YouTube
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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.

About 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.

© Copyright 2012 John Gordon Miller, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

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