In my upcoming book When Journalism was a Thing, I talk about how the death of local news was dangerous. First, journalists have fewer places to hone their craft, but more important, many troubles, that begin at the local level are ignored until they explode to become a national crisis. Canadian journalism has always been the weakest of the Western world because it was always the most static and stagnate. Now that everything has gone in a dung heap, no one save for me, perhaps, has the courage to admit it and say it out loud in a public forum.
Journalists rely on narrative, when they should be forming a hypothesis that they can confirm or refute. Then, you verify by finding evidence that can both confirm -- but also deny the working theory. You form an empirical experiment, gathering facts and hunting sources until you have enough to make an educated idea of what is happening, has happened, or will most likely happen.
In 2018 alone, Canadian journalists let three major stories go without asking basic questions. I will go over these again, as I covered them here before, and then I will talk about a fourth story suffering the same willful stupidity.
- Marci Ien. Here is a journalist whose column about being pulled over by the cops was about race...until the Toronto police chimed in on Twitter, disputing it, and claiming to have evidence. You had journalists getting defensive and waxing about racism...but not asking one question: If the police have evidence that Ien lied, show it to us. That will settle the dispute. It hasn't happened yet, (and if I was Ien, I would demand that the police release it).
- Steve Paikin. Here is a journalist who has been placed on the #MeToo Hitlist, with his fellow journalists dismissing the claims, even though the accuser stated he said it front of her lunch companion in a restaurant...but not asking the one question...Who is the witness to this event, and what does this person have to say about the event in question?
- The Hijab hoax did not involve a journalist, but a young girl who claimed her hijab was cut by a stranger of Asian heritage out in the open on the way to school. Journalists never bothered to ask the one question...Is there any witnesses or surveillance footage confirming or refuting this account of events.
A journalist's job is to ask questions. It's part of the package of being a gatherer of information. I worked as a journalist for years; I asked questions because it really helped me find out lots of important facts.
You wouldn't believe the things I discovered. I found out that some people lie when they talk to a journalist. It's so true. I also discovered that some people tell the truth when they talk to a journalist, too. Also so totally true. It wasn't easy to figure out which was which because liars and truth-tellers don't wear signs on their foreheads or come with warning labels.
Which brings us to last night where a bunch of people dressed in black who carried a professionally made sign calling themselves The Ungovernables went on a destructive rampage down Locke Street, causing damage to businesses and cars in the area.
The police came, were blindsided, and then just like their winner colleagues in Florida during that latest school massacre, retreated and let lawlessness run its course.
The local newspaper the Hamilton Spectator (where I had a column way back in 1995-1996) and CHCH, the local "broadcaster" were garbage in their relaying of what went down. There was the perky chirping about the "good news" of being ambushed with violence as businesses and cars get destroyed so they can now see their insurance rates get jacked up or cancelled. Hip, hip, hooray.
No one was arrested.
Do you think Canadian journalists put on their thinking caps to ask some hard questions?
You haven't read this web site for very long if you have to think about that one.
No, of course not. We have to downplay bad news and give positive narratives.
And, true to form, not ask hard questions, such as these two:
1. Why were the police blindsided and unprepared? Did they not monitor social media? How did all these people manage to congregate, produce professionally-made banners (in a print shop or the maker's space at the library), hatch a plan, and then have to go without a hitch?
2. Who are these people? Anarchists? Antifa? Gangs? Terrorists? A cult? Paid rabble-rousers? How did they manage to gather and then be violent for a prolonged period of time without resistance?
Those are the opening questions: we have a police competency question, and an origin question. How old are these people? What is their motive? Why pick on small businesses? How well prepared were they?
We don't know, but if we had competent journalists in Hamilton, we'd start to have some idea of what happened -- and, for the record, why aren't any of them monitoring the underground?
They are useless. Absolutely useless. The journalist on CHCH was far too busy trying to show the positive instead of looking for real facts. There was no positive in this event: you now know that if there is a riot, the city is unprepared. There is no crisis plan in place.
I remember years ago, I had pitched an idea about the simmering problems of street gangs in Toronto. I had no takers, but a lot of lecturing that I was being a hysterical female. Then teenager Jane Creba was gunned down and murdered on Boxing Day in the streets, and then everybody was wringing their hands and blubbering how could it happen?
Easy. You have no guardians holding down the fort because you are too in love with narratives, and averse to posing hypotheses to test with evidence. You have to research, ask questions, and verify. You may be right, or you could be wrong. You modify and adjust, but at no time do you ever stop asking questions or digging.
That perky positive spin destroyed Canadian journalism. It made it useless as people thought everything was great because no matter how bad the news, there was some good news about it; so nothing needed to be done because if it didn't work itself out, They would fix it.
They didn't fix things last night.
You now have an emboldened group of people who are ungovernable. You have a police that retreated and were unprepared of an attack of this magnitude.
And you have press that didn't see it coming, either, and didn't care what it actually meant to their city -- or to their worthless profession.