A Bunch of Yahoos — New Media, Old Habits

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Old World Cowardice in the Brave New World of digital journalism 

— a special investigative report (and comedy relief) by Christopher Johnson —-

— I wasn’t on the Titanic. But I imagine, as the ship sank, people became like rats fighting over places on the lifeboats.

This is what the media industry in Canada looks like to me after working overseas most of my 30-year career.

How bad is Canada’s media scene? Canada has become an exporter of journalists; hundreds of Canadians work as journalists in countries such as UAE, Thailand, China or Japan. (We jokingly call ourselves “exiles” or “refugees”). It’s so backward that my years of overseas experience (including a Canadian Association of Journalists nomination for Best Online Media last year) doesn’t even merit a reply from potential employers in Canada. It’s so dispiriting that many veteran pros are jumping from big ships — including 80 editors who left the Globe and Mail over three years — into leaky lifeboats in the form of “gigs” as freelance journalists or editors for upstart digital sites.

(http://canadalandshow.com/article/women-whove-left-globe-and-mail)

Canadian media is insular, heavily concentrated in Toronto, and more of a club than an industry,” writes media critic Jesse Brown in the Walrus. “Given the financial state of the industry, the running joke—that Canada has more awards than full-time journalists—may soon cease to be an exaggeration.”

(http://thewalrus.ca/nobodys-a-critic/)

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I’m not the first to notice that Canadian media culture has become more nasty and brutish than when I worked as a general assignment reporter at the Windsor Star in 1987. Back then, senior editors and reporters took journalism grads under their wings and taught us the ropes. They groomed us with a sense of pride for our craft. They worked us hard, but also took us out for drinks or parties. At the end of my summer internship, my boss wrote me a glowing reference letter, which helped me get the next job, as an editor at The Nation newspaper in Bangkok, where I began an overseas career that would take me to more than 100 countries and nine war zones.

Back then, journalism was a respected profession. Many of us believed in seeking truth and serving the public. We had middle class wages and benefits. In the 1980s, when my rent was under $300 per month, I made $150 per story covering college soccer for the Ottawa Citizen, and more than a thousand a week as a cub reporter in Windsor. I was protected by unions, professional organizations, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s welfare state. I loved being a journalist. It was the best job in the world, because we got paid for talking to people.

Thirty years later, CareerCast ranked “newspaper reporter” as the worst of 200 job categories. (Photo-journalist finished 195; Publications editor 137).

(http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/04/15/this-study-says-being-a-journalist-is-the-worst-job-there-is-wrong/)

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How did this happen?

Somehow the ideal of “seeking truth to shed light”, which we learned at Carleton University’s school of journalism, became replaced in newsrooms by the hardboiled notion that “stupid sells” and that we’ll somehow grow as an industry if everybody stonewalls, blacklists, shames, scuttles, disses and trolls each other into oblivion.

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In a 2012 editorial on “the future of Canadian journalism”, Stephen Eldon Kerr opined that “Canadian media is in a bad way.” He noted that large companies control most of the flow of information to the public. “But what do these companies publish? Salacious tidbits of apolitical “news” information stripped of any critical content, all the while ignoring the true activities and motives of the powerful.” This isn’t journalism, he said. “It is churnalism; content churned out to keep up with the need to make money.”

(http://www.alterinter.org/spip.php?article3799)

Many like to blame this disturbing trend on technology and a desperate need for profitability. For two decades, media managers have been blaming the Internet — instead of their own bad decisions — for declining revenue and audience.

But the Internet didn’t create the bad vibe in the business. People did.

Media owners betrayed their staff and customers by monopolizing markets, eliminating jobs and benefits, outsourcing to India or elsewhere, and generally infuriating workers whose negativity spread into the larger community. Naturally, their sales declined.

As David Taras wrote in his book Power and Betrayal in Canadian Media: “Most commentators and observers view the increasing disenfranchisement and disengagement by the public with despair and warn of the dangers that this poses to the health and vitality of the democratic process.”

Editors, meanwhile, alienated field reporters by increasingly gaining power and control over them and demanding they simultaneously do the jobs of writer, photographer, videographer, broadcaster, podcaster and Twitter-based self-promoter.

Most of my editors have been wonderful. (Producers or editors at CTV, Toronto Star, NOW magazine and Straight Goods have been exceptionally supportive.)

Sometimes, however, editors will yank your chain, just because they are higher up a totem pole and can arbitrarily kill your work or even your career.

Many freelancers have complained about their increasingly dangerous, insecure and impoverished lives. (http://www.cjr.org/feature/womans_work.php)

We’re not divulging our horror stories to commit career suicide or grind axes. The working conditions of freelance (and many staff reporters) have simply become intolerable. Thus I feel compelled to relate my personal experiences to protect other journalists from similar abuses.

In just one of many examples of brutish behavior, former Globe and Mail editor Philippe DeVos in 2010 woke up my Japanese partner and I at 3 am in Tokyo to scream obscenities at me. He was angry because, in his opinion, I sent him a different story than what he wanted. He wanted a story about scary, futuristic “Japanese mind-reading technology” — an idea he got from a Tom Cruise movie. After spending several days researching and calling around in Japanese (which took me years to learn at my own expense), I discovered that this didn’t exist in reality. So I sent him a fact-based story about a “human feeling” vending machine. We went back and forth over this, meaning I did extra days of work on it trying to please him. But I simply couldn’t write a story about something that didn’t exist. In the end, DeVos killed the story, meaning I got almost nothing for my week of work plus my expenses in Tokyo. I put it on my own blog, and other mainstream media later did it.

(http://globalitemagazine.com/2010/10/10/economy-japanese-embrace-human-feeling-machine/)

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I appreciated that DeVos was trying to get more freelancer work on the Globe’s foreign pages — a rarity in the business. He and I both traveled in Africa and like motorcycles. We could have talked out our problems like adults. But DeVos, who no longer works at The Globe, didn’t apologize or try to rework the story based on the facts I provided. He wouldn’t reply to calls or emails, and he never bought my work again. Stonewalling me, he used his editorial powers to blacklist a lowly freelancer from a national daily that had been buying my work for 15 years from some of the world’s most dangerous places. Did anybody reprimand him for mistreating a valuable freelancer? He got hired to lead the Weather Network and also teach journalism students at Ryerson University in Toronto about “editing best-practices”.

(https://ca.linkedin.com/in/phdevos)

I wouldn’t care if this was an isolated incident, but these communication breakdowns are all too common in the communications business.

Problems usually revolve around money. Many editors and producers, who wouldn’t work for free, seem to think that freelance “content providers” should work for low or no pay, and that we should all have lawyers to settle our payment disputes. Editors and publishers of Toronto Life magazine, for example, refuse to pay me for using my photographs of tennis star Milos Raonic for four years. (To their credit, The Toronto Star paid me for use of the same photos.) When I wrote Toronto Life’s David Topping seeking payment, he forwarded me to his boss, who pretended we had “no business relationship”.  He also tried to bog me down in legalities — as if it’s somehow “harassment” to demand payment for work. 

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It’s not only Canadians who act like intellectual property thieves and rip-off artists. The BBC has never paid for using our footage of the Chinese crackdown on protests in Lhasa, Tibet in 2008. The Associated Press and Reuters also haven’t paid for sales or licensing the works via Getty. (When I asked a legendary photographer to honour his promises, he told me to contact their legal department). France 24, DW, The Scotsman, The Bangkok Post, The Japan Times, NHK and dozens of websites all owe me money; they owe other people money too. CNN.com, which bought more than 200 of my photos, used my image of a leaping snowboarder on their TV ads for CNNGO. They wouldn’t pay for that, and punished me for asking. (Ask freelancers about “debt collection”, and they’ll likely tell similar stories.)

After I braved kidnappers and terrorists in the Philippines and Pakistan, police in Tibet, and Cyclone Nargis for the Christian Science Monitor, foreign editor David Clark Scott blacklisted me because I wouldn’t misrepresent my sources and spin George W. Bush’s narrative about Myanmar.

Tom Standage and Kenneth Cukier refuse to pay me for using my controversial 2400-word “Gulag for Gaijin” story in The Economist, which drew 1500 Facebook likes, 644 tweets and 712 comments (the second most on their site at that time). They claimed that I was a “source”, not a “writer”, and that they were somehow entitled to use my work for free because I already posted it on my blog. Standage misrepresented me — a common tactic to shaft freelancers — by falsely claiming I agreed to give away my work for free. Why would any journalist agree to give away a 2400-word piece for free? Would Standage and other editors work for free? Of course not. 

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At least Standage, Hunt and others replied to my emails. Many editors try to pretend that problems simply don’t exist. When I showed AFP Tokyo’s Huw Griffith proof that their stringer plagiarized my work, he blocked me on Twitter. How convenient. 

I’ve also come under attack from trolls and haters who damaged my ability to earn a living. Tokyo-based writer Jake Adelstein, among other cyber-criminals in Japan, launched a vicious ongoing smear campaign that has resulted in a loss of his own readers and credibility.

(https://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/jake-adelstein-nathalie-stucky-plagiarism-defamation-japan/)

(https://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/jake-adelstein-tokyo-vice-japan-journalist/)

Seeing the crabs clawing at each other in the bucket, it’s no wonder that the public began to view us as one of the most untrustworthy groups in society, on par with lawyers or used-car salesman. We’re no longer seen as neutral observers either. We’re targets. At least 61 journalists were killed in 2014, and 1138 killed since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. (https://www.cpj.org/killed/)

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With our own managers and owners mistreating us, powerful folks thus felt emboldened to ignore us.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minions decided they don’t need to talk to reporters in order to win elections.

(http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/stephen-harper-bans-journalists-from-his-events)

MIs-using privacy laws, civil servants decided they can run the country without sharing information with the public who pays them.

(http://globalitemagazine.com/2014/05/05/the-great-canadian-air-farce-air-canada-complaints-gabor-lukacs-canadian-transportation-agency/)

Corporations hired an army of public relations officers to outnumber journalists and hide or spin information.

(https://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/vancouver-publicist-teresa-trovato-huka-ceo-a-j-niland-and-the-pr-war-on-medi/)

So, what’s left for journalists to feed upon?

— half-baked studies by governments, universities and research tanks — all with their agendas and vested interests

— sex and perversion

— police releases about murder, abduction and other forms of violence. (The RCMP no longer names crash victims, despite protests by community newspapers who need to report official information, not gossip). http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/rcmp-quietly-stops-naming-victims-citing-privacy-act-1.3154112

— bad stuff about other journalists

— perversion and sex

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Which leads us to the digital sites that are supposed to save journalists from the sinking Titanic.

Are they any good?

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Much ado is made about VICE, Buzzfeed, Gawker, Yahoo and a cacophony of smaller digital sites trying to carve out niches in the shifting media landscape. I hope they succeed, and I like many of them. But too often, these “Brave New World” companies act like “Old World Cowards” using Dickensian labor practices to mistreat journalists — now known as “content providers”.

Yahoo Canada’s news site is one of many examples of this new era of Oliver Twist journalism.

Along with many other online sites, Yahoo invites lampooning because they themselves have made a joke of journalism by explicitly seeking “wacky” stories. And journalists have a right and duty to scrutinize any company with a proven history of unethical and unprofessional behavior, which is a matter of public interest.

I’ve seen their shenanigans firsthand.

A few weeks ago Yahoo agreed to hire me. They sent me a signed contract, which I signed and returned. “Great,” I figured. “I’m honoured to join this global news team.”

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They told me to brainstorm story ideas. So I changed my schedule, cancelled other work, and devoted time and energy to the task. I sent them a story pitch about price gouging in Vancouver, where hotels were asking minimum $800 for July 5, the night of the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer final.

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Assignment editor Showwei Chu wrote back: “What’s the fundamental wacky thing you’re referring to? And who will you be interviewing for comment?”

After a few more emails from me, Yahoo editors assigned the story. I took a 20-hour overland trip to Vancouver, at my own expense, to do the story and begin work on others for Yahoo. I wrote a polite, professional email asking for more information about payment conditions for freelancers and whether they had budgets to cover expenses.

This must have offended them greatly. (How dare you talk about money!) They reacted by de facto firing me, without reasonable explanation. As Chu said in a short email: “It seems like this org wouldn’t be a good fit for you.”

That was it. My subsequent queries merited no reply from Chu, though we had been friends for 11 years. Everything else had to go through their lawyer. In effect, it was like a coward calling off a wedding, and then when the bride asks “why”, sending legal threats from the divorce lawyer saying “Don’t contact me, or else”.

Welcome to the Brave New World of digital media, 2015.

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Marie-Helene Savard, Andrew MacDonald, Showwei Chu, Dene Moore, Sheena Goodyear, Farah Syed and other Yahoo editors or contributors did not respond to efforts via email, phone and social media over the past 10 days to seek their comments or version of events. 

Kirsten Embree, partner of Ottawa law firm Dentons, said via emails and phone calls that Yahoo ordered her to direct all correspondence through her. She attempted to intimidate a reporter in an email on July 11. “If Yahoo’s employees receive any further correspondence from you, we intend to take steps to protect our client and its employees, including referral of this matter to the relevant authorities.”

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The behavior of Yahoo and Embree is consistent with complaints by other journalists about the intrusion of lawyers into media culture.

“When I started out as a Toronto Star reporter way back in the early 1990s, every day practically, doors would slam, people would throw objects, there would be tirades of swearing that would make a sailor blush,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Watson told Canadaland.com. “And yet, every day people got over it, put out a newspaper, and got back to it the next day. That’s just part of the culture of newspaper journalism. But now suddenly, it’s being run by accountants and lawyers and no one seems to be able to have a frank conversation.”

(http://canadalandshow.com/article/qa-paul-watson-pulitzer-prize-winning-journalist-why-he-just-resigned-toronto-star)

Given the entrenched issues at mainstream “legacy media”, newfangled sites such as Yahoo, VICE, Buzzfeed and their ilk were supposed to breathe fresh air into the system. They were going to be the lifeboats saving journalists jumping from the Titanic.

(Even New York Times media critic David Carr, who challenged VICE over their fundamentals and ethics, saw their potential for good. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/13/david-carr-takes-vice-to-school.html)

How are they doing? Is their model of using low-wage freelancers for “wacky stories” working?

Yahoo Canada News has 24,000 followers on Twitter. (In a country of 35 million, that means 1 out of every 1500 people, or 0.067 percent.)

The supposedly troubled Globe and Mail has 905,000 followers — almost 40 times Yahoo. Another “dinosaur”, the Toronto Star, has 470,000 and the National Post 400,000. CTV News has 275,000, while CBC News, the “elephant in the room”, has 1,160,000.

In fact, Yahoo Canada News has fewer followers than the Regina Leader-Post (29,000), the Windsor Star (41,000) and Tokyo Reporter (39,500). (Tokyo Reporter is a hobby blog of full-time water engineer Brett Bull in Japan, a market with only about 100,000 people who can understand English media.)

Brett Bull and Yahoo Canada News are doing similar things and aiming for the same market. Brett specializes in translating salacious sex news from Japanese Tabloids. His audience is entirely online; he has no print publication. The same goes for Yahoo.

Why is Brett doing better than Yahoo Canada News and its flotilla of staffers and freelancers?

1: Brett doesn’t have a journalism degree or previous news experience

2: He has a full-time job in the real world

3: Brett hasn’t fired anybody. (In fact, he hasn’t hired anybody either).

Yahoo Canada News, meanwhile, offers a lopsided freelancer contract giving them carte blanche to sever relations for no reason with contributors, who get paid a whopping $100 per story — about $50 less than what the Ottawa Citizen paid me for college soccer reports in 1985.

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Somehow, Yahoo has disappointed enough people to curb their growth on social media. Either that, or “sex and stupidity” doesn’t sell with Canadian news consumers.

I suspect it’s also because people see through Yahoo’s attempt to imitate VICE, which for all its hype in North America still only has 459,000 followers on Twitter — less than half the Globe and Mail.

VICE evolved over years from a punk magazine into a bonafide news channel. Vice Canada, which has 54,000 Twitter followers — more than twice Yahoo Canada News — introduces itself as “the definitive guide to enlightening information.” It’s not all sex and sensationalism. Simon Ostrovsky isn’t a yob or yahoo. He does serious hardcore reporting about Putin’s forces attacking Ukraine, for example. His sober, understated tone gives his reporting even more impact.

I’ve seen no impact reporting from Yahoo Canada, which often reports what other media are reporting.

So we’re left with a cheap imitation, the journalistic equivalent of a bar band trying to cover the Sex Pistols. When the Sex Pistols sounded awful — deliberately — it was rad, fresh and cool because it was original and went against the grain. But if you try to sound exactly like the Sex Pistols, you just sound bad.

Yahoo Canada News doesn’t have to be VICE 2.0. Nobody is forcing them to take well-educated, talented writers and turn them into yobs. This doesn’t serve anybody, especially not writers who didn’t go into journalism with the goal of making people more stupid.

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And what about the health of the work force? Bottom-feeding doesn’t enhance one’s detachment or objectivity. Write enough wacko stories about violence and sex crimes, and you don’t feel like Mary Poppins anymore.

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Take Dene Moore for example. In Vancouver, younger reporters I met last year looked up to her for her knowledge of Freedom-of-Information (FOI) requests. She spent years with Canadian Press covering issues involving First Nations and destruction of the environment. She seemed like a classic old school journalist dedicated to serving the public interest.

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Last year, I tried to reach out to her to ask about Canadian Press, Metro News and other media coverage of Vancouver hotel worker Lucia Jimenez, a Mexican migrant who died in a secretive windowless dungeon under Vancouver Airport. I wanted to know why they were helping officials spin a cruel narrative blaming the victim and smearing Jimenez, who was dead and unable to defend herself or tell her story.

(https://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/are-canadian-press-journalists-in-vancouver-keeping-public-in-dark-about-abuses-at-secretive-vancouver-airport-dungeon/)

Moore responded by blocking me on Twitter, cutting off the flow of communication vital to journalism. So much for freedom of information.

Luckily for her, Moore was able to find a career lifeboat with Yahoo Canada News, and she’s churned out dozens of stories from her home in northern British Columbia. But what she and others are really doing is providing the appearance of local coverage. While Moore sits in a BC room covering Edmonton or Ottawa, other contributors in Toronto do “local” stories about water shortages in Vancouver.

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Yahoo managers would probably argue that they’re doing this to cut costs, and other media outlets are doing the same. Most of the time, Stephanie Myles covers the world tennis tour from her Montreal home. It’s likely that she has to pay her own way to cover tournaments in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. To supplement her income (or break even after expenses), Myles also does work for rival companies (CTV, Toronto Star) in Yahoo’s same market — which is supposed to be a no-no for freelancers. 

 

Myles is an example of how a person can appear differently in social media than real life. I actually enjoyed meeting her — the one and only time — at the Australian Open tennis in 2011. We are both tennis addicts who play at competitive levels. She’s knowledgeable and informative about tennis, doesn’t go for the wacky angles, and has resisted calls to ruin young Canadian star Genie Bouchard. I often retweet Steph’s stories or point out newsy info to her. But on Twitter, she’s often battling and “bi-atching” with anybody who comes her way. Like others who play politics on Twitter, her turmoil involving colleagues and fans unfortunately tarnishes the value of her work. While 3608 people follow her, she follows only one person — herself!

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To be fair, she’s not alone in covering the world from her living room. The Globe, the Star, the Sun, the Post and others all do this. It’s become an unfortunate reality of an under-funded industry.

But it shouldn’t be used to devalue the work of reporters actually on the scene. It makes no sense for editors to pay “staffers” to sit at home and then expect bonafide freelancers — live on the scene — to work for free. Does this improve the quality of their product? Of course not.  

I’ve also seen no proven economic logic behind mistreating your work force and making your audience “stupider”.

Again, Yahoo is a case in point. Given their high education and previous job experience, one might expect more from Yahoo managers.

Take Managing Editor Andrew MacDonald for example. He went to King’s College, and he worked for Beer.com.

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Marie-Helene Savard, a marketing major at McGill University in Montreal, cultivated her journalism instincts at Sony BMG and then joined Yahoo in 2009 as “Product Manager, Entertainment.” She then garnered an even longer title: “Senior Manager, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Video and Branded Content”.

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She claims she built and lead “a cross-functional team” (as opposed to a dysfunctional team). If so, that’s an incredible achievement in media.

A gifted linguist, she speaks Japanese with “elementary proficiency” (meaning — as the joke in Japan goes — that she understands the words Toyota, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha).

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During a recent Asia, her investigative reporting uncovered alarming and vital information about Japan.

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Savard is clearly very careful and cautious about everything she does.

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Farah Syed, the senior front page editor, also seems to have a Facebook-friendly sense of humour, and an honesty about what she’s doing — click-baiting. As she claims on LinkedIn: “I am seasoned online journalist with a nose for news and a razor-sharp instinct about what gets audiences clicking.”

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But she’s also working in an industry that’s supposed to revolve around fact, not fantasy.

How “seasoned” is she? Well, she has “a background on psychology”. She also writes: “I started off as a humble writer for smaller publications, but my time as an editor at Yahoo Canada has helped me gain an unparallelled (sic) understanding of how to get millions of users engaged in the important stuff,” she says. “For me, there is no topic too niche.”

Millions of users? Yahoo Canada News has about 24,000 followers on Twitter. That’s about 976,000 short of a million.

No topic too niche? It seems that Yahoo editors consider the following topics “too niche”: foreign ownership of Canadian property, resources and companies; the impact of bad loans and the Chinese stock market swings on Canadian asset values; the impact of the Greek financial meltdown; the Iran nuclear deal; the Syrian war; Canada’s reluctance to alleviate the worst global refugee crisis since WWII; ongoing environmental disasters in northern Alberta, British Columbia and the rest of the world.

Instead, Yahoo delves deep into these type of stories:

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One contributor, Sheena Goodyear, has a wicked sense of humour and one of the more memorable names in media (right up there with the Toronto Star’s Peter Goodspeed and Mr. Goodwrench).

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She’s been covering Vancouver’s water crisis and other issues — from Toronto. Here’s how she finds (tries to find) sources — by shouting over the Internet.

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Already the Yahoo attitude (the Yahttitude?) is having an effect on new assignment editor Chu, who considers herself a champion of press freedom.

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Here is Chu railing against Canada’s FOI law encouraging “a culture of delay”.

“As a working journalist, I’ve lost track of the frustrating times I’ve faced trying to collect data for stories. I remember begging the Toronto police for data on 2014 knifings and told I’d have to make an FOI request for that information in person at their headquarters! If that isn’t a delay tactic I don’t know what is.”

(http://www.showweichu.com/933/canadas-foi-law-encourages-a-culture-of-delay/)

Here she rails against the “muzzling of scientists”.

(http://www.showweichu.com/972/concern-over-muzzling-of-scientists-focus-of-bargaining-protests/)

On her LinkedIn page, she claims she worked for Bloomberg, the Globe and Mail, Macleans, CBC and others. It sounds very impressive, and she does strive to be a cutting-edge journalist learning new skills. But she left out her brief stint in 2004 at the Vancouver Sun, where she was fired because editors accused her of lacking ethics and basic writing skills.

I tried to defend her at that time from unfair dismissal, and often congratulated her success over the next ten years. I thought she should have gone public about her mistreatment at The Sun to stop them from abusing others. But like others in the industry, she was afraid it would hurt her employment chances with other companies. Such is the climate of fear in the Canadian media club. 

Chu is still new at Yahoo, and it’s possible she’ll change the tone or delve into topics of societal value. The previous editors certainly didn’t. They had respected senior writer Moore, for example, writing about stuff such as masturbation:

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Their ledes were worthy of journalism school essays about hyperbole and hackneyed cliches:

–Usually a sirloin-and-champagne affair, this year’s Calgary Stampede may be more of a hotdogs-and-lager event.

–Oh Canada, you are a hockey-loving, maple syrup-swilling, toque-wearing cliché. And you love it.

–When a child is born, their name, date of birth and sex are recorded on their birth certificate. Penis: M. Vagina: F.

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This ranks as perhaps the all-time greatest lede:

–Sometimes, people suck. That’s not news.

In second place, this one:

–We are Canadian. Winter does not scare us.

(https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/author/dene-moore/)

It’s not clear if Moore ever left her home in northern BC to do a story for Yahoo. (I suspect she would if they gave her a budget.) Her reports are often based on press releases and government studies, especially from Statistics Canada or various universities.

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“Study” has even become the name of a source who speaks in funky words such as “po-litically”. (Other folks named “Report” and “Survey” get a lot of press also).

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Satire aside, it’s troubling that even one of Canada’s more senior reporters can sink to this level. If Moore has to become a “yahoo” to make a living, what will stop other reporters from sliding?

I think nothing will stop this. There’s no global freelancer union, and no professional organization to sanction, discipline or keep out quack hacks or punish abusive, unethical practices. We’re our own worst enemy, and nobody is coming to save us.

Even our press councils can’t get their act together. (http://j-source.ca/article/national-press-council-set-launch-september)

Like many other veterans, I believe it’s no longer possible to save the good ship that was once journalism. The Titanic is sinking. The issue now is how to deal with the rats taking over the lifeboats, and how to leave room for the good people to survive and maybe build something better in the future.

A decade ago when I worked as a general assignment reporter at the Vancouver Sun, many colleagues moaned about the decline of our industry, and how Canadian media culture was becoming more repressive like China or North Korea. But even our much-maligned bosses at the Sun had an air of civility and decency about them. Staff accused them of being arrogant and aloof in their “fish-bowl” offices overlooking the harbour. But they wouldn’t deliberately spit in your face, stab you in the back or ruin your future for the fun of it. They were above that.

And they couldn’t easily get away with it, because of the power of unions and professional organizations.

This newer digital breed, meanwhile, often seems to think they get “street cred” for being “bad ass”, when they’re really just acting like “bad journalists” and “assholes”. And if you question their behavior or try to hold them accountable, they hide behind twitter blocking, facebook de-friending or legal threats.

There’s no freelancer union to restrict them. So they think they can get away with anything. Want to screw over your contributors with a draconian contract? You can. Want to scuttle somebody’s career and ruin their ability to earn an income? You can.

(And if they fight back, we’ll sick our lawyers after them.)

The irony is that these “yahoos” are acting like sewer rats at a time when anyone can drag them through the mud and flog them on a blog post such as Canadaland. Jian Ghomeshi, Evan Solomon, Peter Mansbridge, and Amanda Lang are just four examples of scandalous behavior throughout Canadian media. There’s even more skullduggery in US and UK media, and if you want to see all-out hissy fits and flame wars, dive into the online scenes in Japan, Thailand, China, Russia and Ukraine.

In my view, there’s something rotten at every level of the industry, everywhere in the world. It’s not only Yahoo acting like yahoos. It’s all of us.

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