Integrity and meaning at the Cosmos
At first, I was angry. I read the mayor’s statement on the public service page of the Cosmos (Sept. 17, 2020). He said, and this is a direct quote from Mayor Dave Barton: “A local paper without it’s (sic) integrity is meaningless.”
I was furious. Then, when I simmered down, I felt disappointed … disappointed that this community’s chief elected administrator would consider the newspaper of record in this township, the Uxbridge Cosmos, without integrity or meaning. Further, I’m disappointed that the mayor – in my view – doesn’t understand how journalism works. I invite him and anyone else who believes this newspaper lacks integrity or meaning, to read the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular, Section 2b.
The Charter, signed into law on April 17, 1982, guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
Let me try to place things into context. Two weeks ago (Sept. 10), the Cosmos published a news story – “Goodwood concerts spark ire and accusations.” In it, reporter Justyne Edgell wrote about events staged on a Goodwood property, called Green Grass Estates; Edgell learned that parties had been organized by a marketing firm, 416AndTheCity, for their office personnel. The event organizer, Richard Marshall, stated to Edgell that during a wedding reception at the property, participants in the event were approached by township staff, neighbours and Durham Regional Police. Marshall claimed he’d faced physical assault and verbal abuse, including, according to Marshall, racial epithets.
No one at the Cosmos believes for a moment that the mayor or anyone else from the township offices uttered a racial slur. However, I repeat the essence of the Charter, Section 2b. The media – in this case the Cosmos and other news outlets – have the right and obligation to report on places, people and events in their catchment area.
All media are also obliged to report with objectivity. That means the reporter who presents one side of a news story, must attempt to balance anything published with alternative views. In his commentary on the public service page two of the Cosmos (Sept. 17), the mayor believes the newspaper did not seek an alternative view.
“The Cosmos did not ask for comment on the accusations against us,” Mayor Barton wrote, “and published the accusations without verifying them.”
Upon investigation, that does not appear to be true. In the original story (published on Sept. 10), reporter Edgell offers two excerpts from an email she received in response to a request for comment. In other words, reporter Edgell approached the township to balance her news story. The response solicited by reporter Edgell and posted by Colleen Baskin, Uxbridge Township communication officer, was published Sept. 10: “The Township vehemently denies that the investigation on this file was motivated by racial prejudice.”
And if the mayor won’t accept the published quotation, he should note that his own communications officer contradicts his accusation. In her own Letter to the Editor (Sept. 17), Ms. Baskin wrote: “As communications officer, I was providing a corporate response to your reporter’s inquiry about a confidential file.” In other words, the Cosmos did ask for divergent comment. It conducted its reporting with balance and due diligence. It continues to meet its obligations as a legitimate news service, with now 15 years of service to this community. Such principles live up to the standard of the Charter, and, I believe, reflect the Cosmos’s integrity.
That the mayor’s commentary appears on page two is also worrisome. “Uxbridge at a Glance” is reserved for publication of details of community events, council meetings, health alerts, tenders, road closures and employment opportunities. I contend the mayor’s commentary meets none of those criteria. If he wishes to criticize what the Cosmos publishes, his comments do not belong on a public service page, but in “Letters to the Editor.”
I am also disappointed to read that the mayor considers what the Cosmos strives to accomplish with each edition is meaningless. That does not respect the fearless reporting record of my long-time colleague Roger Varley. It also denies Conrad Boyce, the creator of this publication, and its current publisher/editor Lisha Van Nieuwenhove, credit due, nor does it acknowledge the numerous Ontario Community Newspaper Association awards the Cosmos has earned. To suggest the people who assemble this newspaper each week, do so without meaning is wrong. And I resent it. I have lived in this community with my family for 33 years. I have written, broadcast and published in Canada and internationally for over 50 years. For 18 of those years, I taught hundreds of young reporters the same tenets of journalism I’ve laid out here. None of that, I contend, is meaningless.
I began this column with anger, but have written it more with a sense of disappointment. I invite the mayor to put aside his anger and to reconsider such unfounded accusations. The Cosmos continues to do its job, respecting the Charter, its freedoms and all community opinions.
For more Barris Beat columns, go to www.tedbarris.com