More on Black Press scandal

September 3, 2007 at 9:22 pm | In black_press, free_press, newspapers, times_colonist, victoria | Comments Off on More on Black Press scandal

On August 21 I wrote about the scandal brewing at Black Press here in Victoria, which I learned about through — and which was otherwise consistently covered only by — local political writer and blogger Sean Holman. The whole story was otherwise largely ignored. (On Aug.28, I added an update to the original entry, again adding more information from Holman’s updates.)

The story appears to be fading slowly from view, which I find pretty appalling. There is one other update, again from Sean Holman, who on August 29 wrote his last (to date) entry on the topic: Black on Black.

Go read it for yourself — it’s lengthy and complex, and shows that when corporations put out fires, it’s not necessarily a fine art, but rather something conjured by sheer “because I say so” power.

It’s also depressing to see that comments have apparently dried up around this topic. It’s as if the reporters and some staff cared, initially, but the reading public is dumb, oblivious, and anaesthetized. Or jaded, which may be the same thing.

And as predicted by many, Monday Magazine, despite its pretence of being critical and anti-corporatist, has been breathtakingly silent on the issue. Why? Ever-so-alternative <kof> Monday is owned by Black Press, and I guess staff at Monday know which side of the ass their cheek is buttered on.

Also read Holman’s entry and see that the other thing that’s alive and well is the corporate art of playing “po’ me,” as in: claiming that the big ol’ daily newspaper (the Times-Colonist) has it easy because people pay to read it, so therefore the “free” community newspapers have to put themselves in bondage to their masters, the advertisers, upon whom they rely for revenue.

Oh, give me a break already. If that’s your business model, I suppose it explains why you don’t have to care about the quality or integrity or timeliness of your editorial content.

Besides, I believe the Times-Colonist already scooped Black Press on how to bend over for advertisers, in the process eschewing quality editorial content: who can forget the Vivian Smith affair?

Another Victoria newspaper scandal, being ignored by …newspapers

August 21, 2007 at 10:07 pm | In black_press, business, canada, free_press, innovation, scandal, silo_think, times_colonist, victoria | 5 Comments

(Updated Aug.28/07, see below…)

Some readers might remember the Vivian Smith scandal from early July last summer: I blogged about it here, on July 20/06 after reading about it on Sean Holman’s Public Eye Online. (Note: re. my July 20/06 entry: pardon the opening two paragraphs — I was coming out of a period of blog hibernation, which, as any reluctant blogger will attest, can discombobulate one’s train of thought. Just skip that bit and go straight to the paragraph that starts, “On July 7, Sean Holman…”)

Well, history might not repeat itself exactly, but aside from the details, we have a repeat performance at another Victoria newspaper. Last year, we witnessed the Times-Colonist firing Vivian Smith, who dared to write an article that suggested that tourists need not get fleeced by established tourist industry ventures and that they can find plenty of things to do for free in Victoria. It seems that these established tourist ventures (The Empress Hotel, Butchart Gardens, etc.), which spend many dollars advertising in the Times-Colonist, felt aggrieved, and so Smith was fired. (See my blog entry, toward the end, for a list of all the relevant Public Eye Online posts on this saga. Smith was sort-of/ kind-of reinstated eventually, although one hardly sees her well-written, informative articles anymore.)

This year we see the Victoria News (a thrice-weekly publication owned by local press baron David Black) revealed as fully in bondage to car dealers. The paper’s editor (Keith Norbury) was fired and one of its senior reporters (Brennan Clarke) resigned in the wake of an article Clarke wrote, detailing the savings Canadians can expect if they go to the US to buy a car.

Sean Holman broke the story in his August 17/07 entry, Car trouble:

Victoria News editor Keith Norbury was fired today, Public Eye has exclusively learned, two days after one of his senior reporters – Brennan Clarke – resigned. The firing follows an advertiser complaint about an article published earlier this month by the newspaper. In an interview, Vancouver Island News Group president Mark Warner confirmed Mr. Norbury’s forced departure was, in part, connected to the complaint. “There were a number of issues,” he said. “But that was certainly one of them.” Mr. Warner declined to say what those other issues may have been. Nor would he elaborate on how the complaint was connected to the firing.

The article, authored by Mr. Clarke, discussed the case of a Broadmead resident who saved $13,000 by purchasing a Mercedes ML350 in Portland rather than from a local dealer. The woman, Rebecca Schevenius, and her friend are “planning to publish an 18-page how-to pamphlet entitled ‘How to Import a Car into Canada’ for others interested in testing the cross-border used car market.”

In a interview with Public Eye earlier this afternoon, Dave Wheaton Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. dealer principal Dave Wheaton said, “I was upset with the paper for doing it because it was one person’s opinion” – referring to Ms. Schevenius. “And they are by no stretch of the imagination an expert at it. And why that was news I don’t know.”

Note that this is Dave Wheaton’s opinion, but it seems opinions are weighed differently, depending on how big your advertising budget is. For since the firing and resignation, writers on Public Eye Online’s comments board have revealed more information on the Wheatons:

According to the Wheaton website, Wheaton owns 17 dealerships in the Western Provinces. Obviously any sort of criticism from Dave Wheaton would carry a lot more weight than a single dealership in a single Black Press market. (from this Aug.20/07 entry)


I see that the Wheatons now own a bank and insurance company as well. General Bank of Canada, located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is owned by the Wheaton Group of Companies, the largest General Motors franchised dealer network in Canada. The incorporation of a bank further expands the financial services of the Group which currently owns a regulated life company, First Canadian Insurance Corporation, and a property and casualty company, Millennium Insurance Corporation. General Bank of Canada is the first privately held chartered bank in Canada. (from another Aug.20 entry)

It’s worth reading all related entries, plus comments, by date:
Aug. 17: Car trouble (which includes a full reprint of the alleged offending article by Brennan Clarke)
Four entries on Aug. 20, in order:
So long and thanks for all the fish (8:27 AM)
A question of credibility (9:10 AM)
Klausphiles (4:00 PM)
Another brick in the wall (4:33 PM)
Aug. 21: Meanwhile, among the ranks of the fallen

Lots of good comments on the boards, too. I especially agree with the most recent one in the Aug.21 post, which points out what a good job Keith Norbury had done as editor. The VicNews shot itself in the head by firing him. As the story unfolds further, Sean Holman will no doubt keep up the reports, so check back on Public Eye Online in the coming days.

Even though Victoria’s economy seems to be maturing in some areas, what I wrote at the end of my blog entry of July 20/06 on the Vivian Smith firing still rings true: there is an entrenched paternalism and a petty immaturity at work here that should just be canned. Full stop. The paternalistic mindset is particularly offensive to me. It represents not modern capitalism at all, but a weird sort of colonial capitalism: a throwback to an economy where men “expect to be sheltered from criticism, whether the kind emanating from a free press or the kind coming from the market,” as I wrote last year. It’s an economy where the “natives” better not get uppity, where women and punky reporters toe the line and know their place, where a man’s silo is his castle, and you better know where the service entry is, ’cause the front door of the keep is not for you.

And we wonder why Canada ranks at the bottom for innovation (14th place out of 17 among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries). That will never change as long as newspapers like the Times-Colonist or the Victoria News act as enablers to uninnovative businesses with bloated advertising budgets. They certainly don’t want anybody rocking their status quo by forcing them to innovate in a free market, and our “free press,” it seems, guards their interests.

Update, Aug.28/07: Sean Holman reports today that Dave Wheaton emailed him over the weekend to say that his comments were not the reason for Brennan Clarke’s resignation or Keith Norbury’s firing. The newspaper (whose publisher Mark Warner had earlier explicitly stated that the resignation & firing were connected to Dave Wheaton’s complaint) now backs the car dealer up:

Asked for comment, news group vice-president Kirk Freeman said Mr. Norbury’s firing “is an internal personnel issue. And what has transpired had nothing to do with Dave Wheaton.”

Somehow, I find that rather incredible. It sounds more like the rearguard trying to douse a fire.

Why I think the newspaper is a (waste paper)basket case

August 18, 2007 at 5:35 pm | In fastcompany, local_not_global, media, silo_think, times_colonist, victoria, women | 6 Comments

I updated my Facebook status yesterday with a note about being very angry at our local newspaper, The Times-Colonist, for essentially stealing a story and then not reporting it properly anyway, and for exemplifying the ugliest, but I mean the ugliest, aspects of an “old boys network” mentality. That prompted some of my Facebook friends to write on my wall or leave messages, asking what was up.

Even though I know that this local paper is a total waste paper basket case and that nothing will change it, I had better muster the energy and interest to write my reply. First, some background:

  • around the middle of last month I submitted a paragraph-long write up to FastCompany, nominating Victoria for “fast city” status; you can read about the whole process here: So “fast,” I’m nearly invisible, my blog entry from July 18, 2007
  • if you read through to the update and follow the comments on the comments board, you’ll see that Dan Gunn from VIATec commented on July 19; I communicated all the information he needed to visit, rank, and comment since, as I learned also that very day, Victoria had been accepted by FastCompany’s editorial team: see Victoria’s page
  • on July 20, I emailed Bruce Carter of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce about my submission, explaining the nomination and asking him to rank / comment on Victoria (I never heard back from him: no response)
  • I emailed as many people I could think of, but heard back from none — a disappointing process I wrote about on my blog on July 29, in a post called Benchmarks; I ended this entry with these remarks: “And so the response / lack of response has become another benchmark for me. Climates of trust are built on response and responsiveness.”
  • in the middle of July, I wrote a brief article about Victoria, which dealt with the “fast city” submission and also addressed the findings of Geoffrey West, featured in the July/Aug.2007 edition of SEED Magazine (“The Living City” by Jonah Lehrer)
  • on July 17, I submitted this article to another local paper, The Business Examiner, and while I received an email back from the publisher (Simon Lindley), I never heard once from the editor (Steve Weatherbe), who was on vacation initially but ignored all subsequent emails from me, including the last one on I sent on Aug.2; in that email, I wrote that since I hadn’t heard from him since his return from vacation on July 23, I assumed it was ok if I placed my article elsewhere
  • on Aug. 13, Vibrant Victoria published my article (called The Race That Should be On: Victoria as “Fast City?”), linking to it from its front page as well as from the forum; I noted its appearance on my blog that same day with this entry: My “fast” appearance on Vibrant Victoria

I would argue that all of this establishes my role in this story — in fact, without me, there wouldn’t have been a story. And without Vibrant Victoria, whose focus is primarily on urbanism — not technology — my article would not have been published locally. Certainly The Business Examiner showed zero interest, aside from the friendly and courteous reply I received from its publisher. The editor, however, left unanswered what were at least 3 emails from me.

But now look what a cat’s breakfast our local daily paper, The Times-Colonist, and its allegedly professional reporter, Mr. Andrew A. Duffy, make of it. On Aug.17, co-incidentally (or not?) a mere 4 days after my piece appeared on VV’s page, he produced a front page — yes, a front page — article called Does Victoria make the cut? Its teaser intro states, “‘Booming’ Victoria should get quick trip to fast-city status, say tech workers”… Suddenly, this is solely an issue centred on technology, not urbanism; and suddenly, it’s also something that just sort of happened, and that was created — without Duffy ever writing who was behind it (me!) — by the technology sector. Who happen to be all men, too. Most galling is the fact that Duffy clearly interviewed Dan Gunn and Bruce Carter, and that even though they were in the picture from July 19/20 onward, they fail to mention my pivotal role.

And yes, I emailed both “gentlemen,” but have heard nothing back from either one.

Here’s what Duffy wrote in his fluff piece of distortion — it’s the full article, but I shall interrupt for clarity:

Does Victoria make the cut?
‘Booming’ Victoria should get quick trip to fast-city status, say tech workers
Andrew A. Duffy, Times Colonist staff
Published: Friday, August 17, 2007

‘Fast cities” are billed as creative, innovative places of the future, and a group of Victoria high-tech workers believes it’s high time B.C.’s capital joined their number.

That’s called fudging the facts. Duffy makes it sound as if these “high-tech workers” nominated Victoria. They didn’t — they’re not that fast.

Fast Company, a magazine that sells itself as a playbook for and chronicler of the “new economy,” recently released its Fast Cities issue, listing the 30 fastest cities — those deemed ideal for you and your business — in the world.

Victoria did not make the list, but Toronto and Vancouver did — the only Canadian cities to do so.

Ah, again: wrong. Duffy can’t get anything right, can he? Calgary also made the cut. Moral of this part of the story? Whatever you do, don’t believe everything that so-called professional journalists tell you.

But some capital region tech workers think Victoria should make the cut the next time round.

Already, 27 people, most tech workers, have gone to bat for Victoria on the Fast Company website (

Poor Mr. Duffy is decidedly un-web-savvy, otherwise he would have linked to the page for Victoria, for it’s not exactly easy to find us otherwise. There’s the user map, but even that takes a number of zoom-in clicks to the Pacific Northwest.

“Victoria is booming! There are cranes everywhere. Jobs are plentiful and we were a host city for the FIFA U-20. We just need the rest of the country to recognize it,” wrote Thomas Guerrero.

I would guess Duffy was being very lazy here. That’s the first comment up, and it indicates to me that he didn’t bother scrolling down the page to read some of the other remarks.

According to Dan Gunn, executive director of the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre, it’s about time people starting talking about Victoria in glowing terms.

“It’s very important to us if we are going to maintain our largest private-sector industry,” said Gunn of getting Victoria onto the world’s radar screen. “We can’t be a quiet industry anymore and that involves pumping up our chests once in a while.”

Gunn said that while Victoria’s high-tech industry has grown to a $1.7-billion sector and is going head-to-head with cities around the world for talent and investment, it sometimes gets forgotten.

“We’re not on the tip of everyone’s tongue like Silicon Valley,” he said. “Can we honestly expect to be put in the same category? No, but we can be considered one of the up-and-coming, most innovative and best places to live.”

Yes, it’s about time people started talking the place up, but you know what? It wasn’t your technologists at VIATec who did it, Dan. And it’s not about “pumping up” in some manly macho manner, either.

Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, applauded the talk-up-Victoria campaign, saying Victoria has been too modest for too long.

Lovely, Bruce, glad to know that you applauded. But guess what? I didn’t hear you!

“It’s our job to do that, our job as associations, and as a municipality and citizens to say, ‘hey we’re not newlywed and nearly dead. There is lots of stuff going on here,’ ” he said. And, he said, the city can sell itself as a place for large companies to set down head offices by playing up the lifestyle for workers.

Vancouver made the fast cities list as a green leader alongside Chicago, Stockholm and Portland, Ore., while Toronto made the list as a global village alongside Johannesburg and Berlin. Other cities on the 30-fastest list include usual suspects like New York, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., London, Shanghai and Sydney.

The magazine also put out a list of five slow cities: Budapest, Havana, New Orleans, Detroit and St. Louis, Mo.; five too-fast cities: Cairo; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Greenwich, Conn.; Las Vegas; and Shenzhen, China; and 20 cities on the verge, which included Seattle, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beijing.


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