Right in the centre - Champion the truth!


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

This year’s celebration of National Newspaper week is aptly titled, “Champion the Truth”.

The value of newspapers and championing the truth has never been more important to Canada and to North America. The newspaper is the bedrock of our society’s eternal quest for facts and truth. Without  news reporters, that have to be supported by advertising by the way, many very important stories would go untold.

People can express their love for radio, TV or the internet, but the majority of the news stories that populate the latter three types of media originate from a newspaper. It might be a small town eight or 12 page weekly paper or a 100 page metro daily, but most of the news we hear today comes originally from a newspaper.

It’s a standing joke that the staff in big city radio and TV station newsrooms gather round the morning paper to see what their stories will be that day.

Without reporters, and advertisers supporting them, there would be very little news.

Newspapers are usually fairly reliable and the closer to local ownership, the more reliable it becomes. There is an accountability factor in communities, especially if the paper is locally owned. It’s a model we have tried hard to follow. It is no coincidence that of the 12 papers that have closed in the past year in Manitoba, all were owned by large corporations and most of them with a head office hundreds of miles away from the town where the paper was published. Local ownership brings accountability to the scene at a far higher rate than large corporations can usually deliver.

There is another accountability factor to newspapers and that’s if it’s in print, it needs to have a name attached to it. Anonymity and newspapers don’t make a good partnership. Columns have to have known authors, stories have to as well. Letters to the editor need to be signed.

A number of years ago, papers started to run a “sound off” page where anonymous people could spout off about anything that came to mind. It’s still being allowed by a few newspapers and personally, I think they are nuts to do so.

Some time later, the idea of internet blogs came along and writers would put out news and opinions and let other people weigh in anonymously on the topic of the day. A very good Brandon writer, Curtis Brown, who toiled at one time for the Brandon Sun, had an excellent run with his blog. I wrote to Curtis and advised him of the danger of allowing anonymous comments. You wouldn’t allow it in a letter to the editor in the paper, so why would you even even consider it on the internet? He didn’t agree, until much later, when the comments slipped so far from credibility that he stopped. The Winnipeg Free Press and its sister paper, the Brandon Sun, run a lot of stories on their websites. They used to allow anonymous comments. That didn’t work out well, so they started to “monitor” the comments. That was a poor use of time and money, and I told them so, but they persisted. When they got some stories that were open to racist comments, no amount of monitoring could curtail the filthy flood, so they eventually canned their comments section. Good riddance, I say.

If an opinion is worth expressing, it needs to have a name attached to it. Some people don’t have enough confidence or courage of their convictions to state their views in an identifiable public manner. Perhaps then it shouldn’t be said.

There may be an odd exception,  such as when speaking out would endanger their job. Perhaps their objection is of a legal or moral nature. If that’s the case, they need to be talking to the police, not making anonymous comments.

Newspapers need to be celebrated every week. If a community still has a newspaper, they need to do everything they can to keep it viable. Without the newspaper, local communities can easily lose control of accountability for councils and school boards. The local paper carries news and ads you will never see on big city TV, in big city papers or hear on the city radio.

Championing the truth in an accountable manner is the bedrock of our communities and the local newspapers do it well.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.