I swore I was never going to do this, but after much soul-searching and inner debate, it’s time to say something.
This column isn’t about starting a spitting match, or a protracted war of words that drags this newspaper down instead of propping it up.
It’s about fighting back.
Monday night’s council meeting was a tragic step in reverse for the city, and for once it had nothing to do with a decision made at the table.
Many of you now know, or at least heard, that Monday’s meeting was reduced to a circus. City police were called, there was a small collection of protesters and at least one city councillor feared for their safety upon the meeting’s conclusion.
In short, it’s everything that is wrong with municipal politics these days.
A man (I refuse to publish his name for a couple of reasons: one, you already know who he is and two, I’m not about to give him any more publicity than he can conjure on his own) who operates a website was wearing what Mayor Bob Kilger deemed an offensive t-shirt.
It contained a likeness of the mayor on a milk carton – not sure I understand the symbolism, but Kilger took it to heart and offered the man a choice: change or get out.
The man said no way, and had to be ejected from the chambers with a little help from the police. (By the way, hat tip to the cops for getting there in less than a minute – wow!).
The man could be heard pleading his case in the hallway, demanding to be let back in. He never returned.
As far as city council is concerned, he’s not welcome back – though there will be a long hard debate about just how far council can go to bar a person from a public place during an open meeting.
The online barrage has been persistent over the years and months. The city, rightly or wrongly, has been subjected to its fair share of the vitriol.
I’m not here to suggest the posts I’ve read are accurate or not – but what is lacking is a deep sense of professionalism.
At Seaway News we are not immune. We’ve been labelled a bunch of cut-throats, copycats and wannabes because of a new feature we rolled out last week called “The Best of Cornwall.”
By now many of you have read, and have signed up for “The Best of Cornwall.” We thank you for your support and look forward to providing you with the finished product in a couple of weeks. You can find more details on “The Best of Cornwall” on Page 5.
It’s been suggested we lifted the idea from the man's website. I can say categorically we did not.
I encountered the website operator Monday night, and used language I’m not particularly proud of - but still stand by - in letting him know what I thought about the unwarranted criticism we received. It was probably just as unprofessional as the t-shirt, maybe more, but in the heat of the moment I felt justified in standing up to him.
What’s the point of all this?
I guess it’s that we’ve reached a tipping point of sorts, because lines are being drawn in the sand. The city has had enough, by virtue of Monday night’s spectacle.
It’s too bad it’s gotten to this point – but I support the response.
I’m not suggesting that the city shouldn’t be criticized – nor am I suggesting this newspaper doesn’t welcome constructive feedback.
But the line is being blurred between reporting on the story, and creating the story. Investigation is one thing – so is trumpeting an agenda.
Journalism graduates, and those who have been in this business long enough, know that you try to avoid reporting on yourself.
It’s not a problem specific to Cornwall. Some people, like me, think it falls into the "infotainment" category, where readers eagerly ask: "I wonder what they'll say next?"
I guess it’s why one should avoid taking themselves too seriously in this line of work.
The fact is, in this business, we often do a good job of making a bad name for ourselves on our own – we don’t need any help.
A college professor of mine once said: “The profession you have chosen is pretty far down the ladder, when it comes to respect. You’re better than the lawyers, but only by a little bit.”
It’s why we try to stay out of the limelight while reporting news stories, and save the back-slapping for the opinion pages. When you blur opinion and news, you can create something dangerous, because some people may believe your opinion is a fact.
Many of us have been the target of criticism. When it is justified, we welcome the debate.
When it is not, then it doesn’t do anyone any good.
We’ve seen and heard enough of the latter.