EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: Professionalism has gone out the window

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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.”

He’s right.

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.

Organizations: Seaway News

Geographic location: Cornwall

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Recent comments

    March 06, 2013 - 10:13

    'Jo Bangles,' you - and your co-hort, Mr. Gilcig - remind me of a certain U.S. leader who tried to sell a bill that weakened pollution controls and regulations as the 'Clean Air Act.' Just because you make a claim doesn't change the facts. I've heard from more than a few people with prior 'experience' with Mr. Gilcig who, while admiring his determination, cite his lack of social and professional skills as obstacles in achieving his goals. He is his own worst enemy. Subjectively criticizing my comment and claiming I 'lose' changes none of those facts.

  • Freedom Fighter
    March 02, 2013 - 01:24

    Todd you have an interesting version to what actually happened Monday night. Mayor Kilger decided to make council a "circus" & his buddy Syd was the STAR of the evening. Kilgor needs a backbone & if he can't take the heat he should get out of the kitchen. Political mockery has existed longer then you've been alive.Kilgor should have ignore the T-shirt & do his job like a "professional" & stop wasting our tax dollars! Syd forgot we live in a democratic society & it is our democratic right to protest as Canadians. He had NO right to destroy the protesters signs & he should give the City a formal apology & be charged for his actions. Lastly, how dare you say one councillor feared for their safety. Are you for freakin real. The people who protested are for the most part Registered Nurses & professionals who care about their community. Maybe if you had the integrity to interview the protestors like a real journalist you would have a better understanding of their concerns. You & the clique are bullies. CornwallFree News is here to stay, so get used to it!

  • An alternate view
    February 28, 2013 - 18:39

    When speaking about professionalism, perhaps it would have been more professional of the Mayor and Council to just ignore Mr. Gilig's tee shirt instead of calling our City police for such a stupid reason. They of course, the police, had to respond quickly assuming that the Mayor and Council were in danger. Which was not the case unless you truly believe that free speech is a danger. This became a forum for discussion because the Mayor lacked the professionalism to deal with it.

  • Craig Michaels
    February 28, 2013 - 13:55

    "When you blur opinion and news, you can create something dangerous, because some people may believe your opinion is a fact." Your quote describes in a nutshell what happens over at Mr. Gilcig's enterprise. It's his personal soapbox that he desperately tries to pass off as news, or journalism, but it is not - at least not as we have commonly practiced journalism for centuries. Opinion should be labelled as such, while facts are reported objectively. John Mellencamp sang "the simple-minded and the uniformed can be easily led astray." That is the fear with self-styled internet 'journalists' - those looking for someone to validate their uniformed opinions find an ill-conceived 'champion' for their ignorance in men like Gilcig and soon supposition becomes confused with fact. While 'fighting back' runs the risk of dragging one's enterprise down to the same level as the Gilcig's of the world, the truth needs a champion, lest the online charlatans and carnival barkers poison the well.

    • Jo Bangles
      March 01, 2013 - 13:16

      I never really paid much attention to Jamie Gilcig's opinion of you until I read your comment. Really?... A quote from John Mellencamp?!?!!?? ..."uniformed" [sic] opinion?!?? All that and a barely literate splatter of metaphor, simile and who can tell what. ...You lose.

  • I am watching
    February 28, 2013 - 13:29

    Then he wonders why he is not liked.. he thinks that all the people reading his blog like him. I don't know this and nether dose he. He just assumes this and he also only reports on stuff that will stir the pot and then wonders why he never gets invited to stuff, or no one wants to talk to him as he will twist everything around. He is sickening with his reports and comments he makes, right or wrong he is just doing and going at everything the wrong way, what he thinks is making progress is actually making it worse for him and the city, report the news as a professional not as a kid in the play ground.

  • Judy Urbanek
    February 28, 2013 - 09:43

    Although, I agree with you in that you should just report the facts and leave your own opinions out of the news - I have no idea what incident or ongoing actions you are talking about. I have to say now, I am curious, though!

  • Anonymous
    February 28, 2013 - 09:43

    This whole debacle is getting really annoying...one paper against another...one jabs the other....Its getting sickening. Reading these newspaper articles are no longer enjoyable. I am not taking sides as I religiously read all the newspapers but lately it seems to be a battle. One eggs on the other and then next day the other has an article about the whole thing. You need to stop the back and forth and go back to doing what you should be doing in the first place....writing articles that interests your customers...the news....This is not only my opinion but the opinion of many of my colleagues at my workplace! People in Cornwall are talking about this...but not in a good way...

    • Elizabether
      February 28, 2013 - 18:01

      What Jamie writes comes no where near journalism. He writes a blog and blogs are merely opinions. He needs to be sued for all the slander and libel. His form of pot stirring is no different than little teenagers dissing each other on Facebook. He thrives on attention and drama especially if it is negative. People should mount a campaign to target his advertisers - maybe cutting off the gravy train will get the message across that his words are doing more harm than good.