Website used "to attack the opponents" of editor's brother deemed worthy by CJF
An organization which devotes itself to rewarding "accountability, accuracy and independence" in journalism is coming under fire from members of the Vancouver journalism community after issuing their highest award to a web-based news source known for political boosterism. The Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) at its 15th Annual Awards ceremony held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto issued their Excellence in Journalism Award to the online Vancouver Observer (VO) in their small/local media category.
Contacted by City Caucus, CJF media spokesperson Wendy Kan explained that the award is issued by a jury to news organizations that apply to be considered for the award. In order to be considered for the award candidates must meet some basic requirements around diversity, accountability, professional journalistic practices, accurancy in reporting and independence. Asked if the CJF releases a shortlist of candidates in the category, a flustered-sounding Kan responded that no shortlist is issued by the CJF, nor does the organization release the application by the winning candidate. Asked by City Caucus how the public would know if there was more than one candidate considered for the award, or even multiple submissions, Kan would not comment on the record.
City Caucus requested an interview with Canadian Journalism Foundation Executive Director Natalie Turvey, but was told she was unavailable. Instead, our inquiry was directed to the awards jury chair Michael Benedict, President of MCB Strategies and a former Executive Editor of Maclean's. Speaking with Mr. Benedict before he boarded a flight, it was confirmed that the CJF jury does not routinely reveal which media organizations apply for their awards. Asked if the CJF jury might release the application of the winner in the small/local media category, Benedict said we should ask the Vancouver Observer for it.
When Benedict was asked whether their jury vets the candidates he responded, "we rely on the integrity of the submission [by the applicant]." Of the nine-member CFJ awards panel of jurors, eight are based out of Ontario (7 Toronto, 1 Ottawa) and the ninth is based in Halifax.
Vancouver Observer is a website run by Linda Solomon. Solomon is best known as the sister of Joel Solomon, the mentor and chief fundraiser for Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver. They are daughter and son of Jay Solomon, a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based shopping mall developer who served briefly as head of the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington, DC, before returning to his home state. Linda Solomon became a permanent resident of Canada after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center made her a self-described "9/11 refugee".Linda Solomon was featured beside City Caucus in a 2011 feature article in BCBusiness Magazine titled "The Politics of Vancouver Blogs". Vancouver Observer was cited as a site with "clear political allegiances" to Vancouver City Hall and Mayor Gregor Robertson. In Vancouver's journalism circles the Observer is deemed mainly as a partisan source favouring the current government at Vancouver City Hall. Four veteran journalists were interviewed by City Caucus for their opinions on VO receiving the CJF's top honour, and none would speak on the record.
Asked point blank whether VO is news one journalist gave a qualified 'yes'. "Anyone today can set up a news source today, so I can hardly exclude them from that category. I've seen some of VO's journalists and I see them making a reasonably rigorous effort to cover the story fairly. However, do I think Vancouver Observer is independent? No. They spend too much time blowing smoke up the ass of Vision [Vancouver]." The seasoned reporter said that VO should be allowed to apply for a journalism award. But should they have won? "No, I do not think so. It in effect dismisses really good journalism in the marketplace. The problem with the CJF award is that it torks the appearance of these kinds of awards. If the CJF jury had even done a simple background check they would have realized the don't deserve an award for journalism."
Another veteran Vancouver journalist who has tracked VO's work said they have attempted to find journalistic merit in the site's work. "I've read one story that I can confidently say was well-researched. But I've tried to take a step back and my judgment is that VO is really more of a buttress for Joel Solomon's interests and making Gregor Robertson look good."
A senior member of Vancouver's journalism community claimed to be "disheartened" by the news VO had received the CJF award. "I saw what they posted about Vivian Krause and I was outraged. The story about her claimed to have sources in the ENGO sector, but we know the source is Joel Solomon. VO are in a clear conflict of interest when they report this stuff, but they do not disclose it. It's a breach of journalistic ethics that I find disheartening." Krause today tweeted that VO blocks her on Twitter, not allowing her a rebuttal.
Does this mean that online journalism in general is discredited? This industry veteran says no. "I'd say new media and citizen journalism can offer something. What's troubling to me is that the [CJF] award was given to an organization driven by a clearly partisan agenda. Online journalists must be held to the same high standard as everyone else in this field."
Finally, City Caucus contacted a long time and widely read newspaper commentator and reporter. Asked about VO's award a belly laugh came across the phone. "I think it's pretty funny that you can get an award after you use your website to attack your brother's opponents!
"I've tried to find something worthwhile on VO's reporting, but the fact is they just irritate me."
Asked if the problem rests with awards for journalism, the response was glib. "We have to be careful in our industry. Some of us are going to get dislocated shoulders from patting ourselves on the back so much. The thing about VO is they keep telling everyone repeatedly how great they are. If you say something often enough people start to believe you. I think this is what's happening here."
City Caucus has emailed the Canadian Journalism Foundation for a response and will share it here as a follow-up. Here is the press release related to the event.
– post by Mike