Friday, February 04, 2011

CBC News - New Brunswick - Mount Allison accepts staff wage hike

I don't like to be involved in union/administration issues. This story on CBC, however, allows me to talk about something else:



What I'd like to talk about is bad reporting. Let's leave the dispute at Mount A to one side (in terms of arguing about who is right and who is wrong. That is your decision to make.) Instead, this is an example of really bad reporting. For instance, there is some discussion of NB's financial situation, painted as dire (it is bad, to be sure). But ... no discussion of Mount A's. Mount A is not New Brunswick. Surely, someone reporting on a labour dispute at an institution should look into that institution. Instead, what it looks like they did was go the files and drag out a quote from the finance minister.

Second, the piece mentions the salary for a professor but does not specify that the word professor means different things in different places. My friends call everyone who teaches at Mount A a professor. So do faculty and students. If you stand in front of the room you are a professor. Some confusion, then, is fair enough. But, professor is also a rank. This reporter has confused the rank with the position. People call me professor. I've taught at Mount A for ten or twelve years (I'd need to look up exactly how long). My students call me "Professor" as do my friends when they are joking with me. Yet, I am not a "Professor by rank." I'm an Associate Professor by rank. I will not be a Professor for some time and I make no where near the figure given in the news story. Nor will I under any new contract based on the Conciliation Board report, nor will I for ages (maybe decades!) after that. In other words, the figure is not wrong but it distorts a financial picture.

Finally, this story is imbalanced. Some people I know complained that the reporter did not interview anyone from MAFA. I don't think they needed to do that. I don't think balance is a this side and that side type thing because, as I've said before, there are more than two sides. Objectivity is not given "each side" equal weight. Balance is created by investigation and evidence. Where is that investigation?

To sum up, you can have whatever view of what is going on at Mount A you want. I have my own views. My concern here is with bad reporting and this is bad reporting. It intuits Mount A's financial position from the provinces (something that cannot be done: Mount A's picture might be better or worse) and does not bother to use even the publicly accesible financial documents to make an independent report. Second, it distorts meaning because the reporter did not investigate the issue. It is OK for my friends to make a mistake, but this reporter is paid to *not* make this mistake. Finally, it lacks balance, not in a two sides type of thing but in failure of investigation. Reporting like this is the reason why Canadians are poorly informed about public issues.
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