June 2, 2008
Re: the Spring 2008 issue

Greetings from a Ryerson magazine journalism graduate, class of 1996. I’m a former Ryerson Review scribbler myself—I wrote the John Haslett Cuff cover story, “Sympathy for the Devil,” that year.

I just want to pass on my congratulations to this year’s Spring 2008 team. I’ve been living overseas in England for several years, and moved to Vancouver last year, so I’ve been out of the Review loop. But a chance quick business trip took me to Toronto this week and my mother (bless her) had a copy waiting for me.

I’ve now read Spring 2008 from front-of-book to Lloyd Robertson’s mock Facebook page at the back, and I thoroughly enjoyed the issue. I’m very impressed, and thought the articles were excellent, particularly the foreign correspondent pieces. Having been-there-done-that myself, I know how hard everyone worked to put it out (as I’m sure the Summer 2008 crew have!).

I just wanted to send some kudos and “well-dones” before I got sucked back into my workload.

Mikala Taylor
Vancouver

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May 1, 2008
Re: Carla Wintersgill’s editorial, “Taking Back the Cover,” Spring 2008

So the editor, a Ms. Wintersgill, thinks it’s so clever to use the phrase “middle-aged white guys” she beats it to death in editorial, oblivious to the irony of reverse sexism.

Though your magazine is great, this kind of tiresome and juvenile spritzing is not. It’s knee-jerk dunce work. We may think she’s great, but we don’t call Wendy Mesley a “middle-aged white gal,” do we—though CBC’s halls and on-air positions are full of them?

After years of women screaming, “Show some respect,” is it possible that supposed bright young things don’t realize they have to earn it?

Peter Feniak
Toronto

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April 25, 2008
Re: Ryerson Review of Journalism, Spring 2008

In the span of an enormously entertaining and insightful issue, not once did any of your stories mention enRoute, or any other Canadian custom publication. Your story on service journalism, for example, or on women on top of mastheads, might have been enhanced greatly by talking to, say, Ilana Weitzman, the editor in chief of enRoute. As one of this country’s largest and most successful magazines, you do your readers a disservice to ignore a magazine like enRoute because it is merely an “inflight magazine.” You also do your students an even larger disservice by ignoring custom publishing altogether—it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the magazine industry in Canada and the U.S. The offices of Spafax (the publisher of enRoute, among other titles) have grown more than 100 per cent in the past two years. We employ committed editors and designers from across Canada—who come to us because they want to work in a fast-paced, intellectually stimulating magazine environment.

Interesting how they have figured this out—as have many of this country’s leading writers/journalists—but the gatekeepers of the industry (including the National Magazine Awards Foundation—of which I have just been elected to the board) have yet to figure this out. It’s a pity, really. This attitude, ultimately, weakens your mandate specifically, and the overall view of the Canadian magazine industry in general.

Sincerely, Arjun Basu
Editorial Director
Spafax

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March 25, 2008
Re: Erin Tandy’s “How Extra Super Fab Can It Get?”  rrj.ca, March 25, 2008

I read the article on fab magazine, and felt the need to point out something about the the Matt Thomas quote, “I’m 23. I’m a baby. I’m young. The person who had my job before was in his thirties. But like I said, people know good ideas and energy and excitement when they see it.” People who had Thomas’s job before were other twentysomethings as well, like Michael Pihach and Antony Collins.

I think Thomas is confusing the associate editor position with the other two editors who were fired, who held editor-in-chief and managing editor posts.

Cara Monk

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January 26, 2008
Re: Ashley Pergolas’s “Please Do Not Adjust Your Set….” rrj.ca, January 21, 2008

I am writing to express my utter disappointment with the blatant propaganda that your organization printed about International World Television and their beta project The Real News Network (TRNN). Ms. Pergolas’s article missed many of the key issues faced by this organization.

The article reads like press release for the organization and not a journalistic report on it. The piece excuses the fact that this organization is having difficulty delivering on its lofty and, in my opinion, vitally important goal of delivering news untainted by corporate or political agendas with a simple wink and nod by Paul Jay. He’s taken at his word when he indicates that the opinions of all former employees are unfounded and the organization is experiencing growing pains typical of any start-up.

The weight of opinion in this article is clearly slanted toward supporting TRNN regardless of the facts, and my perception is that it supports Mr. Jay in his ongoing quest to vilify all who oppose his actions within the organization. This was accomplished in the article by ensuring that the content and context of the comments by those quoted other than Ms. Cahill, Mr. Booth and Mr. Jay was distorted or completely ignored.

For example, I am horrified at how badly misquoted I was in the article. The quote, “Shit or get off the pot,” was tagged on to the end of a paragraph in which I was stating the inefficiencies of having to wait for a news story to be approved by the Senior Editor. The selective use of my words left out the substance of what I said in my interview and opted for the salacious sizzle of my more colourful final phrase.

The point that I was trying to make was in reference to the issue of separating the role of CEO and Senior Editor. My perspective on this was very practical because, as I explained to Ms. Pergolas, I was speaking as a finishing editor whose time was constantly being wasted because Mr. Jay’s role as CEO often took him away from the newsroom and his role of Senior Editor. I was very clear that this was nothing personal against Mr. Jay and that I did not care which role he assumed.

My point was that a separation needed to occur, and that it needed to occur quickly, so that TRNN could go about the business of improving the quality and timely delivery of true news. I told Ms. Pergolas that Mr. Jay needed to make a choice as to whether he was the visionary evangelist of the organization and its mission, or he was the vigilant and inspirational overseer of the newsroom.

Now that you have the content and context of my comments, you may insert my colourful phrase.

To speak to one more point that concerns me, I am offended on behalf of all those talented people who have graced the TRNN with their presence, skill and passion, as well as all of those still at TRNN with a strong desire to learn and grow in their chosen profession.

Mr. Jay indicates that it has been a challenge for him to build a competent team “capable of producing the level of content TRNN hopes to provide” because financial constraints do not allow him to entice experienced people away from conventional newsrooms. Mr. Allan Booth, TRNN web developer, indicates that the general level of internal skills is not enough to produce “top level work” and that many of the staff have “half-skills” which do not allow them to take their work to “the next level.” This is truly insulting considering that the reality is that TRNN has had talented, capable professionals working for it, and these professionals were keen on developing the skill sets of lesser-experienced members of the staff.

What happened to these individuals then? Well, it appears that they dared to brush up against TRNN’s leadership in defense of the cause and were fired. Others quit in frustration when they were unable to achieve forward momentum in the newsroom and saw no hope of being able to do so in the future. The rate of attrition at TRNN is horrendous and it has drained the most talented and experienced of the organization’s staff. This alone is proof of major problems beneath the surface of the organization and is worthy of true journalistic investigation.

Mr. Jay indicates that financial constraints are the root of his staffing and skill-set issues. The problem with this defense is that money was not an issue when the likes of David Nayman, Dennis Porter and Tim Knight worked within the organization. These experienced and talented individuals came to TRNN because they believed in the cause behind the organization; it was not the money that motivated them. And it was not an issue of money that caused each of them to exit the organization.

So what does Mr. Jay mean when he indicates that true talent is too costly for TRNN to support at this time? Is the price of a little humility and the willingness to trust others too high for Paul Jay to accept?

Jeff Boulton
Producer/Director
Toronto

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January 24, 2008
Re: “How not to accuse someone of plagiarism,” RRJBlog, Jan. 24, 2008

I’m emailing to respond to the article on the Ryerson Review of Journalism‘s blog about Torontoist’s accusation of plagiarism against the Toronto Sun.

I read the RRJ blog every day. While I’ve been keeping mostly private about the matter––in my mind it’s closed now––your post is inaccurate, and I felt compelled to reply to it, particularly this bit:

“He later had to issue a retraction, apologizing for assuming it was the 26-year-old Yuen behind the copycat move.”

That’s not true. I issued an addendum to the first post, before the resolution of the issue, which read as follows:

“This article implicated Jenny Yuen as necessarily part of the act of plagiarism that took place in the article published under her name in
the Sun before such an accusation could be conclusively proven. Such a presumption of her guilt was premature, unfair, and irresponsible, especially for such a serious accusation. Torontoist sincerely apologizes for deeming her guilty until proven innocent; a more detailed explanation and apology are in the comments. We will follow up on this story as more details about the person or persons responsible become available, and we will issue a full apology to Jenny Yuen if it is proven that she was not one of those people.”

The Sun, a day later, was the one that issued an apology for the copying of the paragraph without credit. We replied to the Sun‘s apology, but––because our apology was conditional on whether or not our accusations were unfounded––did not issue one of our own.

Your article completely omits the Sun’s apology and our response to it, a vitally important aspect of the story. At the very least, it might help readers of the blog to link to both Torontoist‘s article accusing the Sun of plagiarism, as well as the one following up on it.

I am absolutely willing to take criticism for the decision I made to publicly accuse a publication and author of plagiarism (and it was plagiarism, intentional or otherwise) but I feel it should at least be accurate criticism.

David Topping
Editor-in-chief
Torontoist

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January 24, 2008
Re: Ashley Pergolas’s “Please Do Not Adjust Your Set….” January 21, 2008, rrj.ca

I have to tell you that the story about Independent World Television’s The Real News Network (TRNN) bears little resemblance to the sad truth about TRNN.

Background—a couple of weeks ago your reporter approached me with questions about TRNN, of which I was Director of Journalism Training for 10 months. As a journalist I have always believed that it’s unprofessional, even immoral, to not answer questions from other journalists, or answer only off the record. So I spent around an hour with her, on the record, answering questions as honestly as I could.

Please allow me to detail a few highly salient points, almost all of which somehow ended up on your cutting room floor.

I told her I have 30 years experience as a journalist with ABC, NBC, PBS and CBC and pointed her to www.TimKnight.org for details (along with TRNN staff feedback after my training there). That I’m a former producer of CBC’s The National and was for 10 years executive producer, CBC TV journalism training. Additionally, I’ve led journalism training workshops for a dozen international broadcasters over the years. All of which, I assumed, qualified me to tell her that during those many years in news I have seldom come across a more unprofessional newsroom than TRNN.

I told her that staff turnover at TRNN has been astounding. Some 20 people, many of them highly motivated, skilled and experienced, have resigned from TRNN in sheer bloody frustration over the past year or so. This, at a time when TV stations are laying off staff and TV jobs are extraordinarily hard to find!

I told her that in my professional opinion Paul Jay—a charismatic, workaholic documentary and current affairs talk show producer who wears both CEO and Senior Editor hats at TRNN—has neither the experience nor the temperament to run a professional daily newsroom. Jay is a self-confessed micro-manager who insists that news stories blindly follow his own particular view of the world.

I told her that the professional atmosphere at TRNN is so frustrating and counterproductive that last fall all five newsroom journalists met to draw up a petition to Jay. Here is an excerpt:

We, the undersigned, have gathered together to form The Real News Journalists Association (TRNJA) in the belief that an independent, international internet and broadcast news organization is a truly worthwhile cause and … could be a vital element in the furtherance of public service journalism and democracy around the world.

In that spirit—and properly recognizing the vision and determination that have brought this project so very far—we respectfully make the following requests: That a more professional, efficient and positive atmosphere be established in the newsroom; that to ensure the traditional and vital separation of journalistic church and state, the offices of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Senior Editor be separated; that the CEO be in overall charge, define the goals of the newsroom and be responsible for guarding and protecting its integrity and quality; that the title of Senior Editor be dropped, replaced with the title News Executive Producer, and that, as a most urgent priority, a News Executive Producer with extensive experience in heading a daily news operation be appointed.

We respectfully make these requests in a true spirit of professional cooperation solely to further the immediate and long-term interests and efficiency of a cause in which we all fervently believe—The Real News.

Instead of accepting our petition as an honest—and desperate—attempt to help save a floundering project we sincerely believe in, Jay fires two of us (me included) and has angry confrontations with the others involved, including threats of further firings.

Some half-dozen disillusioned former TRNN journalists, including me, have since told your reporter what is actually going on in the organization. How frustrated we are that so much time, energy and funds go into raising money from celebrities and building social networks while so little goes into building a professional newsroom. How frustrated we are when unqualified, often incompetent people are hired. How embarrassed we are at the poor quality of most of the stories produced (using widely available AP wire service cover footage).

But almost none of what we told your reporter is included in the story. Certainly, not a word I said (perhaps I wasn’t considered sufficiently qualified to be believable).

Instead of giving the facts, your story only hints at the problems and comes across as a public relations release about a plucky little network battling enormous odds in a splendid cause.

The cause is, indeed, splendid. What could be more praiseworthy, even saintly, than offering not-for-profit TV journalism With “No government funding … No corporate funding … No advertising … No strings”?

The promises made by TRNN are simply not being kept. And as I told your reporter (as well as Jay at newsroom meetings), if the noble experiment that is TRNN fails, it will seriously damage the cause of international public service TV journalism for years to come and likely make it impossible for anyone else to ever embark on such a worthwhile project again. It is not too late to save the cause that is TRNN. Public relations won’t do it—only extensive and radical change.

I assume that as prestigious a forum as the Ryerson Review of Journalism (which proudly proclaims itself as casting “an unflinching look at the practice of journalism in Canada”) will give this letter prominence similar to the original story.

Tim Knight
Executive Producer
Tim Knight + Associates

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January 24, 2008
Re: Ashley Pergolas’s “Please Do Not Adjust Your Set….” rrj.ca, January 21, 2008

I recently read your article about The Real News. I worked at The Real News and was interviewed for the story, though not quoted.

I want to say that in my 10 years in media, working for more than a half dozen broadcasters, I can’t recall seeing another story that was so misleading. The author had access to a wealth of information about TRN, yet none of this made it into the story. Instead of painting a critical—and accurate—picture of the organization, you ran a virtual press release. It did not resemble anything that any journalist could reasonably have concluded from the facts that were available. How did such a misleading story make it to print?

I look forward to your explanation.

Dennis Porter

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