this blog entry has been updated
Former Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni made his retirement announcement in November of 2010, saying he would be "leaving politics". This past week, we found out why, and how far away he was going. Hamilton's Cable 14 revealed Mayor Di Ianni now joins the ranks of local journalism, as host of the civic-minded broadcast For The Record (FTR).
This was a third bizarre stride toward inter-breeding the city politico with our local media coverage in Hamilton.
A broad step down this unusual path occurred in the 2010 election. Not only would broadcast legend Bob Bratina win the three-way Mayoral race, but also colleague and former FTR host Jason Farr won his bid to back-fill Bratina's vacated Ward 2 council seat. Farr was victorious with just 1607 votes total, about 21% of those cast, for an area of approximately 38,000 residents.
This is not a slight to either man. To me, they appear loyal, hardworking and smart... True Hamiltonians, if you will. In other lines of work, this is typically a laudable shift of career toward civic duty.
For media personalities, name-recognition is organic, press communication can be a familial exchange, and the public trust is previously established. That respect, however, derives from a prior objectivity and lack of bias that must disappear once in office. Popularity can win, without a single firm policy, plan or qualification.
The next major step towards a strange era here came with a loud criticism by Hamilton Spectator City Hall reporter Emma Reilly. It appeared Bratina refused all other media interviews, while the Bay Observer offered readers an exclusive with the Mayor-elect. This came after Peggy Chapman, the Observer's top reporter, accepted Bratina's offer to be his Chief of Staff.
The local media became the story. Reilly must now work with former Chapman as the subject, and bias about peers or rivals can be hard to put aside.
Larry Di Ianni hosting FTR must come as good news to some yet not so pleasing for others. Can our former Mayor put aside 25 years of politics - decades of party loyalty and activity - and sever himself from the political agendas of friends?
I understand why Bob Bratina and Jason Farr want to help steer Hamilton towards a great future. I appreciate why Peggy Chapman would take a position where she could really make a difference. And it is completely reasonable for any politician to jump at the chance to speak for two hours a week on TV.
I do not understand why Cable 14 would think this is healthy or wise for Hamilton. Attention-grabbing, to be sure, but it could appear to be a very partisan program move for public-access television.
I'm not alone in raising the question of journalists entering (and exiting and re-entering) politics. J-Source.org, a collaboration of leading journalism schools and organizations from across Canada, just presented a panel report by on the subject, entitled Journalists seeking public office: what are the ethical issues?
In journalism school, they teach in medias res is Latin for "into the middle of things", and that the media are required to stay in the middle, without taking sides. This wisdom is equal parts ethics and self-preservation: political tides will change, and partisan journalists and organizations are often swept away when they do.
Update: this blog entry originally listed the Cable 14 program as "On the Record", not "For the Record". RTH regrets the error.
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