From time to time, Raise the Hammer is accused of Spec-bashing. Well, in over 800 articles and blog entries, we've written maybe ten pieces that criticize the Hamilton Spectator, and many more that credit the paper for its often excellent reporting.
Still, there's no question we sometimes feel frustrated with the editorial policy at our town's one daily newspaper. That doesn't mean we hate the Spec or want to see it fail. To the contrary: as citizens, we need news sources like the Spec so we can better understand what's going on and how best to respond.
The newspaper is a vital part of Hamilton's media landscape, and if we sometimes criticize choices the editors make, it's because we want them to do a better job. Call it 'tough love'.
In any case, I'm pleased to write that I was delighted with Saturday's editorial by Dana Robbins, the paper's editor-in-chief. Responding to the hate mail the paper received over its endorsement of Larry Di Ianni for mayor, Robbins answered each charge in a Q&A format, laying the paper's editorial policy on the table. (Trevor Shaw will be writing more about the "power of the press" in our upcoming issue.)
Robbins began by quoting a letter that challenged Di Ianni's record, writing, "The most common complaint I received this week was not that The Spectator had endorsed a candidate, but rather that we had endorsed the 'wrong' candidate."
This is a fair point. Raise the Hammer has long been concerned with the Spec's policy of endorsing candidates. To avoid hypocrisy we decided not to endorse candidates in this election, but instead to endorse policies that we advocate.
Robbins went on to explain who develops the paper's editorial positions (the publisher, editor-in-chief, opinions editor, editorial page staff, cartoonist, and political and city columnists). This is important for readers to understand, not only because it humanizes the corporation, but also because it lets readers attempt to engage those humans in dialogue.
The next quoted reader complained that the endorsement is not "a fair, objective and non-partisan perspective on current events." This is the part that made me happy. Robbins replied:
Fair enough, but integrity-based reporting and pointed commentary are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I'd argue the former is the logical foundation for the latter. Our news reporting should always meet the test set by this reader, but there must be a different bar for opinion and commentary, which is inherently "biased." That is, after all, why it's called opinion.
I've written before that every news entity has a bias and an agenda, but the newspaper seems to pretend it does not. Here, Robbins explicitly acknowledged that the editorial policy is most certainly an opinion, and that the journalistic rules of objectivity and non-partisanship do not apply.
(Those who complain that RTH sometimes criticizes the Spec may note that we usually criticize the Spec's editorial stances, not its straight reporting.)
Robbins extended his candour to the next question, which asked whether it was "The Spectator's intention to sway public opinion by endorsing Larry Di Ianni."
His response: "Yes."
Hats off to Robbins for taking responsibility for the Spec's endorsement, explaining and defending their decision, and confronting the criticisms of angry readers. We don't expect them to stop having an opinion - we just expect them to be honest and upfront about it.
You must be logged in to comment.