It is often the job of the media to hold politicians to account; to report on what they do as well as those times when it is felt their duties and responsibilities to the public are being intentionally neglected.
This week’s story concerning Port McNeill and the $106,000 in earned interest payments they suggest is owed to the Town, appeared at first glance to be one of those stories about neglect of the public purse and trust.
But it wasn’t and it was a needed reminder about the sometimes uneven and maybe unfair ground journalist sometimes tread.
Our training is supposed to prevent us from jumping to a conclusion before assessing all the facts. However, if you’ve done this job long enough, you can become cynical and predisposed to negative outcomes, especially when covering politics.
I think the problem is also a product of journalism adapting to the competitive and fast paced world of online reporting. For the journalist, it is a world where the lifespan of a story can often be measured in minutes and valued by the number of hits, comments and shares instead of the actual content.
It is an environment where, if a reporter is not careful, you can find yourself reversing years of tradition by writing the headline before the story. For example…
When I first became aware of Port McNeill’s dilemma regarding a non-interest bearing chequing account, the jaded political reporter in me immediately kicked in. Without even knowing the facts of the story I was already thinking this would be a messy story and headline-grabbing article.
However, in place of cover-ups, finger pointing, denials and non-answers, I found town staff willing and able to provide me with answers to my questions along with details and timelines confirming the sequence of events.
Their openness was refreshingly honest and allowed me to write a short, factual story about something I felt was important for you to know.
I can safely say that everything was not perfect about how Port McNeill has dealt with this issue. I wish they had acted sooner. I wish it were already resolved. I wish the politicians and staff had been on the job longer and were more experienced. Lots of wishes but at the same time, given the tools and experience they had, I came away from writing this story thinking that even though they didn’t create the problem, they took ownership of it and were and are working to resolve it.
I think this is why I so enjoy small-town community newspapers, as community is the operative word. Most people I meet and write about are doing ‘news making things’ that are beneficial to that community. Volunteerism is big and the politician or businessperson I meet and write about during the working day is just as likely to be coaching kids hockey on weekends or raising funds for a needed cause
News is about information that is important to you. It is not about sensational headlines and stories but instead about the people that make this community of ours work.
Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org