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Not you! Your organization is terrible! CBRM ignores reporter’s questions

Not you! Your organization is terrible!   Donald Trump speaking to CNN reporter at his recent press conference

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When you’re a journalist and the people you report on don’t talk to you, your job becomes much harder. How will you get the facts and understand what motivates the people you’re writing about?

This is the unfortunate situation Sydney journalist Mary Campbell finds herself in. Campbell, who runs the news site the Cape Breton Spectator, devotes a lot of her time to covering municipal politics in CBRM.

Mary Campbell. Contributed.

Now Christina Lamey, the person in charge of Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s communications and media relations, is not responding to questions Campbell submits. When asked why, Lamey raised her perceived lack of  “fair and balanced” coverage, Campbell tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.

It’s fairly serious. When I ask the federal government or the province questions, I always get a response. Not necessarily an in depth or helpful answer, but I do get a response,” says Campbell.

“I report. I don’t think the PR person for the mayor gets to be the arbiter of what is journalism and what is not,” Campbell says.

The reason Lamey is unhappy with Campbell’s work may well be related to Campbell’s critical coverage of decisions made by mayor Cecil Clarke and some members of CBRM Council.

But Campbell is far from alone in the criticism that mayor Clarke’s dealings at times are not sufficiently transparent. Several councillors recently took to the media to claim that they felt bullied when they complained about receiving insufficient information.

Lamey responds

In an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate Lamey writes, “I began by expressing that her approach is in bad faith. Mary’s writing usually contains commentary that is disdainful toward others in our community. I expressed to her that fairness and balance would be welcome. By her reaction, I don’t think we see eye-to-eye on that.”

Lamey also writes that the mayor is available after council meetings, events, etc. for questions. “Providing additional commentary or quotes for her blog is at our discretion.”

Earlier Lamey had refused to add Campbell to a distribution list for CBRM press releases, Campbell says, and she had to appeal to councillors for help in rectifying that situation.

Much of this is related to Lamey’s position, which is unusual in the municipal context here in Nova Scotia.

The folks responsible for communication with the press in HRM and elsewhere tend to be municipal employees who are non-partisan about the issues at hand. But Lamey, a former communications director of the provincial  Progressive Conservative caucus, is a political appointee, handpicked by mayor Clarke after he was first elected in 2012.

That said, the Cape Breton Post quoted Clarke at that time as emphasizing that Lamey “will not act as a spokesperson to speak on behalf of the mayor or council. Instead, she will work to ensure media have access to all elected officials when needed.”

Well, as it turns out not all media. Just those media Lamey deems “fair and balanced.”

How can I cover both sides when one side doesn’t want to talk to me?

“I can’t imagine there is a politician anywhere in the world who believes news coverage he or she receives is fair and balanced,” Campbell observes.

“Lamey says that she wants fair and balanced, but how can I cover both sides when one side doesn’t want to talk to me? I don’t want to have to guess what they’re thinking and what they’re doing.

“I’d happily print their answers. I am not going to twist them. I will report accurately, that’s what I do. But as a reporter the situation is untenable. As a reporter I need to have access to information from the community I am reporting on.”

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  1. Very interesting article, and a problem for investigative reporters everywhere. Nobody says that reporters get their questions answered, so I guess she has to find other means and alternative sources.

    As for the Trump quote, that was an entirely different context. CNN is the farthest thing from the Cape Breton Spectator, and it had just published an unverified hit piece that other organizations had refused to publish for months. Has everyone removed a part of their brains and replaced it with irrational Trump hate?

    For God’s sake, Trump is real and he is about to be POTUS, a situation that deserves to be taken very seriously, but this reference was just lazy writing.

  2. I was a municipal politician for almost 30 years. During that time, I received what could have been described as unbalanced and unfair coverage by media, from my point of view at least. But the media I have in mind were regional and national, not just local. This is part of the reality of public life. One can’t refuse to give your side of the story because a reporter might scoff at your thinking or question the fullness of your response. Being misquoted or quoted badly out of context is a different matter of course. One has to set the record straight. But someone not being impressed with your reasoning comes with democracy and a free press.

  3. looks like the Mayor’s PR person has taken a page from former PM Harper’s page on press relations. Politician’s and their operatives do not get to decide who is and is not a journalist unless they are fascists , dictators or tyrants (feel free to use this line Mary) this is not my opinion but historical fact.

  4. Anyone that follows CBRM politics with some objectivity knows that there is something very wrong with what’s going on behind the scenes. Lots of things being hidden from the public. Mary Campbell has been doing freedom of information requests and other digging to try to find the truth and she reports on her findings.

    Those who are trying to hide the truth certainly don’t like this and they have been attempting to discredit and cut off anyone who challenges this. The irony in the story above is that some of the local mainstream news media has certainly not been “fair and balanced” in their reporting because they have not questioned anything and have allowed the secrets to remain secret and have allowed misinformation to be published. I suspect this is what has driven Mary Campbell to have to do all the heavy lifting … if the mainstream media was doing it’s job, Mary Campbell would not need to pursue such stories.

  5. Mary Campbell’s writing is not what I would consider journalism. She says she takes both sides information and then reports objectively on it. This is far from the truth. She does take the information and does twist it, even though she says she doesn’t. I’ve witnessed her attacks against people who were trying to put out information and trying to have a dialogue on some social network sites such as gocapebreton. With Mary Campbell, you don’t get a dialogue, you get a diatribe and personal attacks.

  6. When traditional print news sources — local, regional and national — are failing or folding, Mary Campbell’s brave venture into electronic journalism offers us commentary on public issues based on the sort of thorough reseach we haven’t the time to do ourselves. Ms. Campbell goes to credible sources via freedom-of information requests, undertakes extensive research and attempts to interview knowledgeable parties on all sides of the issues, then delivers us thoughtful, fairminded commentary with a delightfully wry wit. The Cape Breton Spectator is absolutely necessary reading for an informed citizenry , especially now in the face of stonewalling by our mayor’s “spokesperson.” The Spectator is, to my mind, the most promising development in citizen journalism in decades, and very much deserving of our support. Buy a subscription for yourself, and spread the word about this journal. We can’t afford to lose it!

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