Wed | Dec 7, 2016

What price information?

Published:Tuesday | August 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Gordon Robinson

Gordon Robinson

Canada's largest circulation national newspaper is The Globe and Mail. It's based in Toronto and printed in six Canadian cities. With a weekly readership of approximately one million, it's widely regarded as Canada's newspaper of record.

Canadian journalist, technology and media expert, Jesse Brown, whose popular Canadaland podcast features interviews with the best and brightest, is renowned for his biting critique of mainstream media. On June 10, he published a leaked memo prepared by The Globe and Mail management, vetted by Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley, and sent to "members of the Local 87-M bargaining unit at the Globe & Mail". It's reproduced below in full.

"I'm writing to clarify the Employer's latest position with regard to their view on bargaining unit employees engaging in Advertiser-sponsored work.

First, the Employer has stated that protecting The Globe's brand - its integrity and the integrity of its employees - is the Employer's primary interest.

As this can be a complicated subject, I'll start by defining the different types of work associated with advertisers:

1. Custom Content: This is work that advertisers sponsor but do not direct or approve. Reporters and Editors already work on Custom Content work. Ex. Canada's Top 100 Employers in the ROB

2. Branded Content: Print and digital content that is approved by the advertiser but is not about the advertiser. Ex. Native Advertising and Dogs Annual Magazine

3. Advertorial: This is work that is always approved by the advertiser and is always about the advertiser.

The Employer proposes the following for bargaining unit production and content creators:

Production Employees - Production Employees will be responsible for editing and posting all of this work so long as the employee finds that there is not a direct conflict of interest apparent in them doing the work. Specifically, a copy editor will not be asked to edit a piece that would create a conflict of interest to their current work. For example, an investment editor would not be asked to edit a piece on the Bank of Montreal.

Content Creators - Content Creators will be asked to engage in Custom Content work (as per current practice). Content Creators will not be asked to engage in Advertorial work. Content Creators may be asked to work on Branded Content, so long as that work does not pose a conflict of interest. The following test will be applied to determine if a conflict of interest exists for a Content Creator:

Step 1: Does the assignment pose a conflict of interest to the Content Creator in regard to the beat that they are currently writing for? If yes, they will not be given the assignment. If no, the Content Creator is responsible for completing the assignment and moves to Step 2.

Step 2: After the advertiser has reviewed it, the Content Creator has a right to pull the assignment if they believe that a conflict of interest exists with regard to changes that the advertiser has made. If there is a conflict of interest, the assignment will be pulled. If not, the assignment will be printed/posted.

It is the Employer's position that the above test will protect the integrity of The Globe and its employees."

Branded content

So "branded content" is to be vetted by advertisers and presented to readers as if written by staff. The polite phrase for this is monetised integrity. Newspapers worldwide are strapped for cash. Does this justify this sort of blatant, vulgar payola?

Do we have similar problems in Jamaica? I don't know. What I do know is this. During April 2014, two weekly articles appeared in the Gleaner Company publication Track & Pools written by respected racing journalist Donovan 'Minister of Information' Wilson. These articles were critical of Caymanas Track Limited's operations, first from its Racing Office, then its Marketing Department. He paid for the insertions as advertisements. There were no legal repercussions.

Yet, on Week Three, when he submitted another article with the appropriate insertion fee, he was told by the Track & Pools 'publication director' that his articles would no longer be permitted. No reason was given.

He asked the publication director to put the banning (or should I say 'Baining') order in writing. His request was refused. So he complained in writing to the publication director. His letter was ignored. He wrote to The Gleaner's editor-in-chief. No reply yet.

Remember Goodman's Law? "Don't ask if it's about the money. It's always about the money." Such is the vile world we now inhabit. Everything has its price, and that price is falling every day.

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Track & Pools is a horse-racing magazine published by Popular Printers Ltd, a subsidiary of The Gleaner Company. The magazine is the official programme for racing at Caymanas Track Ltd and in its production, there is collaboration between Popular Printers and Caymanas Track Ltd.

After Track & Pools discontinued the publication of ALL letters, regardless of content, attempts were made to circumvent that decision by the insertion of letters as paid advertisements. That, too, was discontinued, as all Track & Pools ads must promote bona fide products or services.