Credibility means never having to say you’re sorry…

Yeah, literally – that’s what it means…

According to my handy-dandy Oxford – Credibility (noun): the condition of bring credible or believable.

Or Wikipedia, which has far more credibility than it’s sometimes given credit for: the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.

Wikipedia goes further, noting the “credibility has two key components: trustworthiness and expertise, which both have objective and subjective components. Trustworthiness is based more on subjective factors, but can include objective measurements such as established reliability.”

So, when I see an online poll posted by Councillor Ian Chadwick asking whether local media lacks credibility, I have to admit I’m a little confounded.

Plus, it’s wrapped up in vague expressions; one of the poll options asks if ‘only some (local) media’ lack credibility of late. Are we referring to newspapers, and not radio, or radio, and not newspapers? Maybe we’re referring to only one newspaper and one radio station. Or maybe it’s a reference to only one newspaper.

I guess I could run a similar poll, asking the question whether all of council lacks credibility, only some councillors lack credibility, or whether council still has its credibility intact. That might make for some interesting results…

Have we recently published a string of lies? Is the newspaper riddled with typos and inaccuracies? Are we communicating unreliable information? Are we plagiarists? I would say both newspapers in town do a pretty good job of reporting the news fairly, honestly, and accurately, given the resources available. Yes, the occasional typo does work its way through, if only because of limited sets of eyes and tight deadlines.

If there were constant transgressions in our reporting, you would see a regular parade of corrections, clarifications and apologies in our pages; at this point, I can only think of two or three since I returned as Managing Editor four years ago.

If there was one criticism, it would be that we can’t cover everything, though we do our darnedest. However, given there’s only two editorial people in my office (myself and a writer), we can’t physically get to everything (20 years ago, the E-B had an editorial staff of eight; 10 years ago, it had an editorial staff of four).

We don’t report on rumour and innuendo. I know there’s an element in the community who would suggest we ‘conveniently’ ignore certain stories, but I would suggest there’s no story, no matter how controversial, we wouldn’t do as long as we had the documentation, and the people willing to speak to us about it. But I can’t report on something that just isn’t there.

I know one of the things Councillor Chadwick questioned – on Facebook – is why we weren’t reporting on a matter of civil litigation between two individuals. I’ve had that put to me before, on another civil litigation matter, and my response is the same: we would need to follow it through to its conclusion (something we don’t have the resources to do), and invariably, civil disputes end in settlements that can’t publicly be reported on.

I also have to weigh giving priority to coverage of that against other stories that need to be reported on, and consider its overall impact on the people in my coverage area. Does it have broad implications for the community, or does it truly only affect the two individuals at the heart of the dispute?

There’s also a significant misunderstanding of how we report the news. When the CBC story on the OPP investigation broke, I recall reading a comment on Nobody’s blog about how it was odd the E-B hadn’t reported on the CBC story right away — the insinuation being we were ignoring it.

Here’s the thing: we need to do our own due diligence and interviews — we can’t merely report on what another media is reporting, regardless of the significance of the information. In respect to the CBC story, we posted the first iteration of the story about mid-afternoon (the CBC posted their stories in their morning) — after doing our own work (I think the Connection posted their version about the same time; again, after they did their own interviews and legwork).

Which brings me back to this issue of credibility. What exactly is the local media doing – or not doing – that would warrant such a poll on Councillor Chadwick’s blog?

Is it because we’ve reported on Better Together Collingwood in its criticism of council decision-making? The Connection has posted a story about BTC’s survey (our story on the survey goes online today). I would suggest that’s the role of the newspaper — to allow the community to air its concerns, as long as both sides of an issue are given the opportunity to comment.

Is it because we support the creation of an Integrity Commissioner position? If we could be accused of anything, it’s that we don’t take a stand more often on local issues; that’s only because writing a balanced editorial on a topic requires a significant amount of research and time – time we often don’t have in the hustle and bustle of putting together the newspaper.

And to be clear, our call for an integrity commissioner has been on the basis that it’s a tool available to municipalities through the Municipal Act, not because there is a police investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in municipal decision-making that to this point remain unproven.

Is it because I’ve been critical of some of his statements online and at the council table? Is it not the role of the media to hold local politicians to account for their comments if it can be shown there’s an inconsistency between their statements and actions — or a disparity between what a councillor says today, versus what that councillor may have said previously?

Perhaps we need to be more scrupulous in our scrutiny of municipal government. Maybe that will give us the ‘credibility’ that Councillor Chadwick must believe we’re missing…

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