It’s always interesting to see spin emanate from City Hall. It’s rarely graceful. Bob Peters and Kevin Lajoie have teamed to essentially “Brand” Cornwall. It’s been an odd failure of an exercise and some of my fellow journalists have questioned why the City is essentially trying to do our jobs?
It’s the city’s job to furnish media with information and answer our questions. Different media outlets have different perspectives. Some are more rah rah, some maybe more critical. Our jobs are dictated on telling the truth factually and sharing opinion.
But some politicians and city managers can be very thin skinned and when that impacts how they do their job….well look at City Hall and that’s all you need to really know.
Claude Mcintosh used to go on about “McFiberals” in reference to the McGuinty government. Did the province of Ontario stop advertising in the Freeholder?
Wearing my other hat I was recently queried by some of my fellow TAG members why we didn’t cancel our Seaway News ads after editor Todd Lihou has been so hostile to TAG and literally torched us the same week we had an ad in their Scuttlebutt section? My answer was quite clear. We wanted the demographic that they reached. We couldn’t act like silly unprofessional babies. For whatever reason the Seaway News seems to have a hard on against the gallery, but that doesn’t mean their viewers do anymore than the thought of our audience agreeing with our commenter Jules or every editorial I write.
They’re not supposed to. Really. Don’t take my word for it.
But City Hall, like Queen’s Park and Ottawa are not spending their own money. They’re spending ours and using media dollars in the manner that they are essentially is bending the truth. Media outlets know that if they write a critical piece that they might lose ad dollars. And there are tentacles and ramifications from these sorts of “Boycotts”.
There has been such a boycott against CFN since 2012; not because we didn’t deliver viewers or results, we do, probably more than the entire local market combined, but because toes have been stepped on. The rumor mill was that after a Corus staffer blasted former Mayor Kilger on his last day the city cut the ad $$ to the radio station which resulted in Corus dropping its local newsroom? Did that happen? We may never know for sure.
The city even went to the extent of writing a policy about advertising that clearly was targeted at both CFN and the Freeholder including an invalidated quote written by Bob Peters in his report about viewer comments. The Freeholder no longer allows your comments in their local stories or editorials. That’s the impact City ad dollars can have.
Mr. Peters as well spends about $20K per year on the Cornwall Living magazine with TC Media (SEAWAY NEWS) which most years includes pictures of Mr. Peters lovely boy and friends. IF you are not a part of a certain circle you will not appear in Cornwall Living. It’s actually ridiculed by many local photographers and writers. This year was a tribute to Cornwallites that have moved away and made their mark which is actually sad and depressing. The issue forgot to mention Ryan Gosling for some odd reason…..
What we do know is that the boycott of CFN has led to several factors.
Seaway TV was cancelled which lost us six emerging media jobs from a local company and local firms are very very important to an economy. These were jobs that are the future and most likely will never happen now and that was only in the first year. Cornwall lost a local evening newscast and local programming.
Loss of growth and jobs at CFN. Right now we’re in discussions to sell. The first thing the buyers want to do is change our name and have us focus on a more regional market. The term used by them in talking about our market was “toxic”.
When City Hall enacted its boycott the term “Blog” and “Blogger” started being bandied about as though it were a slur even though we have been an online newspaper since our start in 2009.
We didn’t invent online newspapers. We have had a motto of “News, Views, & Reviews 24/7” since day one because that’s what our experts told us the public wanted. The results is that in less than three years an organically grown company in Cornwall on a shoe string budget, understaffed to the point that Councilor Macintosh ridiculed CFN about such instead of the reality that it was in fact a huge achievement. One legal person suggested that this may have been done to discredit us with a certain less media sophisticated segment of our ad buying market?
Hugo Rodrigues, editor of the Freeholder and former President of the Canadian Association of Journalists wrote in his recent editorial:
After the sagas of rinks and worms, a legitimate question is being asked about whether or not the City of Cornwall needs to get into the public relations game.
To be clear, I’m referring to what’s also called “issues management,” which is a bevvy of communications tactics copied from private-sector corporations that have increasingly taken hold of governments at all levels in Canada over the past decade.
As these two reputational black eyes have proven, the city could certainly use some sense when it comes to doing a better job of communicating with the public within Cornwall and beyond. Long gone are the days when a municipality could depend only on local media to be the sole, reliable source of news and information about what’s happening at city hall or around the council table.
It’s not necessarily because local media have abandoned city hall – though there are fewer of us there than in the past – it’s because the public has drastically changed how it gets its information. When so many have something in their pocket that connects to the world, media aren’t the only people out there peddling information.
Or from the story from Greg Peerenboom a day or two before:
There’s a growing realization the city hasn’t done enough to adequately respond when it comes under fire.
A few city councillors and their CAO generally agree a negative spin can quickly own issues, such as the recent bylaw notice given to worm-selling kids, leaving an uphill battle for city hall.
“We need to get in the game in the first quarter, especially with the media,” said Coun. Claude McIntosh, a career journalist, using a sports analogy.
McIntosh has seen the damage done by negative publicity, recalling the perception even big U.S. daily papers had for Cornwall during mid-1990s, the peak of smuggling. He said an L.A. Times reporter was surprised to learn that a “drive-by shooting” occurred once, whereas L.A. experiences one a day.
Now social media accelerates the spread of misinformation and sometimes unwarranted criticism.
City hall and councillors were once again being bombarded with criticism over the zoning aby bylaw infraction incurred by the Cadieux family over commercial sales in a residential area.
Cornwall does have a person dedicated to media and public relations: public information co-ordinator Kevin Lajoie. But it appears to McIntosh and fellow Couns. Justin Towndale and Mark MacDonald that “issue management” as Towndale calls it, does not include the PIC as fully as it should.
“(Worm-gate) should have been an issue for the (PIC),” MacDonald said. “It’s a perfect example why we need a public information officer – that’s way it’s got to be handled.”
Public relations is the management of issues by corporations to, among other tasks, to portray a story in a specific light and offer relevant facts to support it. Towndale was one of the first Cornwall officials to wade into the latest issue in the hopes of quelling a negative reaction.
“I saw ahead which way the wind was blowing, and that we need to get (our message) out there immediately,” said Towndale, noting it was already taking on the negativity spawned around the Monaco Crescent front-yard rink in December.
Towndale said he is hesitant if councillors take too strong a position on a task that city hall administration should be directly responsible for.
“Council can’t be micromanaging,” he said.
I had a lot of people call me up giggling about both pieces; not because they were badly written or funny, but because of some of the code words which simply highlight the impact of CFN in reaching not just a local market, but across Canada as we broke the story wide.
I have a file with over 150 emails sent to council and management that have not been answered. You can’t get any more unprofessional than that, and one of the worst things you can do with media is to be unprofessional.
Here are some examples of interactions alone since the boycott:
The City not only refused to sponsor or support a three month campaign where the public would voice why Cornwall was amazing with the winners winning local prizes and shopping sprees (which would spur our local economy). At one session of council after Councilor Dupelle tried to fight for the campaign, former mayor Kilger suggested that the city could not even plug the event on its facebook page as it was a security issue!
The city’s facebook page has banned CFN. It regularly deletes comments that are critical.
The city refused to list CFN on its media page. After a councilor inquired it took down the entire page.
The city refused to list me on the choose Cornwall page as a filmmaker even though my work has been nominated for an Oscar.
When contacted about Beavergate, Wormgate (yes, I coined that one), and other issues like the Vincent family ice rink I was met with hostility. With the beavers after I asked for a 90 day moratorium the city moved the traps next to the lodge and wiped out the family of beavers living there.
Even now, while wearing my TAG hat we’ve seen the city cut a 33 year old public art gallery’s funding to zero and refuse to put any of the gallery’s events on the city’s facebook page or promoted via Choose Cornwall. At our recent show to promote emerging artists, essentially our future not a single rep from the city attended our closing gala where we gave out $1,000 in cash prizes. We would have given out more but the cut to zero funding and refusal by the city to help promote curtailed such expansion.
In any city we need to encourage businesses and individuals on a merit based system. If people know that if they come to our amazing city and that they will not be accepted or see their work accepted the message is not good and people talk, especially on social media. Wormgate One was shared on facebook over 7,000 times within 48 hours and led to National coverage by other outlets. If people can’t get jobs based on merit they leave. Kevin Lajoie’s predecessor, the lovely and talented Christine Guay was actually on a bill board being used as a model for success before she headed off to Ottawa; chiefly because her significant other couldn’t get a good job here in Cornwall.
And that’s why Bob Peters and Kevin Lajoie may need to see their days at City Hall come to an end. They’re not bad fellows, but they have failed the City in a multitude of ways including their possible roles in the Chem Tank cover up.
Economic Development is one of the largest envelopes at City Hall. It should not be a defacto news/spin outlet. It should be more focused on bringing cold cash to Cornwall than running a Soviet style propaganda office in this writer’s opinion.
Cornwall needs its ED officers to understand the lay of the land in 2015 and that of course requires an understanding of media including social media. If a helper is needed (and many don’t think it is) then that person too needs an understanding.
Whether this odd and one sided war against CFN comes directly from these two gentlemen or from the bowels of council really doesn’t matter. It’s the end result that counts, and the only results that should be aspired to are what’s best for the community so we can ALL move forward.
What do you think dear CFN viewers? You can post your comments below.