Journalistic integrity died a little on Wednesday, Mar. 27.
You may have heard the news last week: on Wednesday, Mar. 27, the Nanaimo Daily News published a remarkably racist letter to the editor. It made news—scratch that, it made national news. At this juncture, I am embarrassed to be a Canadian journalist and a resident of the city of Nanaimo.
One: It is no secret among those that have lived in Nanaimo for some time that our wonderful town is full of rednecks and hicks. This means that there are bigots—of all forms—living within the confines of our town, and that these bigots have voices. They write letters to newspaper, write blogs, and post wildly on Craigs’ List “rants and raves” section. However, the media should do their best to filter out these voices, as there are Canadian laws against hate speech.
Two: Nanaimo has made national news. That should be a good thing—it could be a way to improve our declining tourism industry. Instead, it is a very bad thing in this instance. We are on the map for being a racist, bigoted community.
Mayor John Ruttan, who attended a protest staged in front of the Daily News office in Nanaimo on Thursday, Mar. 28, said, “It’s reprehensible for the paper to pick it up, and put it in the paper for everyone to see.”
I can’t agree with him more. As someone who is in charge of a newspaper, I approach each issue with certain things in mind. One of those things is offending as few people as possible, which is not always easy to do as there are always going to be topics that spark controversy and discussion, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. But there are limits. I have received emails from people who present ideas/concepts/opinions that I disagree with. Depending on the quality of the letter, and the way the views are presented, I will most likely publish all that I receive. However, were I to have received this sort of letter, I would have ignored it without a second thought. There are ways of expressing opinions that are inoffensive and productive. Referring to an entire culture as known only for “underachievement” is…well, simply hateful and racist.
At what point do we have to look past the letter to the publisher and editor of the paper? Do we do it when one racist letter slips into print, or when a handful hit the stands and readers are bombarded by racist, hateful views?
The protest followed this question. There was much anger in regards to the letter itself, yet there was also much anger directed towards the newspaper. Most of which was directed directly at Mark MacDonald, the Editor-in-Chief of the Nanaimo Daily News, and asked the question: why was this published at all? When MacDonald came out of the office to speak with the media, he said nothing, letting the publisher do all the talking. They didn’t apologize, and mentioned nothing about any actions that might be taken to deal with the problem or to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Instead, they blamed the amount of letters they received that day and the over-worked nature of their staff. They took no responsibility and seem to think that simply saying, “it should not have run” is enough to get them off the hook. It was a letter to the editor after all and not written by anyone who works for the Nanaimo Daily News.
Yes, the Daily News is a larger paper than the Navigator, with, undoubtedly, a larger readership, and they probably receive more letters than the Nav. Yet, those letters would still have to be sifted through and several selected to be published. So, why this letter?
Well, let’s look a little more closely at Mark MacDonald, a self-professed “capitalist with a social conscious,” according to a website created for him when he ran for city council. This was not the first letter to have racist tendencies. MacDonald himself has written columns that border on the racist, as well.
I am embarrassed to be a journalist in Nanaimo. I am embarrassed to have the city I have lived in for the last 20 years represented in such a way. I think this should be a lesson to anyone who wants to be heard in this day and age. You can have your opinions, you can even write those opinions up and send them off to a newspaper, but please, please, please try to be respectful and non-bigoted. No matter if your views will be seen that way or not, there are ways of expressing yourself using intelligent language and discussion that don’t come across as racist, even if you are questioning certain things. If you back up your argument with clear, concise points, and honest examples, than no matter how racist it may be, you have at least justified those views for all to see. As opposed to Mark MacDonald or Don Olsen (the author of the letter), who are, seemingly, only interested in sensationalism no matter the social cost.