The Blacklist

DAMN! …go away on assignment for a couple of days and look what happens.

 The CBC's provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane (and scroll down) has been added to BlackList(TM)  …the exclusive club where only Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Danny Williams can nominate you.

The Premier, his ministers and his government have been getting hammered in the public arena and in the media over the past few months for failures, screw ups, cover ups and general stupidity in the “communications” area. Cochrane was asking the Premier questions about another embarrassment involving former St. John's mayor Andy Wells whom Williams recently appointed head of the Public Utilities Board when Williams lost it, walked away from the scrum and instructed his “communications” staff to cut Cochran off from further media contact. All of this in front of other reporters and the communications staff from the Liberals and the NDP.

For those of you who don't normally cruise the local blogs, the story was broken by media watcher, Geoff Meeker on his blog at the The Telegram website. Do check it out and read the comments section also. Its a classic sordid tail of a public melt down.


 So, how far will Williams go with his banishment? Will it just be a refusal to return calls for comment or interviews? Will he make sure that public money is not spent on government advertising in the offending media? Will he refuse to answer questions in a scrum from certain reporters? With a dozen reporters present, live mics and cameras rolling, THAT would certainly be a few awkward silent seconds. Will those journalists in the scrum react in support of  “The Blacklisted”? Doubt it. Journalism in St. John's is pretty cut-throat and friends have been known to stab each other in the back  …repeatedly. There is also the problem that there is more than one “media” who feel it is not their place to question the Premier. Some just don't have the stomach for it.


 This is not the first “blacklisting” of a Newfoundland journalist. For a little history check out this story about the “relationship” between the Premiers communications staff and Craig Westcott. A freelance journalist and the editor of The Business Post in St. John's. Westcott has been “cut off” for years, spanning a couple of employers, and now, may be the only publication in Newfoundland and Labrador that does not receive ANY government advertising.

Ironically, Townie Bastard brings this up but it was just the other day when comparing war stories with a couple of veteran journalists, who have survived a number of exploding premiers, that we joked about a club and website for journalists who have been cut off from the privilege of having Danny Williams comments or return their calls and ignore their requests for interviews. There are more than a few now and we decided to open it up to victims of previous premiers who thought it was a brilliant idea to heap wrath upon journalists and media outlets who pissed them off.

Besides being immature and unprofessional …and making yourself look like a fool, there are lots of reasons why this is a pointless and foolish tactic. Check out the smart perspective of “Townie Bastard.” There is no law that says anyone has to talk to reporters, BUT if you are an elected official, receive public money or otherwise have some responsibility to the public you better think long and hard about not being available to the “common” press as they seek to do their jobs informing the public of the “goings on” in their government and community.

This whole thing brings up an issue that has always ticked me off as a journalist. If you follow those links and read some of the stories you'll see communications people complain that the local media don't cover all their events, particularly “Premier Positive” events and announcements. There are a lot of people out there who think that the press and media are their private PR agencies. They have the impression that every reporter, photographer and journalist is there to promote their event, fund raiser or “cause du jour”. There are a lot of important and interesting stories out there. Too many, in fact, to get into the space and time frames of newspapers and broadcasts. The “News” (that which is new) makes it to the top of the lines up. The interesting features get in next. The mindless PR BS that is NOT new or news  ..goes where it belongs.

When I first got in this business I had a hard-ass ex-Fleet Street tabloid editor tell me, “Locke, never trust anyone with a cause. …no matter how pure it may seem. They have an agenda and will put their cause ahead of all else. Your job is to point out that agenda and everyone else. WHAT they tell you is not as important as WHY they are telling you. …no get the fuck out of my office and earn your pay”.

Maybe if the premiers office was paying me what his communications staff  and advertising agencies were getting I might be inclined “promote” all their events. No, it's not bribery, its about paying for a service. I don't work for free and I certainly don't do free PR work for people who can more than pay for it. Until then, someone else is paying me for my services.

For someone who heaps scorn on Stephen Harper at every opportunity, Danny Williams certainly has no problem with his communications policy when it comes to dealing with reporters.
Funny that, eh? Politics is about winning. Ideology is a smokescreen.

All photography. © 2008 Greg Locke



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