Archive for December, 2015

CBC Officially Responds To My Blog on Mixing Journalism and Personal Opinion

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

This afternoon, I received the following letter from Jack Nagler, CBC’s Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, replying to my blog on what I see as a worrisome trend at CBC of mixing journalism and personal opinion. As you will see, Jack’s letter is written on behalf of both Heather Conway, Executive Vice-President of CBC’s English Services and Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News.  (This is the full unedited text of Jack’s letter.)


Dear Frank:

I read with interest, as always, your thoughts on the current state of journalism here at CBC News. I am replying on behalf of both Heather and Jennifer.

With your experience and commitment to the quality of our craft, you’re well placed to offer feedback. You worked at CBC as a journalist for over 25 years and know the overarching importance of CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices in every facet of our work. It guided your work at CBC and it continues to guide the work of every single journalist working for us now. That policy stands on integrity, fairness and accuracy. Yes, facts: the cornerstone of every story we produce. And context, too – it is always an expectation on us, and on you as well.

The policy acknowledges that making sense of stories takes more than just listing facts. We expect our journalists to add context, to add information about why stories happened, what they mean and how those events fit in a larger picture. Without that, stories can be meaningless, even misleading.

In practice, that means senior journalists – you referred to Keith Boag and Terry Milewski – who have been reporting political stories for decades can bring insight, judgment and experience to inform a story and convey significance not otherwise available. We call it analysis and we clearly identify it for readers in our online stories.

Terry’s recent piece on Mike Duffy is not a report of what happened in court that day. You will find other places on our web pages that cover that. Terry’s piece, “Forget Mike Duffy – the scandal is in the Senate”, is posted under the heading “Analysis”. It is a commonly seen heading on our pages and signals to readers that what follows is not a news story, but an experienced journalist who brings his grasp of the facts, his understanding of the context to add his perspective to the story.

The challenge for all of us at CBC News is doing that effectively without going so far as to express personal opinions on matters of public controversy, which would be a violation of our JSP.

Two years ago, CBC News General Manager and Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire wrote an excellent blog post on this very subject, entitled, not surprisingly: Opinion vs. Analysis. Jennifer wrote the following:

Our hosts and reporters don’t have free rein to say what they want about the issues of the day. Our (JSP) makes it clear that we’re guided by the principle of impartiality, and that CBC journalists don’t express their own personal opinion because it affects the perception of impartiality and could affect an open and honest exploration of an issue.

The key word here is “personal”. An observation based on the facts of the issue, and years of experience covering a beat, which I would describe as analysis, isn’t the same as a view that comes out of left field without supporting arguments, or in other words, opinion.

Terry’s analysis was largely just that – his perspective and his interpretation of events, but based on the facts.  He definitely uses colorful and deliberately provocative language. And it is possible that the wording used in the section you quoted went too far. Of course, it was not the only paragraph in the story, nor was it the main thesis. But we’ll take a thoughtful look at the whole piece. At CBC News, we argue and debate all the time about where the line is on what reporters are and aren’t allowed to say – just as we did a decade ago when you were reporting from Washington and I was producing The World at Six.

You’ve offered views on Terry’s piece, as well as Keith’s. I am happy to share those thoughts with my colleagues, because this is an issue we will be wrestling with for a long time in a business that is always subjective. The CBC Ombudsman has looked at what she calls “the grey zone” between analysis and opinion on several occasions. Sometimes she has sided with our writers, and sometimes she has ruled that a certain story went too far.

But these are isolated stories. Your blog pretends that this is rampant, and as a result you paint a highly distorted picture of what CBC News is all about.

Instead, you could focus on the literally thousands of stories we produce each week from every corner of the country. The devotion to investigative journalism. The award-winning coverage of important issues from Ebola to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Or the groundbreaking work done every single day on our digital platforms, as we seek the best ways to serve Canadians with the latest news, and the most important public service journalism.

I should note that other public broadcasters grapple with the same dilemma. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for instance, allows some of its staff to contribute analyses and opinions, and showcases them in a special section of its website known as “The Drum”. You can check it out at I think it’s a fairly innovative approach. And maybe it’s an option we should look at down the road.

But to get back to the very core question: is CBC journalism now mixing fact and opinion, as you suggest? No, it’s not. We are not, as you fear, ignoring our own policy or forgetting what it says. CBC’s journalistic policy remains as strong as it always was and remains the touchstone of our journalism.

I will add a reminder that one of the ways we demonstrate our values is by being accountable through a very public and very effective Ombdusman complaint process. It’s probably the best way to ensure that your concerns get full consideration.

Thanks again for sharing your take, and allow me to wish you a very early happy 2016.



CBC Threatens Its Own Future …. The Danger of Mixing Journalism and Opinion

Monday, December 14th, 2015

After my post last week complaining – and yes, worrying – about  CBC journalist Keith Boag’s personal opinions  about Donald Trump, I told myself to lie low. It’s the holiday season.

That turns out to be very hard to do, because once one realizes the extent to which personal opinion has become the day-to-day fodder of an ever widening circle of CBC journalists, you see it, hear it and click on it everywhere.

Let me be crystal clear: this threatens the future of the CBC.

I personally agree with Terry Milewski’s “analysis” of the Senate, posted this morning on

But with a straight face, tell me this is impartial journalism.

For a vast, modern democracy to be saddled with an unelected upper house is an embarrassment ………..  the Senate’s ludicrously lop-sided makeup makes it doubly farcical ….. It’s as though we dug up a relic of an ancient civilization …..  could the rites of the pharaohs be any more bizarre? …..  these absurd imbalances, fossilized by history …. 

Can I say what Terry said? Sure I can, because it’s my personal opinion And I don’t work for CBC. (Anymore.)

Should Terry be saying it on CBC? No, absolutely not.

These comments, these opinions, unequivocally violate – spoiler alert: here’s the broken record again –– CBC’s long-standing and incredibly clearly-written policy statement that its journalists and the organization itself must not take ANY positions on issues in the public life of the country. They must be …. impartial.

CBC’s senior news managers need to get serious about this. It’s their job.

What’s more, Canadian citizens and taxpayers expect CBC to live up to this policy because democratic discussion demands it, in an increasingly partisan media environment and in public life more generally?

This flouting of the Corporation’s own rules is really a serious problem for journalism at the CBC but, clearly, it now is journalism at the CBC.

And that is very dangerous for the organization’s future, especially with many people hoping that a new government in Ottawa may rethink the role of the CBC in Canada’s public life.

As more and more of CBC’s journalism is directly allowed to be – let alone just perceived to be – personal opinion, it nurtures a growing public perception that “the CBC is just another media platform like the other private media platforms in the marketplace, so why exactly, should the public pay taxes to fund it in the future?”

I don’t think the answer should be:

Oh well, get a grip Frank! ….. it’s 2015!


Lincoln Electric, 67 straight years without layoffs, 82 straight years of profit-sharing bonuses ….

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Lincoln Electric, which I profiled in my book SPARK, just announced its 2015 employee profit-sharing results, backed by the firm’s now 67 years-long unbroken no-layoff promise.

2015 details (2014 in italics) with my comments further below.

 82     =  uninterrupted years paying an employee profit-sharing bonus (Lincoln has been profitable every year since 1934.)

$ 26,291   =  average 2015 bonus / permanent U.S. employee (apprx. 3,000)       (2014 $33,984 )

$ 73,543    =  average 2015 total earnings per employee  (wages/salary + bonus)    (2014  $82,903 )

$ 80 million  (apprx.)   =  pre-tax profits shared among employees (32% of pretax corporate profit)   (2014  $101 million (approx.) )

 0  =  number of layoffs in 2015    (67 years layoff free)

Lincoln (Nasdaq: LECO) remains #1 in the global marketplace for welding technology and materials.

The Guaranteed Continuous Employment Policy remains unbroken since at least 1948.  (The no-layoff track record may in fact go as far back as 1925.)  No one has been laid off at Lincoln Electric in the US for lack of work through the Great Depression, wars and the Great Recession.

My 2015 comments:

These are tough times for manufacturing globally and that includes Lincoln. The collapse in the price of oil, austerity measures in many countries, etc. have reduced spending on infrastructure and construction (for energy projects and general purposes) almost everywhere. These are Lincoln’s prime markets. The rise in the US $ has also lowered sales and hence profits.

As a result, the average bonus is smaller this year. BUT …  no one was laid off.

For a number of months, Lincoln’s US production workers have been on reduced hours: many regularly work only 32 hours per week, the minimum guaranteed under the terms of the no-layoff promise. (Slowdowns in place in other production countries too.) This is a significant and painful sacrifice for employees and their families.

BUT … it still means steady work, no small thing compared with the unemployment office.  (Lincoln employees are covered by the no-layoff policy after 3 years with the firm.)

In 2009/10, as the Great Recession dragged on and on, non-production workers (from the President to floor sweepers) saw their salaries reduced and their workloads were often increased. (This may happen again now.) BUT ….  there were no layoffs.

​ ​ A voluntary separation program is also now being offered, as it was during 2009/10.

Lincoln Electric is an American-based Fortune 1000 multinational. In other countries where it has production facilities, it tries – under often very different legislative, labor and regulatory regimes – to treat its workers with the same respect and employment structure that US employees earn. In Canada, Australia and Mexico, profit-sharing and steady work has remained as close as possible to that in the US itself; further afield, local factors have forced many accommodations.

In the past couple of years, Lincoln has purchased some smaller welding tech companies in the US. In several cases, when offered employment under the Lincoln incentive system – with its appealing upsides of large profit-sharing bonuses and an unbroken no-layoff promise – employees in these new acquisitions have rejected the offer – because the new employment structure also requires them to embrace reduced hours in tough times and compulsory overtime when demand picks up.

Their concerns and fears seem to arise from a deep and profound lack of trust (sadly, all-too-understandable!) in modern corporate leaders that shared sacrifices by everyone in a firm in the tough times will be repaid fairly through significant profit-sharing and guaranteed steady work over the long term

Lincoln Electric has done its best to earn the trust of its workforce by keeping its people on the job through thick and thin – while remaining technologically innovative and thus highly profitable for more than a century.

This goal should be embraced by many more private sector firms and by policy makers in the public sector at all levels.

Opinion vs. Reporting: There Is Still An Important Difference, CBC News!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Just asking …..

Should Keith Boag, CBC’s senior journalist in Washington, cover the ongoing sad state of politics in the US by offering strategic political campaign advice to the US Republican Party?

Republicans have mostly pussy-footed around Trump, taking only tentative little jabs, usually in self-defence,  ever wary of provoking his base.  Surely that can stop now. Trump is a stain on the Republican Party brand that will spread further if it’s not cleaned up fast. So the party needs to get busy. They can begin at next week’s candidates’ debate on CNN.   (emphasis added)

Boag’s call-to-action comes from an “analysis” piece on Donald Trump Muslim ban: Fascist or not, it’s time Republicans face their Trump problem.

The title was probably writ by an online editor, but it accurately summarizes Boag’s opinion of the challenge for Republicans if they are to avoid an electoral disaster in the campaign to win back the White House in 2016.

What’s worrisome here is that more and more often, CBC journalists are being asked to offer their personal takes (called analysis pieces) on stories they regularly cover. And more and more often, these analysis pieces seem to be venturing into what can only be described as personal opinion.

That’s actually the job of editorial commentators, of which CBC would be wise to use more.

A quick read of the CBC’s Code of Journalistic Practice makes it clear, in simple language, what CBC’s journalists can and cannot do.

Impartiality:   We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”   

That’s a long way from explicitly telling a political party what it needs to do to get back in power or stay in power.

Or even, yes, yes, hectoring someone about being a decent human being, which The Donald seems to be having trouble doing.

And it doesn’t matter that many others (including senior Republicans) are offering the same advice. Or that the story is unfolding outside Canada.

There is a tendency in this sad Trump tale to just dismiss the importance of separating what is opinion about a story from what is reporting on a story because tens of millions of Americans  – and I’m sure most Canadians – understandably and passionately think Trump is an appalling race-baiting bigot.

Boag is adamant:  “His (Trump’s) candidacy has become unsustainable.”

Really? For sure? How does Boag know?  What will he say if Trump wins some primary votes in the next few months? Or the nomination?

Lots of people in the US believe that is quite possible.

The job of CBC’s journalists is to describe with facts, as accurately as possible, what those involved in a story are actually doing, fearing and dreaming – using the documented words and actions of those individuals and groups.

It’s not for CBC’s journalists to offer their own opinions and verdicts about what some of those individuals should do. Even when it’s so tempting, as it is with Trump, to agree with that opinion.

The danger for good journalism here is that the next time around, you (CBC’s audience) may not agree with the “opinion.”

And then, what will you feel – what will you believe – about the “facts?”