Members' Update: Summer, 2016

Dear NNC colleague,

Below please find your summer edition of the newsletter. We hope you enjoy reading it!

Please contact me or Pat Perkel if you have any questions, or ideas for the upcoming editions.

Kind regards, John Fraser

Expediting complaints

The NNC has been bringing its national directors together via technology on a regular basis. This has dramatically speeded up the complaints process. We can now research, disseminate, hold hearing panels and report back to complainants within weeks of receiving a complaint. Previously, complaints had to be held until a quarterly council meeting to be reviewed, and sometimes until the next quarterly meeting to be resolved. Thanks to email and the dedicated involvement of directors, complaint recommendations are prepared by the administration, then considered and discussed by all directors via email and conference call. 

The other big change is the dramatic decline of paper documents. Now the entire complaint process is dealt with on-line, from the original submitted complaint to the media attachments and, finally, to the decision process.

One of the most tangible results of this greater technical efficiency and a Council made up of really enthusiastic and knowledgeable directors is that in addition to speeding up the process, we have also been able to take on many more complaints than the press councils of old. This year alone, we have processed nearly 40 complaints in just over five months, more than any of the other press councils had ever been able to do (the old Ontario Press Council, for example, processed 25 for the whole of 2014, its last full year, and that was dramatically more than its average of 12 complaints a year since its founding in 1972).


Phone calls

Fielding complaints about newspaper delivery was not an intended role for the National NewsMedia Council. But after months of calls, we can provide you with a (totally non-scientific) report on some service issues:

Complaints about lack of movie listings have fallen off, to be replaced by complaints about cutbacks in sports coverage. Fans want the stats!

Most of my calls are from readers who can’t reach you. Admittedly many do represent an older demographic, but they are loyal. They want to keep getting the paper, or pay their bill, or give you a story idea, or let you know they need a holiday stop. Unfortunately, they can’t find your contact number, they can’t cope with extensive voice mail, and they are giving up

One the bright side, one reader called to say he was delighted to be getting his paper again. A problem happily resolved!

- Pat Perkel

A new category for complaint decisions

The National NewsMedia Council has created a new category for resolving certain tricky issues that sometimes arise between complainants and news media organizations and for which our traditional categories don’t offer the best solution. At the root is the NNC’s desire to find resolutions that correct errors, promote the highest journalism standards, educate, and prevent further damage from an unfortunate error.

If you go to our website you will see this new category listed as: “Resolved due to corrective action taken”. There are a number of reasons for this new category. Generally, it reflects a situation where a complaint was well founded but appropriate corrective action was taken by the member after the NNC became involved and offered advice and assistance.

In some cases, when the NNC reports the decision, it may elect to withhold the name of the complainant or not repeat an error in order to avoid further injury. That was the case for the first decision in this new category, posted in the first half of June:

“A complaint against the Toronto Star has been resolved due to corrective action taken by the paper. The National NewsMedia Council confirmed the decision by the hearing panel that considered the complaint against the Toronto Star. The complainant objected that he was not given opportunity to respond to unsubstantiated allegations that were reported as fact. He was indirectly identified in the article, and suffered professional and personal embarrassment as a result.

Attempts by the paper to resolve the complaint were not satisfactory, but in discussion with the NNC the paper recognized its errors in reporting and editing. It also acknowledged that an earlier correction and clarification was inadequate, and quickly committed to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the complainant. In the course of these actions and decisions, the online article was modified to remove the paragraphs that harmed the complainant and did not meet the Star’s journalistic standards.”

We expect that this will be a very useful category for complaints, perhaps particularly as we move into increasing magazine and digital media. This category allows the NNC to focus on education and standards as it works with media and complainants facing complicated challenges, and to find solutions that work for all parties. 

John Fraser


“On my Desk” by John Fraser 

Writing to complainants

Explaining journalists and their ways to the public and to occasionally quite irate complainants is part of the work the NNC does. We try to do this in a way that shows respect to the person making the complaint and that defends the rights of a newspaper or magazine or digital media to editorialize on a given subject. Here’s a good and typical example of a recent letter Executive Director Pat Perkel mailed to a complainant:


“Thank you for contacting the National NewsMedia with your concern about the front page photo of the June 15, 2016 edition of 24 Hours. I can appreciate your empathy for the victims and families of victims of the Orlando shooting. It is a shocking tragedy that has attracted tremendous attention from a wide spectrum. However, it is not ‘sloppy journalism’ to use a photo of the alleged shooter. The killings are clearly distasteful, but journalism’s duty is to report. This is an unquestionably newsworthy matter that 24 Hours covered by means of photo, opinion and news reporting. It is well within journalistic standards to picture a newsmaker on the front page, even if the news is bad. Lee Harvey Oswald made the front page, as did the man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul. In this case, there was no graphic violence. The shooter is dead and cannot benefit from the “platform” of having his photo published. While respecting your strong feelings, I can advise that there is no basis for a complaint of violation of journalistic standards in this use of a photo.”

Talk in Edmonton

Both John Fraser, NNC president and CEO, and NNC Executive Director Pat Perkel travelled to Edmonton in late May to attend the annual Newspapers Canada conference. Fraser gave a short talk about the creation of the NNC to a small but interested audience. Both John and Pat had a chance to meet many of the members that support the NNC. The generally supportive responses they got from publishers, editors and writers was much appreciated and was a happy harbinger of days to come.

Meeting in September

The full National NewsMedia Council will meet in Toronto on Thursday, September 22, and will mark the first anniversary of the creation of the NNC.  Sessions include the final passing of its extensive policy papers, seminars on due process, and roundtable discussions on new areas of interests for the NNC.

Nominating Committee

At the last council meeting, a nominating committee was struck and is chaired by Joanne De Laurentiis (in Toronto). The two other members are Ken Sims (from Halifax in the East) and Tim Shoults (in Kamloops in the West). The job of the committee is to solicit names and recommend names to the Council for new directors. It will also be deployed to recommend names for new chair and vice chairs as they are needed. The first report of the nominating committee will be made at the quarterly council meeting in September.

CEO John Fraser



Office Move

As of June 29th, the National NewsMedia Council is moving from its current Toronto premises on Yonge Street just north of Bloor Street, to 37 Front Street East, Suite 200. Toronto, ON, M5E 1B3. These are historic premises immediately beside the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts. Phone numbers and email addresses will remain the same.

Information update

We've updated the NNC information that promotes your membership and lets readers know how to get in touch with us. Here it is for your use:

{Your news organization) is a member of the National NewsMedia Council, a voluntary self-regulatory organization that deals with journalistic practices and ethical behaviour. If you have an unresolved complaint about news stories, opinion columns or photos, please visit our web site at or call 1-844-877-1163. If you have a complaint about delivery or subscription problems, please contact the paper’s business office.        

Well said

“As the old saying has it ‘The man who never made a mistake never made anything’ so mistakes go with the job. We have no problem with printing corrections and apologies. We see apologies as a way of maintaining our standing in the community, and not as something to hide.” - Jeremy Condliffe, Editor, Congleton Chronicle, UK.