Members' Update: Winter 2019

Note from our Executive Chair 

With this issue of the National NewsMedia Council Newsletter, we welcome nearly two dozen new community digital and newspaper members from Alberta. This is exciting news for the NNC because they have all recommitted their publications to ethical coverage of the news and a non-litigious solution to disputes. You will see them individually listed below. 

In welcoming these new members, it is important to point out that they were, for some years, members of the Alberta Press Council which closed up shop on December 30th 2018 after nearly 50 years of service to the public and news media profession. We salute the APC, its last chair Dr. Maggie Fulford and also Executive Director Colleen Wilson.

The NNC is the honourable successor to all the regional press councils in English-speaking Canada and, consequently, is represented by membership in all the provinces as well as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Although we are in no way competitive with our partner colleagues at Quebec’s Conseil de Presse, we do represent English newspapers and digital sites in Quebec and we have a small but growing Francophone membership thanks to publications in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba, as well as bilingual academies in Quebec and Ontario.

With regard to our academic initiative, we are also working towards signing up academic institutions in Alberta and British Columbia this year and it is exciting to see our organization grow in both numbers and respect. But it’s Alberta that I am truly focused on in this column, both to make an obvious but necessary point and also to point to a bigger picture.

There was initial reluctance by a number of Alberta publications to join us when we first set up shop in 2015. Part of the reason was the feeling that a “national” organization would be deficient in the ins and outs of local context when specific complaints rolled in.

That’s a legitimate concern, not just for Albertans, but everywhere in a national organization with well over 600 members. The best answer to it is to point to our 17-member board, where you will see council members spread out geographically from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. The answer also rests in the sensitivity with which our board deals with all issues that come before it, either national or local. In addition and where necessary, our governance policies make allowances for “regional panels” on sensitive local issues and we would never hesitate to deploy this solution whenever and wherever appropriate.

We are currently looking for nominations for new council members from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia to fill spots which will be vacated this year and next. If any member knows of a good candidate for a public or professional member, I would appreciate hearing from them. My email is and my phone number is 416.606.4040.

At the moment we are looking primarily for public members. For a public member of council, the right person would typically be someone respected in his or her community, have an affection for the news business in general and have some understanding of the importance of  “due process” in particular (which does not mean a law degree is necessary, just common sense and common intelligence).

Regional representation on our board is a crucial part of our Identikit, as is diversity. We do okay on this front, but we can always do better so please keep that in mind when making a recommendation.

In touting regional diversity and hearing panels, however, I do not want to suggest that the collective wisdom of our council automatically has to be broken down to deal with regional complaints. The NNC has already won for itself an enviable reputation for responsible, judicious, and – as I suggested above – sensitive decisions. Part of the reason for this is the variety of perspectives that always attend any discussion we have prior to ruling on a complaint. Nevertheless it is really important to understand that it is in the nature of the sort of business the NNC is up to that we often displease either complainants or media institutions, and sometimes we manage to irk both at the same time with the same decision.

In the NNC’s experience, it is rare for an issue to be black and white. Getting an Alberta perspective on something that might affect a complainant in Ontario or Newfoundland, therefore, helps make sure that the widest possible consulting comes to bear on dispute resolutions.

So we welcome our new members from Alberta with warm good wishes and thank them for throwing in their lot with the NNC, for trusting in our best intentions and endeavours, and most of all for opting to champion ethical responsibility, the hallmark of Canadian journalism. We are a greater and more effective organization because of that confidence and trust.

- John Fraser


We welcome new members of the National NewsMedia Council who have recently signed on. 

Our new members include:

Multi-Platform News Organizations:

• Athabasca Advocate

• Barrhead Leader

• Bonnyville Nouvelle

• Edmonton Prime Times

• Elk Point Review

• Lac La Biche Post

• St. Albert Gazette

• St. Paul Journal

• Westlock News

• Innisfail Province

• Mountain View Gazette

• Olds Albertan

• Sundre Round Up

• Airdrie City View

• Calgary Prime Times

• Cochrane Eagle

• Okotoks Western Wheel

• Rocky Mountain Outlook

• Rocky View Weekly

• Morinville News

• Claresholm Local Press

Digital-only Publications:

• The Sprawl

Academic Members:

• Western University


Why Process Matters

The NNC posts its decisions and circulates them via Twitter and newsletter because it aims to be transparent about the work of resolving complaints.

Another goal is to use decisions as education about journalism standards and best practices. However, a significant number of complaints are mediated at the staff level for various reasons. Generally, these complaints do not involve breach of standards or require Council involvement.

In such cases, there’s no resulting decision to post. All the same, these cases of one-on-one mediation provide opportunity to educate the public and to remind newsrooms about how readers perceive the work of journalism.

In one recent instance, a complainant objected to a monetary figure and graphic in a wide-ranging feature profile of a CEO. The complainant was a former CEO with the same company, and felt the information cast him as a financial culprit.

The newspaper had double-checked and verified the figures in question, and made a clarification based on the complainant’s information.

Examination of the article and submitted materials indicated no breach of journalistic standards. Because the news organization made a clarification before the complaint was submitted to the NNC, no further action was required by the paper or the NNC. Unfortunately, we cannot say the complainant was satisfied with the result.

A second situation had a happier resolution for both parties. In this case, the complainant objected to a guest columnist’s characterization of his organization and its stand on some issues.

Communication between the complainant and newspaper had broken down for some reasons, and the complainant did not get opportunity to respond in print to what he saw as unfair observations by the columnist.

The NNC re-established communication between the parties, and secured a commitment that an updated opportunity to respond would be provided.

This resolution satisfied both parties and served the public interest in hearing different points of view.

In a final example, the NNC was contacted about alleged inaccuracy and a quote taken out of context in a story about a contentious municipal zoning matter.

The NNC reviewed videotape of the town’s public meeting, examined extensive documentation from the complainant, and spoke with the editor responsible for the story.

A date error was found, but we found no evidence to support the view that the quote in question was out of context. The NNC confirmed the complainant was offered opportunity to respond, and that the news organization was willing to stand by that offer. Worth noting is that the NNC drew a line by looking at the journalistic standards, and declining to become involved in arbitrating which side was right in a municipal zoning issue.

The news organization was satisfied, and while the complainant was not entirely satisfied with the remedy, he felt “partly vindicated” and appreciated the NNC’s time and attention.

If you think the NNC’s work is of value to the public and to journalism, you can help spread awareness of the NewsMedia Council by following the NNC on MediumFacebook and Twitter @CANmediacouncil

 - Pat Perkel, Executive Director


The Complaints Desk:

 By the Numbers

Since the new year, the NNC has opened files on 25 complaints. Two were upheld, three resolved, corrective action was taken in three cases, two were abandoned, and one was dismissed. There were no grounds to proceed in eight cases and six are on hold or in progress.

Another 20 complaints that fell outside the NNC mandate have been processed so far this year. Of those, six were about broadcast, one involved foreign media, two were about non-members, and seven were non-mandate or stale dated.

In a sampling of 85 phone calls, 29 were about newspaper delivery problems and 14 were about other newspaper customer service issues.  

To subscribe to our distribution list for new decisions, please click here


37 Front Street File: Out and About 

At its core, the NNC’s mandate is to ensure the highest professional and ethical journalistic standards in our member publications. Over the last three plus years, the NNC has fulfilled this lofty mandate by addressing and mediating public complaints against our members in a non-prescriptive way.  

While we have built a strong reputation for resolving complaints, the NNC also serves members of the public, and the news industry, in a second vital way: to provide education about journalism.

For the public, this means explaining the intensive process of how journalism is created; from the voices and concerns of citizens into news reportage across many platforms. For industry members, the NNC surveys and researches international best practices on how to handle difficult subjects. 

As the famous Benjamin Franklin axiom goes: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. In a lot of ways, it’s a nugget of wisdom that has become a kind of informal mantra around the NNC offices. Whether it is offering our members pre-publication support, or simple ‘brown-bag lunch’ workshops, we believe that addressing difficult issues before they can metastasize into a formal complaint is the best way we can serve our constituents.  

Lately, this approach has been of particular interest to many early-career journalists. Indeed, since the calendar turned to 2019, the NNC has been on a bit of a ‘road show’ to explain who we are, what we do, and how our yeoman's work is critical to building trust in quality journalism.

Our outreach work has taken us to Calgary, to present at the annual Canadian University Press conference; to London, to discuss emerging issues in media ethics at the University of Western Ontario; and to Ottawa to lead a seminar with graduate journalism students at Carleton University.

What have we learned from these experiences? I’d humbly suggest three key lessons.

First, the NNC can be a useful ally in helping news organizations, old and new, large and small, to defend the rights of their journalists to cover public events. We’ve heard many stories about how, in several communities, local councils or municipal bodies are increasingly obfuscating journalists in their democratic duty to hold local officials to account.

Second, the NNC can provide news organizations with clarity and insights around emerging ethical issues in journalism. Last year, for example, the NNC did a public survey of newsrooms on the issue of de-indexing. Since we first began to examine that topic, we have regularly heard from many concerned reporters, editors, and news readers who are beginning to come to terms with the pitfalls of the internet’s ever-lasting digital memory.

Third, the NNC has reaffirmed the value in building strong partner relationships with post-secondary institutions. With the added capacity for research, engagement, and public liaison, the NNC is both better able to serve its media members, and affirm the role that good journalism plays in building a dynamic civic architecture in communities across Canada.   

- Brent Jolly, Director of Communication and Community Manager


Meet Doug Cudmore: A Clown At Heart

Image credit: Tim Finlan, Toronto Star

NNC industry director (Torstar/Metroland)

On November 18, 2018, Toronto Star senior editor Doug Cudmore made his way through hordes of people and walked several blocks to the newsroom, still in costume. Cudmore marches in the city’s annual Santa Claus parade every year; this time he had decided to dress up as a clown.

Having spent nearly two decades at the Toronto Star, Cudmore oversees the paper’s courts and city hall coverage. He also sits on the National NewsMedia Council as one of the Council’s eight professional directors.

Cudmore explained that marching in the parade inspires a different perspective on the city and is his way of dealing with the hard stories he covers on a daily basis.

The subjects he covers are heavy, but the Star’s Senior Toronto Editor loves his job for two reasons. The first reason is that each day brings a new challenge.

“You have to get news out by the end of the day, so you’re literally becoming an expert very quickly on something that you never knew about before,” explained Cudmore, who has quickly primed himself on complex subjects, ranging from constitutional law to missing persons cases, sometimes over the course of days or even hours.

But some days are more challenging than others for the longtime journalist.

June 28, 2017, was a particularly challenging day, when Cudmore found himself on speaker phone with a man who had allegedly taken a hostage. From the Star’s radio room, Cudmore spoke to the man for nearly an hour in an effort to keep him calm and diffuse the situation until a police officer arrived to join the conversation.

Cudmore called the situation “horrible” but said that it gave him insight into the experiences of the people he covers every day.

“Sometimes when you’re covering things but you’re not in the middle of it, you forget about the empathy,” said Cudmore, explaining that he learned empathy for everyone involved that day, including the first responders, the alleged victims, and the “people who are apparently making bad decisions with their lives.”

Cudmore takes only minor credit for what happened that day. In recounting the tense situation, he stresses the fact that he was simply “on the phone helping someone,” and not in any physical danger. “I don’t like to overstate what I did—I’m just happy that I could be there to help out.”

His desire to “help out” underpins the other reason Cudmore loves his job: helping effect change in the city.

“[It’s] the notion that you’re trying to make the city a better place for everybody who lives in it but particularly those who don’t really have access to having a voice or a stage on their own,” explained Cudmore.

During his time at the paper, Cudmore has edited a range of subjects, from entertainment to immigration to transportation, and even served as the Star’s business editor.

But journalism was not always in his sights.

Cudmore was pursuing a theatre degree when he decided to take a year off to find himself. Instead, he found himself confined to his studio apartment battling a case of pneumonia. Couch-bound for a month, the then 21-year-old Cudmore “became addicted to Rolling Stone Magazine, at which point I kind of had to figure out what to do with my life, and thought, ‘well, this is cool, maybe I could be a journalist.’”

Soon after that realization, the former theatre major enrolled in Ryerson University’s journalism school, where he edited the student publication, The Eyeopener.

As Cudmore tells it, he was lucky enough to land a job at the Star after only campus paper experience.

Over the years, he has developed a deep appreciation for journalism’s responsibility to the public to report on “what’s happening in the corners of the world that aren’t being lit up by anybody else.”

While he is “not the kind of journalist who likes to speak in self-important language,” he does view journalism as an “independent guardian and questioner.”

“I think that readers having trust in journalism is more important now than ever,” said Cudmore.

“I also think that there are entrenched powers, and it’s a lot easier to push their agendas forward if they’re kind of questioning the quality of the journalism that’s covering them.”

That’s why journalism standards—and journalists holding themselves to the highest standards—are so important, he explained.

He views the National NewsMedia Council as a means for readers to have their concerns addressed and to build on this trust.

“Journalism is a tricky business because you’re always faced with new problems and new challenges, and they’re never what you expect,” explained Cudmore of the tough calls he has to make as an editor of a daily paper.

“What I bring to [the NNC] along with the other professional directors is that I deal with [these decisions] day to day.”

Cudmore recognizes that public perceptions of journalists can also influence trust.

“There’s a lot of cache in some corners in talking about media elite—and I can understand that, I mean, I’m an editor who works in the biggest city in Canada in a newsroom that’s downtown” said Cudmore.

But he and his colleagues are neither elitist, nor elite, said Cudmore.

“I come from a working class background; I coach my kid’s baseball team,” he said. “We’re just regular people like everyone else.”

Of course, ‘regular’ for Cudmore sometimes means dressing up as a clown to march in the Santa Claus Parade and writing fiction in his spare time, all while keeping tabs on some of the most pressing issues in town.

- Cara Sabatini is the NNC's Research and Academic Co-ordinator


Upcoming Events  

Media Town Hall

What's the cost to residents of Brampton when the media does not represent them?

March 23, 2019

Sheridan College, Davis Campus.



Information update

We have short NNC information blurbs to promote your membership and let readers know how to get in touch with us. Please include one, along with our organization's logo either in your printed publication and website. A high-resolution version can be downloaded on our website.       

{Your news organization) is a member of the National NewsMedia Council, which deals with complaints about news stories, opinion columns or photos. See the NNC website at or call 1-844-877-1163 for more information.


Have a complaint about news, opinion, or photos? See the National NewsMedia Council website at or call 1-844-877-1163 for information.

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