So there is some drama at Victoria City Hall this week. Last week, my partner Jaclyn (who runs Victorian Analysis) arrived at City Hall for the start of the PLUC (Planning and Land Use Committee) meeting to find the media table had not been set up. It appears the city is trying to strong-arm her out of operation by making her working conditions more difficult. And Mayor Lisa Helps was on the radio today “defending” the city’s position. While she tried to defend the act as one of fairness and equity, judging from the content of her responses all she appeared to do was demonstrate that the city is using that as a weak excuse to attack the one dedicated citizen journalist that they have. The details are below.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While Jaclyn and I are married, the tone and style of this article reflect solely my own feelings on the issue. I understand that this is not the most diplomatic of approaches, but I’m frustrated that a large public organization will spend as much effort as Victoria has picking on a lone citizen journalist. My anger has less to do with the fact that she is my spouse and more to do with a public organization picking on the little guy. Jaclyn does this work for free and tries her best to be objective and impartial. I apologize to her if my words hurt her public perception or affect her ability to do her job. I’m simply trying to get the word out on an unfair and heavy-handed action by the city and the mayor’s attempt to whitewash the story.
On Monday, former Victoria city councillor Shellie Gudgeon was on CBC defending Jaclyn against the city’s decision to remove the media table. In that interview, they played a couple of clips of a phone interview they conducted with Jaclyn a couple of days earlier. This interview is linked below, and provides a good introduction to the issue and why Victorian Analysis is so important for transparency. Or you can skip right to the summary, to get the TL;DR; version.
Today, Mayor Lisa Helps came on to the same CBC radio show (also linked below) to defend the city’s position. Her answers were nothing but doublespeak. Here is a brief transcript of the most important clips from the audio, including Modern Democracy (MD) commentary in italics:
Gregor Craigie (GC): Why was the table removed?
Lisa Helps (LH): People started to complain, “I’m tweeting too, where’s my table?” And to give everyone a table, that would fill up city hall in a very awkward way.
… The idea that we give one person a table to blog and not others it’s just not equitable or fair. …
(MD: NOTE: The media table at Victoria City Hall used to have two or three media representatives using it at times. No reason why other dedicated tweeters can’t share the table. In fact, Jaclyn has told me that on the very rare occasion (less than a handful of times), she has gladly shared the table with others.)
GC: Would it be possible to add a table or two at the back of the room for citizen bloggers to work off of and set their laptops on?
LH: There you go, you hit on it, laptop! Like, these were designed to go on our laps. In theory we could set up tables at the back, but sometimes it’s standing room only at the back of the chambers, and would we push members of the public out into the hall?
(MD: Lisa comes off as really condescending with this comment. And this laptop comment doesn’t make much sense in context of the whole interview, as we’ll see a little later on. Plus, Jaclyn told me that there has only been standing room only on 3 or 4 occasions during the last 9 months.)
GC: By that rationale, you could take away your own table. And I’m not suggesting you should, I’m just saying there is a benefit of having a desk.
LH: Of course there is. We’re the elected officials here to govern and run the city. We often have lots of papers in addition to our iPads. And we’ve got maps in front of us…
(MD: Here Lisa’s admitting that they need more desk space than for just a laptop as there are a number of paper documents (such as agenda packages and various plans and bylaws) that they have on hand for reference. The point she misses is that people covering city business will need the same documents at hand to follow along. Not providing a table for media makes it a hostile workplace)
GC: Right, so when journalists do attend, most city halls over the years have taken it as granted that they’ll need a bit of space to do their work apart from just sitting with the public. Is there any allowance for that in your view?
LH: They do, like I said, when the cameras come in they can come up to the front.
(MD: Cameras are not the same as reporters who need to type. She’s dodging an uncomfortable question here by answering a question she wasn’t asked. Former Mayor Dean Fortin used to do this tactic all of the time. It’s a big reason why he was such a terrible mayor)
LH: We don’t run the city based on what one person needs. … If members of the media started to populate our chambers and say “hey, we need lots of space”, we’d find a provision.
(MD: Here is Lisa directly contradicting herself, as she earlier acknowledged that several citizens have asked for table space for live tweeting. Unless she doesn’t consider what Jaclyn does as being media… But she confirms just the opposite right in the next quotation:)
LH: … Let’s give credit to the work that Jaclyn does, she is also the media. That citizen who is tweeting everything that somebody says when they’re there for a particular public hearing, that person is also the media. Social media is really, really important, don’t get me wrong.
(MD: So, if what Jaclyn’s live-tweeting is media, and there have been several people approaching the city, telling them that they are also live-tweeting, this means that there are multiple members of the media, as Lisa recognizes it, asking for table space. So why is the city removing it?)
GC: You brought me around and then I think you just put me back again, … if she’s a member of the media and she’s doing this all the time and that’s her job, and is fulfilling a public role, why shouldn’t she be given just a desk, as all the other council chambers do that I’ve been at?
LH: Let’s check that fact, let’s go to all of the council chambers in the region and see if they still have a media table.
(MD: Again, defensive condescension on Lisa’s part. And she’s deflecting the conversation again. But good on Gregor Craigie for challenging her on that point)
GC: That’s a good question, I’m just talking about all of the ones that I’ve been to.
LH: When was the last time you were there?
GC: Well, probably 5 or 10 years ago.
LH: Before we started webcasting.
(MD: This whole back-and-forth makes Lisa sound like an arrogant know-it-all, and this is to a highly-respected member of the local traditional media. Her tone is very much “I know better than you”)
GC: … Well, no, there was webcasting in some of them, and they were all on cable channel. You could do the entire thing elsewhere, we just chose to go. But you’re saying she’s providing a valuable role.
LH: What I’m saying is … social media plays a valuable role for sure.
Lisa and the city are trying to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand, citizen journalists “play a valuable role” as an important part of the media and are welcome to attend council meetings. but on the other hand, Jaclyn, as a citizen, should not receive preferential treatment. So which is it? Is she media, and thus needing to be respected by the city and provided a working space to do her job? Or is she one of a sea of citizen bloggers, who are not media, and thus should not be given special treatment?
Lisa seems to want it both ways, and that’s why her interview doesn’t make any sense. Individual statements are coherent, but, when taken as a whole, the whole mess just sounds like her making excuses for a knee-jerk reaction by the city.
And Jaclyn is a special case. Yes, there is the occasional (very occasional) meeting where the room is packed and lots of people are tweeting. But Jaclyn is there every day, most of the time sitting alone in the audience and waiting for this nightmare of a council fumble its way though daily proceedings. This is distinctly different than individuals that show up for a one-off item to tweet. If anyone should be given preferential treatment, it’s her.
The only thing that seems clear is that Victoria city council only wants to encourage public feedback that reinforces their own egos and self-importance. When it comes to criticism that doesn’t always paint them in a rose light, but would actually help them do their jobs better, they’d rather bury their heads in the sand.
What is really wrong with this whole situation is that the city never approached Jaclyn to indicate that there was a problem, or to try to work together to find a solution. They didn’t even give her a courteous heads-up. Jaclyn is a kind and generous person, and perfectly reasonable. If she had been approached by the city, I’m sure she would have been happy to work on a solution that would accommodate any perceived problems.
Instead, they just passive-aggressively removed the table and let her show up with no warning to discover that the unwritten-rules had changed. Shame on the city and especially shame on Lisa Helps for trying to defend the indefensible.
Here is the original interview with Shellie Gudgeon, with clips of Jaclyn:
And here is Lisa’s interview: