On this week's airplane page... - Denny Scott editorial
We’ve all been through this before but, after a letter to North Huron Township Council leveled some charges against The Citizen, I think we need to review what this page, page five, is all about.
In a letter to North Huron Council this week, one of the neighbours concerned with the Riverside Apartment development in Wingham throws some fairly-heavy-handed accusations at both The Citizen and The Wingham Advance Times regarding our coverage of the development. Bias, lack of care and favoritism have been alleged, however I think the writer may be confusing opinion pieces with local news coverage.
That top line on this page, Other Views, and the photos beside the articles, means that you’re reading our views on the issues of the day. Founding Publisher Keith Roulston at the top, The Citizen’s Editor Shawn to the right and myself filling up this ample space at the bottom are sharing how we feel about said issues. These two pages (Other Views and Editorials and Opinion, just to the left in the print edition) are the one place in the paper that isn’t bound by our consistent drive to be unbiased. Here, we let fly with our opinions, our wit and our deeply-held beliefs. However, given the reaction that we sometimes get to these personal spaces, we should call these the airplane pages, because apparently the purpose of them goes over some people’s heads.
I’ll be the first to admit that, in this space, the one with my distinguished, mask-adorned face sitting above it, I took a hard stance on this development and how necessary it was for the community and how the Not In My BackYard-ism (NIMBYism) that initially hamstrung it was something council needed to see past.
Outside of my column, which, again, is my opinion, the coverage of the issue as it was presented and discussed by North Huron Council wasn’t biased. I went back and I read it and reread it the first time this group complained. Critics may be upset that I didn't write a 3,000-word thinkpiece about each complaint they made, but that wasn’t bias, that was keeping the story concise and readable.
I spent hours making sure that there was fair coverage of both sides of the issue and, if anything, there was more ink spilled on the concerns of the neighbours than on those of the developer. If someone is accusing us of bias on this issue, I can only assume that they read my column instead of the news stories and were upset because someone disagreed with them in a public forum. The alternative is they didn’t like how they came off in the unbiased articles and they have no one to blame but themselves there. That’s not a jab - it happens. We’ve even had councillors say they didn’t like how they sound when quoted in stories, and then we sit down, review the recording of the council meeting, and they realize that everything was reported as it was presented. Sometimes, the realization is that they meant to say something else, and that’s not the fault of the reporter.
The new letter also says The Citizen didn’t run a specific Letter to the Editor in March celebrating the perceived compromise the concerned citizens saw when council shut down the five-storey apartment development proposal, saying the developer would only be allowed to build to three stories.
We did run a letter saying that in our March 3 issue (page 25 if you want to check my work). The editorial department received multiple letters in support of the compromise, each one long and very similar, so one was chosen as a representative of the rest. There have been similar situations with other issues when similar decisions had to be made.
There are some contentious issues that have generated dozens of letters over the course of the discourse around them. The Citizen is a newspaper, not a forum, so we’re not going to let any particular issue take over half our weekly pages. That would be a disservice to every reader not invested in that particular issue and every other news story happening that week.
Finally, the writer of the most recent letter says the press should have interviewed the concerned citizens, which could be a legitimate concern - if not for the fact that, as part of the council agenda, anyone could go in and read their detailed and lengthy complaints about the development. Those complaints included, as I wrote in that first unbiased article, “potential ecological damage to the site and surrounding areas, loss of trees and impact on wildlife, loss of recreation opportunities, the distance from the site to the schools, concerns the development won’t provide affordable housing, questions about servicing, inquiries about damage from salt and sand on the site… loss of recreation opportunities and the possible increase in demand for services such as hospitals and physicians.”
After that, I also took the time to detail some of the verbal concerns brought up by the neighbours, including the author of this most recent letter to North Huron Council. Those concerns included light pollution and council transparency.
There was no bias in the stories, but there is definitely a bias in this space: we need more residential spaces because, otherwise, people won’t be able to afford to live and work in North Huron.