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Pique'n'yer interest

Big media wearing out their welcome



People often see it as a great thing that the international media are coming to Whistler. The world will be watching us, we're told. It's our time to shine. The mayor needs to defer his media requests to handlers so he can sit in for an interview with Aftonbladet .

I'd be excited too if I didn't care about anything more than exposure. For me, depth and accuracy matter, and I'm not sure I can say the same for media that are descending upon our town. Careless errors and omissions have permeated their coverage and if they truly care to inform their readers they'd do well to address their mistakes.

I can trace the earliest example back to this summer when forest fires raged on Blackcomb Mountain and in the backcountry of Pemberton. ISU spokesman Bert Paquet was on his way to Spud Valley for a Game Plan meeting when he stopped to get a look at the fires.

A reporter with an international outlet went up to him and asked, "What if a forest fire happened during the Olympics?" The feisty muckraker hadn't clued in that forest fires don't generally happen in cold, wet weather.

Fast forward to September. Britannia Beach residents were concerned about a plan by the Institute for Research, Communication and Development (IRCD) to build a spiritual retreat whose programs would be run by the Opus Dei organization.

CBC published a story on its website without any mention of the IRCD. Without that key fact it looked like Britannia residents were fighting back against an encroachment by a shadowy religious organization that was vilified in The Da Vinci Code .

Fast forward again to January, when CBC held an Olympic countdown event in Whistler. The day included a special focus on stories from the Sea to Sky region. One story claimed that two-dozen homeless people were being uprooted and moved to Squamish. The Whistler Community Services Society quickly countered it, saying its estimates of homeless within Whistler were off by about 75 per cent.

Another spoke of Squamish as a scorned Olympic community - a status that has since been alleviated by a VANOC donation of $750,000 for sports and recreation facilities. If CBC wanted a maligned Olympic community they might have looked to Pemberton, just 90 kilometres up the road.

And who can forget when the New York Post reported that Intrawest's financial status is "imperiling" an Olympic venue? The story, quoting nothing but anonymous sources, seemed to pull facts out of the air, particularly the suggestion that the Canadian government should step in to bail out the ski company.

Such a report would be easy to cast aside had it not made such a splash in the blogosphere.

I can grant that major media are under a lot of strain. Ad sales are down and outlets can't devote the resources needed to deliver top-notch reporting. In CBC's case it's even worse. They're no longer broadcasting popular shows like the Simpsons and so can't benefit from the ad revenues the show produces.

The national broadcaster and the great people who run it have my sympathy, but they don't get a pass for making some flagrant errors that even the most casual news junkie in Whistler could recognize.

Too often I feel like visiting media are grasping at straws trying to snag a controversial story in advance of the Olympics. Fair enough, that's the game and I'm guilty of doing the same at this paper. But controversy is empty if it comes without a basis in fact.

Dissenters will argue that we live in a new age of media consumption. That the hunger for information is so much stronger now and media should kick standards to the side and feed the beast.

I disagree. The hunger for news is indeed stronger but that gives media a chance to make the infostream healthier than ever. We should not be publishing controversial stories that don't have solid bases in reality. Such stories get limited traction in the media and are laughed out of relevance by people who know what they're talking about.

I hope that visiting media heed that advice. If there's a controversy involving Whistler and the Olympics, great. Do not spare a second exposing it with every resource at your disposal. But for truth's sake, consult credible sources and don't skimp on the facts.

Regular readers from outside the community might not notice the difference. We will. And we'll call you on your carelessness every chance we get.