Home > Journalists in the news > Reporter vs. reporter (w/ Jeff Lee comment)

Reporter vs. reporter (w/ Jeff Lee comment)

November 9, 2011

In any marriage, things get said during the break-up, things that may have gone unsaid while the couple was together. So it goes for the separation of Postmedia from its B.C. community newspapers.

For X number of years, the same newspaper company that owned the Vancouver Sun and The Province has owned more than a dozen community papers in the Sun and Province‘s coverage area. That has obviously seen more than a little overlap and it is not uncommon for the community newspapers to use stories from the dailies or the dailies to use stories plucked straight out of the community papers.

It’s unclear whether or not that story-sharing will come to an end when Glacier’s deal to buy Postmedia’s community papers goes through.

It’s a little bittersweet when you are getting paid a community newspaper wage but seeing your stories appearing in the dailies and, much more frequently, on their website. One knows that it’s a reciprocal relationship, and yet one can’t help feeling a tad underappreciated for one’s real contributions. The fact that reporters are asked to help boost their papers’ web numbers, and then see their reporting pasted on the dailies’ websites, thereby taking traffic away from their own paper’s site, just adds to the bitterness.

With the coming split, it seems (and I admit that I’m kind of playing reporter-psychologist here without knowing every single detail) that at least a couple reporters have had enough of biting their tongues.

Last week, the Vancouver Courier‘s Cheryl Rossi broke news about the dramatic increase in the city’s communications budget. Using the guts of Rossi’s story, the Sun‘s Jeff Lee added a bunch reporting of his own, tweaked the lede to emphasize the city’s anti-media policies and filed a story for his paper.

The byline in the paper attributed the story to Lee, adding that it used files by Rossi. That decision (which was apparently made by editors, not Lee) bugged Rossi’s colleagues.

[An aside: at first, I wasn’t going to repost all the tweets that follow, but the more I go through them, the more I think they illustrate a disconnect between (some [!]) reporters at the dailies, and those at community newspapers. The disconnect is understandable, but still noteworthy. It’s a little like the relationship between two friends, one popular, the other a little less so.]

The next day Rossi’s colleague Naiobh O’Connor posted the following on Twitter:

Curious why @SunCivicLee gets top billing in Vancouver Sun for story broken by @VanCourierNews@Cheryl_Rossi#badnewspaperetiquette

Lee replied:

@naoibh It may have been a style issue. We’re checking. But is this really something you want to spill into Twitterverse? Need to?


@SunCivicLee Fair enough, I guess. But editors flipped the bylines in the paper copy. Bad editor etiquette?

@SunCivicLee Well, Cheryl worked hard on that story and deserves appropriate credit.

Lee (to the Courier’s Megan Stewart, who retweeted Naiobh’s question:

@mhstewart See my recent tweet noting she got top billing online. Don’t know why eds reversed in the print edition. I’m not a byline hog.

@naoibh Uh, you’re wrong. I specifically gave @cheryl_rossi top billing when I rewrote & combined her fine work. ow.ly/7jpjd

Now it probably should have ended there. But Stewart took the opportunity to bring up the larger question of the dailies constantly using the work of reporters at smaller affiliated papers:

She wrote: Fair, @SunCivicLee. But better editing ethics, etiquette has your name “with files from,” not sharing credit for @Cheryl_Rossi‘s reporting.

Lee had had enough, but needed to get the last word:

@mhstewart Not when half or more of the story is written by you. Do you really want to keep up this war?


Who’s warring, @SunCivicLee? Debating ethics of (chain) journalism practice, management. Not first time either, given the use of our work.

And thus the larger issue surfaces. Lee, however, is oblivious to the obvious tenderness that surrounds the issue and seems to resent (perhaps, justifiably) getting dragged into a debate. But then he takes a jab.

@mhstewart Look, this had nothing to do with me. If you checked, you’d know. And for a reporter, you’re pretty reckless with the facts.

And Stewart takes offence:

@SunCivicLee I feel you’ve missed the point and you’re behaving like a bully. Not that I have any sense that matters to you.

Lee (as best I can tell) seems to have had a problem with those annoying people who cite media collusion as one of the world’s ills. But bringing up that seems very weird given that he is having a conversation with another reporter at the same media company.


@mhstewart Look, Megan, my point is that you’re buying into this “chain” bullshit. It’s not that complicated. Mistakes happen. NO CONSPIRACY


@SunCivicLee I feel you’ve missed the point and you’re behaving like a bully. Not that I have any sense that matters to you.

So charming, @SunCivicLee. Unnecessary, stupid bullshit, you say? It’s really not about you. But I can explain ongoing frustrations.


@mhstewart No discrediting you. You earned your stripes, hands down. But you don’t need to use the “chain” argument. It’s bogus. END.


Sent you a DM, @SunCivicLee. You can drop the pretense / defense of discrediting me.

And the brouhaha comes to an end.

Aside the obvious questions surrounding whether this should have been aired on Twitter (I support it, but might feel differently if I had a vested interest in the two parties), I think one can take a few insights from the conversation.

First, I hate it when reporters are overly defensive and, especially, when they escalate debates into personality conflicts. Jeff Lee here clearly has had enough of the nitwits who claim the media are all in cahoots. I’m betting the whole Occupy Vancouver thing, and protesters who are looking for “sympathetic journalists,” has been trying his patience. But reading the tweets — and I don’t think there were messages that I missed — one gets the sense of two sides talking past one another. Lee seems to be responding to an attack that Stewart hasn’t launched. He does seem to have missed the point: that being the general appropriation of Courier copy by the dailies without what is clearly felt to be due recognition or, probably more important, appreciation that somebody else has done most of the work. That’s not to say that Lee didn’t contribute much to the story that sparked this little war, but the byline thing seems to have been the 40-watt lightbulb that caused an entire city’s power grid to go down (didn’t want to go to the straw-camel well).

It’s worth noting a couple more things that deserve reflection: First, story was a scoop. And when you have a scoop — when you have information that nobody else has — you want credit for breaking that story. The information, in such a case is what makes the story, not the details or the background.

Also, the resentment felt by Courier reporters DOES have something to do with the chain, although in pretty much the opposite of the way Lee perceives it to be.

Competition is one of those things that makes being a journalist fun, but whereas Lee’s competition consists of TV and radio stations along with The Province — which, while owned by the same company, is not allowed to use his work — the Courier‘s competition consists almost entirely of The Sun and Province (and maybe the Westender and Georgia Straight). The important thing here is the fact that the two behemoth papers that the Courier can strive to beat are able to snatch up whatever they choose from the smaller paper. For a reporter who wants to win, that can be a little dispiriting. It’s no fun scoring when your opponent can take credit for all your goals.

Update: See Jeff Lee’s comment below.

Don’t just tweet about it, you lazy bastards; leave a comment.

  1. November 14, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    This has happened to me numerous times since joining a smaller daily with Postmedia (now Glacier) last December. It is somewhat irksome to have the story first, then see it posted in the larger papers without so much as a “with files from.”
    Most notably was an instance where I had covered an air show plane crash and managed to get many details in a short period of time, including a spectacular pic from a witness, and post the story online. I was disheartened to see that someone from the Times-Colonist had used my entire story — but had added a sentence or two from a police press release that didn’t yet exist by the time I had filed — and removed my name from the story entirely.
    I’ve used the “with files from Postmedia” line when I’ve grabbed background from someone’s story, but if it’s a significant chunk then they get a byline with me.
    Ultimately, it’s about getting the story out. While I was a bit upset with the air show story snub, I was glad to see that the story had a wider audience in the end.
    Who knows? Maybe it was an editing error? I can forgive that.

  2. November 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Thanks for the comments Jeff.
    Glad to hear things have been cleared up. It looked like it was headed that way.
    I think their was the need for a discussion surrounding the use of community reporters’ stories in the dailies because of one of the changes that have taken place since you were a young(er) reporter: it used to be possible for a reporter at a community newspaper, like yourself, to freelance to the dailies. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case. Black Press reporters, even those in the Interior, aren’t allowed to do so and the sharing agreement between the Postmedia community papers and the dailies obviously makes it impossible. Which is partly where the frustration comes from.

  3. November 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Okay, so I am officially amused by this post. I’m heading home after a long day so I don’t want to get into al long comment post.
    But there are a few things that I’d like to note.
    1. Megan and I actually moved this into a DM on Twitter to try and let this thing cool down and try to get to the issues. Suffice to say that we’re both hearing each others’ concerns, and the messages haven’t gone floating by each other.
    2. I actually have a lot of sympathy for what community reporters go through. Perhaps it stems from the fact I STARTED in community papers and worked my way through them for nearly 10 years before landing with The Sun. I highly value the work the young – and old – journalists do in these publications.
    3. We did appropriately attribute the bylines in the online edition. I was the one who wrote them. Why they were flipped for the print edition is unclear to me, but that may relate to editorial policy of which i am not aware.
    4. I very much support young journalists and I often mentor them. To me, the craft of journalism needs bright and inquisitive minds, brave hearts and an unwillingness to be spun. But that does not include making unfounded accusations and then getting defensive when called upon to justify. In this case, a simple phone call to me – from a brave heart – might simply have resolved the issue.

    Lastly, while I appreciate the post and value the fact you’re trying to raise the journalistic bar, I’d also suggest you drop the anonymity. I have found in my experience that people much more respect and accept statements from people who are willing to stand up on a box and say them, rather than having a paper bag – or in this case a community newspaper – over their head.
    I’ll read the post more closely at another time and will comment again if necessary.


  4. Regretably Anonymous
    November 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I was at a presser with the Mayor last Friday when this came up. Robertson had just finished answering questions about Occupy Vancouver when a reporter (not sure who) asked if he had any reaction to “Jeff Lee’s fine story in the Vancouver Sun” about this. I thought at the time what an unfortunate coincidence this was because I had greatly enjoyed Cheryl Rossi’s piece and, as a Postmedia community paper reporter myself, felt a bit bummed that what seemed like a scoop apparently wasn’t after all. I didn’t know about our little Postmedia family feud until afterward but I’ve got to say that Lee, who was also in attendance, certainly didn’t say anything to suggest the story wasn’t his alone during the followup questions. It suppose might’ve even been a bit weird if he had – “Oh, just for the record, a lot of it was written by another reporter.” – but it kinda puts his blame-the-editors tweets in a different light.

    • November 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      Regretably Anonymous: So, by your standards a reporter who gets mentioned in the middle of a press conference should stick his hand up, interrupt and say “oh, by the way, Mr. Mayor, my colleague is wrong about what he says about me.” How terribly self-serving.
      To the people who mattered in this – Cheryl Rossi, particularly – I did square things even though they were not of my doing.
      And, as I said to the poster of this blog, words carry more weight when you don’t hide behind the cloak of anonymity. Stand up and be proud of your opinion. Even if, in this case, you appear to be wrong about me.
      For the record, I have gone to bat for the reporters at The Courier with Sun editors over this issue, and to a fault every one of those editors are mystified about how this error occurred. They all support the work of journalists, including those at The Courier, and they don’t know where these views about journalistic theft are coming from.
      For me, the shoe was often on the other foot. As a community reporter I often freelanced to the dailies, and without fail I was treated with respect and accorded proper bylines. The dailies want good freelanced material and they are not interested in wrecking the relationships that flow from getting this material.
      I invite people who want to discuss this with me to email me directly at jefflee@vancouversun.com. But please, come armed with facts instead of innuendo.

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