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Journalists slug it out over coverage

by Randy Burton

 

Saskatoon—Coverage of an ongoing debate over government land controls here turned into a mudslinging match between journalists when a Star-Phoenix reporter took The Calgary Herald to task for its news judgement on the issue.

When the Herald published a press release from a farmers' group protesting the controls, Star business writer Hank Goertzen wrote a letter to the editor complaining the report was one-sided.

That got Herald agriculture writer John Schmidt riled up. He ran Goertzen's letter in his column, along with a broadside levelled at the "young and baby-faced" reporter. Under a subhead labelled "Goertzen biased," Schmidt advised the Saskatoon area farmers to "run for cover the next time Goertzen puts in an appearance if it's unbiased reporting they seek."

Naturally, Goertzen's upset over the column, but said in an interview he doesn't plan to press libel charges. After consulting his fellow reporters and the Star's lawyers, he learned Schmidt "has a reputation for being outspoken" and no one was optimistic about his chances for a conviction.

In his column, Schmidt argued the farmers "were forced to issue this press release in self defence because they could not get their side of the story in their local daily."

In an interview, Schmidt said he did not check with The Star-Phoenix to see whether the farmers' side had been covered because the authors of the press release "have never lied to me before. I'm a farm writer, don't forget that. If a few farm writers don't stick up for farmers, what the hell good are they?"

The reporter covering the river valley story for the Star said the paper has carried about 20 stories with the farmers' views included, but that particular release was not published.

Schmidt said Goertzen "took the politicians' line" and made himself part of the story by signing himself (in his letter) as a reporter.

A member of the general public wouldn't have been commented on, "but when it comes from another paper, especially a competing chain, I felt in my own wisdom that he deserved to have the story told," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said Southam "is a pretty good outfit;" in fact, he owns $20,000 worth of company shares.

He said he's had several lawsuits brought against him in his 32 years as an agriculture reporter, but none have ever gotten to court. "I've had a lot of luck lately."

 

Published in SOURCES May-June 1980

 



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