Why I think the newspaper is a (waste paper)basket case

by Yule Heibel on August 18, 2007

I updated my Facebook status yesterday with a note about being very angry at our local newspaper, The Times-Colonist, for essentially stealing a story and then not reporting it properly anyway, and for exemplifying the ugliest, but I mean the ugliest, aspects of an “old boys network” mentality. That prompted some of my Facebook friends to write on my wall or leave messages, asking what was up.

Even though I know that this local paper is a total waste paper basket case and that nothing will change it, I had better muster the energy and interest to write my reply. First, some background:

  • around the middle of last month I submitted a paragraph-long write up to FastCompany, nominating Victoria for “fast city” status; you can read about the whole process here: So “fast,” I’m nearly invisible, my blog entry from July 18, 2007
  • if you read through to the update and follow the comments on the comments board, you’ll see that Dan Gunn from VIATec commented on July 19; I communicated all the information he needed to visit, rank, and comment since, as I learned also that very day, Victoria had been accepted by FastCompany’s editorial team: see Victoria’s page
  • on July 20, I emailed Bruce Carter of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce about my submission, explaining the nomination and asking him to rank / comment on Victoria (I never heard back from him: no response)
  • I emailed as many people I could think of, but heard back from none — a disappointing process I wrote about on my blog on July 29, in a post called Benchmarks; I ended this entry with these remarks: “And so the response / lack of response has become another benchmark for me. Climates of trust are built on response and responsiveness.”
  • in the middle of July, I wrote a brief article about Victoria, which dealt with the “fast city” submission and also addressed the findings of Geoffrey West, featured in the July/Aug.2007 edition of SEED Magazine (“The Living City” by Jonah Lehrer)
  • on July 17, I submitted this article to another local paper, The Business Examiner, and while I received an email back from the publisher (Simon Lindley), I never heard once from the editor (Steve Weatherbe), who was on vacation initially but ignored all subsequent emails from me, including the last one on I sent on Aug.2; in that email, I wrote that since I hadn’t heard from him since his return from vacation on July 23, I assumed it was ok if I placed my article elsewhere
  • on Aug. 13, Vibrant Victoria published my article (called The Race That Should be On: Victoria as β€œFast City?”), linking to it from its front page as well as from the forum; I noted its appearance on my blog that same day with this entry: My “fast” appearance on Vibrant Victoria

I would argue that all of this establishes my role in this story — in fact, without me, there wouldn’t have been a story. And without Vibrant Victoria, whose focus is primarily on urbanism — not technology — my article would not have been published locally. Certainly The Business Examiner showed zero interest, aside from the friendly and courteous reply I received from its publisher. The editor, however, left unanswered what were at least 3 emails from me.

But now look what a cat’s breakfast our local daily paper, The Times-Colonist, and its allegedly professional reporter, Mr. Andrew A. Duffy, make of it. On Aug.17, co-incidentally (or not?) a mere 4 days after my piece appeared on VV’s page, he produced a front page — yes, a front page — article called Does Victoria make the cut? Its teaser intro states, “‘Booming’ Victoria should get quick trip to fast-city status, say tech workers”… Suddenly, this is solely an issue centred on technology, not urbanism; and suddenly, it’s also something that just sort of happened, and that was created — without Duffy ever writing who was behind it (me!) — by the technology sector. Who happen to be all men, too. Most galling is the fact that Duffy clearly interviewed Dan Gunn and Bruce Carter, and that even though they were in the picture from July 19/20 onward, they fail to mention my pivotal role.

And yes, I emailed both “gentlemen,” but have heard nothing back from either one.

Here’s what Duffy wrote in his fluff piece of distortion — it’s the full article, but I shall interrupt for clarity:

Does Victoria make the cut?
‘Booming’ Victoria should get quick trip to fast-city status, say tech workers
Andrew A. Duffy, Times Colonist staff
Published: Friday, August 17, 2007

‘Fast cities” are billed as creative, innovative places of the future, and a group of Victoria high-tech workers believes it’s high time B.C.’s capital joined their number.

That’s called fudging the facts. Duffy makes it sound as if these “high-tech workers” nominated Victoria. They didn’t — they’re not that fast.

Fast Company, a magazine that sells itself as a playbook for and chronicler of the “new economy,” recently released its Fast Cities issue, listing the 30 fastest cities — those deemed ideal for you and your business — in the world.

Victoria did not make the list, but Toronto and Vancouver did — the only Canadian cities to do so.

Ah, again: wrong. Duffy can’t get anything right, can he? Calgary also made the cut. Moral of this part of the story? Whatever you do, don’t believe everything that so-called professional journalists tell you.

But some capital region tech workers think Victoria should make the cut the next time round.

Already, 27 people, most tech workers, have gone to bat for Victoria on the Fast Company website ( www.fastcompany.com/cities/2007/).

Poor Mr. Duffy is decidedly un-web-savvy, otherwise he would have linked to the page for Victoria, for it’s not exactly easy to find us otherwise. There’s the user map, but even that takes a number of zoom-in clicks to the Pacific Northwest.

“Victoria is booming! There are cranes everywhere. Jobs are plentiful and we were a host city for the FIFA U-20. We just need the rest of the country to recognize it,” wrote Thomas Guerrero.

I would guess Duffy was being very lazy here. That’s the first comment up, and it indicates to me that he didn’t bother scrolling down the page to read some of the other remarks.

According to Dan Gunn, executive director of the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre, it’s about time people starting talking about Victoria in glowing terms.

“It’s very important to us if we are going to maintain our largest private-sector industry,” said Gunn of getting Victoria onto the world’s radar screen. “We can’t be a quiet industry anymore and that involves pumping up our chests once in a while.”

Gunn said that while Victoria’s high-tech industry has grown to a $1.7-billion sector and is going head-to-head with cities around the world for talent and investment, it sometimes gets forgotten.

“We’re not on the tip of everyone’s tongue like Silicon Valley,” he said. “Can we honestly expect to be put in the same category? No, but we can be considered one of the up-and-coming, most innovative and best places to live.”

Yes, it’s about time people started talking the place up, but you know what? It wasn’t your technologists at VIATec who did it, Dan. And it’s not about “pumping up” in some manly macho manner, either.

Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, applauded the talk-up-Victoria campaign, saying Victoria has been too modest for too long.

Lovely, Bruce, glad to know that you applauded. But guess what? I didn’t hear you!

“It’s our job to do that, our job as associations, and as a municipality and citizens to say, ‘hey we’re not newlywed and nearly dead. There is lots of stuff going on here,’ ” he said. And, he said, the city can sell itself as a place for large companies to set down head offices by playing up the lifestyle for workers.

Vancouver made the fast cities list as a green leader alongside Chicago, Stockholm and Portland, Ore., while Toronto made the list as a global village alongside Johannesburg and Berlin. Other cities on the 30-fastest list include usual suspects like New York, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., London, Shanghai and Sydney.

The magazine also put out a list of five slow cities: Budapest, Havana, New Orleans, Detroit and St. Louis, Mo.; five too-fast cities: Cairo; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Greenwich, Conn.; Las Vegas; and Shenzhen, China; and 20 cities on the verge, which included Seattle, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beijing.


Ok, part of me knows that I’m contributing to divisiveness if I protest and object to the way the Times-Colonist stole this story and bowdlerized it to the point of distortion, and that divisiveness is not what a “fast” city should be about. And I also know that I might look petty, demanding acknowledgement of my role here.

There’s a bigger dimension to this, however.

I really feel gob-smacked by the silo mentality exhibited here: men in suits and techies at the technology park, claiming for themselves the whole enchilada, excluding the arts, excluding women, excluding the role of culture and creativity…. Not understanding that in a networked, flat world, silos are anathema, and that stories are meant to be shared in a flat world, not hoarded. If you (that’d be you I’m talking to, Duffy) package and limit and demarcate this story as some sort of sui generis thing that somehow magically originated in “the institutions” and “in the tech industry” (or wherever), you are killing its potential to become viral, to spread. You are cutting it off from other people. You are disregarding the fact that the people who most articulately went “to bat” for Victoria came from the urbanist and arts sectors, too.

Most of all, though, a city has to nurture a culture of trust, too. You can’t have a healthy city based on fear (fear of crime, fear of decay, fear of this & that), and you can’t have a healthy city where everyone mistrusts everyone else. Silo mentalities create mistrust: the silo’s walls are impenetrable and opaque, there’s no transparency, no one knows what’s going on, and conspiracy theories thrive. Flat, networked environments break down the silos, but trust… Ah, trust. Even in “flatland,” it’s important to maintain the channels of communication, to respond to emails, to connect. Connect. When Andrew Duffy writes a story as if it somehow popped out of nowhere, he is withering connections, not creating them, and he is actively destroying the vibrancy that every creative city needs.

“And so the response / lack of response has become another benchmark for me. Climates of trust are built on response and responsiveness.”

“Fast” means fast and agile and connective in response, too. But I guess the silo walls are too thick for that message ever to get through…


maria August 18, 2007 at 7:41 pm

I would be more than pissed at this omission, to use a term that goes well with the silo imagery here. Fast, for the silo-set is, well, “fast” in every area, including culture,a s you pointed out. It’s the wham-bam-thank-you-mam school of relating and conducting human affairs, it is the confluence of decision as division, so of course this is about speed and bragging….

But it is galling to see this kind of carelessness on so many levels by the msm when so much criticism is heaped for not being “professional” on bloggers and other writers on the Web who take their task of reporting or disseminating information about the world in which they live so seriously.

It is good that you have documented the background here step by step!

yulelog August 18, 2007 at 9:30 pm

Well, exactly — all the time you hear about how bloggers supposedly play fast & loose with sources, but I would never do this, nor would the respected bloggers I read. I haven’t come across any bloggers worth reading who would do what Andrew Duffy did. If anything, in blogging, it’s all about the links, the “linky love,” as Frank Paynter would say.

Also, on VibrantVictoria’s forum, where admittedly we post plenty of stuff from the MSM, no one posts items from any outlet without giving due credit to the source. Yet “web-based” news sites like VV are allegedly less professional than the MSM. Give me a break…

melanie August 21, 2007 at 7:16 pm

I’m curious. Do you know the people you mentioned (Dan, etc) in real life? Or is this really a comment on how important real life connections remain – i.e., the limitations of connectedness via the internets?

Anyway, I think your comment about silos is spot on. Particularly when it comes to connecting things like, say, hi-tech and culture. Mostly business people don’t seem to see how central cultural activity is to the vibrancy of their cities, even of their business communities. It’s as true in Fast cities as in others too.

melanie August 21, 2007 at 7:20 pm

PS: I think Bruce is way off the mark with his comment about “the talk-up-Victoria campaign”. It’s not the talking up that’s important its the making of connections and doing ‘fast’ things. Unfortunately, I find him the epitome of ‘slow’!!!

yulelog August 21, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Very astute observation regarding Bruce — you’re not the only one to say that, but you must be the most distant, geographically, which shows how very perspicacious you are! πŸ˜‰ (Of course, I think it also reflects very badly on the intelligence of the reporter — he’s the one who chose this particular soundbite…! But yes, the CEO’s “acumen,” such as it is, is encapsulated by it…)

Re. your first comment, and being curious whether I know these guys: Victoria is tightly knit, and while I haven’t met Bruce, my husband knows him, having met him on a couple of occasions. And my husband also knows Dan, having met him far more often. In fact, they’re in the same building complex (Van. Island Advanced Technology Park) these days, as my husband is working for a company that’s located there. And yes, I have met Dan — shook his hand and had drinks with him at a VIATec xmas party, for example.

Our paths haven’t crossed otherwise, but they are likely to do so again, given the tendency of circles (social, business, etc.) to overlap like Venn diagrams here.

Since I still haven’t heard from either fellow, I’ve been wondering what I’ll say when/ if we meet at another xmas party…

melanie September 3, 2007 at 4:28 am

I’m not only far away, I’m way out of your field. But I find your stuff usually quite fascinating. The urban design thing that you’ve been on lately also makes me think about where I live – i.e, there’s usually more to it than the purely local.

yours perspicaciously πŸ˜‰

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