Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Settling the Score With Madeline Smith

Sometimes life throws you remarkable little curve balls. Things that show you that you're either more or less important than you thought you were.

The one thrown my way yesterday by one Madeline Smith, Managing Editor of the University of Alberta Gateway -- the publication with which I plied by journalistic trade for four years -- was certainly one of the former.

In the midst of a pitiful meltdown by Tolbold Rollo (aka Blinky McFlopsweat, aka Troll-bold, aka @SettlerColonial), Ms Smith made the decision to interject herself. Unfortunately, she couldn't resist the urge to say something that was trumped-up at most, and made-up at least. Via her Twitter account:


What Smith says is entirely false. I can't pretend to have never had any disagreements with a Gateway opinion editor, but I can describe the most significant of them -- the ones which, to my eye, Smith seems to be referring -- as such:

In one case an editor informed me that my work wouldn't be printed unless I burned a day of my summer work schedule to travel all the way from Lloydminster, SK to Edmonton, AB to have a new headshot taken by Gateway photographers. When my offer to have a new headshot taken by a local photographer -- saving me the time and expense, including in foregone wages, of traveling to Edmonton -- was rebuffed, I told him to go pound sand.

I've never considered this to have been a legitimate issue, merely an excuse for that particular editor -- who will go unnamed -- to push out a writer that he didn't like. In light of my rebuked efforts to compromise with him, I feel this conclusion to be entirely justified.

In the latter case an editor -- who had described "perogies, not prorogue" signs as comic genius and wanted to print more articles about, of all things, bacon -- informed me that debate would not be tolerated in Gateway opinion meetings, as the younglings didn't appreciate their opinions being challenged. This was something of a new policy at Gateway opinion, and as I consider the combination of a bully pulpit with a shrinking violet to be specifically toxic, I also told her to go pound sand.

Banned twice? That's certainly not an even-handed description of the events in question. But I suppose that must be the fun thing about having a dispute with someone when you hold all the power -- afterward, you can tell it however you want it, regardless of however it really was.

In my subjective opinion, this kind of behaviour is the hallmark of a shitty person. I doubt that very many people would disagree. But Smith isn't just a shitty person. It turns out that she is, in my opinion, also a shitty journalist.

I'm not usually in the business of dredging up the past work of people who I don't know or have never even heard of. But as Smith decided to blindside me by blatantly making things up about my history, I felt it entirely fair to take a look at some of her past work. See what ostensibly got her elevated to the lofty office of the Gateway's Managing Editor.

 The results were not particularly impressive. To whit, consider this opinion article from the November 2, 2009 issue of the Gateway in which she recounts an incidence of what she considers to be "pub racism" but really just makes it clear that she has a hate-on for pub bouncers:

"Recently, I made a trip downtown to a certain retro dance club with a few friends for a night of drinking and good old-fashioned debauchery. Like any university students after a long midterm week of sleepless nights, we were all ready to order a round (or three) of tequila shots and altogether forget about the pressures of the world of academia as we retire to a place you can stand for one night only.

Unfortunately for us, we were about to encounter one of the most notoriously loathed demons of city nightlife: the dance club bouncer. These lecherous beasts aren’t found at every bar, but meeting one usually leaves you feeling violated in one way or another. In this case, a member of our group was held up and harassed by one of these creatures, who refused to let her into the bar because he claimed her ID wasn’t legitimate. Despite the fact that she held perfectly valid Alberta government identification (bearing her photo, signature, and proof that she was indeed over the age of 18), he continued to insist that she couldn’t be allowed into the club. The problem? My friend’s ID is an Aboriginal status card.

The bouncer informed us that status cards weren’t accepted based on some mysterious bar policy, having experienced 'problems' with them in the past. He claimed the government office that issues the cards is full of corruption, and as a result, the IDs are usually counterfeit. Having provided this ID at various bars, restaurants, and liquor stores numerous times without any mention of this so-called policy before, she was at a bit of a loss, and frankly, so were we. What was this guy talking about?"

Indeed. What was this guy talking about? It turns out that a little something called "research" could have told her all about it.

As it turns out, the concern over counterfeit Aboriginal status cards was far from anything simply invented by the bouncer in question. At the time that Smith was producing this tripe, the federal government was already undertaking a pilot program to create new, more secure, Aboriginal status cards because the old ones were prone to being faked. Had Smith bothered to do any research whatsoever, she would have learned that this had been considered an issue all the way back in 2000.

Certainly, nine years had passed between 2000 and 2009. The problem could have been solved in the interim, right? Hold your horses. It turns out that as recent to Smith's tirade as March 2009 Metis ID cards were also being eyeballed as easy to counterfeit.

Certainly, this could be an easy mistake to make -- if the opinion article you're writing is completely unresearched. As this one clearly was. No matter what anyone may choose to say about my work with the Gateway, "unresearched" is not one of them. (Although I did once have that accusation lobbed at me, by an individual ironically complaining about an article researched via the very same source that obnoxious individual recommended. Hilarity frequently abounds.)

And that pilot project the federal government was undertaking? It's about to roll out newer, more secure aboriginal ID cards. As per the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website:


To be exceedingly fair to Smith -- far more fair than she chose to be to me -- this particular website page was published on February 7, 2013. That being said, it's a mere reiteration of information that was already available when she wrote that article. Here's a little more reiteration of that publicly-available information:


So the bouncer was right -- and Smith was wrong. A little bit of the requisite research necessary to be a journalist would have told her as much. Of course, the information derived from doing that research might have denied her that golden opportunity to get her butthurt on, so perhaps it's entirely unsurprising that she seemingly chose not to do any.

Will Smith find it in herself to go track down that bouncer and apologize to him? I severely doubt it. See, Smith still hasn't apologized to me. Gateway editor-in-chief Ryan Bromsgrove -- whose work I hold in high esteem -- was put in the unenviable position of having to do it for her. Smith herself, apparently after a discussion with the Gateway board of directors, did see fit to delete the slanderous tweets that precipitated this investigation of her clearly-lacking journalistic rigour.

That being said. I've heard nothing about any disciplinary action being taken against Smith. Unquestionably there should be some, and in any organization worthy of describing itself as "professional" -- as the Gateway Student Journalism Society does -- there certainly would be. Knowing the steady decline of the Gateway organization as I do, I fully expect that none was taken. Which is why I've had to take on the task of disciplining Madeline Smith myself.

I sincerely hope that the Gateway does take this as an opportunity to educate their paid staff on standards of professionalism. Then again, considering that this is a publication that was forced to pare back its publishing schedule from twice-a-week to once-a-week, seeming without so much as a moment of introspection into how the publication's declining quality has impacted its declining popularity, I'm not exactly holding my breath.

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