Tag Archives: journalism

Anonymous Comments on the CBC – My letter to the CBC Ombudsman

October 10, 2012

Kirk LaPointe
Ombudsman, CBC
P.O. Box Station A
Toronto, ON    M5W 1E6

Dear Mr. LaPointe:

I am writing to complain about anonymous comments on the CBC – in particular the rebroadcast of these comments from the CBC.CA website on the provincial television program CBC News: New Brunswick.

People are not required to use their real names in online comments attached to news stories.

CBC Radio listeners who want to comment on stories they hear on the Fredericton morning show are required to leave their name and their phone number on the talk back machine in order to have the comments become a part of a future broadcast.  Comments made on the web and broadcast on the supper-hour news program require no such checks and balances.

The web editor chooses what comments are broadcast.  I also understand the comments are ‘vetted’ before they appear on the website.

While I know they ‘choose carefully’, trying to avoid comments that could cause CBC New Brunswick any legal difficulties, I still question the use of anonymous posts.  I do not think these comments add to the collective knowledge of viewers.

When I was visiting my mother over the Thanksgiving weekend I made a point to watch the CBC television news in Nova Scotia.  There were NO anonymous comments from viewers used in that broadcast.  It was, in a word, refreshing.

I think the use of anonymous comments is unethical – more so when you look at the fact one medium in the same city chooses NOT to broadcast anonymous comments (CBC Radio Fredericton) while another medium chooses TO broadcast anonymous comments (CBC TV).

I have personally commented to journalistic staff at CBC Fredericton about this issue.  I have always been told these are ‘things they struggle with’.  I contend they have to STOP STRUGGLING and cease using anonymous comments.  I have posted on the website from time to time – with my full name.  I have never hidden and never plan to hide my posted opinions.  People need to understand the context of my comments, and they can’t do that if I hide who I am.

I don’t think anonymous comments should be used in any medium – on the web or otherwise – but I take particular issue with the rebroadcasting of these comments on the evening television newscast.  I believe the rebroadcast of these ‘comments’ are not only unethical, but they fly in the face of the journalistic policies of the CBC.  I will use direct quotes from the CBC journalistic policies to make my point.

For instance, the CBC must ensure that it is “ open and straightforward when we present interviewees and their statements. We make every effort to disclose the identity of interviewees and to give the context and explanations necessary for the audience to judge the relevance and credibility of their statements.”

The interviewee policy goes on to state that only in “ exceptional cases and for serious cause, we may decide to withhold such information in whole or in part.

I argue that comments directly under a story become PART OF A STORY.  If the people interviewed have to be identified in the story, why shouldn’t those commenting on the story be identified as well?  Some may argue that these comments don’t fall under journalistic standards because they are User Generated Content and the CBC can legally distance itself from these posts.  But can the corporation ethically distance itself from them?

I counter the comments have become PART of the story, not only by their content, but also by their placement with the story.  People go to the story, scroll down, and there, just a sentence away, is the comment section with anonymous sources adding to the web ‘content’.  If they don’t consider it content, then why is it worthy of rebroadcast within another news program?

This leads me to the section on User Generated Content in news stories.

Again, I contend that the comments become part of the story because of their placement on the website and within a television news program.  I believe these anonymous comments violate the CBC journalistic policy on Verification of User Generated Content in News Stories.

“CBC is responsible for all content on its news sites.  This policy covers text, image, video or audio contributions from the public, which are incorporated into news coverage on any platform.  Material that originates from a non-CBC source is clearly identified as such.  Before text, image, video or audio is published, its provenance and accuracy is verified.

I repeatbefore TEXT, image, video or audio IS PUBLISHED, its provenance and accuracy is verified.

How can posting anonymous comments NOT break CBC policy?  How can you verify anonymous comments when people use fictitious names?  How can the publishing and then rebroadcasting of these anonymous comments be ethical?

The policy goes on to state that in exceptional circumstances it may be difficult to authenticate a contribution and that there may be times where, because of timeliness, or if it is in the public interest, we decided to publish without full verification. We are clear with the audience about what we know. The decision to publish material without full authentication must be referred to the Director.

What service does broadcasting these comments provide to the public when the posts don’t clearly identify what ‘interest’ the person has to the story – how they are connected, related, or even beholden to the politician, company or issue at hand?

The policy also states that the decision to use unverified content, when referring to User Generated Content, must be referred to the director.

How often does this ‘referral’ happen at CBC New Brunswick?

In the 14 plus years I worked at the CBC, I was only allowed to broadcast ‘anonymous’ sources/items/letters/talkback on very few occasions.  Any sources had to be identified, all talkback with CBC Radio had to be identified and logged – especially at election time.  Every time anything ‘anonymous’ went to air, we had to have approval from CBC officials at a higher level.

In its policies, the CBC says it strives to be an ethical broadcaster, but yet allows anonymous comments to be attached to stories and doesn’t require the same kind of rigour and ethical approach to this part of its daily content.

Why does it seem that now, in these days of ‘instant’ news gratification, the CBC has forgotten its principles?

Ethics, like spelling, has lost something in this era of social media.

The CBC lays out its mission and values, stating it strives to ‘act responsibly and be accountable.’  They state they are ‘aware of the impact of our journalism and are honest with our audience.’  It also says the CBC strives for ‘journalistic excellence and best practices in all of our journalistic endeavours.’ 

I argue that anonymous ‘user generated content’ IS a journalistic endeavour and allowing these comments to be posted on their website for the world to see IS NOT a best practice and certainly isn’t journalist excellence.  The CBC is my CBC, and as such I take a lot of pride in it – except on the issue of anonymous comments.

The CBC consistently challenges governments to be ethical in their approach to hiring practices, expense claims, and investments, yet in New Brunswick it cannot practice what it preaches.  If they are ‘aware of their impact’ and were ethical in their approach, they wouldn’t allow any anonymous public comments on their websites, or worse, the rebroadcasting of these anonymous comments on CBC News: New Brunswick.  For me, seeing these comments in two mediums adds insult to injury.

The CBC may believe it is providing a ‘public service’ by sharing the posts, but I argue CBC New Brunswick is doing a serious disservice to our province by allowing people to hide behind fictitious names.

I had to file my complaint with my full name, address and contact information because you, as Ombudsman, do not accept anonymous comments or complaints.

I think the CBC could learn a thing or two from its watchdog.


Theresa Blackburn-Chisholm
Journalism Instructor
Former CBC journalist


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My Big Fat Life: Tired of Saying Goodbye

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, June 18, 2012

I have wished many people well in my career, and have been wished well by many. At the CBC and here at NBCC, I’ve said hello and goodbye more times than I would like to count. People have said ‘so long’ when I’ve moved jobs or locations, and I’ve said ‘see you soon’ to many who have retired or changed jobs.

The difficult farewells happen when someone becomes more of a friend than a co-worker.

It will be hard to say goodbye to Andy Leblanc.

Two years ago Andy was hired to teach television journalism at NBCC Woodstock.

Andy is a powerhouse of knowledge and has an abundance of drive. He’s a lifelong journalist, honing his skills as a young ATV reporter in New Brunswick. Back then Andy was passionate about politics and had a head full of questions and hair. (Sorry Andy, I couldn’t resist!) He went on to manage locations for CTV, and came back to his native New Brunswick a few years ago to allow his wife to pursue her career dreams.

Goofing around in the television lab at NBCC Woodstock. Instructor Andy Leblanc is ready for his close up as journalism student Geoff Stairs captures a candid moment in class.

He was only with us two years, but what a two years it was.

We pushed students to strive for excellence and found more platforms for their work. Andy recreated our website. The students worked hard making www.jschoolnbcc.ca a place where local people came for breaking news they couldn’t get elsewhere. We operated like a newsroom; students created multimedia series, we took trips to Fredericton and Juniper, students produced weekly television shows, covered breaking news, mastered social media, and they shared the news they collected with regional papers and television and radio stations. We tried to mimic the industry as much as possible in our classrooms. I know we succeeded, and provided the best education possible for our young journalists.

Once a reporter, always a reporter – it’s a saying I’ve heard many times from colleagues who have left the business to pursue other avenues. Just because we’re standing in front of a classroom doesn’t mean we’re no longer journalists.

While I worked at starting a magazine, Andy continued to build his “ultra-local” concept. His vision would provide an avenue for small communities to share local news. On more than a few evenings Andy was doing what our students were doing – covering events in his community and publishing stories to his local website. Andy also became president of RTDNA, a national organization representing Canadian Broadcasters, while he was with us. I think we both related to our students better because we were still ‘doing it’ – still chasing, and writing, and working in journalism.

Andy will leave NBCC this month to become the news director for CTV Atlantic.

I will miss him more than he realizes.

We have the same ‘got-to-know’ character flaw that turned us on to reporting in the first place. We love our craft. We respectfully argued about politics and law, we discussed the latest news and current events, and we debated how stories were approached and covered. We both viewed the world differently but similar when it came to the public’s right to know.

We were good for each other – in the teaching sense. His constant drive and work ethic inspired me and made me push my students a little harder. I, in turn, was able to (sometimes) get him to slow things down a bit, getting him to see the need to give students a little more breathing room; reminding him that television was not the only medium they needed to master.

Many (all) students considered him tough (“a hard-ass”), but they also respected him. They understood his ultimate goal was to their advantage – he wanted to see them succeed beyond his classroom.

Working with Andy made me feel like my old, reporter-self again. I have beautiful co-workers at the college, but no one who loves news like I do. For the last few years there were few I could debate politics and news coverage with on the same level as I could with Andy.

Andy was a breath of fresh, overachieving, journalistic air.

In the end I am thankful for his new position at CTV. Our journalism program was cancelled last month and Andy’s lack of seniority would have probably meant a pink slip in June of 2013, just as the last NBCC journalism grads cross the stage.

I can’t talk about the loss of my program just yet. The feelings are still too raw. But I am glad that Andy’s talent will not be lost or misplaced. We can still debate news coverage over the phone, and I will continue to tease him about the hair he used to have via email and Twitter.

While it won’t be the same as having him in our NBCC newsroom, it will make the departure of my co-worker and dear friend a little easier to manage.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big Fat Life: This week, my EIGHT days of Christmas

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 20, 2010


This is my version of the traditional Christmas tune.

I know it doesn’t rhyme, but I think you get my meaning.

On the first day of Christmas, shoppers at the mall gave to me … a cold to make my nose run.

On the second day of Christmas, commercials gave to me … a feeling I needed to shop faster, and some stress to go with the runny nose.

On the third day of Christmas, my employer gave to me … a reminder that CP deductions start again, a big list of things I need to do in January and the number for Employee Assistance.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my mother gave to me … a tiny bit of guilt for not coming to stay for the holiday, her reminder that I need to do what’s best for my family, her amazing recipe for shortbread and the love she always shares easily.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my co-workers gave to me … a big round of smiles!

Hugs to say Merry Christmas, laughter from their hearts, help with my workload and the warmth knowing I get to work with these amazing people again.

On the sixth day of Christmas, I gave, um … well … to ME … the permission to have an ‘imperfect’ Christmas, the ability to laugh at myself, forgiveness for those who weren’t so nice last year, appreciation of all the blessings I’ve been given, and a gift of really cool shoes.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my neighbours gave to me … a feeling of belonging, kindness and love to my children, a daily reminder of what a wonderful neighbourhood I live in, safety for my family, a surprise cleaning of my driveway (Thanks Weldon!), help with a neighbourhood get-together and the best fudge ever eaten!

On the eighth day of Christmas, my husband gave to me … help wrapping presents, doing dishes when I’m tired, helping with kids’ homework, listening to my shopping horror stories, hugs when I’m stressed, kind words of encouragement when I’m feeling down, and the knowledge I already won the Lotto when he married me.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

See you back here in 2011.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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COLUMN: Theresa leaves the judging up to the judges … and hopes her students do too

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday October 25th, 2010


Carleton County Courthouse, Woodstock, NB

My kids are my life, but I haven’t always been the best mom. I came into motherhood a little earlier than I expected, having my older daughter in my first year of college at the tender age of 20.

I didn’t have time to worry about her as much as I did the other two because I juggled school and motherhood and trying to make ends meet (with a lot of love, support and direct help from my parents).

That meant I was OK when she was muddy. I didn’t freak out when she came in with dog poop on her hands, we just toddled off to the bathroom. When she fell down and cried, I would tell her that really, she was crying for nothing because it didn’t really hurt.

I didn’t hover, I just let her be a kid because, well, I didn’t know any better. I also made a lot of mistakes. I let her have a TV in her room, which meant after we went to bed, she watched television to all hours. I let her have a phone in her room – another bad idea only discovered when it was too late.

I let her have lots of sleepovers and allowed her to be sleep-deprived on weekends when she was supposed to be catching up on rest. I didn’t screen her friends, and I believed her when she told me that, “No … I don’t smoke. I smell that way because my friends smoke.”

I also turned a blind eye a few times in her teen years because I really didn’t have the energy to ‘discuss’ – aka yell – and scream and ground her again over one or 10 more rules she broke.

I’ve written about it before, but I can’t emphasize enough that puberty for my daughter was probably the worst time in our family’s history. Some stories would make your toenails curl.

But if you read this column regularly, you’ve also heard about her coming out of that darkness and realizing our love and support never wavered, even when she threw her worst at us.

We were lucky because things turned out OK – better than OK. As parents we’re incredibly proud of the kind, sweet, considerate and non-smoking human being she’s turned into. But when I look at how some other people’s children have turned out, I know luck has a great deal to do with it.

Some people haven’t been as lucky.

In my years as a reporter, I covered more than my share of court stories. I covered horrible cases of sexual abuse, murder and violence. I’ve covered cases where young people got into serious trouble – young people who had parents who didn’t know what to do and threw up their hands and let their kids be, only to later find themselves sitting in front of a judge wondering where they went wrong.

What I’ve discovered is that if you love and support them and do what you can, it’s really all you CAN do. The world has so many horrible things in it that sometimes it IS the luck of the draw that one kid survives puberty without a criminal record or deep scars, and another doesn’t.

But I think dealing with my own daughter and her troubles – sadly sometimes knowing RCMP officers and social workers on a first-name basis – gave me a better perspective when I ended up covering court.

I can always (and easily) look at both sides of that coin objectively. I never paint anyone with a ‘bad’ brush because I know sometimes parents are like deer in headlights, wondering how the hell they got here, in the middle of this busy highway with a transport truck aimed directly at them.

But it happens, and sadly it happens often.

A couple of weeks back, I took my journalism and photography students up the hill to the provincial courthouse in Woodstock as part of our law class.

We sat in on plea day and witnessed the sentencing of a few people. There were some interesting cases, and some very sad ones.

And early on in our visit I could tell by the looks on students’ faces that some people, one young lady in particular, had already been judged and sentenced in their minds.

We had some great discussions in class that week.

Most of that concentrated on how we viewed the proceedings and how we felt about the people who came to stand before the judge.

As human beings, we pre-judge situations every day. We judge how long it will take us to get to work based on road conditions or construction, we judge how we should dress for the day based on the weather, we judge how much time we have to cross the street based on how far away a vehicle is.

We are taught to judge everything. And judging is good; it’s something we do as a protection mechanism. Many times this pre-judging keeps us safe and on time, and dry from rain.

But when we prejudge in a court setting, it becomes dangerous, especially if we’re journalists.

I have covered some horrible cases where the severity of the crime and the victims involved has made me struggle with words as I sat in front of my computer at the end of the day. I wanted to be objective and found it very difficult not to put my own slant on the story. I once asked a friend of mine, Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Robert Fowler, how he was able to be objective on the bench every day.

This was a man I watched in court for nearly six years and was always in awe of his ability to be fair and balanced and objective even in the face of horrific acts.

“It’s not that these cases don’t bother me, because they do,” he once told me.

He said he sometimes is bothered for months and years by cases he’s heard. But he looks at every person who comes before him in the courtroom the same way.

“They all began this journey as a child – a baby – just like me, just like my children – and it is mostly through the influence of their environment and circumstance that they end up here.”

And there it was … My way of finding the objectivity in every court story I covered – the ability to think of the people being reported on as, in many cases, victims too – of environment and circumstance.

He tempered his comments with the fact that not all people can be looked at that way, but more than 90 per cent of the people who come before him can be.

I have a sign on my office door that says, As journalists, our goal is to inform, not convince.

I have a lot of people to thank for my ability to do that. My kids, my colleagues, my parents, my mentors, like Justice Fowler, and my students.

I tell my journalism students that I’m an OK teacher, but experience is the best teacher. Experience provides us with proper perspective – many times with the exact eyeglass prescription we need to provide balanced reporting.

When we leave the ‘judging’ up to the judges, we serve the public the way we are supposed to, end of story.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big Fat Life: I didn’t say goodbye to summer, I said hello to the return of routine

Me and some of my journalism students, January 2010

When I first took the position of journalism instructor at NBCC Woodstock, moving here was all about living the dream.

While I loved working at CBC Radio, I also loved my early years at college. Post-secondary, for me, was one of the most enlightening times of my life. I got to spread my wings, learn new things and discover so much about who I am and where I was headed. I discovered I can’t really change who I am, I can only try to modify how I act.

I discovered a passion for editing, for mixing sound and for the journalism career I was about to embark upon. I also discovered that working with the same people day after day requires patience at times, and that it’s sometimes easier to embrace people’s quirks than to try and change them.

But taking this job wasn’t just about the students (although really, it is all about the students). When my husband and I decided to jump at the chance, it came down to what this job would provide in the way of a rest – I knew working here would afford me precious downtime.

I wouldn’t be required to work overtime to cover breaking news. I would never again be roused out of sleep early in the morning and be told to pack before I got to work so I could travel somewhere because something awful happened. I would no longer have to make uncomfortable calls when someone died, or ask uncomfortable questions to grieving families.

When I went from Theresa Blackburn, journalist, to Theresa Blackburn, journalism instructor, I was thinking about my family more than anything. No more missed parent-teacher meetings, no more working late and not being able to sit down to supper as a family or help with homework, no more leaving the house before my kids were up for the day.

And while I lost pay in this move and Stephen lost a job, I gained my summers off. I dreamed of lazy, memory-filled months throughout my first two years when I hadn’t yet earned that privilege.

In my head it would be perfect – family outings, camping, museums, day trips, time by the pool.

Sadly, what we plan in our head rarely translates into real life.

My first summer was stressful. I felt I had to fill every moment – make the most of the time I had off. I cleaned closets and had yard sales; I organized the garage and painted rooms. I moved furniture and put some of the kids’ special things into boxes for storage; I bought a dress pattern and for the first time since Grade 8 made something with the sewing machine I could actually wear in public.

I did all those things and never relaxed … not until the last two weeks before school. So I figured this summer would be better – I didn’t plan anything. I tried not to do anything major around the house. It ‘sort of’ worked out that way.

My family and I played host on 18 different occasions this summer to friends and family – sometimes one or two people stayed, sometimes four.

I spent a lot of time cooking, cleaning and making beds. What is that old saying about the best-laid plans? What did happen, though, was an epiphany. I always knew it was hard to change … but I foolishly have continued to think it could happen.

By the end of this summer I knew I’d just have to face the facts. I can’t get better at this ‘rest’ thing and I will probably never be able to change this aspect of my personality. I need to be busy. I need to be occupied. I need to feel productive. And I shouldn’t feel guilty for not being able to completely relax.

My mother once told me a change is as good as a rest. My summer was not about rest, but about change and that means I had a rest, if you follow her logic. I changed the routine – spending long hours watching the kids in the pool, swimming with them in the pool, chatting with friends around the pool, eating on the deck beside the pool, and spending a lot of time with people I care about.

Yes, summer this year was also about operating a bed and breakfast without the income, but I really think this may have saved my sanity.

I’m glad to be back to work. There, I said it.

Ah, September, how I’ve missed you.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.


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