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Vancouver Sun's controversial op-ed symptomatic of industry stretched too thin: professor

Last Updated Sep 9, 2019 at 6:36 am PDT

FILE: The Vancouver Sun is trying to make amends for an op-ed published over the weekend, which has been widely condemned as racist. (Kurtis Doering, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Expert says the publishing of a controversial op-ed in the Vancouver Sun is a symptom of shrinking newsrooms

Saturday's op-ed argued nations should value Protestantism and not diversity, and has been condemned online as racist

The Sun is running a rebuttal to the op-ed on Monday as well as an apology from the editor in chief

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Readers opening up Monday’s edition of the Vancouver Sun are finding an open letter from the editor in chief, who is apologizing for a controversial op-ed published over the weekend.

After immense blow-back from its own newsroom, Postmedia — which owns both the Sun and the Province newspapers — says it is reviewing its editorial processes.

The op-ed, penned by a Mount Royal University instructor, uses data from a Conservative think tank to argue that diversity, tolerance, and inclusion are not in Canada’s best interest. It’s been condemned as a racist and white nationalist piece by many.

Writers for the Sun and the Province quickly blasted it on Twitter, one calling it “a complete pile of absolute garbage.”

Following backlash, Editor in Chief Harold Munro quickly apologized, admitting it was published before he had a chance to read it.

“An opinion article by Mark Hecht published in Saturday’s Weekend Review section and online contained views that do not meet the journalistic standards of The Vancouver Sun and do not represent the views of our editors and journalists,” the apology reads.

So how does something like this happen?

Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says this is symptomatic of an industry which being is stretched too thin.

“I think the problem is because most newsrooms have been hollowed out, mostly by the quest for digital efficiencies so that news organizations are laying people off, or making their newsrooms smaller, asking for their newsrooms to produce more content with fewer resources,” he explains. “So mistakes like this, which used to hardly ever happen, are now happening with greater frequency.”

While he admits it’s rare for a publication to have to retract an opinion piece, Dvorkin notes it seems to be happening with “increasing frequency.”

“It’s something that we need to be more aware of, because it’s clearly a problem for news organizations,” he says.

The Sun is running a rebuttal to the op-ed on Monday, which points out that 93 per cent of newcomers have a strong sense of belonging to Canada.

As for whether the paper’s reputation recover from Saturday’s publication, Dvorkin admits it will be difficult.

“But I think that one of the things that news organizations need to be more aware of than they have been recently is that their reputation is really important,” he says. “The credibility of a news organization with the public is more important now than ever before at a time when the public is being deluged with dubious information, so called ‘fake news.'”

Dvorkin believes news organizations have an “obligation” to treat readers as “citizens rather than just as consumers or data points.”

After the firestorm of criticism in response to Mark Hecht’s editorial, many were heartened by the members of the Vancouver Sun and Province newsrooms who took to social media to speak out against the piece.

The response from the journalists is a good thing, according to Dvorkin.

“I think it’s a good sign that there’s a high sense of ethical component, ethical obligation on the part of people who work in newsrooms,” he notes. “The question is, do their managers have an equivalent sense of obligation to their public as much as the denizens of the newsroom do.”