Shifting Timeline

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Event was moved back by 24 hours

UPDATE: Soon after this blog appeared, I received a note from an NTV reporter, explaining that the story script said “last evening” and not “this morning.” I was mortified – could I possible have got it wrong? I contacted NL News Now, a local media monitoring company, who quickly located the clip and played it back on the phone.

Glen Carter does indeed say “this morning” and then cuts to an interview with Health Minister, Susan Sullivan, so the mistake goes uncorrected for the rest of the newscast. Then, at 6:00 pm, Pam Parsons does get it right, referring to events that took place the day before. Based on this, I can conclude that NTV did not intentionally change the timeline. If they had, they would have done so again at 6:00 pm.

While they didn’t give CBC credit for breaking the story, the station’s integrity is not in question.

Based on this information, I have deleted some of the text in the following blog, as well as portions of Marc Riddell’s quote, who no doubt would not have made the statement had he known it was an honest mistake. The deleted text makes reference to NTV intentionally shifting the timeline, which I am satisfied did NOT happen, and is marked with an ellipsis ( … ). (I would have preferred to strike-through the text, but apparently we don’t have that option in the blog architecture.) I have also corrected the day in which the original event occurred, which was Monday, not Tuesday.


March 23, 2012 - It was a most unpleasant story to watch on TV, especially at suppertime, but it must have been just as repulsive to cover.

On Monday, David Cochrane of CBC Here & Now reported on medical waste that was strewn all over the roadside, along the Prince Philip Parkway. Vials of blood and urine, and blood-soaked bandages, were scattered curbside and all over the lawn of a government building. It was a horrible sight. Cochrane prepared a solid piece, with some fairly graphic footage of the debris and even the cleanup operation, as guys in white suits picked up the mess.

That was Monday evening. The next day, NTV News ran the same story, but with one difference: the timing had changed. According to the script, events had occurred “this morning.”

Now, we all know that the networks monitor each other’s newscasts, to keep an eye on the competition and make sure they aren’t missing anything. NTV must have seen the CBC item.

( … )

No matter how you slice it, that incident did not happen Tuesday morning – it occurred roughly midday, or earlier, on Monday.

I sent off a note to Marc Riddell, managing editor for CBC News in NL, for a response. I explained what I had seen on NTV and indicated that I’d be writing about it, but asked first for clarification on CBC’s policy in similar instances. After all, it would be unfair to criticize NTV if CBC does the same thing.

“Well I'm surprised they would do that especially since they have no footage prior to the clean up,” Riddell replied. “While there is no policy that dictates we do that, we always credit ‘media reports’ or ‘CBC news has confirmed...’ when dealing with a story we did not break. For example the Robo-call story in Ottawa (we have advanced it but initially it was a Post Media story).

“( … ) When we get the facts wrong, we make corrections. And when someone in the audience challenges our journalism, they have the right to file a complaint with the CBC Ombudsman.”

I sent a note to Fred Hutton, news director with NTV, but he hasn’t replied. I will file an update, if and when he does.

( … )

As for CBC’s policy, “CBC news has learned” doesn’t quite cut it for me. It’s dodgy and unclear. I guess I’m okay with “media reports.” But why not just come out and name the media outlet that broke the story? I’ve noticed, lately at least, that this is The Telegram’s policy, and I do commend them for it.


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Recent comments

  • David Cochrane
    March 24, 2012 - 12:54

    Dan -- the "CBC has confirmed . . "" is to show that we saw the story too. Have done our own reporting on it and can "confirm" that it is accurate. That's often followed by a "The story was first reported by MEDIA OUTLET XX" It's not an attempt to steal credit. It's to show we aren't simply parroting another media's story and that we have taken steps to do our own confirmation on it. Geoff confuses the "has confirmed" with the "has learned" in his blog post. CBC News has learned is for flat out exclusives, scoops or stories based on sources. CBC News has confirmed is for when we match. And usually (but I'm sure not always) offers credit to the original media. I know I've done it with the Telegram many times, even putting shots of the paper headline and byline in my piece. On the story Geoff writes about I believe the Telly was the only outlet to properly credit CBC. Others used a passive voice structure ("Medical waste was discovered . . ") to avoid it.

    • Daniel MacEachern
      March 26, 2012 - 08:11

      I realize Geoff wrote "has learned" while Riddell used "has confirmed," but I understand Geoff's confusing the two — because surely it's the outlet that broke the story that confirmed it. If we had written, "The Telegram has confirmed that medical waste was found…" because CBC broke the story, would that not sound like we were implying there was doubt about your story until we "confirmed" it? To me, "confirmed" is something that should be used to let readers/viewers know that rumours/allegations etc. have been found to be true, not to acknowledge someone else broke the story.

  • Geoff Meeker
    March 24, 2012 - 09:25

    You are right, David. I received the same correction from Eastern Health, as well. I couldn't recall if it was Monday or Tuesday, so I used the date stamp on the online story, which was posted or updated March 20. NTV's coverage was a day later, so it appeared on Tuesday.

  • Pam Frampton
    March 23, 2012 - 18:31

    We all make honest mistakes. I certainly meant no offense to NTV, only that we should credit the organization that breaks the story when it is an exclusive.

  • Daniel MacEachern
    March 23, 2012 - 13:29

    I didn't see the NTV piece in question, but on balance I think most news organizations either credit the originator or find a way to make the story their own. I'm a little curious, though, at using "CBC News has confirmed…" when doing a story that someone else broke. Doesn't that imply the veracity of the original story was in doubt? "'Such-and-such' has confirmed…" sounds like something the outlet that's actually breaking the news should get to say.

  • David Cochrane
    March 23, 2012 - 13:25

    Not to be a stickler, but I actually did the first story on Monday. It was a holiday. It became an issue in the legislature on Tuesday.

  • Pam Frampton
    March 23, 2012 - 11:15

    Great article, Geoff (and not just because of the nod to The Telegram at the end!) Someone is always going to be the first to break a story — sometimes it's us and sometimes it's our competition — but it is important to give credit where it is due. We cannot suggest that something has happened only once we found out about it.