The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Citizen journalists on a roll

Winnipeg bloggers have cracked big stories twice this month, teaching the mainstream media a painful lesson about citizen journalism.

Perhaps the most oblivious to what was happening right under their collective noses were the "professional" journalists at the Winnipeg Free Press which has been patting itself on the back for becoming a partner with the Winnipeg Foundation in a project to "train and empower citizen journalists".

Menno Zacharias blogs at Policing, Politics and Public Policy. (Can we have a contest to find him a better name for his blog. Please.) Naturally, as a retired deputy police chief, he still has an interest in what's going on with the Force. So when the WPD released its 2010 annual report in December, Menno pulled out his Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass.

Now, Zacharias is Old School. That means he can add, subtract, multiply and divide. And he knows how to read. And while going over the numbers provided by the police service, he spotted something that went unnoticed by all those, ahem, "professional" reporters.

"... the most glaring aspect of the report is in the math: crunch the city-wide crime numbers as they are shown and compare 2010 to 2009 and you will come up with a 9 percent increase in crime as opposed to the 7 percent decrease that the Annual Report states. What?!"

He even gave the professionals a journalism lesson, showing them step-by-step how he twigged onto the story and how he developed it.

"What originally caused me to take a closer look at the numbers was the apparent disparity between the reported reduction at the district level (see column 1) . The District numbers show reductions in the range of 20-30 percent and yet the city-wide reduction was listed as -7%. Something’s wrong here."

"The next step was to do the actual calculations using the District and city-wide data as listed in the 2009 and 2010 Annual Reports. The results of those calculations are listed in column 2. There is a significant disparity between the two columns – at this point I’m ready to suggest that the Police Service pull the 2010 Annual Report off the website, scrap the whole mess and start over."

Not even two week later--- guess what?

WINNIPEG POLICE SERVICE 2010 ANNUAL REPORT ERRORS IDENTIFIED, AMENDMENT PENDING

The Winnipeg Police Service 2010 Annual Report was made available to the public on December 28th, 2011. Following its release a statistical error come to light that will result in the Service releasing an amended version of our 2010 Annual Report.
The amendments will require a change to the Criminal Code Offences by Month Chart and the Total Criminal Code Offences Chart. Once this work is completed, we will update the charts in question, add footnotes in our Annual Report to clearly explain the changes and advise the public when the updated Report is available.
snip

Percentage Change Errors

The Total and Grand Total data that initially appeared in the 2010 Annual Report reflected a month-to-month percentage change. The pending revision will show the correct year-over-year percentage change calculations.

The news that the Winnipeg Police had withdrawn their annual report has gone unreported in the MSM.

The possibility that crime has leaped almost 10 percent in one year has gone unexplored.

Graham Hnatiuk blogs at Progressive Winnipeg. Prior to the civic election in 2010 he was closely watching the public debate over the botched public consultations on a number of city projects, but particularly a bike path along Assiniboine Avenue. He did what none of the "professional" reporters did --- he applied some brain power to the debate.

If the public consultations were done so poorly, why were we paying the consultant who was responsible? Hnatiuk decided to ask the city auditor if he would conduct an audit to determine if taxpayers got value for their money.

Easier said than done, as it turned out, as we'll show in a bit. But, believe it or not, the audit of the Assiniboine Avenue bike path was conducted, and this month it was presented to city council.

The auditor said Hnatiuk had been completely correct. The Assiboine Avenue public consultations had been a farce. They had been a biased, one-sided, propaganda exercise designed to fool residents and businesses into accepting the bike path by hiding its impact from them until it was too late. In short, it had been a total waste of money.

Oh well, too bad, too late to do anything about it, tough luck and all that, said the mayor and city councillors who wanted to rubberstamp the auditor's report as information and forget about it.

Not so fast, said Hnatiuk.

He appeared in person, first before executive policy committee and then before city council, to argue that council was making a huge mistake if they failed to act on the auditor's report.

"What I went through is why people are not involved in civics and do not participate as active citizens and refrain from participating in any city process," he told the councillors.

His story was startling.

Hnatiuk tried to send an email to the city auditor regarding the Assiniboine bike path through the 311 information system.

Somebody intercepted the message and diverted it away from the city auditor, without Hnatiuk's knowledge or approval, to Active Transportation coordinator Kevin Nixon.

Hnatiuk was then notified that Nixon had allegedly investigated his complaint and found it groundless.

When Hnatiuk insisted his email still be passed on to the city auditor, the acting 311 contract centre manager, Joel Knockaert, refused. Knockaert insisted "the role of the City Auditor is not to deal with public complaints."

That was blatantly false. Hnatiuk learned that the website of the city auditor says exactly the opposite, that the auditor welcomes complaints from the public.

Knockaert didn't care. He wouldn't pass along Hnatiuk's email to the city auditor. He had full control of the process and no citizen would tell him what to do.

Hnatiuk eventually managed to get a message to the city auditor ---with the help of councillor Jeff Browaty who went around 311.

The auditor vindicated him entirely. His complaint was fully warranted and supported by the facts.

But what was city council going to do about the bureaucrats who tried their best to silence a citizen, to cover-up the incompetence of the public consultation process that had been conducted, and who may have lied to do it?

Hnatiuk asked council to investigate the actions of Kevin Nixon and Joel Knockaert. He said he had tried to get his hands on any report of the alleged investigation conducted by Nixon regarding the consultant's competency, without luck.

But he wasn't having any luck with council, either.

The mayor and councillors, who cried crocodile tears during the civic election campaign over inadequate public consultations, weren't interested in investigating how the public's voice was stifled by bureaucrats in the pocket of a secret lobby group.

Nor did they show any interest in addressing the message they were sending to potential voters and non-voters -- that their voice matters -- and city hall isn't run as a private club.

The "professional" reporters showed no interest either in how easily city bureaucrats hijacked the official process to keep a citizen away from the legislated city watchdog to protect a secret group of insiders from scrutiny.

And these are the people who will be, ahem, mentoring citizen journalists of the future.

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