BY VOICE STAFF
The Voice has won an Honourable Mention, two Third Place awards, and one Second Place award in the Ontario Community Newspaper Association’s annual Better Newspaper Competition. The awards were announced at the OCNA’s gala award dinner in Vaughan last Friday evening.
The province-wide competition solicited entries from issues published between October 2017 and September 2018.
The Honourable Mention was for Best Photo Layout, awarded for the paper’s special July 18, 2018 pull-out section headlined, “Amazing, Fabulous, Remarkable,” covering the opening of the new community centre, in East Fonthill.
The editorial, “No matter who pays for it, do the audit right,” which ran on October 4, 2017, won Third Place for Best Editorial in the under-10,000 circulation class. The editorial called out the hypocrisy in the former mayor of Pelham’s call to reject the private financing of an audit of Town finances, while at the same time the Town was actively seeking private financing, often through very large donations, of the new community centre.
Our feature layout on the legendary pilot and first female town councillor, Dorothy Rungeling, published on February 28, 2018, 11 days after her death, won Second Place for Best Feature Writing, in the under-10,000 circulation class.
Finally, for the second year running, the Voice won for Best Investigative News Story, taking Third Place for our April 25, 2018 article, “Pelham Seniors Apartments tenants allege mistreatment,” which detailed a litany of complaints regarding management of the Fonthill apartment building. A follow-up story was also awarded. In his comments, the OCNA judge wrote, “Since the pieces ran, there has been a change of tenant association leadership, and various tenants are pursuing separate legal avenues of recourse. Great investigating reporting….”
(The article’s author, Sam Piccolo, reflects on what the piece did, and didn’t, achieve, starting below.)
Voice publisher Dave Burket expressed his appreciation to the newspaper association, and to the paper’s staff.
“It’s certainly rewarding to be recognized for the work that goes into the paper, week-in and week-out,” said Burket. “We had a tough patch with the previous mayor and council early last year, and the OCNA and other newspaper associations had our back. I should also point out that these awards are heavy on the Piccolo—our man Sam played a role in almost all of them. Of course, it’s down to our readers and members’ support, our shareholders, our advertisers, and the great work of a small team, that keeps the Voice going. I thank them all.”
COMMENTARY By Samuel Piccolo
Justice, the public good, and journalism’s limits
Last weekend’s announcement that the Voice has been awarded Third Place for Best Investigative News Story in this year’s Ontario Community Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Competition fell almost exactly a year after the story for which it won was published.
I speak of the newspaper’s April 25, 2018 story—11,000 words short—about conditions inside the Pelham Seniors Apartments building, in Fonthill. In comprehensive detail, the article presented allegations made against management by 11 current and former tenants of the building, one of whom was former Pelham Mayor Ralph Beamer. The allegations included bullying, illegal apartment entries, illegal fees, and other violations of landlord-tenant legislation, many of which focused on the conduct of board members, the building’s manager (also a Pelham Town Councillor at the time), and the building’s maintenance superintendent. The tenants provided hundreds of pages of supporting evidence, as well as audio and video recordings.
That this story has been recognized is, as the cliché goes, humbling, if only because it’s an opportunity to reflect on the publication, its aftermath, and what journalism can do, and often can’t.
I was reasonably hopeful that the appearance of these facts in the paper would lead to at least some sort of reckoning at the building. Sadly, I was wrong. The board, led by its chair, cancelled its one meeting of the year open to tenants, because some tenants had invited their concerned families—and us at the paper—to sit in at witnesses.
This cancelled meeting got ugly. The chair and the board refused to read the bylaw that allegedly gave them authority to cancel the meeting in such a manner. Tenants angry with those who came to the Voice with their stories began hurling insults across the room. One man called Voice publisher Dave Burket and me “bastards.” A board member growled that he would call the police, to which the publisher shrugged and responded with a “Go ahead.”
The whole affair was terribly tawdry, what with so many petty tyrants sitting around one table, high off the fumes of their own power.
The board’s response to our investigation—by this I mean the concerns of their tenants—was pathetic. Clearly they should have said, “Yes, these things happened, and they shouldn’t have. We’re sorry that they did. Let’s have an open meeting and work out how we’re going to build trust again between management and those of you who are upset.”
Of course if they had been reasonable from the start then tenants wouldn’t have had to come to the Voice in the first place.
I gather little has changed at Pelham Seniors Apartments in the past year. The tenants who contributed to the story have not made any new allegations against the building’s management, so at least it would seem as though the incidents that propelled them to speak out are no longer occurring. But I fear that they’ve become pariahs in their own homes for having “rocked the boat” and brought notoriety to the building in the eyes of those who didn’t have the same complaints.
For me and the Voice the story is an unreserved success. We are being recognized for the work we put into it. I have to guess I spent in the neighbourhood of a hundred hours on it—meeting with tenants, sorting and reading documents, making calls, following leads, writing the thing, going over drafts back and forth with the publisher. Dave had a dozen or more hours into it, too, adjusting the puzzle pieces for a cleaner fit, attempting to get comment from the board and staff, and dealing with the paper’s legal firm, line-by-line.
This is one of four awards this year that the Voice can put up on its office wall. I can add a line to my resume.
But for the tenants whom the article was meant to serve, the outcome is literally a different story. When I was working on the piece I thought there was a reasonable chance that it would be good for them, but I knew it might not be too. I knew that things could end up staying more or less as they were, as they have. As a journalist you must think about this.
Janet Malcolm, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is one of my favourite writers. In 1990, she wrote a memoir of sorts called “The Journalist and the Murderer.” It is largely devoted to this very problem: how reporters are to relate to subjects without exploiting them for their story. Malcolm concludes by saying that there is an infinite number of ways that journalists may deal with this moral impasse. “The wisest know that the best they can do is still not good enough. The not so wise, in their accustomed manner, choose to believe that there is no problem and that they have solved it.”
I thank the brave tenants of 45 Pelham Town Square who trusted Voice journalists to be among the wisest a year ago. I honour their trust—and this award—by refusing to believe that there is no problem, and that I have solved it. ♦
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