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Real journalists are trained professionals

by Chris Daponte

There has been no shortage of debate recently - in this newspaper, online, in the community and elsewhere - about renaming Swastika Trail in Puslinch Township.

Those who want to keep the name, including the majority of residents who live on the private road, say the monicker was chosen in the 1920s based on the ancient use of the name swastika, which was associated with good fortune.

Those opposed cite the more recent association of the word with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and policies of bigotry, anti-Semitism and intolerance.

Puslinch council is expected to discuss the matter again at a meeting on Dec. 20. Honestly, I can see both sides of the argument and I certainly don’t envy the decision before the township.

The Advertiser has covered the issue extensively this year, including many news stories as well as columns and letters to the editor on both sides of the argument.

But what you will never see in this publication is the ridiculous suggestion, overt or otherwise, that those who support the name are bigots or white supremacists.

That was not the case for the news aggregating website Puslinch Today, which published a “blog” suggesting Puslinch Township councillor Matthew Bulmer may sympathize with those groups.

This summer, Kevin Johnson posted a blog with the headline Puslinch councillor supports name ‘Swastika Trail’ because ‘it’s part of my heritage.’ On its own that may not seem that bad, though Johnson did not provide context for the quote and he did not attend the meeting at which Bulmer uttered the phrase (the councillor was referring to the history of the road in the municipality).

The kicker: immediately below the blog headline was a very large swastika and farther down the page was an image of white nationalist neo-Nazi protesters. The insinuation, of course, was that Bulmer, if not a member of this hate group himself, was incorporating the same justification for his stance that many group members use to spread hate speech.

Johnson then “boosted” the blog on Facebook in an attempt to increase readership of the post and not long thereafter, thanks to the help of several mindless trolls (one posted the councillor’s email address and home phone number), Bulmer was soon being personally harassed.

The offending blog was removed several weeks after it was posted and Johnson, chair of the township’s recreation committee at the time (he has since resigned), has offered a private apology to Bulmer.

To his credit, Bulmer accepted the apology, likely wanting to move on from this unfortunate incident. In our experience, Bulmer’s measured actions are indicative of a bright and humble person.

But we find it troubling that Johnson will face no penalty at all for unleashing a deliberately orchestrated “smear” (as noted in a recent integrity commissioner’s report on the matter) against an innocent man for no other purpose than to advance his own agenda (getting the road renamed).

Johnson acknowledged his motivation in the commissioner’s report and noted he wanted to point out Bulmer’s “heritage” statement was “stupid.” We think most straight-thinking people will agree this adjective could be used to describe the actions of just one person involved in this matter - and it’s not Bulmer.

We certainly hope this was an isolated incident, but it is indicative of a major problem in the digital age: countless bloggers, organizations and websites devoid of any real training/qualifications posing as self-appointed “reporters,”  “journalists” or “news” outlets.

Many consumers of this swill recognize it for what it is, but for those who truly aren’t sure, it’s best to simply ask purveyors of news about their qualifications. The true journalists won’t mind, trust me.

If you’re not comfortable with asking, simply know this: legitimate operations cover both/all sides of an issue in their news coverage; they painstakingly generate their own work, rely on trustworthy sources and are well-versed in defamation law and industry ethics.

You’re reading one right now.

December 15, 2017


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