how to spin (twist) a story

One reporter. One story. Two newspapers. But one is edited much different from the other. The result is a lesson in how individuals in the news media can spin a story, insert their own bias into a story, to send a very different message to the reader.

The reporter is Kerry Benjoe. His email address at the end of the first story puts him at the Regina Leader Post, part of the Canwest (Canada.com) chain. The first story is the longest and is in the Leader post. A shorter version is re-printed in the Vancouver Sun. The two headlines of the same story, however, say very different things.

This is the first headline, and the top of the story (the lede):

Aboriginal children in need of most help: new report
Kerry Benjoe, Leader-Post

REGINA — The most disadvantaged group in Canada is aboriginal children, a new report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) concludes.

Jessica Ball, a professor at the University of Victoria who authored the study, examined the opportunities for health and development of First Nation, Métis and Inuit children from infancy to age five. She specializes in early childhood development and felt compelled to study this area.

Here are the second set of headlines, and the lede from the story in the VANCOUVER SUN:

Aboriginal kids found to do better in cities
Persistent disparities for decades, study says
Kerry Benjoe, Canwest News Service

REGINA — Aboriginal children on Canadian reserves are starting out their lives at a disadvantage compared to non-aboriginal kids — and even compared to aboriginal kids living in cities, a new study suggests.

Jessica Ball, a professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Child and Youth Care, says in a new report for the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy that aboriginal children are the most disadvantaged group in Canada.

Here’s my beef. Maybe the reporter re-jigged the second story for a national audience, hoping it might be picked up by other newspapers in the Canwest chain. Maybe each newspaper in that chain has an editor who makes their own headlines for every story that comes across the system. Whatever the reason, these are two very different stories now.

The first story, the one in the Regina LEADER POST, emphasizes the suffering of onkhwehnohweh (Indigenous) children due to the failure of federal and provincial governments to adequately support programs in remote, northern and reserve communities, or failing to fund them at all (thus the “funding gaps” mentioned).

The spin takes off in the second story, in the VANCOUVER SUN. This version pins the failure to adequately provide for “Aboriginal” children upon the reserves, letting the governments off the hook. More, it seems to suggest that these kids are lacking opportunities because of the failure of the entire reserve system.

There are several things wrong with this second story. First, Indians live on reserves but not Métis or Inuit. So the use of “Aboriginal” is wrong.

Secondly, the study examined “the opportunities for health and development of First Nation, Metis and Inuit children from infancy to age five.” The author of the study found “that aboriginal children, particularly in rural settings, continue to lack adequate housing, food security, clean water and access to services.”

The author wrote that there are gaps and disparities in services and funding for these services, between urban and remote, on and off-reserve programs for all Aboriginal groups. However, of special concern is the situation with Indians (First Nations). These disparities and gaps in services exists due to the jurisidictional fumbling that goes on between the federal and provincial governments. This game of “not me” plays “a major role in creating that gap between the two groups (urban and remote) of aboriginal children.

Where is the spin? The original story in the LEADER POST is fairly neutral in tone. The second story in the VANCOUVER SUN, blames the folks who have little or no control over how government spends — or deliberately chooses not to spend on basic services, or decides to spend much less that it would on white Canadians. The explanation that it’s actually the governments that are at fault is buried halfway down into the story.

First impressions count in journalism today. Most people scan and would probably miss the point of that second story once they got beyond the headline and the first three paragraphs.

You see, according to that second version, it isn’t a case of discrimination at all. The government isn’t really deliberately under-funding Indigenous programs at all. It’s not governments fault that they choose to live to far away from everything. Y’see? Doncha? Huh?

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11 Comments

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, Indigenous rights, journalism

11 responses to “how to spin (twist) a story

  1. Kerry Benjoe

    Hi thanks for reading my story.

  2. shmohawk

    Thaks for writing it.

  3. Kerry Benjoe

    Yes that is what I do, and FYI, I’m not a “he”.

  4. shmohawk

    D’oh!

    Any ideas why the stories come out so differently? Or do they?

  5. Kerry Benjoe

    One has a local focus, and one is more general, but this happens to many stories not just this particular one. As a former journalist I’m sure you know this already and I’m not providing you with any new information. I’m going to take a look around your web site if you don’t mind it looks interesting..

  6. shmohawk

    I was aware of local vs general focus, but the point of my post was the change in responsibility for the “gap.” It should have remained the same regardless whether the intended audience was Regina or Halifax.

    As for looking around, please do. It’s a public venue and I’m glad you find it interesting.

  7. Paul M

    Good catch, Dan. Also, glad to see the reporter has made an appearance.

  8. Kerry Benjoe

    I see where the lede was changed in the second story the leader post one is mine, I’ve read and reread the article and the only big difference is the local content is not in the second one and the different lede. I don’t think it alters the story as significantly as you suggest the second story still talks about jurisdiction issues. I don’t know maybe you see something that I don’t…Whatever the case may be thanks for taking an interest.

  9. audrey crowe nee wesaquate

    hi kerry i thought you were the kerry {she}from piapot. I have a question for you were you on the expo 86 student exchange trip I have been in contact with Jennifer touchie from ucluelet bc .She was one of the students from over there. We went over there last week and we thought it would be nice if we could do some kind of follow up on the student who were on this trip. I have been in contact with Mr Mustatia for photos but he said everything was left at the school ,I contacted the band office to no avail. So our question to you is would you have any insight for this project any ideas would be of great thankfulness We had such a blast on our visit reminiscing about the exchange. Im sure there are more funny stories to recanter.
    306-364-2026 or 360-7276

  10. shmohawk

    Ms. Crowe: You might try the Leader Post website too, if Kerry Benjoe is still there.

  11. Greetings Kerry Benjoe,

    Would you please contact me in regards of National Welcoming Home Parade, National Memorial Service and National leve for all Canada by and for Aboriginal Veterans. Thank-you
    Aboriginal

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