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?