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Home Opinion Why does the Daily Herald publish stories about appointments that haven’t been approved?

Why does the Daily Herald publish stories about appointments that haven’t been approved?

Why does the Daily Herald publish stories about appointments that haven’t been approved?

I covered education when I started with the Daily Herald in 2015. I would sit through board meetings for both the public and Catholic school divisions, then write articles about the various reports, presentations, and discussions for the next day’s paper.

A year or two later I started covering city council—a position I held until I became editor in 2021. When I started I never wrote city council preview stories. I would look at the agenda when it came out, but I never picked out one item and wrote a story about it before the meeting even happened.

That started to change in 2018 when we began receiving requests from a number of residents (including one sitting city councillor) who wanted us to print city council agendas in the paper. For those unaware, city council and executive committee meeting agendas were released to the public the Thursday before a meeting took place, but were only available online. The City may have also posted them at City Hall too. I can’t remember. Our editor at the time, Peter Lozinski, thought publishing the agendas in the Saturday paper was a good idea (as did I), and we began the practice in January 2019.

Things probably would have stayed that way if not for a motion brought forward by Coun. Blake Edwards asking administration to draft a Dangerous Weapons Bylaw for council to consider. I won’t get into the bylaw details. This item is only important because I wrote a follow-up story about the issue after the council meeting, then received several emails and phone calls the next day from readers telling me they wished they’d known about the vote sooner.

The people who contacted me weren’t rude, and they never struck me as angry. If they had any animosity towards Edwards (or the Daily Herald) they did a fantastic job of hiding it. However, they all had strong opinions on his motion, and told me they wished they could have contacted their councillor before the vote took place.

This issue marked a turning point in how I covered city council. From then on, I always wrote a preview article about what I expected to be the most hotly debated item of the meeting. We then ran it in the paper along with the council agenda. For those interested, the first such article appeared in the April 27, 2019 edition of the Herald.

I wasn’t the first Prince Albert journalist to begin writing council preview articles. I don’t think I was even the first Daily Herald journalist to do it, but that’s when I started, and we’ve continued the practice since I became editor.

The purpose of writing preview articles is simple: we recognize not everyone has the time to read through an entire agenda, so we do it for you. We then pick out the major item (or items) and tell you about them. Sometimes we’ll also get reaction from local groups, residents, or organizations affected by the decision, or interview a city councillor about it.

That may not seem significant, but when you consider how busy the average resident is, and how thick the average agenda is, it starts to make more sense. Readers don’t always have a lot of time on their hands. Maybe their kids get busy with sports. Maybe a close friend or a family member gets cancer. Maybe a colleague retires, forcing them to spend more time at work. Maybe a personal relationship get serious or falls apart. Maybe they’re planning a wedding or finalizing a divorce. All of these issues keep readers busy, sometimes too busy to follow city council as closely as they’d like.

Furthermore, city council agendas can be mind-numbingly boring and loaded with jargon. Some items are incredibly interesting. Others, like zoning bylaws, building reports, and infrastructure tenders, are filled will monotonous, but important, details. Paving reports are a good example. Reading about potholes is not exciting, but I sure started paying attention when I saw how much cities, towns, and RMs spend filling them.

In instances like this, readers can turn to the Daily Herald where we’ll explain a complicated issue in 400 to 600 words before council ever votes on it. Then, our readers can decide for themselves if they have any concerns, and whether or not those concerns are worth contacting their councillor about before the vote.

I thought about all this while watching a recording of Monday’s Prince Albert city council meeting on YouTube. Near the end, Coun. Dawn Kilmer rose during a discussion on a new Board of Police Commissioners appointment—an appointment out city hall reporter wrote about for the Saturday paper. Kilmer expressed her concerns that the media reported on the appointment before council voted on it and the city announced it. Kilmer was concerned about the process.

Just so there’s not confusion, I want to be clear about what our preview story says. Our story says Mayor Greg Dionne has recommended Marlo Pritchard of the SPSA to fill a vacant police board position, and that council will consider approving the appointment at their next meeting. We wrote the story because we thought it was an item of interest. We thought our readers would want to know a discussion about the appointment was going to happen. For us, it’s not just enough to report about the result. We want to report on the process too.

Court reporters have a saying: “it’s not enough for justice to be done. Justice must also be seen being done.” It’s a pithy way of explaining why media outlets give ongoing coverage to trials and other court cases instead of just showing up for the verdict.

The same applies to city council meetings too. It’s not enough to let readers know about the results. We need to let them know a debate is going to happen in the first place.

I write all this not to criticize or argue with anyone. I simply want to explain why we write the articles we write and cover city council the way we do.

Jason Kerr is the editor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.