COPE is doing a good job of rendering itself irrelevant

This week, the   Georgia Straight published a fair and balanced article by Carlito Pablo highlighting divisions within the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors.

I would have thought that the key point—that internal chair Tim Louis has relied the support of two controversial left-wing groups—would have delighted Louis's critics.

But no. This is COPE, the party that can't resist fighting internal battles to the point of becoming irrelevant.

Instead of hearing any praise from the COPE activists for reporting on a topic that has been kept in the dark for too long, all the Straight received was condemnation.

And why?

Because Pablo quoted COPE corresponding secretary Kim Hearty accurately.

Here's part of what activist Ivan Drury wrote in an unpublished comment on the Straight site:

I think the way the Straight quotes Kim Hearty here is designed to be humiliating, in a specifically age and gender putting-in-place kind of way. If she was an old white guy who a journalist wanted to similarly humiliate they could write "(pause)" or "umm". But to invalidate Kim Hearty's voice this article includes her thinking-speech patterns as: "like". In my opinion this is hostile journalism that specifically fingers her voice as a young woman as invalid. I think the Straight should edit this out of the article.

Another of Louis's critics, his former ally Stuart Parker, left an angry message on my answering machine accusing Pablo of sexism.

I called Pablo to ask him about this. He responded that Hearty said "like" several times in the interview. What was he supposed to do?

I spoke to our senior editor, Martin Dunphy, who handled the article. He pointed out that our paper routinely quotes young actors using the word "like" when they're pausing in the midst of a sentence.

He surrounds this use of "like" with commas to distinguish it from the conventional use of the word.

Dunphy told me that Hearty actually used three "likes" in one sentence, rendering her comment unintelligible. So he suggested to Pablo that he include an ellipsis to remove one of them so readers could comprehend what she was saying.

I could comment on Louis's decision to rely on members of Fire This Time for Social Justice and Mobilization Against War and Occupation.

But the criticism of Parker, Drury, and others requires a response because some people are tweeting about it without having the foggiest notion of media law.

There was no attempt to humiliate Hearty. Nobody here has it out for her.

There was an attempt to ensure that everyone was quoted accurately on the slim chance that this article ever ended up before the courts.

We in the media are quite used to being disliked for doing our jobs.

In this instance, I would argue that Dunphy and Pablo both acted with exceptional professionalism and integrity.

And if people don't want to be quoted in newspapers using the word "like" too often, there's an easy solution: banish it from their vocabulary.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
Carol Baird Ellan
This article is just defensive journalism and "too much protest" on the part of the Straight. I hadn't read Pablo's article but now I certainly have. Every oral interview contain ums ahs and likes. I have never seen them included in quotes. This is clearly sexist and demeaning. Thanks for giving it legs.
Rating: -19
Dave Harper
Like what a good idea.
Rating: +3
This is very funny.

How many people noticed Kim Hearty's "likes" when reading the article the first time? Not me.

Kim Hearty has a not inconsiderable body of work - wait, is that sexist? - record of accomplishment as a local activist and CUPE politico - surely that very public activity (e.g. informing patrons of Pidgin that they are yuppie scum) forms the basis of how most of us will praise her, or not praise her.

Me, I am happy that people get involved, even if they have rough edges or whatnot. Or say "like."
Rating: +9
Martin Dunphy
Carol Baird Ellan:

"We know we're here doing a function that is not always going to be understood or popular."

If you are, indeed, the former judge, you will recognize that quote of yours.
All I ask is that you consider your own words before passing judgement on journalists who are merely doing their job, trying to keep in mind the need to be balanced in the views they present and to accurately portray the statements provided them by interview subjects.

"Ums" and "ahs", as you point out, are routinely edited out of transcripted quotes for presentation to readers. That is because they are disruptive to the flow of language,
especially on the printed page, but mostly because they cannot be mistaken for any other word or carry any other significance.

Not so with the word "like", which has several meanings and is not primarily used as a delay tactic, consciously or not, while someone gathers their thoughts.

Perhaps print journalists should include all the ums and ahs, as do broadcast journalists (because they have no choice).
But then, nobody would talk to us.

I trust this wasn't too "defensive" for you.

And I take "offence" at your characterization of our reporting as "sexist" and "demeaning".
What arrant nonsense.
Rating: +25
Rick in Richmond
Mr Pablo appears to have done a fair and accurate job quoting COPE's Kim Hearty. Evidence for this lies in the statements of those trying to defend her inarticulate language.

Far too many journalists attempted to "clean up" the language and general incoherence of George W Bush, for example. By doing him a personal favour, and helping him not sound like a dolt, they did the electorate no favours at all.

There has been a reaction against this practice. Today, the Straight simply quotes what people say, as ably -- or not -- as they say it. This is a very good thing for honest and accurate journalism.

People who cannot speak clearly usually cannot think clearly, either. Thanks to Ivan Drury, attention has been paid to this ongoing problem.

When I first read the piece, I thought "Kim" referred to a man. The question has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with coherence. Drury is coherent. Hearty is not.
Rating: +7
Ivan D.
Sorry Charlie, I disagree. What I tried to raise in my comment (which is unpublished and mostly focused on the FTT/MAWO problem) is that this editing practice The Straight is following treats young people's (and particularly young women's) speech-patterns differently than it does the speech of older speakers.

Speakers from other generations or with training are conditioned to break up speech and pause for thought with non-sign utterances such as "umm," "ahh," or, if they are well-trained, then simply a silent pause. However young people, and especially young people without speech-training - and often (though this is purely anecdotal and I could be wrong) young women - use sign, or word-referencing, utterances such as "like" and even "such-as" or "you-know-what-I-mean" to fulfill the same purpose.

I associate journalism that includes speakers' "umm"s and "(pause)"s for older speakers as hostile journalism because it can make them seem less credible, fumbly, searching for words. Including these utterances reads as awkward precisely because they are not usually included in quotes. The same journalists employ a different standard against young speakers, as well-evidenced here in this article where Hearty's broken speech contrasts against the uninterrupted, smooth quotes from the men quoted and not the young woman. Sign-based thinking-utterances such as "like" also read as awkward, because they contrast against the unbroken speech of others.

If it's a legal matter, I think the law might be behind the times and structurally favoring more well-educated and trained, older, English speaking men. What a shock.

It is disingenuous to claim that the comment I (simply a COPE general member) wrote in the comment section on the first story demonstrates "COPE's irrelevance". First, because my comment about the Straight's work has zilch to do with "infighting" in COPE, unless the Straight website is inside COPE. Second, because I can both care about language as mediating differing standards around portrayals of different social groups AND ALSO the political and economic erosion of working class Vancouver underway through Vision and NPA politics.

Finally: I have great respect for Carlito as a journalist and do not mean to be challenging him, but rather this editorial decision which I consider structural at the Straight and not about him as a worker/writer.
Rating: -19
boris moris
It's long past due time that journalists report exactly what they hear. Case in point is Rob Ford. Until very recently the Toronto media (and Toronto councilors) have cut Rob Ford way too much slack. He's a far far worse poc than Canadian media has the guts to report and/or opine about. It's pretty clear that major advertisers hold a lot more sway over editors/publishers than anyone who respects democracy is comfortable with.

Hearty simply telegraphed a wee bit of insecurity over the answer she gave. It's a reporter's job to observe, record then report. COPE probably respects democracy far more than most parties but the "old stack the meetings with friends" is something that stinks of desperation and is below Louis' usual measure of dignity and integrity.

The Straight is only one of a too small group of independent alternative media in Canada that is profitable and influential. Too bad they can't find the stones to resist libel chill. It's time for the publisher to seriously pump up the volume of any legal fund he might have on hand and get serious about investigating and reporting on the corruption that defines politics in BC at the provincial and federal level. BC is little more than a Republican controlled branch plant for US corporations. Why do we charge tiny stumpage rates on trees and even tinier royalties for oil and gas. This is at the root of our corruption. Insider info on the alleged corruption endemic in the sell off of BC publicly owned entities or the alleged kickbacks on bridge, subway or highway projects will start flowing once you can show you have the balls to go after the crooks.

Who else but the Straight to tell it to us straight. The Tyee is good but no balls at the helm. And yeah..women can have sufficient "balls" to get it done too.
Rating: -2
i'm a cope member. but i've been a georgia straight reader for longer. i appreciate that there may be some matters of legality that you are beholden to that i am not fully cognizant of. but in my opinion as a reader--and someone who is genuinely concerned about the poor quality of news coverage in this city, this article scares me. as a response (from a source for whom i have respect) it seems pretty disproportionate. you might disagree with the criticism, but if that's the case: why not just publish the comment and leave a comment in response (as you have on many many occasions in the past)? why does this merit a story with the above headline and a picture of Ivan (who rightly points out that he does not stand in for the party)? i'd be curious to know how often such a power-dynamic has played out between this paper and its reader/commentership. maybe i'm naive, but i'm guessing that's pretty exceptional and i also happen to think it's in poor taste. i don't believe that this publication (its writers/its editors etc) "has it out" for COPE, but THIS article (or at very least, THIS headline) functions as though it does. i think the criticism was valid--if the Straight had other matters in mind that cause it to see things differently, in can make those known without insinuating that the concern was irrelevant. i can't speak for professionalism, but just now i think we might have differing ideas about what integrity is. i'm hoping this divergence is temporary.
Rating: -2
Thanks for the passive-aggressive swipe:
"But the criticism of Parker, Drury, and others requires a response because some people are tweeting about it without having the foggiest notion of media law."

Correcting non-standard language and speech disfluency is common practice, like, everywhere. I don't have access to the actual canadian stylebook at the moment but from a quick google-search:

From The Calgary Jounal (tried to post direct link to pdf but keep triggering spam filter):
"We follow without
exception the Canadian Press Stylebook’s rules when it comes to any
alterations within a quote: 'We correct slips of grammar that are obvious
slips and that would be needlessly embarrassing. We remove verbal
mannerisms such as ah’s, routine vulgarities and meaningless
repetitions. Otherwise we do not revise quotations.'”

From the Toronto Star:
"Grammatical errors can be corrected and some idiosyncratic expressions of speech (um, er, like etc.) should be omitted."

Rating: -3
Demeaning? Perhaps.
Sexist? Pathetic whining.

Politics sure attracts the low end.
Rating: +20
Yeah - sorry, Charlie, but @popagranda's got your number here. This article is a petty little retort that substantiates the assertion that you're being petty in your reporting. I expected better than this.
Rating: -18
Peter Driftmier
I think criticism of Pablo's article for quoting her "likes" is well deserved. I'm saying this as someone who has transcribed and quoted lengths of interviews for a diversity of journalist and academic projects over the past eight years, and someone who knows first hand how well spoken Kim Hearty is. It is poor journalistic integrity to not treat the pauses that younger people use (especially young working class women) in the same way was the silent pauses of scripted academics and incredibly polished media-trained PR or spokes-people.

And to follow with Smith's article here- such a horrendous counter article that puts the spot light on Hearty's personal manner of speaking. It furthers what was an implicit belittling of her in to a formal and explicit dissection of her manner of speech along classist, ageist and sexist lines.
Rating: -9
Andrew B
@ Ivan D (DEC 18, 2013 at 5:04 PM)

...aren't you the one being sexist by linking the use of 'like' to only young females? It seems a bit odd to say the least. I don't understand why this is so (supposedly) self-evident. It sure isn't to me.
Rating: +4
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