Black press dogged by ad controversy

A Vancouver Island reporter has claimed that his resignation from the weekly Victoria News was related to a complaint by an advertiser, Dave Wheaton Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. Brennan Clarke told the Straight that he quit working on August 15 for the paper, which is owned by Black Press.

"My decision to resign Wednesday morning was directly related to the meeting we had the previous day regarding the car story and Mr. Wheaton's alleged reaction," Clarke said.

The Straight has obtained a copy of a memo to company staff written by Rick O'Connor, CEO of Black Press, which states that Clarke had "outlined to us that he had been considering this decision for quite some time". O'Connor wrote that the company did not ask anyone to resign as a result of the article concerning "the ease of car buying in the U.S.", but the front-page piece had "caused the publisher, Penny Sakamoto, and the Island Group President, Mark Warner, concern for valid reasons".

"The article wasn't balanced in our opinion and didn't explain the pitfalls of buying a vehicle in the U.S.," O'Connor wrote.

Wheaton, who was unavailable for comment, told Public Eye Online that he never complained about the article until he was asked about it by a newspaper company representative. On August 17, Public Eye Online reported that Clarke's boss, Victoria News editor Keith Norbury, was fired from the paper. Norbury declined the Straight's request for an interview.

O'Connor wrote that Warner and Sakamoto had a meeting with Norbury and Clarke to "explain the impact a potential loss of advertising from the automotive sector would have on these newspapers". The memo states that the group editor, Brian Lepine, resigned as a result of "another incident", and that the company made "a change with respect to Regional Editor, Norbury".

"The details of what transpired remain confidential and our treatment of Mr. Norbury is very fair given his long years of service to Black Press," O'Connor added.

Clarke alleged that Norbury was treated "very poorly" but would say little else regarding his dismissal. Clarke added that the shakeup at Victoria News was more significant as "a symptom of the declining state of print journalism".

"Freedom of the press is never 100-percent absolute," Clarke said. "You just have to do the best you can to get the information out there on a daily basis, as openly and as honestly as you can."

Black Press also owns the WestEnder , the North Shore Outlook , the Richmond Review , the Tri-City News , and the Surrey Leader , among other publications, as well as the printing plant that publishes the Metro commuter paper.