This morning, I checked an informal survey on this site and it showed that 88 percent of respondents opposed business associations paying speaking fees to full-time journalists.
Not everyone, however, feels it's such a bad idea. One commenter with the obvious pseudonym Ezekiel Bones took me to task for taking pot shots rather than doing my own investigations.
"Keith Baldrey and Vaughn Palmer, though I violently disagree with some of the opinions they have proffered, are honourable people, as far as I have seen," Mr. Ezekiel Bones wrote.
This started after Baldrey and Palmer criticized me on CKNW Radio a week ago.
Palmer has always been exceedingly gracious to me over the years. I haven't had nearly as much contact with Baldrey. He suggested that if I felt sick and disgusted about journalism in B.C., I should find another line of work.
The first feature story I ever did with the Georgia Straight concerned high-profile journalists moonlighting as media consultants. You can read it here.
Nowadays, it's more common for journalists to be invited to speak to business associations. A famous U.S. broadcast journalist, Sam Donaldson, was criticized for doing this in the past for whopping fees.
Vancouver-based National Speakers Bureau books journalists and other well-known people as speakers. It used to list the fees on its Web site. Globe and Mail editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon was available for $7,500 to $10,000. Straight freelance contributor Gwynne Dyer and CBC anchor Ian Hanomansing were available for $5,000 to $7,500.
Palmer was available for $3,000 to $5,000, as was Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail. Rex Murphy is another well-known journalist who does the speaking circuit.
These are pretty significant fees, though not in the neighbourhood that Donaldson was charging several years ago. We should keep that in mind.
National Speakers Bureau removed the fee listings from its site after I wrote about this.
I would like to know how much the B.C. Chamber of Commerce is paying Palmer, Baldrey, and Gloria Macarenko for speaking at the chamber's annual general meeting next month. Perhaps they're doing it for free. The chamber won't divulge that information.
I know that Palmer has been listed as a speaker to groups promoting roadbuilding, private forests, and tourism, to name just three areas in which provincial legislation can have a huge impact.
Bill Tieleman of 24 hours and formerly of the Georgia Straight has been criticized in the past for working on the side for the labour movement and businesses.
Tieleman isn't a full-time journalist, unlike Palmer and Baldrey. Is what Palmer, Baldrey, and Macarenko might be doing any different from what Tieleman does? Perhaps in that the full-timers might not be advising on strategy to get legislation passed. But the scribes do offer tips to large groups in their area of expertise--getting a message out through the media.
Is Mike Smyth of the Province speaking for hefty fees? How about Jeff Davies, Scott Sutherland, Justine Hunter, Tom Fletcher, Les Leyne or others in the press gallery who deal with legislation? I'm guessing the answer is "no" for most of them.
I feel that by bringing these issues to light, I'm performing a public service. One of the beneficiaries of this service is Tieleman, who has endured many barbs over the years.
My solution? Transparency. The press gallery should create a Web site and journalists should voluntarily disclose who they're speaking to and for how much. That would enhance public confidence in the same way that the lobbyists' registry was created to enhance public confidence.
Then I wouldn't have to feel so sick and disgusted about journalism in B.C., and Baldrey wouldn't have to go on the radio and suggest I seek another line of employment.