This just in. Recently-retired teleprompter reader Barb "I won't run for mayor" Higgins is set to announce her run for, guess what, the mayor's seat Wednesday morning at the Marriott Hotel. Not much of a shock since many were expecting this sooner than later after her sudden retirement from CTV news.
But what caught my eye on Barb's press release was the name Joan Crockatt. For the unaware, Crockatt is the former managing editor at the Calgary Herald, and, arguably, the final straw that led to the acrimonious eight-month workers' strike at that paper in 1999.
Many in the Herald's newsroom complained of Crockatt's heavy-handed, last minute, and often factually incorrect re-writes of their work minutes before press deadline, which led to the term 'drive-by editing.' The problem became so severe that several reporters demanded their names be taken off what was once their stories.
In a piece published by the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership titled 'A Case Study in Journalism Ethics: The Calgary Herald,' former Herald reporter Bob Bergen gives a detailed account in the newsroom leading up to the eight-month strike:
The Herald’s former managing editor Joan Crockatt, meanwhile, developed a reputation for heavy editing and extensive re-writes. The city desk editor said: “As night city editor, I had to have secret side deals with certain reporters that I would phone them at home and read them back stories Joan had edited. More often, though, the effect of a thorough Joan Crockatt editing job was that she would wander off to a fresh conquest. Someone on the desk would be left with the job of straightening out which changes made sense, which were factually correct and which were just stray thoughts to be checked later, and what had, in fact, been done by the reporter. Joan also drive-by edited pages, often in the most outrageous ways at the most inconvenient moments (i.e. 30 minutes before page deadline). It was standard operating procedure on my desk to keep all page proofs face down to keep the managing editor from seeing them.”
Former Herald reporter Brock Ketcham acted as night city editor for a period and saw the results of Crockatt’s rewriting first hand. “I remember the destruction wrought by King’s proxy, the managing editor, who would walk by a terminal at 11:45 p.m., spot a painstakingly crafted front-page story about to go to press; then sit down and mangle it. I remember a gifted young colleague – a magazine and book author – being reduced to tears in front of the entire news desk over what this butchery did to his credibility. I saw this happen, but I felt powerless to act.”
Crockatt declined to comment on the heavy rewriting or any of the issues raised by others about “Fairness, Accuracy and Balance,” including using it to advance a political agenda except to say that the format was meant to address “fairly well-known” instances of reporter’s editorializing, or introducing their opinions, in news stories. As for the other issues: “I think much of the discussions around the Calgary Herald have assumed mythical proportions. I don’t have any inclination to look at the entrails of the strike at the Herald. I think people have moved on."
One thing is for sure: Crockatt has moved on — onto the mayoralty bandwagon.