Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Vancouver Sun Editor responds to one controversy, the Financial Post remains silent on another.


The local real estate blogosphere has good reason to question the existence of it in our media the past year or so.
  • We've seen stories local real estate agents of Asian descent taken on helicopter rides and portrayed as  eager Chinese buyers,
  • we've seen a real estate agent pose as a customer while promoting a groupon-style real estate scheme,
  • we've had real estate marketing company employees pose as Asian buyers to create the impression of a buying frenzy for Chinese New Year, and
  • we've seen fake pictures of a mansion from a real estate agent's website generate worldwide interest for a house that doesn't exist.
All of these examples did not require a great amount of sleuthing to conclude they were not as they appeared. It has many questioning the integrity of the news media and whether the media has been playing a passive role in some of these manipulations.

This sentiment was recently compounded when a highly misleading "newsvertising" article - which required a certain amount of legwork to determine that it was actually a paid advertising feature rather than real news - came out.

Because of this skeptics now find themselves questioning EVERYTHING presented in the media regarding real estate.

Last week it was the validity of Vancouver Sun photo galleries that profile real estate topics.

If the Sun/Province conglomerate can sell adverting through it's 'focus' section and construct that advertising so that it's dressed up like regular news, is it such a stretch to imagine they are selling access to their photo gallery feature as a promotional tool?

The web editor of the Vancouver Sun is Bethany Lindsay.  Here is her LinkedIn profile:

Last night Ms. Lindsay responded directly to this concern. Here is what she had to say:
I'm the Vancouver Sun web editor responsible for that Pricey Pads gallery, so I thought I should probably chime in here. This was absolutely *not* paid content. Real estate galleries do very well for us online -- people got nuts for them for whatever reason -- and Pricey Pads is an easy source to find outrageous listings. On the day in question, I arrived at work at 5 p.m., caught myself up on the news of the day, then clicked on, where I saw this real estate comparison. It was easy click bait and I couldn't resist doing a gallery. Hope that clears things up a bit.
We thank Ms. Lindsay for addressing the issue.

When advertising is presented in a way that it is easily passed as actual news, it brings the integrity of the media into question.  When example after example becomes commonplace, no one is sure what to believe. In the case of Pricey Pads, they became a victim of that doubt.

That's why addressing any concerns (or rigorously following up on them once identified) is so important.

When those local real estate agents of Asian descent were taken on helicopter rides and portrayed as buyers from China, the farce was revealed here by VREAA and here by Garth Turner. But the public was not told the truth behind what happened at the time.

When a realtor posed as a customer while promoting a groupon-style real estate scheme, the story was covered here and here and on other blogs... but no clarification was forthcoming in the press.

When MAC Marketing was caught lying about the identity of their employees in a TV news story, President Cameron MacNeill promised the press he would investigate what happened and take action.  We're still waiting for the media to detail exactly what he found out.

Those shortcomings in the coverage of these incidents harm the credibility of our media.

Currently we have the case of the recent Financial Post news story titled "Home is where the retirement money is". Has there been a serious breach of journalistic ethics committed here?

For those who are not aware, on March 28th and March 29th we posted that sharp-eyed blogosphere sleuths had noticed that the Financial Post article failed to mention that the couple profiled in the story worked for the very mortgage broker company discussed so prominently in the piece.

With that knowledge, the article appears to be little more than a glorified ad for the mortgage broker.

Further examination revealed that the author of the story, Denise Deveau, is a freelance reporter who apparently works for two communications companies who specialize in obtaining media attention for their clients; BlueSky (BS) Communications and Echo Communications. Up until this week, Deveau appeared on the websites of those two firms as an employee.

Is there not an inherent conflict of interest (or at least the appearance of a conflict of interest) when a member of two communications companies (who specialize in gaining access to media for their clients) writes for the Financial Post?

The Financial Post amended their original article to reflect the employment connection between the profiled couple and the mortgage broker. It's a great first step. But it looks like any link to an apparent 'conflict of interest' is being covered up it gains widespread attention.

Yesterday we told you how BS Communications moved to delete any on-line reference to their working relationship with Deveau. Now it appears the other communications firm, Echo Communications, is doing the same thing.

Here is the Echo Communications "Team" page two days ago as seen in the google cache. Denise Deveau is the second name down:

 Here is Deveau's profile that used to be on that site:

These two references have been deleted from that website.  Now the Echo Communications "Team" page looks like this:

Doesn't it strike you as odd that all online references to Denise Deveau by either of these communications companies has been erased this week from the internet?

Rather then step forward, provide an explanation, and account for what occurred here; all we appear to be getting is an attempt to cover up tracks. Why?

This issue needs to be addressed by the Financial Post.

It is crucial to the integrity of the print media, given the recent examples of real estate industry press manipulation, that this story be addressed and the swirling questions answered.

Was Deveau, a freelance reporter, working on behalf of these communications companies (and by extension, the Vancouver mortgage brokerage company) when she submitted what amounts to a glorified advertisement for Ivis Team RRP to the Financial Post?

If she was working for anyone in a communications PR capacity - and she used her freelance position as a writer with the Financial Post as a lever to obtain media coverage for them - was the Financial Post aware of what she was doing before the article was published?

The 'cleansing' currently taking place to remove any reference of Deveau from these company websites merely strengthens the appearance of a conflict of interest and in the modern world of the internet and social media, ignoring the story only compounds the negative speculation.

If CBC-TV and CTV-TV can respond to questions raised in the MAC Marketing fiasco, if Vancouver Province on-line web editor Erik Rolfsen can respond to the fake mansion story, and if Vancouver Sun on-line web editor Bethany Lindsay can respond to questions about the Sun's photo gallery... then surely the Financial Post can respond when legitimate concerns are raised about an apparent conflict of interest by one of their reporters?

It's important the public know what happened here. We need to know that the 'news' printed in our newspapers isn't simply a conduit for real estate industry advertising.


Click 'comments' below to contribute to this post.

Please read disclaimer at bottom of blog.


  1. Thanks for posting this update!

  2. Finally, a local newspaper gets it and is telling it like it is. Here is a great article from Abbotsford Today.

  3. I'm glad you responded Ms Lindsay

    "It was easy click bait and I couldn't resist doing a gallery. Hope that clears things up a bit."

    That clears a lot of things up, you were too lazy to do journalism and instead just posted pretty pictures for people to look at in order to get page views.

    1. Get down of your high horse, please. Nobody's perfect. At least she had the honesty and humility to let people know what happened.

    2. It's a major newspaper, I expect more than click bait.

      Honesty, humility? Please!

      Nothing is done until they are called out on it.

    3. I agree that “pretty pictures” aren’t journalism, but the free press wouldn’t be sustainable right now without the kind of clickable content that actually attracts eyeballs. A big part of my job as a web editor is to find ways to bring readers to the Sun website in order to support the real, serious journalism that we do.

      Yes, we run stories about celebrity divorces and photo galleries of ridiculous houses, but that doesn't mean we're not also doing investigative reporting and writing about important issues.

      As for your suggestion that I was "called out" on something? The Sun was falsely accused of shady journalistic practices and as far as I know, no one at the paper was offered a chance to respond. I wrote in to make sure people understood the truth.

    4. Landbaron, I think you're more than slightly overstating your case.

    5. How is it overstating?
      I was just using the comment provided to shed light on the way, as said above, the free press is sustained. Nothing is technically wrong with it, it's just a slippery slop that can lead to what we see in other media.

      My major beef is with the NP and other columns like it that are 'placed' in newspapers that are clearly deceptive, then are changed after the fact. We still don't know what happened with MAC, that would be a good story.

      End of rant, I got it out of my system.

  4. I'm still waiting for an update from the National Post's editor...

    I think I'm going to be waiting a LOOOOONG time...

    "Denise Deveau? We don't know any Denise Deveau... Never heard of her."

  5. Thank-you Bethany. We know it is tough sledding being a journalist these days. "Clickable content" is not sleazy journalism; it is just a way to keep the boat afloat. Really we're more concerned with the outrageous examples the Whisperer and other bloggers have uncovered.

  6. Thanks Bethany, I appreciate you have taken the time to write a reply. Don't worry about the comments on this website by some individuals. I enjoyed looking at the pricey pads pictures and I'm glad to hear that there was no outside influence on what you posted.

  7. Yeah, Bethany makes good points. However, I hope she could show more sympathy to what the blogger is trying to do, which is to reveal the general lack of integrity which passes for canadian journalism.

    In fact, perhaps if she wanted to have something that had good click bait + serious investigative journalism, she could follow up on all of this and write about it. Certainly wouldn't hurt the Vancouver Sun's reputation, either.