Davies: Context

By Jake Davies - West Carleton Online

WEST CARLETON – Keen-eyed column readers may have noticed a new profile photo for this column. I agree, it looks weird. Snow? We haven’t seen snow in what seems like a long time. It left very early this year. This must be an old photo.

Column header for Indubitably

In reality it was only taken a little more than a month ago around mid-March. Still, column header photos rarely are taken outside. Even more rare, taken in the winter. But here’s a little bit of context. I wanted a column photo that was taken in West Carleton. The last one, which I am kind of fond of, was taken in Arnprior. As you know, West Carleton Online focuses on West Carleton. We cover Arnprior a bit, but only as it might be of interest to the fine people of West Carleton. So, I snapped this photo during one of my last skis of the season in Fitzroy Provincial Park.

I do love the snow in the background. I love the colour placed in front of the very white background. I wish my head wasn’t so big. But it is indeed a photo taken in West Carleton.

Context is key in reading the news. There’s not a lot of trust for the media these days. Former U.S. President Donald Trump created a phrase that was simple and incredibly damaging to the industry when he coined the term ‘fake news.’ It’s been incredibly effective in its purpose. In many ways he was not wrong. Big Media has transitioned from subscription-based revenue to advertising revenue in an effort to recoup huge losses over the years and have been selling their souls for the filthy lucre ever since. Three of West Carleton’s four newspapers over the last 21 years survived solely on advertising revenue. Fox News has made Rupert Murdoch a very rich man selling its opinion to whomever wishes to pony up.

In Ottawa we have two daily newspapers, The Citizen and The Sun. The Citizen is known as a Liberal-leaning paper while The Sun is considered the Conservative-leaning publication. They are both owned by the same company – Post Media.

We have an opinion here too. I guess it’s just not worth very much.

So, while fake news certainly does exist, there is also an incredible amount of mistrust in the media created by lack of context. I blame Twitter. Social media has absolutely killed context. It’s the home of instant opinion, boiled down in to 280-character long statements. People make bold, sweeping, all-encompassing opinions based on something they may have researched heavily or only given a cursory scan to. They don’t even share a link to their ‘research.’ Either way, their Tweet is the be-all and end-all on their now unmoveable opinion. ‘Doug Ford must go,’ ‘will Justin Trudeau finally admit he must resign?’ Usually, these opinions are based on one single point. No long, thoughtful look in to all the decisions these political leaders have made during their tenure. No details on why they make the decisions they do. Just one high-end demand based on their opinion of one day of these leaders’ terms. What is missing is context.

I can relate. Here’s one story from a folder filled with thousands related to the topic. In roughly 2006 while I was the editor of the Arnprior Chronicle-Guide, there was a newly formed group of activists opposed to the Miller Group’s plan to build a portable asphalt plant at a Braeside quarry the company had owned for roughly 50 years by that time. Obviously, nearby residents were not happy. They came up with a context-lacking acronym for their group called FACT-MB. That stood for Friends Addressing Concerns Together – McNab-Braeside. I am not sure if they hired a communications firm to create the name.

This was an issue covered several times by The Guide over the years. Eventually, FACT-MB organized a public meeting to be held at the Nick Smith Centre. At this time, we were fortunate enough to have a college co-op student on hand. This was also during a time in history when newsrooms existed. Ours had four staff, the editor (me) and three reporters. Well, we went all out for this story. We sent our McNab-Braeside reporter. We sent the college kid to take photos so the reporter could focus on the story. As I don’t have a life, I also went – attending public meetings are my social outings. When was the last time you saw three reporters at one event in West Carleton – let alone from the same media company? Actually, CBC and CTV also sent reporters to this meeting. There was enough of us there we could have had an old-fashioned media scrum.

Our photographer snapped a beauty photo of a lady sharing her opinion with the panel. Our reporter interviewed proponents and opponents alike. I, trying to help out without doing actual work, counted all those in attendance. I want to say there were about 172 people at the meeting, but as someone who forgets someone’s names 30 seconds after they tell it to me, I may be off. For the sake of the story, we’ll go with 172.

The following Tuesday the story comes out. It was front page, above the fold (for those who remember, the original Arnprior Chronicle-Guide was a classic broadsheet paper) with an action-packed photo and headline to match. A little later that week FACT-MB gave me a call. They wanted to meet. So, Friday morning four representatives of FACT-MB came down to the Chronicle-Guide office located on downtown John Street.

The first order of business was the photo. The person in the photo claimed the photo made her look angry and looked like she was yelling at the panel. She wanted to point out she was supportive of the panel and opposed to the asphalt plant. Fair enough, but a photo is a photo. It certainly did look like she was giving someone the business. But the photo wasn’t altered, it was a real photo capturing a real moment in time. The cutline was not mis-leading. It did not claim the person in the photo was yelling at someone. It did not claim she was opposed or in favour of the plant. It simply stated she was one of the people attending the asphalt meeting. We rely on photos so much to tell our stories, but they really don’t do that very accurately. This photo, because it was taken inside, captured 1/60th of a second in a two-plus hour-long meeting. Without audio. But it was a great photo, and at the time, I was in the business of selling newspapers. It was a real photo taken from the actual event. Could it be lying? No, it couldn’t. But without context, the reader could imagine anything they wanted and for this photo it was easy to imagine this lady was pissed at something.

But the bigger sticking point for FACT-MB was the fact we included the number of people who attended the meeting. They did not not dispute the number we posted. They did not claim we missed counting attendees. They agreed with the number we posted. But they wanted to know why we didn’t simply write what CBC and CTV did. Their stories said the Nick Smith Centre was “filled to the rafters,” and “the Nick Smith Centre was packed.” There were no numbers. Do those statements mean anything to people who have never been to the Nick Smith Centre? Does the hall hold four people or 400?

To FACT-MB, us printing the actual number made it seem like a small turnout. The members of FACT-MB had never attended a public meeting in their life before that one. They had no context on what attendance numbers mean in relation to a well-attended public meeting. As someone who has made a career out of attending public meetings, this was one of the largest I had ever attended. In my last four years attending meetings within the City of Ottawa for West Carleton Online, I have yet to attend a meeting close to as well attended and that includes municipal, provincial and federal all-candidate meetings during an election and development meetings held on Zoom which are so much easier to tune in to as opposed to real-life, actual meetings. For example, last week’s March Road development meetings had 32 in attendance on April 12. On April 24 another 98 turned out for another March Road development meeting. The largest meeting I’ve attended so far was last October for a public meeting on a proposed Langstaff Drive meeting which peaked at 114 participants.

So, 172 people is a huge number. But that wasn’t what FACT-MB wanted us to report. They wanted big showy words without context like “packed” and “filled to the rafters.” Why couldn’t the Guide just write what the other media outlets wrote? I pointed out CTV and CBC had never covered the issue before that meeting. Their reporters had no background or context on the issue. As is pretty standard with the media, when a reporter doesn’t know the background behind the meeting, they make the meeting the story. I pointed out, my job is not to take a side, but to provide hopefully unbiased information on the meeting. My job isn’t to write what you want me to write (that’s Fox News’ job). I also pointed out, in the history of Arnprior public meetings, 172 was an incredible number. It was a sticking point they just couldn’t get past. Four hours later we unofficially agreed to disagree.

As you know, I often use my column space to share are most popular stories. Those also come without context. Just the headline, the date published and how many pageviews it received. Those are all facts, but they can be misleading. For instance, we make all our COVID-19 coverage free access to the community. So that obviously skews numbers. As long as news has been written, emergency and police stories are often well clicked and regularly make up a large part of our most clicked stories. But that doesn’t mean our Top Five stories are our best stories. Pretty regularly, my favourite stories don’t make the Top Five. I’m not saying I know what a good story is better than you. But what I am saying is I am more familiar with all the stories on West Carleton Online than pretty much anyone. I am the one who wrote or edited and published every story on our daily publishing online community newspaper. So, I know about the stinkers too.

So, we’re going to do things a little different this month. We’ll list the Top Five most viewed stories for February and March (because my column is late. Again.), but I will also share some of my favourites too.


In February we had an incredible 23,970 pageviews. A very busy month indeed, and for context, that’s one of the highest single month totals we’ve had also in the shortest month of the year.

  1. Fire strikes Woodlawn home again (Published Feb. 19, 1,117 pageviews)
  2. Community moves Carp bunkie (Published Feb. 23, 639 pageviews)
  3. Carp bakery: Kosovo skill, local flavour (Published Feb. 4, 419 pageviews)
  4. Community raises funds for Woodlawn family who lost two homes (Published Feb. 22, 394 pageviews)
  5. Carp plane crash claims one life (Published Feb. 10, 318 pageviews)
Three of our favourites

Carp’s Weeden a mass mask maker (Published Feb. 19, 101 pageviews). Helen Weeden is a well-known Carp resident who usually spends her time volunteering with the Rural Root Theatre Company. Well, she can’t do that during the pandemic so instead she got in to the mask business. We found this story just by seeing her little garage “store” driving through Carp. At the time we already knew Helen, but we didn’t know that was her house.

C Bay Skateway now has own logo (Published Feb. 16, 81 pageviews). We loved everything about the Constance Bay Skateway. We wrote five stories on it. We skated on it. Heck, we even bought the t-shirt. There it is in the photo.  This is just one of those super-fun stories that grew organically out of a community with not much to do this winter and became the talk of the town all winter long.

Conservative nomination stories. We enjoy covering politics and something West Carleton Online does that you won’t find in any other media outlet is our coverage of the nomination process. A federal election is on the way (with many pundits saying it was going to happen this month) and there isn’t a Conservative candidate (or Green or NDP for that matter) for Kanata-Carleton yet. In March we interviewed three West Carleton residents seeking the Conservative nomination. Links below.

https://westcarletononline.com/c-bays-kennedy-seeks-riding-leadership/ (Feb. 11)

https://westcarletononline.com/carps-mcandrew-vies-to-lead-conservatives/ (Feb. 22)

https://westcarletononline.com/corkerys-osorio-takes-shot-at-conservatives/ (okay, this one was actually March 2, but it made sense to include it here)


March was another big month for us, with 21,953 pageviews.

  1. Vaccination clinic coming to WC April 1 (Published March 30 – re-published due to update, 401 pageviews)
  2. Fire destroys Deerwood Estates home (Published March 12, 297 pageviews)
  3. Two C Bay residents arrested in March 3 Arnprior armed robbery (Published March 19, 276 pageviews)
  4. Carp resident part of North Bay drug bust (Published March 2, 249 pageviews)
  5. Marathon Village deals with spring flood (Published March 12, 2112 pageviews)
Three of our favourites

Corkery Alien doc debuts Friday (Published March 24, 196 pageviews). One of West Carleton’s most mysterious and infamous stories is a 1989 mystery revolving around potential alien landings and shadowy figures. We watched the documentary UFO Town. It was entertaining, but what struck us most was how similar it was in terms of storytelling, editing, filming, feel, style and production, to the 1992 Unsolved Mysteries episode it bases its premise on.

Kinburn’s Riley hits $14,000 for Abilities Centre (Published March 22, 49 pageviews). Just a young Kinburn teenager who has spent his time since the age of 10 on a never-ending bottle drive raising funds for the proposed The Abilities Centre. In March he hit the $14,000 raised mark.

Carp Road declared air quality hotspot (Published March 31, 116 pageviews). People move to the country for the fresh air. Well maybe West Carleton’s air isn’t as fresh as it appears. We spoke to Breath Easy Project coordinator Jake Cole about some surprising results in West Carleton. 

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3 thoughts on “Davies: Context

  • April 29, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    Context is everything, and so are facts. We need a lot of unbiased fact-checkers (how to know who is?) to absorb news these days. And Twitter can be evil, but sometimes timely and useful, IF the tweeter provides a link to relevant documentation.
    Your “own favourites” story review is fun: list of top stories are sometimes depressing!

  • April 29, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    I appreciate your editorial, Jake, and I enjoy reading your news stories every day. You share so much information about the context of our community, and your dedication to your profession is exemplary.
    Thank you for all you do for us.

  • April 29, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the ‘inside the news’ story.
    Context is crucial for interpreting the news.

    Sandy Bickerstaff