Journalistic Integrity. Are you crying or laughing at that?

I need to find a new title to refer to ‘journalists’ as many of them today have less professionalism than the average blogger. Case in point, Janet French recently wrote an article about Trinity and Wisdom Home Schooling Association in which she made it clear that she does not feel that she needs to do any fact-checking, corroborate any information that she finds or find independent sources for her information.

It appears that Janet French is a blogger working for newspapers as a journalist, which is the nicest thing I can say about her, but then it epitomizes how I feel about the media at large right now.

I am not sure when exactly we stopped demanding the truth from our media but at some point, we started getting our information from untrained bloggers and opinion columnists. Rather than stand on their standards and principles, journalists simply conceded that it was more important to be first with the story than make sure the story had any truth to it.

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read it, you are misinformed”
~ Denzel Washington

I don’t know if I could summarize my belief in journalism and the media on whole any better than Denzel Washington. He pretty much nailed it.

I know, some people are saying, “you can’t attack a journalist and say things about her without some proof about what you say or you could go to jail!”

The sad thing is, that those people are correct. The laws that are protecting these twits are astounding. On one hand, you have the pronounced freedom of the press but even more important is freedom of speech. We have famous Canadian journalists like Mark Stein being sued by American hucksters trying to sell fear to the populace. When Mr. Stein called Michael Mann out on his BS, he was sued as a journalist for not believing in “science”.

The case is unbelievable and one of the things I pray about repeatedly. I am still stunned at the lackluster care that American’s have for the most important freedom they have ever been gifted.

Now on to Janet French. Is she an idiot? I don’t know.

Do I think that Janet French is a horrible person? No.  I don’t know her so how could I say anything about her personality.

Do I think that she is a horrible writer? No. I enjoyed the article and many people have quoted it to me so they obviously enjoyed it and actually believed in what she wrote about.

Is she a liar? Hell yes.

And this is my bone of contention with both Janet French and the vast majority of the media outlets you find today. They are so concerned with being first with a story that they have little concern for facts… they make their money today being entertaining rather than informing and that is my job as a blogger, not a journalist’s job.

So today we are going to change roles. I will go through Janet’s article with an unbiased approach at reporting, even though I have zero desire to become or to be perceived as a journalist. It doesn’t seem to be very important to Janet either.

I do have a point though about the masses and why they believe the media. Did they believe Janet because she wrote passionately about a topic that she studied and educated herself on? No. They believed it because she is a journalist and they aren’t supposed to lie. They are supposed to be educated or educate themselves quickly so that they can report on something.

Education comes from Research

It took roughly 40 hours to read through every court document I could get my fingers on and I am guessing that Janet’s article took about 2 hours to write all-in… with no background knowledge needed (or possessed apparently). I totally understand why she would choose not to do all that work except I believe it is part of her job.

Let’s take a moment to have a look at what specifics Janet French wrote about shall we.

Overpaid Employees?

Let’s be honest, if we are looking at over-paid employees taking tax-payer funds we don’t need to leave the legislature. I can’t believe that the government would complain about this or that the media would repeat it.

Janet’s sub-title, “The man at the helm of a private homeschooling association accused of financial mismanagement earns nearly $300,000 a year in pay and benefits” implies that this is too much money.

She pointed out that Ken Noster made more than 85% of public school district superintendents, even though many had larger budgets and enrollments. What she doesn’t point out is that he is responsible for the largest home schooling organization in the province and deals with problems like teachers traveling hundreds of thousands of kilometers every year to see their students. No other counterpart in the province can say these things because he is dealing with some situations on scales that astound most people.

When you look at what he does, he is paid right in line with other provincial counterparts.

Ms. French then goes after Mr. Noster’s daughter as some kind of white-collar criminal.

TobyLauren Burgess, took home $177,440 for her office manager role in 2014-15, say documents filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Grande Prairie.

Then she corroborated her conclusion with an independent third party…

I don’t think that those salaries are acceptable to do that kind of role, and certainly with the kind of results we’re seeing on the accountability side of things
~ Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta

I am not sure what relation Joel has to Janet but now that our Premier uses her union-boss husband to corroborate her quasy-criminal actions, I guess asking family-members for opinions counts as corroboration.

EDIT: as you can tell from Rebe Jay’s response below, these two French’s appear not to be related. That is nice journalism to not mention it in the article.

Whether Joel is family or not, his comment was based on Janet’s lie so it should be stricken from your mind in any case. You see, TobyLauren is very well paid for what she does from what I could read. From reading the same documents filed with the court in Grande Prairie, I can tell you that she made the following income with your public dollars:

  • 2013 – $98,989
  • 2014 – $120,685
  • 2015 – $177,440

According to court documents, this is her recorded salary including contract fees, mileage and per diems. There is no more documented so when Janet decided to report that TobyLauren “took home” $177,440 she was probably mistaken and confused her gross income with her net income.

The fact that she neglected to mention that her three-year average gross salary was closer to $132,000 leads me to believe that she wrote the line, hoping that the reader would assume that TobyLauren gets paid closer to $250,000 per year before taxes. It is a sneaky tactic used to troll the uninformed reader, usually reserved for bloggers and columnists.

The fact that TobyLauren’s income has gone up almost 80% in the past three years would lead a normal person to determine that she probably took on additional roles recently. You would also assume that she was working 10-12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, doing a job that nobody else wanted to do.

With a little research, you might be able to find out that she had actually interviewed people trying to get rid of her job over a year ago and nobody else was willing or capable of taking it because it was a demanding job requiring moving to some hick-town 2 hours East of Edmonton. If nobody else is qualified or willing to do your job, doesn’t it make sense that you are actually worth more?

We know what Janet thinks of research so let’s try to get into the mindset that Janet was dead wrong about these people being a criminal organization grazing at the public trough. Now that we know that she wasn’t just wrong, but deceitful (being a  blogger I can just say that she is a lying sack of crap…), we can now have a quick look at some other wonderful points she made with no research…

Let’s quote Alberta Education (without reading anything else)

An education department review reported public dollars inappropriately spent on gifts, babysitting, a funeral, and employees double-dipping on travel and food expenses. Ministry staff also allegedly found questionable lease agreements and $988,000 that should have gone to parents for education expenses. They reported their findings to the RCMP.

Much of this was a direct quote from the government review that they released shortly after they shut down the 3500-student school board. I have to be honest and tell you that this quote encompassed the only two concerns I had a month ago when I first read the report and I was very curious to know if any of the court documents could explain Trinity’s response to the questionable lease allegation and how on earth the school thought it was acceptable to pay funeral expenses with public tax dollars.

Once again, I am reading the same court documents that Janet French read to write her article and I have to say that the lease agreement mentioned in the review seems to have a very credible response from Trinity. The building was sold to a third party at the request of a previous provincial government. It is kinda hard to imagine a new government punishing someone for listening to the previous government, but here it is in black and white.

My tax dollars paid for someone’s funeral costs?

This was the only thing that really got on my nerve when I first read through the review. I was dumbfounded when I went through the court documents and found the following explanation from Trinity…

Funeral Costs: Exhibit 1813 shows the purchase of a bereavement card for the family of the WISDOM facilitator who passed away. The card cost $4.47.

Not only did the NDP have the balls to make “funeral costs” a line item over a $5 card, but then Janet French went and reiterated that the “inappropriate” expenditures were being reported to the RCMP. I have to tell you I would not be impressed if I was the RCMP officer investigating this case. What kind of petty vendetta is someone chasing to make me investigate a $5 bereavement card?

Budgets are not so simple

Ms. French comments that budgets are out of wrack where Trinity/Wisdom spend 32% on administration where a public school board spends only 6%. She quotes Jay Cameron, Wisdom’s lawyer as saying that details on this would come to light in court but she has the same court files I have and the responses are clearly in there and make perfect sense. But of course if Alberta Education looked like idiots then the story wouldn’t really fit the narrative she was pushing.

Suffice to say that there should be more administration costs to manage a student 1000 Km away than one who comes to your building five times a week but percentages don’t work in this comparison because a home schooled student is attributed $1600 per year (where 32% is $512 in administration costs). A publicly schooled youth gets $10,000 a year of funding (where 6% is $600 is administration costs).

So Ms. French, rather than simply doing your job and relaying facts to the public, you fit the facts to your narrative and report the story that you want to sell to the masses. If you had any morals or ethics you would have reported that Trinity/Wisdom has lower per-student administration costs than public education.

Back to the salaries…

Janet wrote more about how many family members were hired and what they were earning like it was illegal to employ family members. Think of Trinity/Wisdom as family-run businesses 2 hours away from the nearest city. Doesn’t it simply make sense to hire family where family can do the job?

All their salaries are now public information but rather than trying to make the numbers look criminal by combining the whole family and their three-year salaries combined, let’s just look at the nine Noster family members who claimed $1.8M over the three years. That equals $600,000 paid out per year and an average family salary of under $67,000 per year.

If we remove Ken Noster’s “CEO” wages, which I have already justified quite happily in my mind, you have about $1M in wages split by nine people over three years for an average salary of under $38,000 a year.

Does that sound criminal to you? Once again, putting in terms like that simply doesn’t fit the narrative that the media is looking for. Saying that the Noster family took $1.8 million in salaries sure does get the public riled up and that sells newspapers.

Missing money

As for the $988,000 missing from Trinity’s bank, it is apparently sitting in Wisdom’s bank.  They were never asked to move it before they were shut down so can we stop acting like there is money actually missing and try to stick to some facts?

The money is all from unclaimed families and the government has access to every annual audit if they have a problem with the handling of the money. But for the government to attack the home school board for reallocating unspent funds into programming (instead of Christmas bonuses for staff… which is also in their right) would be like telling Alberta Health to shut down a hospital because they didn’t spend all their budget. If they end up with extra money at the end of the year and the law says that they can keep it, then who is the government to tell them how to spend it? Change the laws or shut up.

The fact is that nothing that the government has claimed to be illegal has even a remote resemblance to criminal truth. The review is filled with accusations with zero evidence because the reviewers used the line “not in the scope of this review” on three separate occasions after making some heinous claim against the organization without a shred of evidence. They didn’t need evidence because the lies they just told were not in the scope of the review.

I found it humorous to read a Facebook post after seeing Paige MacPherson quoted by Janet saying, “I think that we’re glad to see that the government is expressing concern over (alleged) misuse of education tax dollars”. The facebook post simply claims that Paige was misquoted.


What? Janet French wasn’t totally honest with her readers?

Who is surprised?

By the way Janet, my daughter corroborated this conclusion…

Lying is bad. She must not be a nice person. (she was talking about you)
~Cydnee (my 5-year old daughter)


9 responses to “Journalistic Integrity. Are you crying or laughing at that?

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  5. Also worth mentioning is that Trinity/Wisdom is one of the very few school boards that allow their families to roll over any unspent funding into the next year. So a lot of the $988,000 is just waiting for the families to eventually use it. This is not required and most boards have a use it or lose it policy. But instead of spending it or handing out bonuses for themselves, Trinity let’s their families roll it over and continue to use it.

    • I wasn’t even aware that they allowed this… I was just ticked off that the government made out in their witch-hunt review document that it was abnormal that they had $300,000 a year in unclaimed money when it is perfectly normal and 100% legal for them to keep it. I am so glad that the judge called what they did a “smear campaign”.

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  7. I want to tell you that I casually mentioned the “French” relation at the end of Janet French’s article. She quickly responded that if there were any relation, she would have passed the story onto another as that would be a conflict of interest. I told her that I admired her journalistic intergrity and mentioned that I looked forward to as much intergrity, including public apologies, when Trinity/Wisdom was reinstated. Just thought that would help clear up anything… unethical…;)

    • Thanks for the insight. I will edit the article. For a person who considers herself a journalist has she never heard that when two unrelated individuals with the same last name appear in the same article you are to always put (no relation) behind the first time the second person is named? Is the Journal hiring bloggers now to do their writing?

      Did you ask her to apologize for lying about TobyLauren’s income? It’s only about $50,000 off but still… many people live on less than her mistake.

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