One fact that is missing from the saga of the demise of former Ottawa Citizen editor Andrew Potter at McGill University.
Journalism and, to a certain degree newspaper politics were, to be polite, not exactly his calling.
Potter was not a rough-and-tumble reporter like so many of his colleagues but rather a member of the chattering classes. He was a book-learned journalist who lacked the street-sense that should be part of the tool-kit of an editor and would allow him to form a close bond with his reporter colleagues.
If you’ve worked in an office and have little identification with someone who has braved the elements, weather, people and otherwise, that a reporter has, it’s hard to be effective. Being a reporter, done well, is a tough job. Potter was comfortable writing an essay but couldn’t have found a hard-hitting news story if his life depended on it. And because his living had not depended on it, Potter had a huge hole in his journalism upbringing. Real journalists know that from years of trying to decipher untruths. Reporters know the real thing when they see it.
Potter at one point in his odd career at the Citizen was scheduled to join the editorial board of the paper of which your agent was a part. He quit the paper on the day he was to join the board leaving that important institution under-staffed for a period of time and threw many of my colleagues’ vacation schedules (not mine though) with their families for a loop. Thus the newspaper politics blind spot.
After that stunt, who knows how he was rehired, but he was. Only at the Citizen would such a bizarre happening occur.
During his tenure, there is no evidence that Potter made the paper better as its editor though, charitably, that would have been difficult to do with its owners stripping it to the bone. Potter appeared more comfortable discussing ethics and theory than the guts of a newspaper. And never in the history of the Citizen did the newspaper need a hands-on journalist more to save it from what it has become.
Potter wasn’t that man.
So the kerfluffle at McGill and in the province of Quebec about his words is not unexpected.
Let’s just say, charitably, that journalism was not his first calling.
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