Here is the Toronto Star’s complete reply to my complaint against Tyler Hamilton. The Star’s response was received about 6 pm this evening. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be presenting a lecture on renewable energy and journalistic ethics to the journalism class of Ian Petrie at Holland College in PEI. The discussion materials will be my letter of September 26 charging the Star with publishing corrupt news reports and this reply. In the interest of promoting an open discussion with the class, I will withhold my own comments on this letter until later. In the meantime and as usual, all serious comments about this letter are welcome, but I extend a particular invitation to Holland College students.
From: Public Editor, The Toronto Star
Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Subject: Reader comment regarding Tyler Hamilton
To: Tom Adams
Cc: “Davenport, Jane”
Dear Mr. Adams:
You have come to the Star with concerns about a writer who has not been on staff here since early 2010 and no longer writes for this news organization. As you may know, Tyler’s Hamilton’s freelance “Clean Break” column about green energy and technology ended last March due to overall cutbacks in the Star’s freelance budget.
The focus of that Clean Break column had long been Hamilton’s view of the benefits of clean energy and the “smart grid.”
I’ve now had opportunity to look further into your concerns and to speak with Hamilton.
As a freelance columnist, no longer on the Star’s staff, Hamilton was certainly free to take on other freelance writing jobs. However, as you point out, as a Star freelancer, this news organization’s journalistic policies applied to any work he did for the Star.
You have raised questions about three Star columns Hamilton wrote after the release of the final report of the Smart Grid Forum he had compiled for the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which describes itself as a” non-profit, corporate entity established in 1998 by the Electricity Act of Ontario.” The IESO is governed by a board of directors appointed by the Ontario Minister of Energy to oversee the management of electricity in Ontario.
Hamilton linked to that final report in his Clean Break blog and disclosed to his blog readers that he had written the report. It’s my understanding that there was a significant cross-over audience between Hamilton’s blog and his Star freelance column. Clearly he did not attempt to hide the fact that he had done this freelance writing project for the IESO’s Smart Grid Forum.
You have asked why this was not disclosed on Hamilton’s columns. In speaking with us last week, Hamilton told me and Star managing editor Jane Davenport he did not think he needed to disclose this in those columns, which focussed on various broad aspects of the benefits of the smart grid, because he was not writing specifically about the IESO or the Smart Grid Forum Final Report.
While we understand that reasoning, in looking at all of this now, the Star believes Hamilton should have disclosed his role in writing the Smart Grid Forum Final Report to his Star editors so that they could have had opportunity to discuss with him whether disclosure of this job to the Star’s readers was called for either in the columns themselves or in the ongoing “tagline” that described Hamilton’s role as a columnist.
I expect editors would have elected to disclose this information to its readers. As the Star’s policy guide states: “Conflicts of interest, and the appearance of conflicts of interest, should be avoided.”
While I understand that Hamilton did not write specifically about the IESO Smart Grid Forum in those Star columns, I can see how there could be the appearance of a conflict here. As I’ve written in past, there is a need for columnists to be fully transparent and make clear to readers any personal involvement in issues they write about for the Star. Given the environment of radical transparency in which the media now operates, I think the widest possible disclosure is necessary – including in cases involving payment from government agencies (albeit, an independent agency) to freelancers who also write for the Star.
We do not agree with your accusations that the Star’s energy reporting was or is “corrupt” or that there was a clear conflict of interest here.
Hamilton has written about the smart grid as an important component of clean energy since 2005. His column was the first regular newspaper column in North America dedicated to what was then the little-known cleantech sector. His blog at cleanbreak.ca followed a year later. In all of his columns he was consistently open about the fact that he is a proponent of clean energy and the smart grid. As a columnist, he had wide latitude to express his own views on the benefits of the smart grid – and often did so, well before he took on the IESO writing job.
However, we do agree disclosure would have been the best course here.
Kathy English/Public Editor