Thursday, October 4, 2007

Power of Carnegie Newsletter Editor Curbed

There has been a shake-up at the Carnegie newsletter, a left-wing, newsletter that has been published on a shoestring in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for over 20 years. For 21 years, Paul Taylor (photo above), a Downtown Eastside resident and American ex-patriot in his fifties, has been editing the newsletter. Many Carnegie members at tonight's meeting wanted his power curbed.

The Carnegie newsletter gets read. And it plays a role in keeping the majority of poor people on the Downtwon Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code, leaning to the left. The newsletter (masthead pictured below) accepts submissions from readers, many of whom are on welfare. There are persistent themes in the plain-english Carnegie newsletter: raise welfare rates by 50%, the 2010 Winter Olympics are a curse on the poor and an engine of gentrification, left-wing politicians like Libby Davies (who personally donates money to the newsletter) deserve to be re-elected. The best of the newsletter has been turned into a book, "The Heart of the City".

The Carnegie Board had to decide at tonight's meeting whether to accept a recommendation to set up an Editorial Board to oversee the newsletter and take some of the power out of the hands of Taylor.

A key issue that prompted the campaign to have an Editorial Board set up to oversee the newsletter was “libelous commentary” Taylor acknowledged writing in the newsletter about a homeless man, William Simpson. Simpson was barred from the Carnegie Learning Center after being suspected of contributing to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog which has been critical of Carnegie and accused it of being part of a poverty industry which disempowers the poor on the Downtown Eastside. After Simpson fought back by getting himself elected to the Carnegie Board of Directors, Carnegie Executive Director Ethel Whitty delivered him a letter on Vancouver City Hall letterhead barring him from the entire Center. Whitty told him that he was also stripped of his ability to attend Board meetings inside the Center. Members who had voted for Simpson were outraged. Tonight, Board member and aboriginal activist, Stephen Lytton, echoed their feelings when he said, "We can't continue with this Bill Simpson situation as he hasn't been proven guilty or otherwise.” Lytton was told he was off topic. "This is the topic," he responded.

In response to outrage about Simpson’s barring, Taylor wrote a column in the newsletter this summer claiming that Simpson had gotten elected essentially through fraud, lying specifically, and that Simpson had been writing “sadistic” commentary on the blog. Taylor later retracted these and other statements he had published about Simpson, acknowledging in writing that this was “libelous commentary”. Taylor also retracted commentary he had published about another new Board member, Rachel Davis, who had fallen out of favor with the Carnegie establishment after speaking out against the barring of Simpson.

Davis, a thin woman in her late 30’s with blond-brown, shoulder-length hair, has been a prime mover in the effort to have Taylor’s power curbed through the setting up of an Editorial Board. She told the crowd tonight that this is “nothing personal” against Taylor, but simply an effort to have policy respected. She argued that Taylor was using the Carnegie Newsletter as “his own personal, political newsletter.” She echoed criticisms of him that have been commonly heard at Carnegie over the years: people making submissions to the Carnegie newsletter sometimes find them rejected outright, not even looked at, or edited without their consent. “There are policies being violated,” Davis said, “and they are being violated over and over again despite the editor being asked [by the Board] to stop violating them.”

Sophia Friegang, who resigned as a Carnegie Board member last month over the Simpson barring, echoed Davis in saying that "there are certain policy guidelines that have been violated" here," so an oversight body was needed. "Nobody has the right to sole power as the editor for 20 years and it's ridiculous that anybody would have that right for 20 years." Friegang said that Taylor had "done some great work obviously" and that she wasn't suggesting that he no longer be involved in the newsletter. But she did not think the paper would fall apart under an Editorial Board. "Things need to be done by democracy. . . ."

Wilf Reimer, a tall, thin, man with short hair and glasses in his forties who has recently become a member of Carnegie, stated that he had been tagged with an “enemy” label at Carnegie after speaking up against the barring of William Simpson. Reimer claimed that he had received written notification from Taylor that his submission to the newsletter had been rejected “considering the source”. He asked how many people may have had similar experiences "and have just not bothered to contribute anymore because they just can't deal with the power that's there, that's in Paul's hands, and he's supported by Security, and the rest of the Board, and Ethel...." Reimer raised his voice at one point, walked up to Chair Gena Thompson who was flanked by two male Board members, and told them he did not like the way they treated people.

Doug, a tall, thin, forty-something man, with shoulder length brown wavy hair, said he has been a journalist for 30 years. He said he told Taylor that he "would have been fired" if he'd conducted himself as he had. [Taylor is a volunteer editor.] Doug said he had been involved in shaping the recommendation of an Editorial Board, a recommendation that he now heard being misrepresented. "I never talked about a Board that was in on every decision; I talked about a working Board that would meet once a month and help and support the editor ...It is not there to edit; it is there to talk about the direction...." He added, "This man has really brought shame on my profession as a journalist."

"Out of order!", Michael Read, the Secretary, called out. These were "personal attacks" on Taylor said Read, who had been the first at the meeting to announce that he supported the establishment of an Editorial Board.

But there were members at tonight's meeting who opposed setting up an Editorial Board to share power with Taylor, believing that it could ultimately kill the newsletter. John Dunnings, a Carnegie Security guard and CUPE member, said he thought this "bureaucratic mechanism" would ultimately "strangle the paper." He pointed out that the Gathering Place, a downtown community center where Carnegie security guards also work, has an Editorial Board and has managed to publish only two newsletters in 2 years.

Lisa, a Downtown Eastside resident, said of the Carnegie Newsletter, "We can not afford to lose it." She went on to say,"There are many developers and politicians who would love to see the end of the Carnegie newsletter because it has proven to be such an effective tool for spreading the word about what is really happening in the Downtown Eastside." Then she let the critics have it: "Based on what I have seen and heard, there is a small group of people who are in a big snit over something Paul Taylor reported in the Carnegie newsletter. This group has decided to actively seek revenge by launching a personal attack against Paul." She left out one thing: she is Paul's wife.

Tom, a retired man with grey hair and a 40 yr. background in the union movement, volunteers collating, stapling, and delivering the newsletter. He noted that at a recent work bee only two people showed up and one was Taylor. "To think that you're going to have something like an editorial board that's going to oversee and do the job of getting this thing out, this news letter out, is just not going to happen." Tom said that with a 40-yr. history in the union movement, he had seen all this before. "[T]he game plan here is not people's bruised sensibilities not being addressed properly, it's, I can tell by the verbiage that's being used in this meeting, it's being couched in pious platitudes about democracy and all this other stuff, fair play; what is being played out here is to try and destroy the Carnegie newsletter so that it will never be published again."

Delaney, a thin, middle-aged poet with neck-length, light brown, curly hair, emphasized that she was “suspicious” of the efforts to have an Editorial Committee curb Taylor’s power. “Somebody wants the Carnegie newsletter shut down”, was what she suspected. Delaney admitted having “huge fights” with Taylor when he altered material she submitted but gave him credit for the fact that every two weeks, "the newsletter comes out." The Carnegie Newsletter gets read on the Downtown Eastside, Delaney said, because it is the only publication worth reading. "There's no news in the Sun, there's no news in the Province, there's no news in the Georgia Straight or the West Ender."

After hearing roughly ten passionate speakers and some yelling, the Board voted to accept the recommendation to have an Editorial Committee oversee the publication of the Carnegie newsletter.

Taylor was not present for the verdict but his wife, Lisa, was. She cried.