Four editors and about ten writers have left the Prince Arthur Herald after the November 18 publication of an article criticizing adoption by same-sex couples.
The article, written by Rick Fitzgibbons – director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania – and originally published on mercatornet.com, argued the damaging social and psychological effects that children raised by same-sex couples could suffer. Mercatornet.com describes Fitzgibbons as having practiced psychiatry for 35 years.
The Herald, almost a year into its existence, is an entirely student-run online newspaper based at McGill. According to its statement of principles, “Our authorship shall reflect freedom of expression, and vigorous, open, intellectual debate. We will pride ourselves on hearing all sides, cherishing intelligent and well-informed dialogue.”
Alexandra Markus, a former assistant editor at the Herald, said the newspaper doesn’t “really have much of a filtering process.”
“They don’t refuse articles, because they believe that refusing any article is censorship,” she said. “They took this whole no censorship thing a little bit too far – a lot too far, actually.”
Deane McRobie, former managing editor, said he had been told to “axe liberal articles.”
McRobie said he left the Herald about two weeks before Fitzgibbons’ article was published, saying that he was at odds with some of the members of the Board of Directors. According to McRobie, “There were probably forty articles out of which I edited things that could’ve exploded, like [Fitzgibbons’] article.”
“I took a lot of heat for the being the one who would send these articles back,” he added.
“I didn’t resign of my own accord. I was fired, but I saw it coming in that, I mean, the situation could not have gone anywhere else after a certain point,” he continued. “The Directors were not very tolerant of views but their own.”
Cameron James, former Herald business and finance editor, was the last editor to resign, two days after Fitzgibbons’ article was published. James said the article was one of several reasons he quit.
“When I brought it up to the company in terms of my opposition towards it, they defended it with the concept of free speech and no censorship – which I 100 per cent agree with – but the fact of the matter is that the article was, I thought, poorly written, poorly cited, it wasn’t well-researched,” he said. “If an article is poorly written, it just shouldn’t be published, regardless of the argument.”
After reading the article, James contacted the Herald’s managing editor, Rebekah Hebbert, but did not receive a response. He then contacted the newspaper’s CEO, Alexandre Meterissian, and another editor who had resigned.
James then contacted his writers, whom he said offered support for his resignation. He resigned the next day, as did several of the business and finance section writers.
In an email to The Daily, Herald Chief Communications Officer Marc-Olivier Fortin stated, “We don’t discuss any internal matter concerning the company. However, know that the majority of vacant positions have been filled and that we will continue to present both sides of the debate.”
Markus, as well as McRobie and James, commented on what they saw as a more partisan direction the Herald has recently taken. McRobie said the paper “got hijacked.”
According to McRobie, at the Herald opinion pieces undergo three edits, with articles in other sections going through two. Neither James nor Markus saw Fitzgibbons’ article before it was published.
“I think my job in retrospect, or what I was doing most importantly, was keeping the crazies at bay, and when I left, the floodgates broke loose,” McRobie continued.
The Herald has not removed the article nor has the editorial board acknowledged any of the resignations on its site. A “Letters to the Editor” page was posted on November 23. When The Daily went to press, it featured three letters supporting the article and four letters criticizing it.
James called the “Letters to the Editor” page “kind of their concession,” as opposed to removing the article.
“The company position on it was like, the damage has already been done. Regardless of whether it was a poor article or not, there’s no point in removing it now because that would only, I don’t know, show a sign of weakness or something,” he said.
McRobie described “a business model in play” aimed at generating website traffic, building a solid fan base, and creating controversy, although he noted that it “happens almost necessarily at the expense of quality, or the expense of balance, or at the expense of journalistic integrity.”
“It’s sad. It was a great idea to begin with. It was supposed to be a campus alternative. It was supposed to be the kind of free speech, free-thinking alternative to existing campus media,” he added.
Markus emphasized that the Herald staff “have been nothing but kind to me.”
“I honestly don’t have any complaints about anyone in particular,” she said. “They were a joy to work with, but it just got too much.”