Verb Becomes a Noun

On Monday, at the invitation of Cynthia Dunsford, I attended a small gathering of “cycling people” at the Queen Street Commons to have introductory discussions about the possibility of forming a “bicycle users group” here in Charlottetown.

We had a good group of people, from hard-core cyclists to “3 blocks home and back” people like me, and people from both of the city’s cycle shops. There was also a reporter and camera operator from Compass and a radio reporter from SRC, all there to observe the proceedings. The discussion was focused and positive and there were an unusual number of practical ideas bounced around. We talked about bike lanes and bike racks and bike helmets, about how we ride bicycles in the city and what the challenges are, and about how to best proceed from here to advocate for a better cycling environment.

The session was mostly “guided brainstorming” and an opportunity for us to get to know each other and explore the possibility of working together.

At the end of the session we emerged with a tentative plan to get together with the City of Charlottetown in September to discuss the best way to work with the city.

At no point did we actually formally create a “bicycle users group,” and, happily, we spent no time at all talking about the usual organizational deadweight (bylaws, bank accounts, etc.). In other words we all left the meeting as we started it: a ragtag group of individuals affiliated only by our interest in the cycling issue.

So what did the CBC report? BUG wants bike lanes in Charlottetown, a story that starts:

The Charlottetown Bike Users Group (BUG) is lobbying the city to give it room on the streets. It is asking for designated bike lanes along the main traffic arteries of the capital. BUG spokesman P.J. Stephen said sharing the road with motorists who show no respect for cyclists bugs him.

BUG spokesman?! How can a group that doesn’t exist have a spokesman? Or a name? Or a lobbying effort? Apparently, according to the CBC, “BUG is also looking for more bicycle parking” and “said it doesn’t need fancy bike racks.”

I can’t conceive how a reporter in the same room as I was, for the duration of the meeting, could leave with the impression that somehow a formal organization had been created, a lobbying effort launched, and official positions taken. How did an informal “verb” get reportorially conjured into a formal “noun” without our knowledge? It just didn’t happen the way it was reported.


Johnny's picture
Johnny on August 10, 2006 - 15:43 Permalink

If it didn’t happen the way it was reported, how exactly would you have reported it?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 10, 2006 - 15:44 Permalink

As I just did. Or not at all.

Ann's picture
Ann on August 10, 2006 - 15:49 Permalink

Hope that causes you to look more closely and not believe everything you hear and read.
It’s a very common complaint.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 10, 2006 - 15:55 Permalink

You’re dealing with a wary regime whose hard-line automobile totalitarianism is only beginning to thaw. They’re bound to over-react to any organizing efforts. I suggest you continue to meet under aliases and try to find a more sympathetic reporter.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 10, 2006 - 15:59 Permalink

The other thing is that newspaper reporters work on deadline and generally don’t get to proof edits either. So could be thoughtless reporting, heavy-handed editing or both.

Shawn's picture
Shawn on August 10, 2006 - 16:40 Permalink

I have read several previous posts where you have cycled over Copenhagen, drew maps where you have traveled around Charlottetown, and on Saturdays you have traveled to the Farmers Market by bike. Yet you make the comment ‘

Jevon's picture
Jevon on August 10, 2006 - 17:09 Permalink

I was in the next room listening, and I had the same impressions that the reporter seemed to have too. You seemed to have some consensus, and someone was moving along on some sort of loose agenda.

It sure seemed like an official organization as well, it had a name, and you gave individual interviews (some of you) after the meeting.

Who invited the reporters?

Sam's picture
Sam on August 10, 2006 - 17:11 Permalink

If you do become an official organization, will you be open to new members? (I know, off topic from the actual point of your post, but I’m curious).

Leo's picture
Leo on August 10, 2006 - 17:11 Permalink

I guess most media who attend public events, report on discussions that take place at those meetings. If the media were invited in the first place, you have to wonder what outcome was expected by some of the organizers and how did someone become a spokesperson and then presume they could speak on behalf of the group after the meeting? Unless the media made them a spokesperson as they needed to quote someone directly.

Obviously someone wanted media coverage of the event before it even began. So I think the media are not the only ones who led to the outcome (the story) that came out. After all they are not usually invited to the meetings where bylaws and other more mundane organizational matters are usually discussed in any case.

P.J. Stephen's picture
P.J. Stephen on August 10, 2006 - 17:56 Permalink

I was also not made aware that there was a “BUG” group. Nor was I told I would be heralded as their spokesman. It’s simply unfortunate I guess that I’m an approachable, camera friendly, wellspoken cycling enthusiast. At no point did I wish to be called a “spokesman”.

For the record, I was actually asked to point out some “beefs” with cycling in Charlottetown. Truth be told I’m probably far more of a nuissance on the roads then any automobilist is to me from a cycling standpoint. I didn’t have any “beefs” until I was asked to come up with some.

Ah well, so long as other cyclist don’t start accosting me from accross the road I’ll be ok. It’s not the first time something I’ve said was taken out of context to abet the agenda of another.

Valerie Bang-Jensen's picture
Valerie Bang-Jensen on August 10, 2006 - 18:07 Permalink

I’m certainly impressed to see how you wielded grammatical nuances to help you make your point in the subject title.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on August 10, 2006 - 21:11 Permalink

Well now…where to start…

In October, 2005, I was approached by email by a City official (after some cycling posts on my blog and this one) to see if I would be interested in helping the City deal with cycling issues. I quickly researched a possible idea for a group and found out that BUG’s existed in other cities.

Afer firing off a very simple proposal to the City about what a BUG might do for Charlottetown, I waited for the thumbs up. It took a while, but it eventually happened. Sue Hendricken emailed me and said that if I got a group of people together she would orchestrate a meeting with our group (BUG) with some City folks and see what we could come up with for ways to take action on making cycling safer in the City of Charlottetown.

I figured we should all meet first before we met with the City. And we did. I at no time contacted the press to attend our meeting. CBC caught wind of the meeting via my blog. They called me and asked if they could come..I said yes.

I figured they just wanted to report on the group.

Peter is right, the group met to introduce ourselves to each other and talk about bike issues. We did not formally form a BUG, persay, but we did talk about what a BUG is and what ours could be. Jevon, I also think your perception was correct. There was talk about being a BUG, and I did have somewhat of an agenda…as loose as it was.

After seeing the story on the CBC website today (I did not see the Compass story last night) I emailed CBC, and spoke on the phone with a producer about the inaccuracies in the reported story. They assured me it would be corrected.

As of right now (5:11pm, August 10, 2006) the website story has not been changed and still reflects the inaccuracies PJ, Peter and I all have mentioned.

It’s not a big deal really, except that I don’t want the City to think we have turned on them and become a lobbying group, because the intention has always been that we were going to work WITH them knowing that they wanted to begin to pay more attention to cycling in Charlottetown. Hope that clarifies what happened at the meeting.

steve's picture
steve on August 10, 2006 - 21:15 Permalink

Seems to me that what you’re taking offence with is the terminology and the nuance, but not the substance of the report. I don’t think it’s fair to say “It didn’t happen that way”, but rather that the reporter in question didn’t share your impressions of what happened. The fact of the matter is you met as a group and someone spoke for you. The reporter’s description may not be as eloquent as yours, but it is more neutral. There are no factual errors or loaded words that I can see.

It’s difficult when someone seems to have a different impression of an experience than you, but it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong or duplicitous or manipulative. The good thing about your writing is that you offer a particular and rather entertaining point of view of what went on. But your impression shouldn’t render all others invalid.

Of course I wasn’t at the meeting either. Just sticking up for my fellow hacks!

Cyn's picture
Cyn on August 10, 2006 - 21:31 Permalink

Me too Steve (sticking up for fellow hacks). That’s why it really is no big deal, as long as the inaccuracies are corrected. (PJ Stpehen not being a spokesperson and that whole business about the BUG lobbying the City).

Those are the only 2 factual errors I know about.

Ann's picture
Ann on August 11, 2006 - 12:46 Permalink…

It is instructive, and somewhat inspiring, to check out the corrections section of the NY Times. They correct every error, no matter how small. If they spelled Peter’s name Rukovina, it would be corrected the next day — no excuses, no “almost right”. Print media seems better able to admit errors. Unless there is a lawyer involved, you very seldom see or hear corrections on the radio or TV.

Cuidhil meaban's picture
Cuidhil meaban on August 11, 2006 - 13:57 Permalink

This seems like an appropriate time to quote G. B. Shaw:

Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.”

Personally I stopped watching CBC news a number of years ago… always wondered if Ben Mulroney’s writers were moonlighting for the CBC news. Or as I liked to call it ‘E-Talk News’.


Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 11, 2006 - 17:25 Permalink

Of course none of this is a “big deal” — it’s just Charlottetown, and it’s just bicycles, after all.

Except that the larger issue of “how do groups of people get characterized in the media” *is* a issue of larger import.

Groups of people can be variously described as “protesters,” as “militants,” as “Islamic fascists,” as “victims,” as “aggressors,” what have you.

So if I read a headline on the CBC website that says not “BUG wants bike lanes in Charlottetown” but rather “Militants want Israel out of Lebanon,” should I interpret that as “a loosely affiliated group of like-minded people” or “an organized resistance” or “a para-military group” or “a group of concerned citizens.” Presumably the difference is significant, and I rely on reporters to have the skill required to divine which descriptive category is most appropriate.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on August 11, 2006 - 18:27 Permalink

Agreed Peter, hence my request to nix the word “lobbying”…

Maybe we should just assume the position of lobbyists and go after the City for something earth-shattering…like making Old Charlottetown all pedestrian/cycling in the Summer…

Ann's picture
Ann on August 11, 2006 - 18:51 Permalink

That’s a fantastic idea, Cyn…though considering how much success they’ve had with shutting off Victoria Row to vehicles, I.m not sure how well it would work.

As for Peter’s point: there is no “just” bicycles or “just” Charlottetown. If you set yourself up to be a purveyor of truth (as opposed to a purveyor of an opinion), then you should make sure what you’re saying accurately represents the situation. If I can’t believe you about the little stuff, why should I believe you about the big stuff?

Cyn's picture
Cyn on August 12, 2006 - 12:40 Permalink

Interesting to note that when Michael Haynes (National Active Transportation co-ordinator), was in town giving a workshop last week, he stated in The Guardian that cities don’t necessarily need bike lanes.

You could paint bicycle stencils, you could put up signs that say, ‘share the road’, you could have more bicycle parking. Charlottetown, overall, is a pretty bicycle-friendly place.”

Not sure if he had a chance to take out his trike and go for spin around our herring-bone parking and ‘one way street’ infested city. Assuming he did, he probably noticed how small Charlottetown was and thought it was a breeze compared to Toronto. But for those of us who ride our trikes through the City almost everyday, it ain’t no picnic.

Although you, the cyclist, may be following the rules and riding on the right side of the road and using your arm signals etc… there are many more who do not. There are even more motorists who are not paying attention, thanks to the FCP.

Continuous ‘truth purveying’ dialogue and having a strong cycling presence on the roads will be the key to making the public more aware of cycling safety. (I think I just wrote the BUG mandate).

Marian's picture
Marian on August 12, 2006 - 15:05 Permalink

I think Ann has a good point, i.e., that the press should make accuracy its main concern. Recent “are there or aren’t there?” stories featuring things such as WMDs should demonstrate the legitimacy of that kind of concern fairly strongly. I have to say though that I’m a little skeptical about the validity of an argument that goes: “if they can’t do the small things right then how can they be expected to do the big things right?” because, many reporters view a big story as a career making or breaking situation. So they’d be more likely to get the big things right.

Regardless, I’m sure that this one little slip up by a reporter is just a slip up. On the other hand, I do think the MSM in general has lost its way. Even in Canada, the MSM has been run with all the wrong business priorities for too long. So much so that we have a glut of opinion makers and a shortage of ‘just the facts ma’am’ reporters and fact checkers (this is because real newsgathering costs more money to support than opinion). So we’re not getting enough news and we’re getting too much sensationalist blather. Despite this shift in emphasis from mostly facts to mostly opinion the MSM seems to take for granted that we will continue to view this opinion as though it had the authority of fact based journalism. I say this as a reader and a friend to journalism.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on August 12, 2006 - 16:20 Permalink

Journalists, used car salesmen (or women), lawyers…