SCOOP: A Ford wedding and QPB's funeral
Also: OYL race heats up, Hazel scalpers, close but no cigar on health deal, a ministerial puppy and loads more
First in Queen’s Park Observer — It came from the top.
Longtime publication Queen’s Park Briefing was wiped out this week after top brass spiked a juicy story about developers, Premier DOUG FORD’s daughter’s wedding, lobbyists and the prominent Cortellucci family, Queen’s Park Observer has learned.
The pair of editors — CHARLIE PINKERTON and JESSICA SMITH CROSS — quit on “principle” after the story was killed by their higher-ups. Much of that story was later scooped by Global News’s COLIN D’MELLO.
This is the story of what went down behind the scenes, based on interviews with multiple unconnected sources who have first-hand knowledge of the situation. I agreed to grant them anonymity so they could speak freely without fear of reprisals.
The decision to kill the article came from the top. “Ultimately this was PAUL RIVETT’s decision, he’s the majority shareholder,” said one high-ranking source. But “the publisher and board…all agreed that it didn’t meet the standard for publication.”
A source who viewed the story noted there were opportunities for Pinkerton to rewrite it so it was up to par. “In the way that it was written, there was just too much inference without enough proof. Basically he was told that the parts that were more inference needed to be rewritten.”
Another source said the article was “lawyered” twice — a standard journalism practice in which counsel looks over a story to ensure it’s bulletproof, with minimal liability. It’s one of the final stages before going to press.
That said, yet another source tells me QPB lost its editorial insurance earlier than expected amid its breakup with Torstar (more on that below). However, they wouldn’t say whether the story would have been published if QPB had been covered. News outlets rely on liability insurance in case they get sued.
By this point, “emotions were running high,” the source said — not least because the newsroom got word that layoffs were coming (read on for more). The source claimed Pinkerton then “started making these arbitrary deadlines, like, ‘If this [story] isn’t up by 4:50 p.m. I’m quitting’ or ‘If it’s not up by 7:30 a.m. I’m quitting.’ That isn’t to make fun of Charlie, it’s more to show that emotions were high because of all the drama.”
More juicy tidbits: D’Mello reported that Integrity Commissioner J. DAVID WAKE cleared the Premier after developers, who happen to be his “personal friends,” attended the stag and doe for his daughter’s wedding. While the guest list wasn’t revealed, I’ve confirmed at least one wedding attendee: MARIO CORTELLUCCI, a prominent developer, political donor and Ford ally who was spotted by our sources.
Ford’s office went to the ethics watchdog after QPB started asking questions. “Colin’s excellent story mentions inquiries that seemed to prompt the premier’s office to go to the Integrity Commissioner about the stag and doe. They came from [Pinkerton],” Smith Cross tweeted when the story broke. “Charlie had a story about the stag and doe and more. He’s a fantastic reporter and it was solid.”
Coincidentally, three other reporters at the publication were laid off that same day — and others are on the chopping block. Multiple sources tell me more pink slips are coming to Torstar, with one person suggesting the company is about to lose at least 30 per cent of its workforce.
Torstar’s ownership of QPB also came to an end this week. The publication was caught up in the bitter feud between Torstar owners Rivett and JORDAN BITOVE. (QPB/iPolitics has other shareholders, including pollster Mainstreet Research.)
“Torstar is the one that that did the layoffs — not Queen’s Park Briefing,” a source added.
Asked about those firings, Torstar spokesman BOB HEPBURN was cagey, saying “we do not comment on rumours” about layoffs and, when it comes to the three QPB reporters, “we do not discuss confidential information regarding current or past Torstar employees.”
Rivett did not respond to a request for comment. I will update this space if I hear back.