What is news?
By definition, for one, I would ask. By colloquial understanding, for another, I would ask as well.
What is newsworthy?
Maybe we don’t want to answer that. Considering what people, given life by whatever God they believe in, choose to waste time on in 2020, it’s appalling, at times. Especially when it comes to what they read, or don’t.
Willful ignorance has long been a pet peeve of mine, as I watch society sink lower and lower, and aspire not only to mediocrity – but at times to constantly placate the lowest common denominator. Not knowing something, or even worse, not caring, has never been more en vogue.
But maybe those who read the “wrong” news, or don’t read news at all, aren’t to blame. After all, is there any actual news out there anymore?
“Fake News,” shouts the most powerful man in the world, as a legion of ignorant troglodytes hang on his every word.
But is CNN real news, any more than Fox News is real news? How sad is it that we might trust the BBC for North American news, more than North American news outlets, in 2020?
There used to be a difference between journalists and columnists. There was once a distinction between news-reporting and editorials. Today, every piece of news reporting is an editorial, the slant or spin of which depends on the publication, and which way that publication “leans.”
I’m a blogger. So perhaps I have no leg on which to stand here. “Blogging” is essentially the lowest form of journalism, if you can even call it journalism. But damn, if I’m not authentic. And I never disguise my opinions as anything but.
Today’s newspaper reporters are taking liberties that I don’t know I’ve ever seen before.
I understand their plight. I do.
A former columnist at a major Toronto newspaper, with whom I had a long-lasting professional relationship, was forced out years ago, along with many of her old colleagues, to make room for newer, younger “journalists” who were better suited to find images to put online to solicit clicks, re-tweets, and shares. It was sad when she and her colleagues left, and in my opinion, the newspaper has never been the same.
But journalism hasn’t been the same, and it never will be.
How can we expect journalistic integrity and accuracy in a world where the President of the United States freely spouts outrageous lies over breakfast; fantastically-concocted stories that inspire widespread mistrust, hate, and at times, violence?
This is the world in which we live, and it’s changed all of us to our very core. Not just by what we read, but how we think, and how we act on those thoughts.
With the Internet at our fingertips, we all act without thinking twice, often without thinking once.
No longer having to physically face those around us, we have become keyboard warriors, from our proverbial basements, or otherwise.
Society and the media both have taken a step backward in this regard.
Out there today, there is a “trending” news story, if you can actually call it news, about an evil developer in Mimico who recently conspired with neer-do-wellers to bulldoze an irreplaceable piece of Canada’s history, all in the pursuit of ill-gotten gains.
Er, I mean, that’s what the story, the author, and the supporting cast of characters would have the readers believe. That is, if the readers made it past the misleading headlines, which sadly, many readers out there today never do.
Not one, not two, but three articles were published on this subject by the Toronto Star, and now I will collectively point out the inaccuracies of the contents of these articles, the true motives of the cast of characters involved, and how a major Toronto media source was all-too-eager to provide clickbait, and in the process, was used without knowing it.
The first article ran on November 28th:
The article begins:
“A Mimico neighbourhood is rallying to preserve a cottage-style home dating back to at least 1923, with two residents going as far as sitting in front of a bulldozer to prevent its demolition.”
Read merely this, and you might think that, perhaps, there’s some merit to the story, and the efforts of the neighbours.
But do some digging, any digging, and you might conclude, as I did, that these are wasted efforts, by people with too much time on their hands, for a useless cause.
This house was a dilapidated piece of crap, and nothing more. It was sold as land value, and nothing more. It would only ever be torn down and rebuilt, and nothing more. And the neighbours, who called reporters in and were photographed and quoted in three newspaper articles, all have ulterior motives.
The article continues:
Alexander Basso, owner of the property, received a permit for demolitionon Wednesday according to city records.
But neighbours were upset that he was about to go ahead while they were still fighting to get the home its heritage designation. The matter is to be heard at the Toronto Preservation Board on Monday.
Ah yes, there’s the “outing” of the owner of the property, Alexander Basso.
I don’t know Mr. Basso. I have never met him, never spoken to him. But I do, evidently, know people that he knows. After reading these three articles between last Saturday and this past Wednesday, I decided to look into this. Once I started, I dug deeper. I talked to more people. And what I found was extremely disappointing.
Publishing Mr. Basso’s name in the first article doesn’t fit the definition of “doxing,” but that didn’t stop others from doing so later. Noble, brave, keyboard warriors, those folks are.
The idea that this property ever should have received a heritage designation is outlandish, but also consider that there are “listed” properties and “designated” properties, and merely being listed is not the same thing as designated. So for the neighbours, fighting this “cause,” the entire process was needless, especially when you consider the condition of the property.
Here’s the MLS listing for the property, 98 Superior Avenue, from January of 2020:
Sure looks like something worth preserving, right?
“Lot Value Only” says the listing agent himself, representing the seller.
The Toronto Star article continues to explain how neighbours in the area are heartbroken, torn up, and caught off guard by the idea that somebody would want to tear down such a beautiful piece of crap, that was left unkempt for fifteen years, was full of asbestos, and which had a decrepit oil burner inside.
And since there are no other developments on the street…
Oh, that’s right – there’s all kinds of development on the street!
Literally across the street, there’s a new build. Like directly across the street on the corner of Cavell Avenue & Superior Avenue: 89 Cavell Avenue. That’s a brand-new house!
And beside that? Not one, but two new houses, on dual lots that were carved from 109 Superior Avenue which was a 50-foot frontage sub-divided two years ago. Sub-dividing existing lots? That sounds like development to me!
How about 103 Superior Avenue? Check out Google Maps and you’ll see a hole in the ground where the existing bungalow was bulldozed in 2019.
101 Superior Avenue was built new in 2016.
In fact, if you walk down Superior Avenue, and up Cavell Avenue, you’ll see an area that’s booming with development, so perhaps I don’t need to rattle off all the other addresses?
And that is the story here, folks.
The neighbours, sick of development, tried to find a way to prevent Mr. Basso, the rightful owner of 98 Superior Avenue, who purchased a “land value only house,” from constructing yet another new home in the area. Mr. Basso went through all of the proper channels, paid for the right permits, submitted the correct applications, bided his time and waded through the appropriate red-tape, and did everything by the letter of the law, as have thousands of people before him.
But the neighbours, who don’t want new members in the community, sought to bully him through legislation that they could bend to their will. They were creative, I’ll give them that! Trying to apply a heritage tag to the property before Mr. Basso built his new home? That’s novel!
And one of the neighbours in particular has a personal and professional agenda here, but more on that in a moment.
This isn’t a story about some charming English cottage that should be preserved for future generations to visit, as though it were Fort York. Although, future generations probably won’t care about Fort York, but that’s a topic for another day.
This is a story about neighbours tired of development who sought to whip up a storm around the next person who tried to get a backhoe in the ground.
On Monday, the second article ran:
The headline alone serves as Mr. Basso’s judge, jury, and executioner.
But it’s in this article, by a different writer than the first, that the facts go from merely deceiving to downright incorrect.
Here’s the start of the article:
“Another developer has demolished a historic Toronto property that was being considered for protection by the city.
Alexander Basso acted before dawn on Monday to tear down a 97-year-old stone cottage in Mimico, leaving disappointed neighbours to watch from the curb as a bulldozer bucket swung through the roof and the walls of the property they had fought to save.”
This is frustrating.
It’s frustrating in the same way that Donald Trump can Tweet, “WE WON THE ELECTION” without consequence.
Because Mr. Basso is not a developer. Hard stop. No confusion. Mr. Basso is not a developer.
I conducted a very simple Google search, that any 9-year-old can perform, and it revealed that Mr. Basso is a 27-year-old credit analyst with TD Bank.
Mr. Basso is a former OHL hockey player.
Mr. Basso is a young man who, after grinding out a living in minor hockey, went and got an MBA, started his career, and has done nothing but work since. As I said, I don’t know Mr. Basso. But I know hard work since it’s all I’ve done since I was fourteen years old. And Mr. Basso, who has never owned property and who has never “developed” anything, is being called a “developer” by a reporter from the Toronto Star in a series of exceptionally misleading and factually-incorrect articles that seek to “cancel” this man, as society has a habit of doing in 2020.
The article continues with quotes from people who, in my opinion, should mind their own goddam business:
“There was a beauty in this house that always stayed with me,” said Lynn Taylor, 58, who grew up at 98 Superior Ave. “Even as a child, I knew our house felt different.”
Her father Alex Taylor bought the property for $14,000 in 1966 and sold it for $84,000 in 1982, Taylor said.
That’s the former resident of the house, who lived there decades ago.
I get it. I do. I watched my childhood home get torn down by a developer, and I wrote about it at length in 2008 on TRB. But you know what? I never thought I had ANY claim to it, since it was no longer my house!
With all due respect to Ms. Taylor, her input here is not needed. And the Toronto Star reporter seeking comment from somebody that lived in the house in the 1960’s, but who hasn’t lived there for thirty-eight years simply serves as an example of how this is inventive news.
Another quote, perhaps?
“Cindy Bleeks, who lives in one of the three unique homes, said the Committee of Adjustment notified her by mail in late July that the house neighbouring hers was going to be demolished.
”I’m kind of biased because I have the middle house. I bought this house because of the charm and the character, and . . . the nod to history,” Bleeks said. “Everybody, literally, in the neighbourhood stops, and is like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is the history of these places?’ ”
Oh, Ms. Bleeks, don’t worry about the bias, we would never make assumptions about your character.
Except both Toronto Star reporters failed to mention that Ms. Bleeks is actually a designer by trade, one of the partners at Feasby & Bleeks Design.
According to their website, which shows a comprehensive list of their projects, Ms. Bleeks seems to have a knack for remodeling existing homes. She might stand to benefit from heritage renovations and large rebuilding projects.
None of this, of course, was mentioned in the Toronto Star article, where they were too busy taking Mr. Basso to task.
Here’s another great example of that journalistic integrity, by the way:
“Basso is following in the footsteps of developer Sam Mizrahi, who had the 114-year-old Stollerys building at Yonge St. And Bloor St. W. demolished even as Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam was trying to have it added to the register, in January 2015.”
This is the second-worst part of the three articles, after the part where the writer incorrectly called Mr. Basso a “developer.”
In this section, the writer, for some odd reason, says that “Mr. Basso is following in the footsteps of developer Sam Mizrahi…”
He’s “following in the footsteps” of perhaps the biggest developer in the history of the city?
He’s a goddam 27-year-old who lives with his parents!
Mr. Basso is “following in the footsteps” of other people who get off the streetcar downtown and go to work every goddam day. He’s a kid who bought a boarded-up house and sought to build a home for his future family, that’s it.
He’s not “following in the footsteps” of a massive conglomerate. There’s nothing remotely similar about Mr. Basso and Sam Mizrahi. Just because I taped my 4-year-old daughter’s painting to the kitchen fridge doesn’t make me an art curator at a museum.
And what did the city’s most infamous wet noodle, John Tory have to say about this?
“I think it’s really regrettable that when the owner, in this case, would have known there was a Preservation Board meeting today, that steps were then taken to tear the building down before a proper due-course hearing would have taken place to examine the merits of all this,” Tory said.”
Great comment, John. Way to give a politically-favourable answer, completely predictable, protecting yourself, and offering zero value or substance. I would expect nothing less.
Another comment that irks me:
“They didn’t do anything legally wrong — they highlighted a loophole in the system,” said neighbour Arwen Hunter.
That’s like Donald Trump saying, “They exploited a loophole that allows them to benefit from more people voting for my opponent than myself, thereby stealing the election.
Loophole. For Christ’s sake. More on that in the third article…
How about this comment to end the article:
“They outplayed us. They knew the system better than us.”
Who is “they?”
This isn’t The Skulls working as a secret underground society; this is one person looking to build a house, and there’s no “system” here. There’s no gaming. There’s nothing untoward, and yet these articles continue to suggest, or at times, outright state that there’s mischief afoot.
On Wednesday, the third article hit:
Here’s where this becomes tabloid journalism and pure sensationalism.
This isn’t news. This was never news.
Calling Mr. Basso a “developer” demonstrates the inaccuracies and/or liberties that the author took.
Being used as a pawn by a neighbour who failed to mention she’s a designer who would benefit from heritage rebuilds shows the naivety of The Star.
But coming back for a third bite at this apple just shows how little news is actually out there. Or how inventive news is sexier than real news. Or how we’re all so damn tired of COVID coverage.
Because after allowing a “biased” neighbour to grandstand, and a nostalgic former resident who hasn’t lived in the house for three decades to grovel to the media, and after giving a platform to an area of NIMBY’s who want to halt development, the author has now given a soapbox for the worst of them all: grandstanding politicians.
“Toronto Coun. Mark Grimes says he will request a review of the city’s heritage designation process with an eye to preventing demolition permits from being issued for properties under consideration for the heritage registry, after a century stone cottage was torn down in Mimico hours before being added to the list.
“It was heartbreaking to see this house come down,” Grimes said in a response to questions from the Star.”
Which Mark Grimes?
This Mark Grimes?
Or this Mark Grimes?
Or this Mark Grimes?
It seems to me, Mark Grimes is the last person at City Hall who should be commenting on “heartbreaking” stories like this one.
I can’t believe the Toronto Star gave a forum to this man.
And do you know what he’s going to do about this? About this house being torn down? About the so-called “loopholes” in the process?
That’s what he’s going to do. Jack shit.
After his quotes run in the newspaper, after he’s garnered some praise from voters, he’ll head back to his office at City Hall, put his feet up on his desk, make a giant paper-clip chain and rubber-band ball, and continue to suck from the sweet milky teet of the government, via taxpayers’ money.
He’s a man with zero power and less-than-zero pull. He has no tools at his disposal at the municipal level to effect change in the development process, and he’s certainly not going to bend Doug Ford’s ear.
All he’s looking for is a Google-friendly quote on the Internet and his name in the printed newspaper for those constituents who still get ink on their fingers every morning.
This whole saga makes me irate.
Enough to pen a piece such as this one, the ire of which I haven’t shown in a Friday Rant in a long time.
This saga also makes me sad.
It shows that, despite great strides made as a society, we can never quite seem to take those one or two steps forward without taking those one or two steps back.
The “story” about Mr. Basso and this house in Mimico is, in my opinion, a story about nothing. So much so, in fact, that Jerry Seinfeld would be proud.
The real story here is about entitled residents in that small Mimico pocket, many with too much time on their hands, who want to change existing property rights to suit their particular needs, who call reporters when they don’t get their way (and give out personal contact information in the process), suggesting that “somebody” should preserve this house. The words “somebody” and “should” are bad enough on their own, but used in 2020, they’re a combination just asking for a handout. Who “should” preserve this house? The government? Is that always the answer? Should the city purchase it and then maybe create a few more jobs in the process of looking after it? Why not put four new crossing guards at each corner of the intersection while you’re at it?
The other story, of course, is the plight of what news and journalism have devolved into as we move through 2020, but that’s a battle I’m clearly losing as scroll through thirty-six photos of my friends’ lunches on Instagram just in time to read about Hunter Biden’s missing laptop on Breitbart News…
The story you don’t want to hear is about the sea of angry online commenters, devoid of any rational, informed thought, most of whom are simply frustrated with their lives, inside or outside of a year-long pandemic, who use outlets like this one to take out their grievances. Not to mention the other news outlets and online blogs and forums who picked up this story, after doing no research of their own, thereby exacerbating a factually-incorrect story.
The weekend is here, folks, and it can’t come soon enough.
But first, have a swing at me, or a beer with me, in the comments section below.
And if you want to take a page out of the playbook of those noted above and give out my personal cell phone number, don’t worry, it’s already plastered on the Internet for all to see…