A Toronto Star Reporter Failed Badly

February 25th, 2017 | R. Rados
hin alam

One of the most blatantly political and horribly researched pieces of journalistic trash I've seen in a while landed on the pages of the Toronto Star on February 24. The paper's staff reporter, Hina Alam, wrote what can only be described as a politically motivated, ill-informed campaign piece against Conservative leadership hopeful, Kellie Leitch.


First, her article with the headline “Conservative MP Kellie Leitch Runs Ads On Breitbart News” immediately sounds the alarm bells that warn us against political bias. Not only does Alam try to incriminate Kellie Leitch by associating her with Breitbart, she does so in the sloppiest and most negligent way I've ever seen. I'm not exaggerating.


Second, Hina Alam and the Toronto Star haven't corrected or deleted the article as of February 25. Maybe they will later, but I'm not counting on it.


In the world of online media, there is a platform and revenue tool used by marketers and publishers called Google Adsense and Google Adwords. Many online publications, including the Toronto Star, have used or continue to use either one of those services. Adsense is used by publishers to earn revenue on their websites by people and organizations who create ads with Adwords. The ads created by marketers and other publishers on Adwords are displayed on websites that use Adsense. How these ads are displayed has more to do with cookies and how Google tracks people's browsing habits than with advertisers choosing which sites to advertise on.


Now that I've explained how it works, let's look at Hina Alam's erroneous article:


"Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is running advertisements on alt-right website Breitbart news.


The advertisements include calls to dismantle the CBC, oppose the carbon tax and to screen immigrants for 'anti-Canadian values.'


'We’re running ads about screening for Canadian values and dismantling the CBC because Kellie’s been very clear that those are her policies, that when she’s prime minister she will implement,' said Michael Diamond, a spokesperson for Leitch’s campaign.


Breitbart News, is a conservative-leaning, alt-right website founded in Los Angeles, CA in 2007 by Andrew Breitbart. Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of the website since 2012, was appointed chief strategist and senior adviser to the White House by U.S. president Donald Trump in January." -- Hina Alam, Toronto Star, February 24, 2017


Again, as of today's date, neither Alam or the Toronto Star have explained why those ads appear on Breitbart and how Google Adwords works. The article makes no mention of the fact that Kellie Leitch's ads appear across several sites that are a part of the Google Display Network. One such site is this one. If you're lucky, you may in fact see a Kellie Leitch advertisement on this page, at this very moment.


Kellie Leitch advertisements are targetted to specific audiences and appear on web pages all across the internet. Much of how audiences are targetted has to do with tracking cookies and Google search analytics. Google explains it like this:


The Display Network is a collection of websites—including specific Google websites like Google Finance, Gmail, Blogger, and Youtube—that show AdWords ads. This network also includes mobile sites and apps.

If you've ever seen an AdWords ad on your favorite news site or in your Gmail account, and wondered how it got there, now you know: websites like these are part of the Google Display Network.”


Imagine that. These are all facts that seem to have accidentally or deliberately eluded Hina Alam. If the Toronto Star and Alam add a correction to the article, we might know if this was the result of an honest mistake and lack of research, or whether it's a deliberate political attack meant to prey on people's lack of understanding. It's interesting, though, how Toronto Star editors failed to pick up on Alam's ignorance regarding Adwords when their own website is a part of the Display Network and features Google ads.


How do you spot a Google ad? It's easy. You look for a small blue arrow in the top right corner of the ad. If you see that small blue arrow, that ad is appearing along with various other ads because Google thinks you might be interested in it. It's not there because Kellie Leitch's campaign called the website's publisher and made a deal. The complete and total lack of regard for facts in Hina Alam's article is why more people are referring to mainstream news providers as “fake news”.


The article has been archived here for safe keeping and permanent reference.