Truth in advertising? QB’s local media scene Part 2

In Part 2, we examine startling revelations regarding the local media scene, including allegations of financial impropriety involving the murky expenditure of provincial tax dollars.

On December 16, 2020, we published Part 1 of Truth in advertising? – QB’s local media scene, observing that Mid-Island Independent News (MIIN) was launched in July 2020 by self-described “trained journalists” Kevin Forsyth and Tyler Hay. In September 2020, MIIN announced that it had “merged with” Oceanside News, for which there is no record of ever having existed previously, joining a “team” that remained anonymous, all apparently fueled by one advertisement in six months of operation. The timing of MIIN/ON’s appearance on the QB scene, its puzzling provenance and its lack of transparency raised more questions than it answered.

It seems we struck a nerve.

On December 21, 2020, a few days after we published Part 1, Oceanside News added a new section to their website entitled Our Team, stating that Forsyth and Hay had each attended a journalism program at Lethbridge College in Alberta. Forsyth’s bio says he “received training” at this program, and Hay’s bio states his “passion for storytelling began with photography, which lead [sic] him to pursue an education in journalism at Lethbridge College.”

Aside from the difference in meaning between the words ‘lead’ and ‘led,’ which might be considered nitpicking if one weren’t in the field of journalism, neither Forsyth nor Hay states whether they actually graduated and obtained a certificate or diploma. Forsyth says only that he “received training,” and Hay says he “pursued” an education in journalism. Anyone who has ever scrutinized the resumes of potential recruits will recognize, and be skeptical of, such vaguely worded credentials.

A new character appears at Oceanside News to muddy the water

On December 2, 2020 Oceanside News published a column entitled Unfair tax scheme hurts local publishers. We were surprised to learn that this column was written by someone who described himself as a “a marketing veteran with Motiontide [Media] and the publisher of Oceanside News.” Publisher? Why such a low-key introduction to the newest team member, indeed the publisher? Oddly, nowhere else on the Oceanside News website or social media accounts was there a mention of any publisher, nor the names of any of ON’s apparently large staff (as Forsyth and Hay alluded to in their “merger” announcement). Why was the publisher, Joel Grenz, first identified as someone affiliated with Oceanside News only months after the purported “merger?”

Stranger still, the opinion column written by Oceanside News publisher Joel Grenz parrots an argument currently being put forth by traditional corporate news media. For several years, a consortium of big corporate media players in Canada, including Black Press, owner of PQB News, have been lobbying the federal government (and the public) for financial support from taxpayers (subsidies for themselves, and sanctions against their biggest advertising competitors, the social media giants).  [In a previous article, Media mogul begs for handouts, Second Opinion QB called out PQB News / Black Press for, early in the pandemic shutdown, begging local residents for donations to Black Press — at a time when many local people were laid off or had lost their jobs, and businesses were hanging on by a thread. As an aside, if you haven’t noticed, our local Black Press newspaper has remained chock-a-block with advertising for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.]

The big question though is why would the publisher of Oceanside News be advocating for Big Media? Isn’t Black Press / PQB News a competitor of ON? One would think so, right? Or… are they affiliated in some way? We noted that one of the dozen or so people who gave a thumb’s up on FaceBook when Oceanside News officially revealed their “Team” of three (Forsyth, Hay and Grenz) is Shirley Culpin, a writer for Black Press.

Another odd thing about the publisher’s opinion column is that Oceanside News still has no advertisers (apart from the single ad for former MLA Michelle Stillwell that appeared during the provincial election in the fall of 2020). This is despite ON offering slick ad “packages” and boasting, “Our localized approach means that you know with 100% confidence your advertising dollars are reaching your target audience right here in your local community.” With assurances like that, why is no one buying, or do the “trained digital journalists” who launched this venture six months ago no longer need a pay cheque? If so, who or what is keeping this operation afloat?

Vague claims of professional expertise, no advertisers, no business address for billing, no evidence that Oceanside News, the organization that Mid Island Independent News supposedly merged with, ever existed before the “merger”… When investigators search for questionable news sites, these are the kinds of things that raise red flags right away.

The money [BC Liberal leader Andrew] Wilkinson spent on Motiontide far exceeds the figures that he reported in the communications and advertising column on his spending summary.

Bob Mackin, The Breaker News

A shoe drops

So we looked into ON’s newly-minted publisher Joel Grenz, and a shoe dropped. An article published by the Times-Colonist in March 2019 reveals that Mr. Grenz was being paid with BC taxpayer dollars to perform unspecified services for Andrew Wilkinson during Wilkinson’s tenure as leader of the BC Liberal Party and official opposition in the BC Legislature.

[Wilkinson resigned as party leader on November 21, 2020 after losing the October 24 provincial election.]

In the wide-ranging article on questionable provincial government expense accounts, Dermod Travis of Integrity BC singled out Mr. Grenz and his company Motiontide Media. “Parksville-based Motiontide Media has been invoicing Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s Vancouver-Quilchena constituency office $2,929 monthly for a digital marketing plan that no one will discuss. The closest either of B.C.’s two other party leaders come to something similar is the $75 that NDP Premier John Horgan’s constituency office spends for website updates. If it’s our money, then surely our politicians should be ready to discuss the details. Unless they have something to hide.”

Investigative journalist Bob Mackin of The Breaker News drilled down into Joel Grenz’s relationship with Andrew Wilkinson in an article entitled Wilkinson’s constituency office spending “out of whack”. Mackin writes, “Motiontide cost taxpayers $26,431.65 for the year ended March 31, 2018. It billed another $17,577 for the first six months of the current [2018-2019] fiscal year. … Why did Wilkinson hire a digital marketing agency and what did Motiontide specifically deliver? Neither Motiontide owner Joel Grenz nor Wilkinson responded for comment. … The money Wilkinson spent on Motiontide far exceeds the figures that he reported in the communications and advertising column on his spending summary.”

Questions about Joel Grenz continue. Bob Mackin reported “A BC Liberal Party donor list in 2017 said Grenz donated $7,000 on Feb. 10 of that year. However, the Elections BC database shows only $485 in 2017 from Grenz ($225 on Jan. 7, $250 on March 3, and $10 on Dec. 26).”

Joel Grenz also received a fair bit of local press, at least four stories in the PQB News in the last year or two. An October 12, 2019 PQB News article reported “After years of giving grants to the community, the Parksville – Qualicum Community Foundation has recieved [sic] one of their own. Motiontide Media, a local digital marketing agency, has given $5,000 to the organization.”

We note that Sarah Duncan, chair of the PQCF, was also featured in the November 2020 issue of the magazine Neighbours of Qualicum Beach. NOQB is another recent local media venture of questionable provenance that we wrote about in Part 1 of Truth in advertising — QB’s local media scene.

Mayor Brian Wiese with Parksville – Qualicum Community Foundation recipients, and Joel Grenz of Motiontide Media. October 12, 2019 PQB News

Questions about who is actually paying for what continue to swirl around Joel Grenz. The PQB News article states that this is a “cash donation,” however the Community Foundation’s website is listed as having been built by Mr. Grenz’s company, Motiontide. One wonders what an auditor might make of these charitable foundation transactions, or the Canada Revenue Agency.

One also wonders why Qualicum Beach Mayor Brian Wiese is in the photo with Joel Grenz. What connection does Mayor Wiese have with Joel Grenz that would warrant the mayor’s inclusion in a photo of Mr. Grenz donating money to the Parksville – Qualicum Community Foundation?

So, we ask again, who or what is really motivating and supporting the flurry of local media ventures over the past six months in Qualicum Beach?

In our next issue, we dive deeper into the “local” media scene.