Queen’s Park (QP) Briefing’s editor-in-chief, reporter quit in protest after Ford story fight



Publisher says story did not meet outlet’s standards. Journalists say there was editorial interference. Resignations come as three other reporters lose jobs in unrelated layoffs.

By Rachel Mendleson Staff Reporter
Joanna Chiu Staff Reporter
Sara Mojtehedzadeh Work and Wealth Investigative Reporter

Fri., Feb. 10, 2023timer5 min. read

Update Article was updated 3 days ago


The editor-in-chief of Queen’s Park (QP) Briefing and iPolitics and a reporter have resigned over concerns about perceived editorial interference.

The dramatic departures at the online news publication this week came amid a showdown related to a story about the relationship between developers and the Ford government, according to several reporters involved.

“I can’t work for an organization where the owners interfere with the journalism,” editor Jessica Smith Cross wrote in her resignation letter Wednesday.

“Quitting is the only tool we have.”

The reporters who spoke to the Star requested anonymity, citing fear of professional repercussions. The resignations of the editor-in-chief and reporter came on the same day as the unrelated layoffs of three other journalists.

QP Briefing, which covers the Ontario government, is a publication of iPolitics. Until recently, iPolitics was owned by Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star. The current ownership of iPolitics, which includes former Torstar owner Paul Rivett, did not respond to requests for comment.

“The story in question did not meet the publication’s standards,” publisher Laura Pennell told the Star on Thursday.

“Editorial staff were provided an opportunity to edit and amend the story to have it meet the strong ethical and professional standards we require.”

The fight over the story boiled over Tuesday evening. In an email obtained by the Star, Pennell told the editor of QP Briefing that the article, written by reporter Charlie Pinkerton, “is not ready to be published and requires further editing.”

Pennell said Smith Cross should “take a look” at “some of the personal details included and the broad focus,” as well as the length of the story.

“I appreciate emotions are running high and that folks have been working hard on this for quite some time,” Pennell wrote. “I am keen for us to work together on a path forward.”

Pinkerton replied: “The interference we’re currently experiencing puts in question how we can operate. … Without our integrity and the ability to report the truth unimpeded, our work as journalists is nothing.”

The Ford government has faced intense criticism over its decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt for housing development — a move now being probed by the auditor-general’s office.

A recent Star/Narwhal investigation found that eight of the 15 areas slated to be removed from the Greenbelt were purchased in the four years since Premier Doug Ford was elected. Some developers who own Greenbelt land appear to have made significant donations to the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

Global News published a report Thursday that Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner had cleared Ford of wrongdoing after developers attended a stag and doe party for his daughter’s wedding. Smith Cross said on Twitter that questions from Pinkerton about the party had prompted the premier’s office to bring the matter to the integrity commissioner.

Smith Cross said in her resignation letter that Pennell had told her that “the ownership had read Charlie’s story and wouldn’t allow it to be published in its current form.” She became “more alarmed” by the “details about the developers (Pennell) objected to” — details that she said “were accurate, fair and in the public interest.”

“People already assume too easily that they’re being lied to because of their perception of news owners’ and news outlets’ biases and interests,” Smith Cross wrote. “I don’t want iPolitics to prove that cynicism right.”

Pinkerton announced his resignation Wednesday evening on Twitter, saying that he “resigned on a matter of principle.” (Pinkerton is currently working on a freelance basis with the Star.)

On Tuesday, two other reporters threatened to quit over the controversy, according to emails obtained by the Star. Both journalists, and a third reporter who was on maternity leave, lost their jobs as part of unrelated layoffs on Wednesday. The decision to lay off the employees was made earlier as part of the arrangement to divide Torstar’s assets.

That deal, which was finalized Wednesday with a signature by arbitrator Justice Douglas Cunningham, gave Jordan Bitove ownership of the Toronto Star and Metroland newspaper group, among other assets, while Rivett got ownership of iPolitics and Queen’s Park Briefing, among other assets.

Bitove and Rivett originally came together to buy Torstar and take the company private in 2020, in a deal worth $60 million. But their relationship eventually soured. Rivett sought a court order last year to dissolve their investment partnership, citing “irreparable” damage to his relationship with Bitove.

iPolitics, a Canadian digital newspaper covering Canadian politics, was launched in 2010 by founding editor and publisher James Baxter. In 2012, Torstar started Queen’s Park Briefing as a daily subscriber-based newsletter, which was later folded under iPolitics.

“QP Briefing memberships are held by stakeholders, professionals, business leaders, and Ontario parliamentarians,” the publication’s website says.

The latest corporate filing by iPolitics listed Brian Storseth, Ryan Adam and Geoff Wright as directors.

Adam, currently vice-president of government relations for Torstar, told the Star he resigned from the board of iPolitics in January. He said he was unable to comment on other aspects of the story, including allegations of recent editorial interference.

Wright, who is vice-president of strategy and corporate development at Torstar, also confirmed he is no longer part of the iPolitics board, and said he was unable to comment on allegations of editorial interference as he has no knowledge of these events.

The Star attempted Thursday to contact Rivett and Storseth. There have been no responses as of publication time.

Unifor, which represents media workers at numerous outlets including the Toronto Star, had recently sought to unionize employees of iPolitics and QP Briefing. That process had not yet been finalized at the provincial labour board at the time of Wednesday’s layoffs.

“The timing of this is unfortunate, not only for employees, but for journalism and our communities,” said Carleen Finch, president of Unifor Local 87-M.

“Less accountability at Queen’s Park is damaging to our democracy. We are reviewing our legal options and will fight for these employees’ rights.”

Rachel Mendleson is a Toronto-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rachelmendleson


Joanna Chiu is a B.C.-based staff reporter for the Star. She covers global and national affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu


Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering work and wealth on the Star’s investigations team. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz