Sean Holman, independent journalist, 'unable to sustain himself'

In what many claim to an enormous blow to reporting of BC politics, the well-regarded online journalistic publication Public Eye has suspended its regular daily coverage. The independent journal, which has been in operation since 2003, announced on Nov. 1 that it would immediately stop its daily publishing schedule.

The journal was considered a reliable breaking news source for not only journalists, reporters, and politicians, but also for the more than 200,000 people who read the publication in its last year alone. The website has an impressively in-depth archive of stories it has built up over eight years. Sean Holman, founder and primary journalist, says that “the coverage now amounts to an archive of more than 6,000 stories – many of which have had a substantial impact on public policy and governance.”

Despite having found success and recognition in both the field of journalism and politics, Holman said, in a statement on the Public Eye website, that the stoppage of the journal is due to the fact that "on a long term basis it's not financially sustainable … There are a lot of barriers to breaking into the industry as an independent journalist." He states that the kind of quality that he expects of his research takes 100s of phone calls, countless freedom of information requests, along with “twelve, fourteen hour days, seven days a week.” He says that because of the high standards that he maintains for himself, he is unable to sustain himself, “so long as it's principally me, a computer, a camera and a telephone line. … There was just no more money, the donations and the advertisements just weren’t enough.”

However, putting aside the reasons for its closure, the impact of Holman’s work is deeper than most people know, and is far from over. Tribute pages have sprung up on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and, in addition, many local media and political figures have expressed their gratitude and admiration Holman's work.

In a story on the Tyee, numerous media figures give praise to Holman’s hard-nosed investigative journalism. One such person, Times Colonist legislative reporter Rob Shaw, said, “[Holman has] broken countless stories that I've seen turn into blazing-hot issues on the floor of the legislature or dominate scrums with cabinet ministers and premiers.” He adds that Holman's work is “required reading for anyone interested in BC politics.” Bill Tieleman, columnist for the Tyee and 24 Hours Vancouver, said that the closure “will leave a hole in the province's political media.” Other public statements were also issued from other journalists, and at one point Public Eye briefly became the top trending topic on Twitter in Canada.

One of the many stories that Holman broke concerned a 2004 scandal involving Doug Walls, the CEO of the Interim Community Living Association. The investigation took five months of full time research, and uncovered that Walls was awarded $63,823 in untendered contracts over a six-month period from public funds. Further investigation, Holman said, “revealed that the government wrote off a $484,939 bill owed by a consulting group run by Mr. Walls, Premier Gordon Campbell's cousin-in-law,” said Holman. “It resulted in the resignation of Children and Family Development Minister Gordon Hogg and the firing of his deputy Chris Haynes. Mr. Walls also resigned.”

Holman, a Victoria native who graduated from the UVic in 1999, believes his relentless zeal for justice and accountability stems from childhoold experiences. “When I was growing up, I wasn’t the most popular kid, nor were some of my peers, or some of my teachers for that matter,” he said. “I saw some of the most popular people getting away with things. I suppose that reinforced in me a desire to hold the popular people, or powerful people, into account.”

What started as a desire to hold people, and politicians accountable, turned into a passion, then into a full time way of life. “Investigative journalism is really at the core of the media’s central mission, which is to hold power, hold authority, hold public officials, hold public institutions, private officials, private institutions to account. I think investigative journalism is very important, and I think the Public Eye demonstrated this importance.”

Despite the closure of the website, Holman's involvement in journalism is far from over. He will continue to broadcast his Public Eye radio show on CKNW. He also teaches Journalism courses at the University of Victoria, and is currently working on a documentary about provincial politics.

In reflecting on his journey as an independent journalist, Holman has some advice for younger people who aspire to enter the field: “Journalism is one of the most exciting careers that you can have. There are very few careers that allow you to make a difference on a daily basis. And in fact, that is how I often lead off in my basic journalism class; I call it 'Writing 215 – How to Change the World', because that’s what journalism is.”

// Mike Conway, Writer
// Illustration by Caitlyn Neufeld

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