Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award
David BainesDavid Baines is this year's recipient of the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award, the Jack Webster Foundation's premier recognition of excellence.
Baines, 64, retired earlier this year from The Vancouver Sun. As a reporter and columnist, he established an unparalleled reputation for fearless business journalism.
In addition to his previous Webster awards, Baines received four National Newspaper Awards, one more than Bruce Hutchison himself and more than any other Western Canadian reporter or columnist.
The son of a senior banker, Baines' unique combination of business and journalism skills has protected BC consumers from market manipulators and fraudsters for more than 25 years.
He entered journalism as a Queen's University summer student at the Winnipeg Tribune in the early 1970s, learning early on that if he were to distinguish himself in a newsroom, he would need to understand how the financial world works.
This led him to an MBA at Western and a job at Pacific Press, analyzing capital equipment acquisitions. Baines then pursued a commercial credit banking career from 1979-1984, during which he completed the Canadian Securities Course.
Now armed with financial skills, he returned to reporting at The Province in 1985. However, it was the start of his Sun career in 1988 that established his lifelong pursuit of fraud artists. His first assignment was to cover the infamous Carter-Ward trial, which laid bare shady money-raising tactics in the Vancouver markets.
"That's when the scales fell from my eyes," Baines recalls. "This was a lot different than the business world that I was used to. It was, in a generic sense, highly organized crime.
"It also became clear to me that the regulators' dual roles of both promoting and protecting were in conflict. There was no lobby group speaking for consumers, so The Vancouver Sun stepped and filled that role."
Baines felt he'd hit his stride during the dot.com bust. As the NASDAQ hit its giddy peak, Baines picked a Vancouver stock play called Book4Golf.com as a financial bubble ready to burst. Yet, such was the allure of the tech boom that even Baines' bosses were telling him to lay off, that "traditional valuations may not apply to these 'new economy' stocks.'"
By the time Baines was finished, the head of a Toronto investment house who had pumped Book4Golf as investor, promoter and underwriter was sacked and fined, and the hyperinflated Internet tee-time booking company was in tatters.
That, says Baines, speaks to the value of research. "I always viewed column writing as the process of gathering and presenting new information, so that a conclusion logically and naturally falls from it. The value added is facts, not opinion."
Being popular has never been a Baines goal. "Collegiality is the enemy of good journalism," he says. Baines faced an astonishing 20 lawsuits, only one of which went to court (The Sun lost that one).
In an equally astonishing reversal, Baines and The Sun successfully sued stock promoters who published accusations that Baines' reporting was a short-selling ploy to drive down stock prices. Baines won an $825,000 libel judgment, then the second highest in Canada. From his proceeds, he gave the UBC School of Journalism a $64,000 endowment to foster new business writers.
Although Baines has often been at odds with regulators, he has also garnered their respect. The BC Securities Commission's Communications Director wrote in an internal email in June, "There will never be another one like him. He has sure kept us on our toes."
One endorsement that he has never forgotten was a complimentary call from Jack Webster early in Baines' career. "To receive this acknowledgement from somebody of his stature was very uplifting. I try never to forget what it means to a young reporter to get that kind of endorsement."
Despite the profound digital disruption in media, Baines is optimistic.
"There is no question that the newspaper industry is in a downward spiral, desperately cutting costs in an attempt to reach some point of equilibrium. Where it will end, I don't think anybody knows."
"But I do know that there is a generation of smart, young, tech-savvy journalists coming in behind us, who in one form or another will perpetuate the business and tradition of gathering and presenting useful information to the public."
See the dinner presentation video for David Baines.
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