Journalists aren’t the trouble with journalism…


JournalismIS ad featuring Christie Blatchford

But their bosses aren’t doing much to help the profession’s credibility in the face of increasingly desperate financial woes

By Charley Gordon

There is a sudden push on to convince the public that journalism is a good thing. You can understand why. It has to do with journalists who become senators. It has to do with CBC hosts and art dealers.

Some media organizations, including both union and management, have started an advertising campaign called JournalismIs to help the Canadian public become aware of how important journalism is. Full-page ads, featuring the enlarged half-tone faces of prominent journalists have been showing up in newspapers, with cautionary messages.

“With a few keystrokes you can sample thousands of opinions, afloat in a sea of information,” says one. “But as the volume increases, the accuracy and reliability of professional journalism is essential. Gathering and sorting the facts, weighing and interpreting events, and following the story from beginning to end is more important than ever.”

True enough. We all know how much crap there is on the Internet and how the only real news originates with professional reporters. But it is unlikely that an advertising campaign can save journalism. The more important question is whether journalism can save itself.

True enough. We all know how much crap there is on the Internet and how the only real news originates with professional reporters. But it is unlikely that an advertising campaign can save journalism. The more important question is whether journalism can save itself.

An organization called Newspapers Canada is one of the sponsors. Speaking for it, Mary Agnes Welch, former president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, says: “Our campaign is aimed at initiating a wider conversation about the value of journalism and what we all need to do to support a robust journalistic culture in Canadian society.”

Well, it’s too late, probably. You can see the impulse to defend professional journalism, since it’s increasingly under attack — from the Internet, from politicians, from a skeptical public, from fleeing advertisers.

And from journalists themselves, misbehaving. It doesn’t help when prominent journalists show themselves to be just as greedy, just as corrupt as some of the people they cover so disapprovingly.

They give us all a bad name and you can see it’s important to let the public know that we’re not all like that, that we are accurate and reliable and independent and committed to the public interest and relentless and essential to democracy — to use some of the phrases in the JournalismIs advertising campaign.

That’s the truth too. The problem is that the corporations that employ us are letting the side down. In recent years there has been a significant ethical backslide.

Take a look at newspaper travel pages, where it is grudgingly revealed, at the bottom of the article about some wondrous resort, that the writer was a guest of the resort (but the resort didn’t get to read the article in advance, as if that makes all the difference).

Take a look at the health pages, where articles about a particular ailment just happen to occupy the same page as the advertisement of a treatment for that particular ailment. Take a look at newspaper websites, where the headlines for promotional articles show up beside legitimate news stories in menus, indistinguishable from them in appearance.

Ask the entertainment writers who used to turn down junkets if they turn down junkets now. Look at the advertising all over page one. Look at it hanging from the top of the page, crowding the news to the bottom.

Many battles were fought in the ’60s and ’70s to produce more ethical newspapers. The Canadian Managing Editors Conference was an important player, as were newspaper unions. Content magazine, under the crusading Dick MacDonald, was a focus for discussion of ethical issues. Across the country, the battle was fought for complete separation of news and advertising. It was won. Also won was the battle against freebies. Newspapers took pride in paying their way, whether to Hollywood or on a team plane. They realized credibility was everything.

Now we’re mostly back where we started. You can understand why, to some extent. Those were good times, prosperous times. Now there are severe economic challenges and newspapers are becoming desperate. They are slicing staff, hiring low-wage workers, contracting out. And they are exploring ways, such as so-called “native advertising,” to sell the news hole to advertisers, allow advertising to resemble news. It turns out ethics was something newspapers could afford back then and apparently can’t now.

Credibility is not everything any more. Credibility is gone. It’s nice to see journalism and journalists saluted in an advertising campaign, sad to think it is necessary and heartbreaking to know that it can not work.



3 Replies to "Journalists aren't the trouble with journalism..."

  • kmoexpress July 18, 2015 (9:00 pm)

    Well, at least we put our names on our “biased” content….

  • KnightFire919 July 18, 2015 (8:07 am)

    Journalists today are absolutely the trouble with journalism. Just look at all the lies and false narratives journalists have been spreading about #GamerGate for almost a year now. Not one piece of evidence that supports the “harassment of women” narrative but that doesn’t stop journalists from posting bias articles and make up stories to get clicks.

    And I’m just using video games as an example but the problem is much more wide spread. We see bias’ from MSNBC and CNN. We see the CBC failing to disclose personal relationships with companies they report about and then when caught defend these ethical breaches.

    This isn’t a funding problem this is an ethical, morality and professionalism issue more money isn’t going to fix that.

  • davechesney June 24, 2015 (11:42 pm)

    I am happy to see someone else finally telling the Emperor his choice of clothing is questionable. Technology destroyed the music industry, then the broadcast industry industry. It was only a matter of time for before newspapers were found in their crosshairs. Newspapers had time to change. They chose to fiddle while the house burned to the ground.

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