When I arrived at Western 32 years ago this fall, the plan was to continue on a path to medical school by starting with a bachelor of science in biology.
While I got the degree — just barely, as I recall — I am not a doctor today because of the Gazette, and supportive parents.
Because of this student newspaper, I am a journalist. The Gazette’s storied title has certainly churned out a lot of us accidental hacks. We’re pretty much everywhere, at media places big and small.
At the Toronto Star, where I’ve worked as a reporter-photographer for the past 23 years, the Gazette served as a training ground for many of my colleagues.
A desk away from me sits Paul Hunter, one of Canada’s greatest hockey writers who now churns out beautiful feature stories. There’s photographer Rick “Maddog” Madonik, national affairs columnist Paul Wells, political observer extraordinaire Susan Delacourt, investigative editor Kevin Donovan, Queen’s Park bureau chief Rob Benzie, the fearless reporter Peter Edwards, editor and mentor to Gazette editors Scott Colby, and, until she was recently laid off and found work at the CBC, reporter Lauren Pelley.
You want to hear Gazette stories? They are legion, and many involve debauchery. Really entertaining stuff.
But with Lauren and the current crew of Gazette journalists in mind, I’d like to use this anniversary and writing invitation, not to reminisce, but as an opportunity to beg you, dear readers and future shapers of our country, to pay heed to what’s happening to journalism and democracy.
In The Shattered Mirror – News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, Ed Greenspon’s recent study of the state of Canadian journalism, it is noted that the “digital revolution has made for a more open and diverse news ecosystem — and a meaner and lest trustworthy one.”
That, combined with a failing, advertising-based business model, are cause for serious concern for all of us.
Mainstream news media organizations, writes Greenspon, “have been left gasping, while native digital alternatives have failed to develop journalistic mass, especially in local news. The financial degradation has been insidiously incremental, but one whose accumulation and now acceleration has brought to the fore the issue of sustainability of newsgathering in our democracy.”
“Fake news” has become a thing. Newsrooms staffed by professional journalists are shrinking and going dark. City Hall in smaller towns and cities is going unwatched. Without the accountability that paid journalism brings, it’s been said that this is the best era in recent memory to be a corrupt politician.
The Washington Post has just added a pointed message to its masthead: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” No, it’s not all about the new U.S. president. These are problems that predate him.
If all of this bothers you, there are a few things you can do to change the direction we seem headed. Talk to your friends, family and neighbours about what’s going on. Urge educators to add media literacy to curriculums, at an early age. Seek out trusted news sources and opinions from a variety of viewpoints. Where it is an option, pay for your news and, if you do nothing else, subscribe to an actual newspaper. They are the bedrock of local journalism.
All is not yet lost.
Despite the sorry state of the journalism business these days, I suspect few of us Gazette alums-turned-hacks have any regrets. But we certainly worry about our future — and yours.