The unique tactile feel of a newspaper, especially in the early morning, fresh from the presses, still damp with ink was one of the subconscious experiences which is now missed, and much forgotten. By admitting this, it is also admitting to being the older generation, possibly caught up in a romantic remembrance of journalism, nostalgic for the simpler times. However, it may be more significant, it may be that we are watching the tick tock death of responsible and professional journalism.
In our working lives we followed stories such as the Watergate break-in, or Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, muted headlines and bylines over days and months, eagerly read each morning or in the evening during our daily commute. Hundreds of heads lined the subway cars, heads often immersed and hidden in the broad sheeted papers. Experienced readers were envied in their skilled ability to fold the paper in thirds making it more manageable and less intrusive for their seat mate.
None of the stories were “timely” in the current sense, but all were detailed, 800 or 1200 word stories, all attempting to abide by the accepted journalistic standards of the day. It did not matter that the events that were written about were 24 or 48 hours “old” in terms of when they happened, what mattered was getting the full facts of that story. We believed that was written was the truth, had gone through a process of checks and balances and reliable sourcing.
None of us believed that the world would tip over if we were reading that news 12 or 24 hours after the actual event. The term “Breaking News” did not exist, we were able to quickly judge the seriousness of the story by the size of the caption lettering. The declaration of war was only a couple of inches in font size, the journalistic shout of the times.
Of course, this has all changed. We are constantly told now that we are on the edge, teetering, just seconds behind the latest “breaking news”. We need to hear about an accident before the blood has coagulated, to hear a political turn of events as the words are uttered so it can be analyzed and spit out replete with editorial content before it has echoed down the corridors of power. The death of a notable personality or celebrity, is shouted at us before the shroud covered gurney has reached the street.
All thrust upon us at lightning speed, all possible because of technology, possible because of the inter-connectedness of the world. To be heard above everyone else, everything now is a shouted headline. Not enough time for more than 140 characters.
Of course to be first, to be the quickest, there is a cost.
Competitive speeds, literally leaves no time for thought, no time for reflection, and most importantly no time to question or verify. Conclusions are reached with little or no depth to the debate, no “other side” to be heard. It is quicker for sure, but it belies the question of whether inaccurate or timely information is better than slower and more informed.
There has been much written about the declining media presence in this country, paper-thin newspapers, all struggling for survival. Video supplanting the written word, the truism of a picture being worth a thousand words is now being fully tested.
The media tells us that there is a rapidly dwindling interest in in-depth analysis or reportage. We want to see pictures or video they say, we want the news in staccato bursts which hints at a fuller story. The full story now often remains uncovered, buried and forgotten in a few hours. Further development of that story needs more time and effort than the news agencies are willing to give. They scrape the surface because they say we demand it, we want to move on, there is another story coming.
They blame our inattentiveness, our clear lack of interest in all things grey. They say we demand only black and white answers.
As a result, we are now reaching absurd levels of polarity. We seek out what will quickly fit into our version of events, our pre-conceived notions reinforced.
To get the attention of all these scrolling eyeballs one needs to scream louder, one needs to make statements that inflame or capture ones attention by being outrageous or absurd. It is the most obvious in the Red or Blue United States: FOX news exhorting Trump as a saviour, MSNBC seeing him sitting next to Hitler.
In the more modest Canada, cheap news reigns, a deer stuck in the ice is now headline news. Fire personnel rescuing a cat replacing city or provincial legislation coverage.
In this fight over dwindling ratings, empathy fuelled stories reign supreme. Blood and tears in 10 second increments, video the needed currency. Youtube and hand held devices determining the news lineup.
The CTV and CBC have purged senior reporters, even video librarians, replacing them with inexperienced twenty five year olds.
Writers working up through the ranks, covering city hall, writing obituaries are no longer required. Replaced now by pretty, under 30, gender and ethnic balanced newsrooms. The new talking heads on fifteen minute loops endlessly playing throughout the day, with the “Breaking News” banners.
Monies that used to be spent in covering detailed stories, are now being spent on staged newsrooms, filled with massive monitors, all to give an impression of being technically advanced, cutting edge, trying to appear more like NASA’s control room. The assumption is that no younger generation person can resist a screen as a background. It is blatant to the point of being laughable.
There are five maxims of ethical journalism.
1) Truth and Accuracy.
2) Independence – where it is expected that they should not act formally, or informally on behalf of special interests whether political, cultural or corporate.
3) Fairness and impartiality – most stories have two sides, stories must be “balanced” and in “context”.
4) Humanity – in other words, it should do no harm
5) Accountability – there must be correction of errors
Which leads into the role in Canada of the CBC in all this, the government funded Liberal backed and supported Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
This tax payer funded agency in 2016/2017 had a budget of $1.09 billion.
66% of that funding comes from government, which of course means the taxpayers. Only 8% comes from subscribers and a paltry 18% from advertising. They do not need to play by the same rules of fiscal responsibility when it comes to reporting of the news. The government-supported CBC does not have to compete on a level playing field with the privately held television networks, or the newspapers. They have the advantage.
So one would have thought that if there were any hope for sticking to the ethics and professionalism of journalism, it would be the CBC, where striving to find viewers and monies was not crucial to survival. It was hoped that this may have been the one place where some in depth reporting could emerge without the usual budgetary constraints.
Unfortunately, they may be the worst offenders.
There is one rub that has become obvious. Besides showing all the vestiges of a government agency in terms of bloat and inefficiency, they owe their very survival to the government. Clearly they believe that they must be loyal to the government of the day, especially when it is Liberal, regardless of the rules of ethical journalism.
Their bias is discomfiting, no longer are they being journalists, they are being conduits for current government policy, whether it be the incessant push of indigenous issues, or defence and social policy. Their editorializing and clear bias for the Liberal party is telling, difficult for them apparently, to bite the hand that feeds you.
Examples can be found everyday, one does not need to look very deeply.
The Colten Boushie coverage was a glaring example of both the Liberal/CBC agenda towards indigenous policy and inflamed sub-standard reporting of “systemic racism”. The facts took a back seat to their already reached conclusions. Editorial content blurred the facts.
Their follow up in their news series the “Investigators” pushed the agenda of a “botched police investigation”, pushed clearly by the Boushie family and their legal representative. Colten’s mother, said the “RCMP did a botched-up job”.
They “investigated” and then headlined their story, splayed it nationally, and trumpeted the police investigation as being “sloppy and negligent”.
Of course, they had very little evidence to support this, and so even went out to find experts that would confirm their version of the story. All of their allegations centred around the interrogation of Gerald Stanley and the seizure of his clothes. Claiming that Stanley had been let to go home prior to being interviewed, and that they never seized his clothes at the time.
Both of these allegations were completely false and eventually discounted. In a ten second apology they admitted to the wrong doing. Of course the damage was done. These top notch reporters had two basic facts central to their story completely wrong. Their sources clearly had not been tested, clearly their fact checking was completely lacking.
Were they further stoking the flames of racism that they had done throughout the whole trial? Maybe the intent was not that evil. But clearly they had a bias, and clearly nothing was going to stop them in their pursuit of the truth as they perceived it. It fit with the Indigenous theme.
If this had been the NY Times the journalists would have been fired.
Investigative journalism is for the most part invisible inside this journalistic behemoth. They are no longer reporting, they are “tracking” stories to use their own terminology.
It is no coincidence that they now concentrate on those teary stories which require no work in terms of reporting. The Humboldt crash fills our screens for days on end, where their reporters ask such probing questions as “How is Humboldt surviving this crisis”? to anyone walking in front of their cameras. Days of trying to have someone speak about one of the victims, then coverage of all the funerals in all the different cities, coverage of the Go Fund me account as much as the Stock Market. They even fly in the National talking heads to sit in front of the hockey arena.
A tragic accident to be sure, but days of self flagellation is not reporting, its just easy.
If we believe that other news sources are not being competent or trustworthy, we can turn them off, or cancel our subscriptions. The CBC survive only because they are funded. And generously funded. They have lost their way, they have lost sight of the rules of honest journalism. What is covered in terms of news is often just the regurgitated stories of other news agencies. How does the BBC for example, enjoy the journalistic reputation they have, even though they are government funded. The two are incomparable.
So you can turn the CBC off; or go to a rerun of Schitts Creek , but it is time for a serious discussion of their role and whether it has any place in the sadly dwindling Canadian journalism landscape. Maybe it is time to read the paper instead.
Photo Courtesy of Elijah van der Giessen via Flickr Commons Some Rights Reserved