There are a number of blogs that I read on a regular basis. There is Owen with his superb synopses and wry, informed commentary. There is The Mound of Sound, whose deep research and informed commentary provide much-needed information on both domestic and international issues, helping us to better understand our troubled times. Another must-read is Dr Dawg, whose superb analyses reflect a very keen mind indeed. Then there is Montreal Simon, with his excoriating graphics and merciless pillories of the reactionary right, a.k.a, the Conservative Party of Canada. Not to be forgotten is Alison at Creekside, whose work often includes the kind of sleuthing and connecting of dots that has traditionally been the domain of the journalists. Rural has provided a real public service in his long series on the Harper years, reminding us of things that we had either forgotten or pushed out of our conscious mind. And then there is Kirby Cairo, whose original essays always provide much food for thought.
While the above are not the only blogs I read, they, as well as my own, serve to underscore a crucial point about the blogging world. Almost all of us are dependent upon the work of journalistic publications, both paper and online, for what we attempt to do. My own modest efforts, for example, often entail essentially being an aggregator or curator of material I have come across that I find interesting or noteworthy and want to share. Without those resources, I could probably still write a blog, but I doubt very many would care to read it.
Which brings me to the point of this post - as people well-know, traditional journalism is under dire threat thanks to declining revenues. Stories abound of journals being shut down or becoming strictly online presences, the latest being The Independent, which will cease publishing paper editions next month. It, and the larger implications of today's contracting world of news gathering, is the topic of an interesting column by Rosie DiManno in today's Star which you may want to check out.
More immediately relevant, however, is a piece that John Honderich had in The Star the other day. In an edited version of a speech given recently to students at the Queen’s Model Parliament in Ottawa, the chair of Torstar Corporation writes of the crucial relationship between democracy and a well-informed citizenry; it is a relationship in which newspapers play a crucial role:
To my mind, the quality of public debate, if not the very quality of life in any community, is a direct function of the information people have on which to make informed decisions.One of the things we must not forget is that while the online world of 'free' information seems almost utopian, it really doesn't come free. Consider what the traditional press does:
Indeed, I go further. The functioning of a healthy democracy is predicated on a well-informed population. You can’t have one without the other.
The great French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote the historic book Democracy in America, put it this way: “The power of the press is second only to that of the people.”
He understood that governmental power flows up from our local towns and cities. That is where true democracy begins.
... in my view, newspapers — both in print and online — have always played a unique and leading role in this informing process.He goes on to cite the crucial role of investigative journalism in uncovering the truth about former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, as well as the racial profiling conducted by the Toronto police that has been the source of much contention.
They have traditionally done this through groundbreaking investigative projects, searing features, sharp commentaries, insightful columns and hard-hitting editorials.
Indeed, I still believe it is newspapers that set the agenda for public discussion. When well done, great serious reporting provides the means for a society to examine itself, to ferret out lies, abuse and corruption, and — very importantly — provide a voice to those whose voices are not often heard.
And where does this serious journalism take place?
The answer is still in newspapers, where most reporters are employed.
Will newspapers in the future be able to do this kind of story? And if not, who will? And what will that mean to Canadians being appropriately informed?While Honderich is certain that the future will include traditional journalism, he does worry about what its capacities will be:
More and more young people have already switched to the web, where blogs and websites flood the space with up-to-the minute news and commentary. And it is done for free.
There are some who rhapsodize this trend as a democratization of information — allowing one and all to participate in news gathering and commentary. They hail this as the welcome disarming of journalists as the gatekeepers of news and information.
I do not share this view.
These same bloggers and instant commentators rarely do the hard reporting work. They don’t dig deep or launch in-depth investigations. You know only too well that speed and instantaneous reaction are the bywords of the net. And in the process accuracy is often lost.
Meanwhile, as newsrooms shrink, both the resources and reporters required to do serious journalism are in shorter and shorter supply.
Who today has those millions to investigate a Rob Ford or examine racial profiling? Precious few.
... it is the fate of serious journalism that I worry about — and its impact on our democracy.His advice to his youthful audience is equally applicable to the rest of us:
The last time I checked neither Google nor Facebook had any fact-checking staff.
How about Twitter? One hundred and forty characters to do an inquiry into racial profiling? I think not. Instagram? Give me a break.
So be demanding in what you expect from your media. Remember you always have a vested interest in being well informed and making sure quality journalism survives.As I indicated at the start of this post, my own life is enriched by the blogging world. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that democracy's lifeblood is under assault and is slowing draining away.
At issue is nothing less than the vibrancy and health of our democracy.
UPDATE: Thanks to Montreal Simon for this link
to a Press Progress article with some quite disturbing implications:
They say democracy relies on an informed citizenry.You may be surprised by some parts of the report, especially information pertaining to the demographics and educational levels of those who are and aren't keeping up with daily news.
So what does it say when an increasing number of Canadians don't even follow the news?
New data released by Statistics Canada shines a light on changing patterns in how Canadians follow the news and current affairs – and maybe the biggest change is a growing number aren't paying any attention to the news.
According to Statscan, the number of Canadians who follow the news on a daily basis dropped from 68% in 2003 to 60% in 2013.