My children’s grandmother spent final years in our home. She lived for the children and was an oxygen-tank-dragging regular in front row seats at hockey rinks, ball fields, rec centres and concert halls. The kids could do no wrong and she loved to see them smile.
I had only one complaint. I couldn’t have the newspaper until Grandma finished with it. One of her must-reads every day was Vaughn Palmer. It was the 1990s and Palmer was a regular and effective critic of the provincial government. If the columnist’s piece was missing from the daily newspaper, Grandma was unsettled. She wanted to be informed about provincial politics and she believed Palmer’s words were essential.
How things have changed!
Today, the most egregious acts of political commission and omission go unmentioned. Pretend journalists don’t read original documents for information; they rely on press releases, private briefings and whispered interpretations.
Does BC Hydro have a debt problem? That can’t be discussed in media until an ethically deficient reporting agency submits a report to their paying client, the BC Government, and it is filtered by flacks in five different ministries. Then, without basic fact-checking, media can present the Liberal story.
Palmer and most of his corporate media colleagues are no longer reporters, they are explainers. No feet of important persons are held to the fire. Instead, the toes are respectfully massaged and kept toasty warm.
Do the participants in BC’s corporate media wonder why fewer people pay attention?
Ken Doctor, writing at Nieman Lab, made relevant comments in Rebuilding the news media will require doubling-down on its core values:
Journalists and publishers need to breathe new life into the social contract with readers. The audience holds the media accountable, the media holds the powerful accountable.
…As budgets and newsroom workforces throughout the country have been halved, stenography — limp, single-source stories — have become more the rule than the exception. Too few of the remaining local reporters… have both the time and local knowledge to hold local and state politicians and business to account. So they largely — with very important and award-worthy exceptions — don’t do enough of that work.
Increasingly, though, I’ve come to believe that we can’t rebuild local news capacity until we’re more clear about our 21st-century values. What might we include in those values?
It may not be bad to start with a few Robert Fulghum tips from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
…Those are just for starters, though. Try the four principles of the long-established and once universally accepted Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
- Seek truth and report it.
- Minimize harm.
- Act independently.
- Be accountable and transparent.