Why Good Journalism in Canada Still Matters
Journalism in Canada took another kick in the shins yesterday as Postmedia announced its eliminating six papers, including two in Alberta - the Camrose Canadian and the Strathmore Standard. It also announced other cutbacks such as the High River Times moving to a weekly, instead of being published twice a week. So it goes.
Despite moves like this, and some of them much bigger in terms of numbers, there are still some great examples of solid journalism across Canada. Some real old-fashioned digging, asking the right questions and presenting the facts well.
While we continue to hear the term "fake news" from the US, in Canada we should celebrate some great work like we've recently seen.
The Media Hits Keep on Coming
We’ve all heard about the drastic cuts being made by media outlets over the last few years across Canada. There have been massive layoffs at newspapers and in TV newsrooms, news being totally eliminated on FM radio stations, newspaper mergers resulting in reporters writing copy for both papers, local TV stations wiping out sports reports, national newspaper content disguised as local coverage and TV newspeople showing up on sister radio stations.
They call it doing more with less and I have been critical of many of the changes, especially when media outlets try to make the changes appear positive. There was the infamous comment by a media exec after the 6pm Global TV news was dropped onto Corus Entertainment radio stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. He said this gives radio listeners a chance to now hear the Global TV personalities they love on radio. Thanks, but I’m quite fine with just seeing them on TV.
Despite this, there are times when local media still shines. There are still occasions when great media coverage still stands on its feet, pulls its shoulders back and reminds us that its death was greatly exaggerated. It happened twice last week.
The Edmonton Journal ran an excellent series on classroom sizes. A number of journalists worked on it, but coverage was led by educational reporter Janet French, who has covered that beat better than any other reporter I can remember.
The series provided concrete information to show attempts by the provincial government and school boards to reduce the number of kids in classrooms has been a total failure, even though $2.7 billion has been spent. In fact, some large school boards weren’t even able to answer simple questions the Journal had about quantifying classroom sizes. That seems like something that should be tracked on a regular basis, but despite FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection) requests from the Journal, the paper had a difficult time getting the statistics from a few school boards, and in some cases, reporters were told they would have to cover the cost of computer time to crunch the numbers.
The other solid reporting that warmed my heart was done by CBC in Alberta under the byline of reporter Scott Dippel. The City of Calgary fought for three years to keep an investigator’s report confidential, despite that report being extremely critical of the conduct of several City Councilors. Staff in Councilors’ offices had to put up with disrespectful behavior, discrimination and harassment.
When the report finally was released, so many names were removed that it became difficult to determine who the bad actors were. Despite this, thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ dollars were spent in legal fees trying to cover the tracks of offenders.
The CBC report once again made it clear what a joke the FOIP legislation has turned into. Government departments, which are supposed to be bound by FOIP requirements, constantly find ways to miss deadlines to turn over reports and when they do, so many names are removed, the report loses much of its impact, which of course, is exactly what the bureaucrats and elected officials want.
Despite that, the CBC did a great job digging into the story and I’m sure it won’t stop here, nor should it. By the way, there have been staff reductions at CBC too. Perhaps they haven’t been as bad as in private sector media, but I’ve been told they’ve made a difference.
Why Good Journalism Matters
What is all means is, despite massive cuts, there are still some shining journalistic examples to show why local media still matters.
I don’t expect classroom size issues to be solved in the next few years and perhaps it will take much longer than that. To basically take every classroom and reduce it by 10-20 students will take billions of dollars because we’ll need more school rooms, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff. I don’t blame school boards for this because they play the hand they’re dealt. They need more money from the province, but it’s running huge deficits too. Keep in mind, the classroom size goals were also set by the province.
Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at ways public and catholic school boards can cooperate on delivering services to save money? Seems to me when classroom sizes are well above what you want, and there’s only so much money to go around, looking for ways to work together to save money just makes sense.
The real issue is, if we don’t keep score, we’re not going to know how we’re doing. If the big school boards knew there was a problem with the size of classrooms, they certainly weren’t letting the world know about it. These numbers only came out because Janet French and her colleagues at the Edmonton Journal starting digging, asking questions and not taking no for an answer.
CBC’s report on the hotheads that were a part of the last City Council in Calgary, and may still be in office, was another shining example to show what good journalistic digging will do.
Governments and publicly-funded agencies always claim they want to be transparent, except when that transparency leads to embarrassment. Thank God we still have media outlets and great reporters that won’t let them get away with it.