National Press Club

Mainstream Media Still Essential, Canadian Journalists Say at NPC Forum

March 26, 2009 | By Gil Klein

The public is not abandoning traditional media as quickly as many journalists believe, so news businesses should keep their core products strong in this time of transition, leading Canadian journalists told a National Press Club forum Tuesday in Ottawa.

While Canadians are getting more of their news online, they depend on traditional newspapers, television and radio for a substantial part of their information, Paul Hambleton, interim managing editor of CBC Ottawa, said his company’s research shows.

But when the same question is asked inside the CBC newsroom, he said, journalists are convinced newspapers are going to die, television news is going to drop dramatically, radio will decline, and everyone will get their news online.

“Canadians are telling us that we think things are going to go a lot faster than they do,” Hambleton said. “People still need journalists to do their jobsm and they still need to take it in ways they are familiar with.”

Hambleton was speaking at the Club’s first international forum on the future of journalism during its centennial year. The National Press Club of Canada Foundation and the Media Club of Ottawa organized the forum on “The Media in the New World.”

Online news still has its limitations, said David Akin, national affairs correspondent for Canwest News Service and one of Canada’s leading bloggers. People can get lost in their own individual interests online without being exposed to anything they hadn’t already considered, he said.

“Mainstream mass media journalism can strengthen democracy by being the public commons and by having the mandate to do this one simple thing: go out there today and find something interesting,” Akin said. “As you thumb through your newspaper or watch your newscast, you will see and hear things that you had no idea you are interested in. You can’t go to Google and find something you didn’t know existed. That’s what newspapers do.”

Bill Curry, who covers politics for the Globe and Mail, said the newspaper’s online service allows him for the first time to offer readers all of the documents he uses to come up with his reports. That gives the reader not only a chance to make sure that the reporter is telling the story accurately, he said, but also to tell the reporter new information that the reader has.

Yet, all of the proposals for online news operations miss one of the key essentials that large mainstream news organizations provide, he said.

“When you don’t have the full size of a news organization behind you, you are very limited to the type of reporting you can do,” Curry said. “You don’t have the protection from law suits. If you are going to do investigative reporting, you have to have a lawyer who is going to go through that story and make sure it is okay. You need to have the support of your organization that says if you get sued, we’re going to have your back. If I would go off with David Akin and start Akin-Curry Enterprises, we would not last very long.”

Joe Banks, who teaches journalism at the Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology Media Centre after a long career as a community newspaper editor and publisher, said he is teaching his students to be storytellers first and then to be able to apply that to any technology.

The largest employer of new journalists – community newspapers – is asking that their reporters be trained on all platforms, he said. But that does not mean that community newspapers are going to disappear.

In fact, 10 years after the Internet became widespread, all of the traditional forms are media are still here, although they are changing with the technology and weakened by the recession, Banks said.

“We have not been able to replace what a newspaper can give you at any single moment,” he said. “I can scan a newspaper that’s open in front in me and look at from 10 to 18 stories at once. I still haven’t found a computer screen that can give me anything other than little snippets of stories that then sends me elsewhere. As long as everyone stays focused on that bulls eye, which is truth, accuracy, industriousness, good enterprise journalism, then I think we are all going to be okay.”

This was one of nearly 40 forums the Club has held across the United States during our centennial year. Details and highlights of these forums can be found at www.press.org/juncture