DispatchPresident's message

Why journalists are unsung heroes who need us to sing their praises

By December 3, 2023 December 6th, 2023 No Comments

It’s increasingly hard to navigate what “information” is true and what is not, or which images are real and which are deep fakes.

The evolution of social media platforms is happening more quickly than our ability to deal with the content that is published on them.

We must find a way to deliver trusted and reliable information to people and journalists are the ones who do that job.

The role of the journalist is to inform the public, hold power to account, and amplify voices that might otherwise go unheard. They provide context for the events shaping our world by reporting on what is actually happening and why.

Sometimes that is showing up for a news conference to ask questions and report on the answers. Other times it is a months-long investigation into things some people don’t want us to know. Or it can be a small-town reporter showing up for a city-council meeting when nobody else is paying attention.

World Press Freedom Canada tells their stories. We advocate for journalists to be able to do their job and we defend freedom of the press.

Each year we recognize Canadian journalists whose work – done in the public interest – overcame official secrecy; legal maneuvers; intimidation, or tactics that put their career or safety at risk. This work culminates in an annual awards luncheon celebrating World Press Freedom Day.

Press freedom matters at the local level; it matters at the national level, and it matters at the global level.

Look at the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East; each rife with propaganda meant to shape public opinion across the world. Journalists work with the facts as they find them.

The antidote to propaganda and disinformation is a return to first principles of journalism.

First, we must separate news from opinion. We have an information ecosystem where opinions masquerade as facts, and falsehoods are used to buttress opinion. Terms such as ‘alternative facts’ and the former US president’s moniker ‘fake news’ were used to further erode trust in real news. Our vernacular undermines journalism. We need to fix it.

Secondly, as an industry, we need to prioritize quality reporting over speed and quantity. And over opinion writing.

Synthesizing reams of information under tight deadlines chains most journalists to their desks. Assigning beats allows journalists to develop meaningful contacts and expertise. It makes them better equipped to ask tough questions – and follow-up questions — that move a story forward or break it in the first place.

Third, the industry needs investment fast. The latest report from the Local News Research Project shows a total of 511 local news operations closed in 342 communities across Canada between 2008 and October 1st, 2023. The resulting news deserts have created a vacuum for unregulated social media. Funding for news start-ups could make a big impact at the local level, and should be supported with tax incentives and civic engagement.

Finally, government must play a role. Public policy should align with our constitutional right to a free press. Online platforms, like publishers, commoditize content. Unlike publishers, they don’t produce it or pay for it, nor are they held accountable for it. Canada needs a robust policy that holds Big §Tech to account.

In the workplace, employers must ensure there are policies in place to manage threats and provide training. Whether its online or on the street, threats and violence – especially against women – are creating a chilling effect. WPFC’s patron, CCUNESCO, has done extensive research on the impact.

The big challenge is to figure out how to make money through a new business model that focuses on the core function of the outlet – the journalism. The old model connected customers with advertisers and used the money generated by that process to pay for the news. That does not work anymore. News must pay for itself now. It has value. Let’s demonstrate it.

Canadians have a right to timely, reliable news that is produced without fear or favour. Absent of this, our democracy – our society as we know it – can not function.

World Press Freedom Canada supports journalists by advocating for their personal protection and a free press. You can support them by subscribing to their news. The return on investment is priceless.


President, World Press Freedom Canada