Celebrating some exceptional journalism in New Brunswick
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. With appropriate apologies to Charles Dickens for turning brilliant writing into a hackneyed cliche, that is how I see the state of journalism these days.
The combination of the Trump fuelled “fake news” mantra for any content that doesn’t suit his liking, and real fake news via the Russian industrial-scale production and distribution of content designed to deliberately mislead, malign and confuse, the role of journalism has never been more challenging.
But despite this backdrop, or maybe even because of it, we have been witness over the past couple of years to some of the best investigative journalism, consistently produced, than we have seen perhaps since Watergate.
That’s on the big stage, but even here in New Brunswick we are seeing both the best and worst of journalistic times.
This would be a good place to congratulate the broadcast and print journalists working in New Brunswick who later this month will be competing against the best of the best from the rest of Atlantic Canada at the annual Atlantic Journalism Awards gala and awards presentations in Halifax.
New Brunswick’s broadcast finalists include CBC for its investigative work exposing what the Gallant government tried to keep hidden, including details of the deaths of children under its care, and the property tax fiasco. In fact the unprecedented lack of transparency of the current government is making it tougher for any journalist to fulfill their job of digging out and reporting what New Brunswick citizens deserve to know. But so far many reporters are proving themselves up for the challenge.
CBC has done a commendable job of it and so has the Telegraph Journal, an example being its recent expose on the state of ambulance services throughout the province, another story the government tried to keep under wraps.
That latest example wasn’t eligible for this year’s awards, which are for work done in 2017, but it will be next year. Nominated this year are journalists with the Daily Gleaner, the Telegraph Journal and the Times and Transcript. And to these reporters I’d like to give an extra nod of appreciation. Because while CBC is devoted to helping its people work to the top of their potential, the reporters for the Irving owned papers must feel at times that their success is as much despite their employers than because of them.
No question it is a tough time for the print media, and papers everywhere are struggling to figure out how to make it work amid vastly reduced ad revenue. Some, like the New York Times and Washington Post were inadvertently thrown a lifeline by the election of Trump, and their superior reporting related to his election has resulted in a financial windfall in increased subscriptions.
But far more have had to layoff people and some have folded or have become online publications only.
As for Brunswick News, despite the great work by many of its reporters, the times are not good. Long time freelancers have been told their columns are no longer needed. Staff reporters being placed under more demands for output, from at one point quotas on the number of stories, to constantly updating social media, to taking their own pictures because the professional photographers were shown the door long ago.
I hear more and more people complaining about how the quality of the Irving papers isn’t what it used to be. The investment in the product is the reason why. A little more than a year ago the paper’s ombudswoman wrote a column with a headline that referenced how they have improved again. It told about how the paper had worked out a deal to use Postmedia content. What the piece failed to mention is that it dumped Canadian Press. Shortly thereafter, there was that tragedy where four children died in a fire in rural Nova Scotia, in Pubnico. But not a mention of it in the Irving papers, not that I could find anyway. This is but one example. With this change, readers of the Irving papers will now not get nearly as much, in any, coverage from other parts of the Maritimes than they used to, regardless of how big the story.
It is something people outside the industry may not notice, and the ombudswoman’s piece only told half the story, and not the half that told how the product is diminished by this decision. I can understand if that financial decision had to be made, but honesty in reporting should have demanded that this be explained to readers, not falsely presented as “an improvement”.
Anyway, all this to say it is a tough time for journalism, but kudos for those on the front lines doing the best they can in a difficult situation, and oftentimes, excelling anyway.