It may be dark out there, but there is a future for journalism

The moment we realized we’re not alone in our fight to change journalism in Canada.

In many ways, 2018 was a brutal year for journalism, as Time rightly highlighted in selecting journalists murdered or imprisoned, or “guardians of the war on truth” as they called them, for its 2018 Person of the Year cover.

There were moments this year when it felt like we were alone swimming against a tide of ugly discourse, and barely keeping afloat. What chance did our little newsroom have to build a better kind of journalism when the whole world seemed to be moving in the opposite direction?

But this year also brought a more empowering insight: we are so not alone in this fight.

For a long time, it felt like The Discourse was alone, an outlier among stories of layoffs and newsroom closures. I often wondered if I was insane for being optimistic about the future of journalism. That changed this fall. When The Discourse shifted to local commmunity-driven coverage, we stopped paying so much attention to the Postmedia deathwatch and began looking at a much more interesting development: 93 local news organizations launched during these tough economic times.

We wanted to know: who are these new players? Who are they not? Are they having an impact? We’ve just released what we learned in a new report: The Rise of Audience-Funded Journalism in Canada. We identified an emerging subsector of the news industry, growing in communities underserved by other media, that is innovative, dynamic, fast-growing, and positioned to have a disproportionate impact on the Canadian news ecosystem. We also found that women and people of colour are underrepresented among the founders of these new ventures, which raises concerns that the future of journalism could continue to fail to represent all Canadians if this is not addressed. We’ve got some recommendations in the report to help these outlets grow and diversify.

I will inevitably find myself feeling like that lone swimmer struggling against the current at some point in 2019. When that happens, I will look back to a moment in Toronto two weeks ago. The Discourse invited digital media focused on public-powered models to gather for a day at the CFC Media Lab. It was the first time, to my knowledge, that all these independent digital players were in the same room together. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear from other journalist entrepreneurs betting that their audience too will pay for journalism that they value.

The only way anything ever changes is when people take bold actions within their power. I think my future self will remember that day in Toronto, surrounded by journalists so committed to their craft to take huge personal and professional risks, as a moment the media system in Canada shifted.

Did you hear?

    • Steven Hall says he “went through a bunch of different struggles of identity,” from being part of the LGBT community, to religion, to accepting that he’s from a lower income family — “and not being ashamed of that.” His biggest struggle, he says, was embracing his identity as Heiltsuk. Throughout, his language has been his anchor. Watch this video revealing a slide of his journey — and the joy he feels when he expresses his sexuality in his own language, the language of his ancestors. 

  • Emma Gilchrist of The Narwhal explains how new tax credits for non-profit media outlets, like her own, proposed by the federal government could spur more collaboration between legacy players and startups, saving precious resources and revitalizing in-depth investigative reporting.
  • Check out Media Indigena’s latest podcast to hear founder Rick Harp on why Indigenous indie media is essential to decolonization, and the challenges they face.
  • Finally, what may be an eyesore to some, is a cherished part of community to others. In her latest story, Aparita Bhandari learns how shops serving up Filipino cassava cakes or preparing halal meat in the sprawling strip malls of Scarborough bring Canadians from all walks of life together.
    Hazelmae Valenzuela picks up her favourite Filipino sweet treat, Brazo De Mercedes, at the family-run bakery in the strip mall her parents have been frequenting for years.

Shout outs

In last week’s newsletter, Discourse founder and CEO Erin Millar wrote about temporary work camps and their connection to violence against women, after Conservative Twitter couldn’t handle Justin Trudeau’s suggestion that women are at a higher risk for sexualized violence near such camps.

“Truth is that both perspectives have some merit,” Erin wrote. “The camps, and their workers, do contribute economically. But there is also a real connection to sexualized violence against women, as The Discourse reporters Emma Jones and Francesca Fionda found in their award-winning investigation Shadow Population, which dug into the human impacts of the camps.”

The camps are hard on men, too, she added, and we need to listen to both women’s and men’s stories if we want to understand sexualized violence.

Her message struck a chord with several Discourse members.

“Thank you for raising this important issue as sexual violence mostly towards women in Canada remains at around 460,000 cases a year. It’s the only crime stat not on the decline,” Trish wrote in an email.

“As well, I would like to mention a group started in Canada trying to address the gap of the female voice in the media, Informed Opinions. I’m a speaker and expert in their list, so I can say from personal interactions that they are working hard to change this in Canada.”

“Communities are supposed to show undying gratitude to resource extraction irregardless of the harmful impacts to local communities,” Susanna wrote. “Collateral damage.”

“I don’t think Scheer is pitting construction workers against women,” another reader wrote. “He was merely responding to Trudeau, who should have known better than to make such an inflammatory statement (however true it is).”

“And the reality is is that Canadians do disagree on these wedge issues,” she continued. “Let’s stop pretending like liberalism is the only legitimate political ideology. I’ve voted for Liberals almost my entire life, but their arrogance is starting to make me question my affiliations.” [end]



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