I was recently chatting with a former journalistic colleague when she brought up a conversation she overheard during a fall fair. Someone who identified herself as being a friend of a local councillor was saying that the council was going to raise property taxes by 14 percent and that she had been told by the councillor that it was a completely done deal.It was a pretty strange claim to make, considering the council had only started its budget deliberations and has a long history of beginning with a high estimated tax increase only to finish with one that comes in at the low single digits. My colleague knew it was bunk because she knew the history. She understood that, in spite of this person’s claim to having the inside scoop, she clearly didn’t. However, as my friend was busy with other things, she was unable to correct the misinformation that was being passed around in the moment. All she could do was hope that the rumour didn’t spread and to be prepared to fight a rearguard action to correct it if it did.
Welcome to journalism in 2023.
Not so long ago, newspaper staffs were large enough to cover their communities like a blanket. If it happened, we wrote about it. If people were talking about it, we joined the fray. We offered plaudits to the best of us and exposed the misdeeds of the worst of us. We left no stone unturned in our quest to present the good, the bad and the ugly of the places we covered.
Then, things changed.
Newsrooms started getting smaller. At first, the changes were hardly noticeable. An event missed here, a brief instead of an article there. Sadly, that was just the beginning. Soon, newsrooms were having to make difficult decisions about how to use their shrinking resources. Many journalists tried to compensate by putting in longer hours and working seven days a week for months on end. However, no matter how committed a journalist is to his or her community, that can only last for so long.
As the number of journalists goes down, it gets harder for those who remain to write all the stories that need to be written. Fewer stories mean more news items that go unexplained. It means fewer misunderstandings get corrected. It means that those who wish to spin a situation to their own ends will go unchallenged. A lack of journalists and journalism can do irreparable harm to both society at large and to the places we call home.
All for the want of a journalist …
Gordon Cameron is president and interim executive director of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association.