Canada needs journalists – such is the theme of the 80th annual National Newspaper Week, which began Sunday. It’s tough to argue with the claim, frankly. Of course, Canada needs journalists who are free to uncover, discover, and convey news from our neighbourhoods on up to the international level. Canada also needs commentators who are free to provide their point of view or analysis of that news. All countries do.
So, while newspapers can (and should) make the case for their continued existence, we need to ask a broader question: How we can have good journalists and what media outlets will carry their work?
Some, seem to have found an answer in journalism freed from the strictures of big media companies.
Jen Gerson, who left regular employment as a National Post reporter to strike out on her own in 2018, is one such person.
“This is something that I find so funny is that a lot of people who are in mainstream media look at what I’m doing and go, ‘Oh, you’re taking such a risk. You’re out on a limb. What are you doing?’” Gerson tells Cardus’s podcast The Long Way. “I’m looking at them and saying, ‘You know, you’re two weeks from a layoff notice. Who’s taking risks?’”
She’s not wrong.
Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs in 2020. And the year, with all its economic troubles, isn’t done yet.
“There is no such thing as a secure position in media,” says Gerson. “Just because you have a pension plan and benefits and a business card, doesn’t protect you. All of these industries are going down. We don’t know which ones are going to survive in 10 years or even two.”
Now, Gerson has started her own outlet called The Line. The site describes itself as “an outlet for engaging, irreverent writing” from Canadian newspaper and magazine writers who are free from “institutional cultures enforcing a state of stifling conformity.”
So, Gerson – who admits it would be challenging for her to be “governable” in a newsroom – is enjoying her independence.
“I say what I think, but I still believe in the dictates of journalism,” she says. “I still believe in rigour. I still believe in holding even my own beliefs to scrutiny as much as possible.”
While objectivity is out of reach, given how subjective we all are as individuals, balance and fairness are not. As an example, Gerson offers her approach toward people with whom she may deeply disagree.
“If I'm going to talk someone who is a deeply conservative, deeply religious person who believes that abortion is fundamentally killing babies, then I have to represent that person's views fairly,” she tells The Long Way. “I can't say this person wants to turn the world into a Handmaid's Tale dystopian nightmare because that's just not true, right? That's not accurate to the viewpoints. And that requires a degree of empathy that I think is fundamental to the world of journalism.”