Today I lunch with a good friend and committed journalist trying to come to terms with the loss of his job because of the recent Postmedia-TorStar deal that closed a good number of local newspapers across Canada, including London. He is one of those people who is his writing; it’s how he chronicles his aspirations and struggles, his belief in community and his own place within it. There are many like him now wondering how to navigate their future. The communities are still here, but many of their dedicated storytellers are gone.
Such thoughts abounded when I came across CBC London’s Kate Dubinsky’s piece on what happens to the archives of such publications when they close down. You can read it here. She rightfully opened her piece by reminding us that such archives, “are a treasure trove of information about politics, culture and society.”
My friend, mentioned earlier, had reported on so many community events that tracked the daily life of how citizens live together, how politicians search for solutions, and how small businesses and organizations reinvent themselves for a new era. He frequently covered stories left unheralded by larger publications. Who covers such events now? Who tells the stories of how people cope in a modern age where survival has become more of a challenge? And what of the records of their writings? Where will they rest? How can they be researched if they are just filed away in obscurity? How will we learn of much of our community life when the writers and their works have just been severed from community wellbeing? Ms. Dubinsky’s article is far more eloquent than my meager words and deserve careful consideration.
My lunch companion is popular among community organizations and citizens wired into activism and collective conscience. He covered their stories when others didn’t, or couldn’t. He served as a lifeline between these diverse smaller communities. Social media quickly erupted in an outpouring of support for him, with frequent mentions of how his presence and writing would be missed. It was all quietly touching in its own way, but it was missing the point.
A local blogging friend of mine, Jay Menard, reminded our community last week that many of us offering condolences might be part of the problem. “You get what you’re willing to pay for,” he wrote, adding, “Instead of wringing our collective hands after the fact, maybe we should be more willing to reach into our collective wallets beforehand.”
And there it was: clear and concisely stated. The essence and future of democracy lies within its citizens, not so much their political representatives. In an era where politics no longer earns much cachet with voters, the only clear alternative to keep it accountable is an intelligent citizenry. That should be obvious. But in an era of fake news, fake journalists, fake truth – fake everything – citizens must stake a claim in the objective sources of their news and not just opinions. It remains a question of authority: who can be trusted to provide society with contextual evidence provided through effective oversight?
Will we pay for that kind of information, or will we continue expecting everything to show up on our screen without investment on our part? It’s an important question, but it is becoming clearer that citizens better understand what fake news is doing to the very society they are attempting to build.
Now because some mega-corporations completed executive decisions totally separate from the daily lives of their readers, it’s not only the narratives that are gone, but those that reported on them. One thing is becoming more clear: the more we lose such voices, the more we lose ourselves – our history, our mistakes, our collaboration, our successes to build on and our failures to learn from. It’s time to return to the place where knowledge is so priceless that we are willing to invest in its protection.
As feminist author and academic Carolyn Heilbrun put it: “Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” Right now, powerful and wealthy people are determining what we hear, and along with them are millions of other sources that flood our systems with nonsense. It’s time to reinvest in our ethical journalists instead of mourning their extinction. And that will take money – enough of it to give truth a chance.