Journalism Is a Noble Craft. But Most Journalists Can Do Better.

Journalism Is a Noble Craft. But Most Journalists Can Do Better.
by Mark Bourrie
February 26, 2024
Journalism Is a Noble Craft. But Most Journalists Can Do Better.

“Journalists are just a bunch of pimps,” a stranger in an Ottawa coffee shop told me this week.

He then launched into lecture on the worthlessness of media. He didn’t read their work or listen to them. But Jody Wilson Raybould is a martyr, he said, and Jane Philpott was brave to quit the federal cabinet to support her.

He then went even deeper into the weeds of the SNC Lavalin scandal, which he seemed to understand quite clearly. He was not an eyewitness to anything that happened on Parliament Hill. They guy was just sitting with a latte and a laptop.

But somehow he knew.

I confess to having shared the same feelings once in a while, but they’ve always been quickly-passing emotions.

Some media are utter whores, using journalism as a stepping stone to jobs in the government or lobby shops. Some are partisan hacks. Many are intellectually lazy, poorly-educated and none-too-bright.

That out of the way, there are about 5,000 journalists in the country, if you use a wide interpretation of what counts as a journalist. (Journalists fight a lot over this.) In any group that size, you’ll get saints and lechers, geniuses, addicts and fools.

A lot of them work hard in the public interest, coming up with in-depth stories like Joanne Chianello’s jaw-dropping account of Ottawa’s light rail disaster.  Laura Stone and Colin Freeze haven’t let go of Doug Ford’s cronyism at the highest ranks of the provincial police. Kim Bolan keeps fearlessly digging into organized crime in British Columbia.

I got my first staff reporting job in the winter of 1978, when I was 19 years old. I worked on a lot of papers as both a staffer and a freelancer. I also spent more than two decades on Parliament Hill.

I’ve met a lot of journalists who believed in their craft. Some are willing to go to jail for principles. I’ve known journalists who’ve had their homes and offices searched, been hit with worthless but frightening lawsuits, and who knew powerful people were lobbying their publishers and editors to get them fired.

So here’s my take

Many journalists are wrong, but they are honestly wrong. Only a tiny fringe are so sleazy that they’d make up facts, create bogus documents and write attack pieces on honest people.

This blog will expose the failings of some of these people. At the same time, it will support and offer advice – not legal advice, just lessons learned on the job and in some classrooms – to conscientious journalists.  If you need legal advice, I can help you with that, too.

I’ll write a lot about free expression issues, propaganda (a very wide catch-all word), media successes and media failings. This is an election year, which is a sort of show-of-cards in the media poker game. I suspect posts about political coverage will be more common as things warm up.

I’ll also follow the development of media law. This is a rapidly-evolving field in Canada. Posts will include important regulatory issues and decisions as well as defamation.

Every week or so, you’ll find new links and wrap-ups on media issues.

Why do this?

Partly because I’m not a journalist anymore. I went back to school, got my PhD and a law degree and am now a practicing member of the Bar of Ontario. I also give policy and communications advice. I’ve been both an expert witness and a lawyer at CRTC regulatory hearings.

It may take a while for me to find the right voice and tone. Please give feedback on that on my Twitter account (@MarkBourrie) or by email. I want this site to be useful to media people, lawyers and people interested in media. It will, I hope, be a counterweight to some of the reckless crap posing as media criticism in Canada.

I’ll talk about that later, too.

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