Fewer local reporters means fewer ‘people stories’

More reporting means more opportunities to understand neighbours and other communities

Last week, Torstar announced that it will effectively be killing five daily papers in major cities across the country – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax. In 2017, the company acquired those same papers, among 13 others in a deal with competitor Postmedia. The company axed the 13 others. Postmedia, meanwhile acquired 22 community papers and promptly killed 22 of them.

It’s a bit baffling that the country’s two largest newspaper owners can make a non-cash deal involving 40 or so newspapers – 40 or so communities – and promptly axe those outlets. Upon inspection, many of the papers traded for represented competition before the deal. Nevertheless, StarMetro reporters from across the country have, for the past two years, rebranded themselves as investigators, often getting scoops before bigger outlets like CBC even got a sniff of the story. They’re dogged, they’re determined, and they’ll soon be out of work.

During holiday breaks from university, I often found myself fielding rhetorical and self-inflating questions on the doom and gloom of the moribund industry that I was studying to enter by saying, “I prefer to consider it as an evolving field.” My go-to answer now makes me think of a Grade 4 teacher who, while our class was sifting through hacked up bits of mouse bones in owl pellets, instructed us to replace the word “gross” in our glossary with “interesting.” You can spin it all you want, but I still had to go home early because my eyes were swelling shut from allergies. Gross.

But now, I genuinely do see journalism as an evolving field – or rather, a field that has the opportunity to change for the better if it takes its chance. (Whether or not it does is an entirely different matter).

We need to resist retracting ourselves from community for the safety of corporate offices in major cities, at the risk of alienating people from their communities even more. Some media outlets are in fact doing well to cut out overhead and streamline, all the while resisting the urge to condense and retreat to the newsiest places in the country – Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

One nature and science magazine, for example, fundraises to pay editorial interns respectable remunerations for their in-depth stories. Other online-only outlets have done one better, fracturing their offices to embed in normal Canadian communities like Lake Cowichan, B.C., and Scarborough, Ont. Granted, these places don’t necessarily have the sexy appeal for some messenger-bag-toting, pour-over-coffee-slurping young reporters drawn to the skirmish of a packed press conference, but they have the appeal of strong stories, just like anywhere else.

Everyone has stories, many people have qualms and even more have talents, interests and passions hidden and unexplored. Nevertheless, I often find my time is sucked away to listen to the words, “Do I have a seconder?” at some formal meeting or another; I feel bound to give the decisions advanced from those meetings the priority of ink on the page.

I wish I could write more people stories of the sort that the StarMetro crew could follow, beyond those based in council agendas and police reports. Covering those things means that I spend a lot of time away from meeting folks that might be more than a turn or two off Hwy 3. When I do make those turns, those stories are the ones that stick with me, and I hope they stick with our readers too.

Journalists often dogmatically repeat that they’re meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That sentence, though, presumes that there are two distinct groups and it elides any opportunity for cross-over between those two arbitrary populations. It’s disingenuous and self-congratulatory.

Instead, a former radio teacher of mine offered a different framing principal: to help people understand people who may be unlike them, just a little bit better. To foster understanding over time.

Without storytellers and reporters in different corners, we may double down on our understandings of the beliefs and traits of ourselves and our friends but we’ll likely trend towards further siloing those others who don’t always run in our circles.

We risk that in the Boundary already, where we have very little reportorial coverage beyond big events that nearly always revolve around tragedy and disaster.

A healthy press can strengthen a community. So while as a reporter I want to have scoops and be the first one on the story to beat out any competition, it’s frankly lonely without counterparts. I welcome Martin over at Juice FM to the scene now, replacing the ever-friendly and intrepid Alex. Let’s hope that we can continue to share more stories across the region together.

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