“Towards a blueprint for a new free press”

For those who missed Journalist Interrupted at MacEwan University in May, you can find streamed video from the event here or read J-Source‘s live coverage here. Co-organizer Brian Gorman and I also wrote an op-ed for The Edmonton Journal, which you can read online here.

I would love to hear from anyone who has had time to further reflect on the event. For me, it was a markedly hopeful and inspiring evening.

Journalist Interrupted: Discussing a new free press, May 26 in Edmonton

I began working at The Edmonton Journal in 2005, as a paid summer intern. I had left my job at The Standard in St. Catharines, Ont., for the chance to work at a major urban daily.

I was thrilled to find so many people milling about the Journal‘s newsroom on my first day. Sports, lifestyle, entertainment, and editorial folks worked in other areas of the newsroom, and there was a whole team of photographers. Support staff sometimes transcribed reporters’ taped interviews, and kept everything running so smoothly. People had time to mentor me and the seven other interns. They read our work, shared their expertise, and led workshops to improve our interview skills. More than one person could take time to craft feature stories, go on the road, or assemble binders dedicated to cracking the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy system. There were librarians who supported our research and many different editors to argue with and challenge us through the day.

picI was living the journalism dreams I had adapted somewhere between the first time I saw a printing press in the basement of my hometown newspaper office, and when I graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism.

After my first summer, I moved onto the crime desk for a one-year contract. I was then made a permanent reporter, and eventually found my way to the Alberta Legislature beat before getting to cover the environment. By the time I left in 2012, I had mentored summer interns, perfected the art of packing fast to hit the road when necessary, planned feature story packages, and got to assign stories and edit copy on weekend shifts.

But my journalism dreams do not quite square with the realities of today’s newsrooms.

In some ways, my journalism career was very small compared to the fascinating opportunities afforded by new and alternative media. In other ways, however, it is difficult to replicate as new newsrooms, with fewer people and different approaches to coverage, emerge.

In the last decade, newsrooms across the country have cut people, sections, and/or distribution services in order to reduce costs.

This year, for example, The Journal was hit by a whole new round of layoffs. It was gut-churning to watch from the outside, as fragmented social media updates tumbled in from friends and former colleagues. From the inside, former editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand offered a great deal of insight here, and reporter Jana Pruden made it real in a series of Twitter updates you can read here. According to reports, Postmedia was again scaling back costs across the chain in an effort to turn a profit. The Journal’s newsroom would be merged, more or less, with that of the recently-acquired Edmonton Sun’s.

These kinds of cuts and scale-backs have impacts on communities, how they see themselves, and democracy.

If mainstream outlets fall back, what happens to journalism now?

Against this backdrop, earlier this year I reached out to Karen Unland, a former Journal editor, a new media entrepreneur, and one of my very favourite people on the planet. I wanted to do something, to explore the effects of a swiftly changing journalism landscape for people living in Edmonton, in Alberta, and in Canada.

It seemed fortuitous, really, that the annual National Newspaper Awards–an event that celebrates the best print journalism in Canada–would be held in Edmonton in May.

Karen approached Brian Gorman, an assistant professor of communication studies at MacEwan University and the author of the recently released Crash to Paywall: Canadian Newspapers and the Great Disruption.

Together, we hatched a plan to bring media practitioners, educators, and Edmontonians together to talk about “a blueprint for a new free press.”

We have so many questions for the panelists who have agreed to join us. Questions like: what happens now? what will journalism look like in the future? how will it be funded? what does it all mean for communities?

If you’re in Edmonton on May 26, come out and contribute your thoughts and your questions. Here are the details:

Journalist Interrupted: Towards a blueprint for a new free press


When: 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Thursday, May 26, 2016

Where: CN Conference Theatre, MacEwan University – Room 5-142 (105th Street Building) 10700 104 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4S2

Register: http://journalistinterrupted.eventbrite.com

Week Eleven: “We as a bar have so many other issues we should talk about.”

Have you heard the one about the prime minister, the bear, and the bar?

Tabatha Southey’s pitch-perfect column in the Globe, “A prime minister and his bear walk into a bar…,” is a must-read going into the final days of the 2015 election. Because in a way, it pushes back against the moments when we (I) have dismissed campaign distractions, and forces us to take a second, harder look at precisely what matters (and why).

In 2014, during Quebec’s provincial election, Quebecers were also faced with questions of belonging, and representations and rights of minority groups and religions. Reflecting this situation and the greater context of provincial politics, a group of independent media producers called their documentary about the Charter of Quebec Values “La charte des distractions.” Acknowledging campaigns may be trying to draw our attention away from other issues does not negate the need to critically analyze how so-called distractions work.

So while I may tend to agree with Southey’s imaginary bar patron who asks after the environment — or, for more clear perspective, the Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief quoted in this episode of The Current on CBC who notes the absence of clean drinking water in many indigenous communities continues to be overlooked  — I can’t look away, either. And so here are stories that take up both the environment, and questions of the niqab and citizenship rights, lingering on the challenges voters face:

  • In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, a former B.C. attorney general argues that, faced with a range of political positions on most fronts — including the environment — that may or may not be so different, the question of whether voters will allow there to be “two types of Canadians” ought to be a determining factor this election.
  • The Independent, a London, U.K.-based newspaper, offers a lengthy analysis of the Canadian election under the headline, “Anti-Muslim prejudice is a nasty theme of campaigning as the liberal nation’s democracy loses its way”, while another U.K.-based newspaper, The Guardian, touches on issues of the niqab and the “barbaric cultural practices” hotline — as well as Canada’s responsibilities on climate change and our record on oil production — in this opinion piece.
  • Canadian author Joseph Boyden, in this radio interview and Maclean’s article, argues: “The real issue is the economy, which is wobbly right now. […] The real issue is the environment, which is screwed. The real issue is First Nations issues. The fastest growing population in our country are second-class citizens, and yet we’re talking about niqabs.” (If you listen to the radio interview, the interviewer goes to great lengths to play devil’s advocate on what would constitute “barbaric cultural practices” at the start of the interview, while taking a pass on the opportunity raised to talk about oil and the environment.)
  • This piece was published over a week ago, but highlights how Thomas Mulcair engaged oil pipeline and niqab issues when he was on Tout le monde en parle, and why this careful engagement is important in Quebec.

The other paddle

Pulling back, the last days of the election are not without a number of questions about how the economy will fare after Oct. 19.

On climate change


When I started this blog in August, I promised I wouldn’t tell you how to vote. And I still won’t tell you who I think you should vote for. (Chances are, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t know.)

But, if you haven’t already voted in advance, do cast a ballot on Monday, Oct. 19. Here are some necessary details from Elections Canada.

Week Ten: Negotiating rupture and ways of life

Heading into the 1992 Earth Summit, or United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro, then-U.S. President George Bush made clear, “the American way of life is not up for negotiation.” The following year, in a published chapter entitled, “Global ecology and the shadow of ‘development,'” Wolfgang Sachs argued Bush’s statement effectively yoked the right of countries to maintain their rates of economic and industrial development and expansion to the interests of maintaining the environment. He argued, further, keeping development as a core principle at Rio enabled international cooperation among a range of international actors, however, “it prevents the rupture required to head off the multifaceted dangers for the future of mankind” (Sachs, 1993, p. 3).

Heading into the last two weeks of Canada’s federal election, this word — rupture — is one I can’t help returning to. Have we had the honest-to-goodness rupture moment in this election? The moment when all the potential sacrifices, real-life impacts of climate strategies, and carbon taxes have been laid out before us, to judge and to weigh? Between media coverage and party platforms (as well as party advertisements), have voters seen all the options and all the plans? At times, it has seemed that, between troubling distractions and speeches emphasizing how the ways of life of middle class voters will be maintained and made better, discussion of serious change couldn’t be farther from this election.

Yet, rather serious people — people like former Bank of Canada Governor and current Bank of England Governor Mark Carney — talk openly about rather massive changes that need to be made, including, as the Globe reported from a speech Carney gave in London last week, “pricing in the risk of moving to a low-carbon future.” Soon after the Oct. 19 vote, Canada’s government will be expected to represent the country at Paris climate talks for a universal climate agreement, and the prime minister will have to engage with the notion of a “postpetroleum world.”

Meanwhile, according to a memo leaked last week, officials within Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs are looking for the post-Oct. 19 government to take up a more serious international role on climate change:

The memo recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development take a more active role in promoting climate change engagement by targeting programs at climate finance, clean technology and “climate-smart agriculture.”

“While the ultimate responsibility for multilateral engagement on climate change rests with Environment Canada, DFATD could encourage the new government to earmark resources for this purpose,” the memo says.

Cited work & recommended readings

Sachs, W. (1993). Global ecology and the shadow of ‘development.’ In W. Sachs (Ed.), Global Ecology: A New Arena of Political Conflict, pp. 3-21. London & New Jersey: Zed Books

McKibben, B. (2000). We’re all environmentalists now, right? Round one. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/roundtable/environment/mckibben1.htm

Vidal, J. (2012). Rio +20: Earth summit dawns with stormier clouds than in 1992. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jun/19/rio-20-earth-summit-1992-2012

New resources

Equiterre and Environmental Defence released a 16-page analysis of how the parties might tackle climate change last week, while the Anglican Church discusses “caring for creation” in its report, An Anglican Approach to Election 2015. (If anyone out there has seen similar resources from other religious groups, please send me a note!)

Other environmental news
Finally, speaking of politics and the Keystone XL

Week Nine: Canada’s place in the world

If the environment is your key election issue, perhaps one of the most disheartening, repetitive elements of media coverage through August and September has been the consistent look at oil, pipelines, climate change, and conservation through the lens of a slow economy. With one set of issues tied, always, to the other, it is difficult to discuss seriously the notion of doing anything that could further slow the economy. Yet to seriously (hope to) turn things around on the environment, isn’t such a discussion necessary?

On this down-beat, I start this week with an offering of pieces that reflect upon Canada’s place in the world:

Even if the environment is not your issue, Mark MacKinnon’s analysis for the Globe and Mail, “Harper’s world: Canada’s new role on the global stage,” is a must-read. If the environment is your issue, this is a place to pause:

Environmentalists remain […] in shock over Canada’s 2011 decision to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Canada that brought the world together in 1987 to sign the Montreal Protocol to combat ozone-depleting substances seemed to have changed almost unrecognizably.

Going into this week’s leaders’ debate, global environmental politics professor Dr. Peter Stoett offers this primer, which includes this take on the importance of discussing climate change:

Climate change should be foremost in any discussion of foreign policy. Canada has not only flouted the global trend toward serious action on climate change, but has also pulled out of an inexpensive convention on desertification and has not been the leader it could be in promoting sustainable development with alternative energy technology. [….]

I hope the leaders will make bold commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions and move away from the energy superpower rhetoric that contributes to the diminishment of Canada’s reputation among those who will be most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and reduces our buoyant, multi-dimensional economy to a resource-based dependency.

I would also like to see discussion of other issues related to the environment: the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, the oceans, responsible Canadian investments abroad and conserving biodiversity worldwide. But I doubt we will get there.

Further on climate change, Germany’s ambassador has said Canada is needed as a strong climate ally this fall in Paris, and Hillary Clinton envisions Canada, the United States, and Mexico working as a team on a new climate strategy. Clinton also swept headlines last week with her (long awaited) voiced opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry bitumen from Alberta to the Gulf Coast — her opposition has ramifications for Canada’s election, though after reading this piece from the UK-based Guardian, it’s difficult to gauge the actual impact of her announcement.

More on oil & politics in Quebec

The French-language debate last week offered insight into how oil politics play in Quebec, and this excerpt from a CBC story offers a neat, if distractingly leader-centered summary:

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe pressed the NDP leader, who goes by Tom in English but Thomas in French, on his views on oilsands.

The BQ leader cited comments that Mulcair had made in French and in English on the topic, suggesting they were contradictory.

“I’d like to know if Tom talks to Thomas from time to time,” quipped Duceppe.

More interesting, however, is an exchange regarding exporting water.

Other headlines this week

Week Eight: “What comes next?”

Watching last week’s Globe and Mail leadership debate, entitled, “Our economy. Our future,” a question that stood out, from an environmental perspective, is this from the Globe‘s editor-in-chief to Stephen Harper:

Your dream, though, of being an energy superpower [has] not been realized. For those who are worried about jobs of the future, what comes next?”

As is evident from the premise — drawing upon Harper’s near-decade of international and domestic speeches emphasizing Canada’s natural resource extraction and export economy — this is a question about what comes after an oil-centered economy.

Listen to Harper’s response, at 20:15:

The answer would seem to stand out far less than the question, or at least to be less preoccupied by the future than by the past. Much later in the debate, Harper similarly stuck to discussion of his government’s long-term plan, which can be understood as continuing to hold resource extraction and trade at its core.

This is, perhaps, the problem with accepting the election frame Harper and the Conservative Party offered on Day 1: the key issue of this election is the economy and the Harper government’s economic record. Does accepting and elaborating upon this framing allow other issues, like the environment, to be sidelined?

(For a different example of the environment being sidelined, see this series of CBC interviews with the Conservative, Liberal, and New Democrat party leaders.)

Of course, if you do have the time to watch the Globe debate in its entirety, spend some time with the context offered by Kelly Cryderman at the start — Cryderman highlights how the economy and questions of the economy are important for people in Alberta who are experiencing “sleepless nights,” who are worried about their mortgages, their jobs, and their personal debt loads. Is this kind of intensely personal context missing from the environmental debate in this election? Making connections to people’s bank accounts and potential sacrifices was certainly missing from the later debate discussion of both the NDP’s and Liberal party’s plans for capping, trading, and/or pricing carbon should they be elected.

More debate coverage

Other climate change news

Other pipeline news

More on the candidates

Week Seven: On oil

If you only read three stories this week to consider the importance and role of oil in this election — and to consider the case for thinking outside of pipelines and extraction as leading economic drivers — here are my strong recommendations:

  1. If you haven’t already, go find this weekend’s copy of the Globe and Mail. Largely structured around the question of what comes after oil, its Business and Focus section are dedicated to unpacking “Canada’s new economic reality,” and still more promisingly, offering potential solutions for significantly diversifying the national economy. Mushroom harvesting? “More female geeks”? More wind power? So much to talk about!

    2015-09-14 11.05.06

  2. Also from the Globe, Margaret Atwood’s piece, “Can Canadian oil green-clean itself?” Breaking open the problems Canadian oil faces, Atwood critiques the prime minister’s performance in this area to date, questioning as well whether Stephen Harper has been the ally the oil industry has needed:

    “If you were a leader promoting Canadian oil, maybe you should avoid annoying every other leader whose co-operation or territory is needed for your favoured projects – such as pipelines – to go ahead. Instead, Mr. Harper has threatened the U.S. President, treated First Nations with contempt, gone out of his way to antagonize the Premier of Ontario, and sullied Canada’s reputation abroad through foot-dragging over carbon-reduction treaties.

    “The oil patch must be wondering whether they backed the right champion. A leader able to admit to the CO2 problem, support practical tech, and avoid demonizing other points of view would be a wiser choice.”

  3. In the National Post, Max Fawcett outlines what a “mature conversation” about the oil sands might entail right now. In service of the argument, there may be one too many rhetorical uses of “apparently” here, and too easy a slide between the idea of leaving some oil in the ground and turning entirely from oil development. But the argument itself deserves thorough examination in the weeks ahead:

“The real solution lies in reducing the demand for oil and refined products, and the single best way to achieve that is through the implementation of a carbon tax. After all, the bulk of emissions take place at the tailpipe, not the wellhead. Given that, punishing a particular source of supply when dozens of other ones are available is more about political posturing than actually reducing emissions.

“That’s why I have a hard time taking calls for a “mature conversation” about the oil sands seriously. Mature conversations, after all, don’t trade in intellectual binaries and moral absolutes, and they aren’t conducted using internet memes and snappy tweets.”


The headline for this New Republic story — “Stephen Harper Turned Canada into a Climate Villain. An Election Won’t Change That” — doesn’t hold anything back. But if the headline reads as tough criticism of the prime minister, the analysis shows all of the political parties are either setting their targets on carbon emission cuts too low, or aren’t being specific enough about how they will make change.