Friday, March 24, 2017

Ian Gill: No News is Bad News

Yesterday Ian Gill, writer, filmmaker, and veteran journalist, spoke in a full Simon Fraser University lecture theatre with an engaged crowd of concerned media observers. As his book title suggests, journalism is in trouble. Fortunately, as the subtitle What Comes Next suggests, there's some good news.

Lies and disinformation are not new, says Gill, and the situation is complicated. The the trend of newspaper ownership being concentrated into ever fewer hands is a problem that goes back fifty years. Unfortunately, the progress of this unhealthy trend has been unimpeded, in spite of a series of Royal Commissions. Of course, the internet continues to alter the journalistic landscape. In Canada, an astonishing 64% of ad revenue goes to Google and Facebook, while Postmedia gets only about 3%. The Globe and Mail gets a paltry .7%.

Big newspaper conglomerates, says Gill, focus solely on making money. They do not serve readers by promoting public discourse and engagement but push the agendas of their shareholders.

To become relevant again, journals have to do better than trying to replicate online what they've historically done on paper. Newspapers are in a bad way. Those that have lost the trust of their readers, Gill opines, should be allowed to die "with as much dignity as they can muster." We need more robust forms of journalism to take up the slack.

A new model, discourse journalism, is something Ian Gill is currently experimenting with. That is, when he is not working with Ecotrust Canada, or teaching as an adjunct professor at SFU on environmental subjects.

Gill proved an able and amusing speaker. Though he didn't sugar coat the bad news about the nation's current media problems, he left his audience with reason to hope.

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