Imagining journalism in the next 50 years
By Ash Kelly
A panel of five veteran journalists gathered in front of a sold-out crowd at CBC Vancouver last week to discuss the next 50 years of journalism.
The event was part of Langara College’s 50th anniversary celebration of its journalism program, which began in 1965. Moderated by the chair of Langara journalism, Frances Bula, the panel included a mix of print and broadcast experts: Gary Mason, Harold Monroe, Simi Sara, Alison Broddle and Jane Armstrong.
“I always feel inspired and energized by these kind of discussions,” said Broddle, a CBC News executive producer. “Because it is such a competitive industry, I spend my days trying to figure out how I can beat Harold or match what Simi has on her show. It’s really great to figure out what we have in common.”
While most panelists were weary to predict exactly what the next 50 years of journalism will look like, they all agreed that big data, social media and monetization of online content will influence the future of the industry.
Monroe, editor-in-chief at the Vancouver Sun, speculated on the rate of technological advances and imagined a world where news could be projected into the audience’s homes via 3D holographic capabilities. “Imagine a tattooed Hells Angels member, in your living room,” he said.
CKNW radio host and Langara journalism graduate Simi Sara said some foundational principles would stay the same. “Regardless of technological changes, one thing that never changes is storytelling. My job remains the same, and that is to make stories relevant,” Sara said.
The topic of dwindling revenues and the need to monetize digital content took a unique turn when Armstrong, now editor-in-chief of The Tyee, talked about her experiences with crowd-funding. “The success we’ve had with crowd-funding shows that there is a thirst for news and commentary, and the public wants a say in the production of that,” she said.
The crowd of mostly working journalists and local journalism students kept the conversation flowing on Twitter throughout the panel. Those who could not get tickets, including many Langara alumni, chimed in to offer their thoughts and experiences.
First-year British Columbia Institute of Technology broadcast journalism student Estephania Duran said the panel gave her confidence in the stability of the industry. “It’s not all lost, there is still hope,” she said. “It’s very refreshing to see that no matter the medium, radio or print, change is happening.”
Sara and Broddle cautioned ambitious student journalists to adjust their expectations coming into the industry, warning them that they would need to put in their time working the city hall beat. “They want to be Barbara Walters even if it takes all week,” joked Sara, telling students to be ready to work hard and do whatever it takes to get the story. “Pick up the phone, knock on doors, work the neighbourhood,” she said.
The five panelists also agreed that the future would see a further decline in the power of print media. Remembering The Washington Post‘s Ben Bradlee, who died on Oct. 21, Mason reflected on the golden age of newspapers.
“It’s easy to get somewhat nostalgic and to wallow in the regret of what once was,” said Mason, who compared the landmark reporting of Watergate to recent coverage of the shooting in Ottawa, including the work of a Globe and Mail reporter who bravely filmed the firefight inside Parliament’s main hall.
“That took a lot of guts, and I thought, this is what journalists do and this is what journalists will always do. There will always be a place for this kind of journalism in the world,” Mason said.
Ash Kelly is a freelancer who writes for The Globe and Mail Canadian University Report and Mountain Bike for Her Magazine. She will be graduating from Langara College’s journalism program this spring.