When I was just a young and impressionable cub reporter, I had the opportunity to interview Ted Byfield.
I was pretty excited. He was, after all, a magazine publisher and an influential one at that. Byfield was publisher of Alberta Report and, when I interviewed him, was looking to branch out into B.C. Somewhere in the back of mind I probably thought he would be so impressed with me that he would make me editor-in-chief on the spot.
Needless to say, after the interview I was happy there was no job offer. Firstly, I was disappointed in that he didn’t want to talk about journalism, he only wanted to promote his meeting a couple of nights later where he would be hawking for investors to launch his B.C. product.
Secondly, I was abhorred by his matter-of-fact disclosure that journalists who worked for him had to have the ‘right’ philosophy. By that he meant they had to sit on the right side of the political spectrum (conservative) and they had to be good Christians.
Byfield eventually launched B.C. Report after morphing Alberta Report into the Western Report. All his publications were unabashedly conservative and pretty much every story pushed a conservative agenda, whether it was ‘get tough on crime,’ ‘public education is bad,’ or their favourite ‘homosexuality is the work of the devil.’ Facts were secondary or non-existent as they wrote ‘the truth.’
Around the same time, Canada was negotiating NAFTA’s precursor, the Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement. I was toiling away at Canada’s smallest daily newspaper, which was part of Conrad Black’s empire, before it crumbled. As the free trade debate raged in across the country, we would, occasionally, see a full page national ad booked for the paper. For me it was just another page I didn’t have to put editorial content on. But when the paper came out, lo and behold, it was full of editorial content. It was all bylined by real journalists and it was all about free trade. Surprise, surprise, the articles attacked arguments against the deal and extolled the virtues of free trade. They were cleverly disguised as unbiased journalism, but they were far from it.
Flash forward 30 years and we’re seeing the disintegration of Rebel Media, the modern day equivalent of Alberta Report. Conservative MPs, who used to love Rebel Media, are now distancing themselves from the website after its shameful comments following the Charlottesville debacle a couple of weeks ago (I refuse to call it reporting or journalism because, frankly, it isn’t).
My point is media outlets that push political agendas have been around for a long, long time. It used to take money to do such a thing, but nowadays anyone (like me) with a computer and an internet connection can get a site up and running in minutes and call themselves the ‘media.’ We’re seeing it more and more and the news comes flying at us faster than we can say “Siri, open my Facebook page.”
So how can the news-consuming public know who to trust? For some of us, it’s trial and error or we tend to trust the established media CBC, National Post, etc. The trouble with that is most of the really good reporting these days is being done by non-traditional media and/or local media.
So, once again, how can the public find good, solid reporting … good journalism that is invested in finding the all the facts, not just the ones that support their way of thinking? (Hint, a good journalism site will often challenge your beliefs, not continually bolster them.)
Maybe it’s time for some sort of independent accreditation for media.