Editorial: Journalism, falling standards and the selfie

“No, actually, you can’t take a look,” I tell the seventh person in a row.

I mean really what’s the difference? I’m filing a puff piece. Regardless, another source wants to preview the story before it goes to print.

It is investigative journalism? Not really.

Will it compromise the story? Probably not.

Will it foster a growing disregard for the fourth estate? Absolutely.

“It’s our policy,” says the interviewee politely.

At some point along the way we have come to understand local newspaper coverage as an arm of marketing.

Another way to sculpt our public image.

An instagram filter on a selfie.

However, there is a good reason why press releases don’t get read unless they make it into the hands of a journalist. It’s because people are keenly aware when they are being fed a line of crap or just one side of the story.

As people begin to understand the depths of manipulation perpetrated by social media’s echo chamber, I can’t help wonder if we will see the restoration of the fourth estate. This compulsive image shaping is not only shallow, it’s short sighted with big consequences.

Here’s my take: If you provide a service to the public you have a responsibility to the media.

If you are educating our children, run a Sunday school, hold elected office, manage a state-run enterprise, you have a responsibility to be transparent.

Instead I often see a sudden and deep preoccupation with privacy. It quickly rules out any meaningful bilateral communication.

The provincial government takes things to another level with FOIPPA, the Freedom Of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. FOIPPA is essentially two noble ideas rolled into one super awkward abbreviation… Protecting Privacy always seems to trump Freedom of Information, however.

Freedom of Information, as it turns out, comes with a cost and a processing time.

Coincidentally, it allows the government nearly iron clad control of important public information except those items so tantalizing that a reporter will spend months waiting for them.

On the local front: why would a locally-based organization, serving locals, responsible to local people, run their media through a corporate office in a distant city?

Is it to provide better information? That’s a little counterintuitive.

Is it to protect the privacy of their charges (students for example)? Possibly, but one imagines a local person could do an equal job.

Is it convenient to have professionals working proactively on damage control? It is my hunch that it is.

I’ll submit there is a growing unhealthy, undemocratic approach to communication everywhere.

And so I would ask you to think about whether or not your organization is transparent. What happens if someone in your organization abuses power or the trust of its clients? Will the policy still stand?

Is your organization good enough, deep enough, and committed enough to be transparent? If not, no media policy is going to help that.

In the meantime, don’t expect concessions from the local newspaper.

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