By Olamide Olaniyan
Newspapers in communities across Canada have closed, and broadcast media are cutting news coverage. Canada's largest newspaper chain is reported to be taking a sharp right turn. Ad revenues continue to plunge and corporate owners are slashing news staff to wring profits out of the remaining outlets.
This is bad. This is very bad. It means that voters aren't getting the information needed to make clear and informed decisions in their elections. And without that, democracy can't work.
Meanwhile, a stormy election is coming. And our lifeline, our floatation device — factual, credible information — isn't as reliable as it used to be.
The breakdown in the media's relationship with the public becomes particularly clear when it comes to elections. The way the media report news, and the way readers consume it, means that even the coverage of the most important issues has a half-life of a few days, at most.
A lot of really smart people have been trying to figure out how to mend this broken relationship. It's clear that election coverage needs to change so people have the information they need to vote intelligently.
(It's important to note that journalists in newsrooms across the country, despite the blows to their profession, are working hard to bring you good election coverage.)
The current way we do news — what are the powerful saying today? — isn't equipped to cover important stories that unfold over a long time. It's not suited to examining structural and systemic issues. It's not built to consider power dynamics and inequalities.
There are alternative approaches, though. Like the Citizen's Agenda, pioneered by the Charlotte Observer in 1992 and championed by American media critic Jay Rosen.
It asks readers what they consider the most important election issues, and then uses that information as a road map to guide coverage for the campaign's duration. In Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?, he argues the news media should be leveraging its institutional influence to serve voters and democracy.
The approach is so interesting that The Tyee chose to model its Reader-Powered Election Reporting Plan on it. And it's intriguing enough that over 1,000 readers contributed to help us execute the plan.
Obviously, this approach can't work if citizens don't engage. We need the participation of an engaged audience that is committed to understanding what the issues are and paying attention. The most important part of public journalism is the opportunity for readers to participate more directly in the system that affects their lives.
Your place in all of this, my friend, is at the centre of it. We're in this together.
Read a lot, from varied sources. Share your views. Think independently, critically analyze what you read and raise questions. Verify information before sharing. Be precise with your language. Stay away from empty slogans and name-calling. Be comfortable in accepting uncomfortable facts. Understand that everything is political.
We'll be doing our best to keep you afloat in this turbulent period as you're buffeted with misinformation and spin. But we're going to need you to do some of the paddling.
Welcome again to The Run. Subsequent editions will dive deep into different topics, from smoke-and-mirror housing policies, to race and elections, to the overdose crisis. We hope you enjoy what comes next.