Newsrooms no longer able to keep citizens informed, says researcher

May 28, 2016

Cutbacks and downsizing leave the public in ignorance

CALGARY, MAY 28 2016 — Canadian newsrooms have suffered so much from downsizing and cutbacks that they are no longer up to the task of keeping citizens informed of the issues—especially local ones, says a London, Ontario, researcher.

And that, she says, is leaving the public in fear and ignorance.

Meredith Levine is a lecturer in the Faculty of Media and Information Studies at Western University. At the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary, she will be presenting the results of a case study on the impact of downsized newsrooms and media ownership concentration on news coverage.

Levine’s case study involves a high-profile court case in which Arthur Kent, a former TV reporter who was dubbed the ‘Scud Stud’ for his reporting of the 1991 Gulf War, sued columnist Don Martin and Postmedia et al for an article published in 2008. Kent, who at the time of the article’s publishing was a provincial election candidate in Calgary, alleges defamation. The case could set legal precedent in this country in the area of damages and ‘digital afterlife’—i.e., how long material remains live on the Internet.

The case was heard in Calgary over five weeks in November and December 2015 and a ruling is imminent.

Though the case involves prominent people and the judgment will likely have important repercussions, Levine says the Canadian Press (CP) news agency was the only news organization to assign a reporter to the trial, though CBC sent a reporter on occasion.

That, she says, is symptomatic of what’s happening in Canada today.

“A lot of things are happening now in our country at the local level, and there’s no one to keep an eye on them,” says Levine.

“At the national level in Canada we’re still OK, but it’s at the local level that we feel it,” she says.

She says that in the Kent-Martin case, CP reporter Bill Graveland did a good job of reporting what was going on from a national perspective.

But there was virtually no reporting of the case from an Alberta perspective, even though it involved a candidate in an Alberta provincial election, and there was no attempt to delve into broader issues like digital afterlife.

Alberta papers printed the CP stories, but Postmedia papers sometimes cut out parts of the story that reflected poorly on the company.

“If you were living in Alberta, how could you find out the full story and know what was at stake?” she asked.

 That’s why I did this case study. What I saw was that we remained ignorant of a lot of the issues that were important. It was not because one journalist didn’t do his job, but because there was only one journalist doing the news reporting for a national audience.”

“For democracy, it’s very disconcerting.”

Meredith Levine will be presenting this research on May 29 at the 2016 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary. This presentation is called “Where Have All The Reporters Gone? Arthur Kent V Postmedia And Don Martin: A Case Study Of The Impact Of Downsized Newsrooms And Media Concentration On Editorial Content” and will take place at 1:30-3:00 pm in Science Theatres – 131 on the University of Calgary campus. 


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