Amid half-empty pizza boxes and mugs of stale coffee, 20-something me regularly pulled all-nighters to meet deadlines. I was one of about a dozen volunteer editors at the Queen’s University student newspaper in the late 1990s, and my colleagues and I were earnestly forming our identities as hard-nosed journalists.
At some point, someone on the team came up with the phrase “A free press is the engine of democracy.” What more lofty purpose could there be to feed our youthful zeal? We added it to our masthead and treated it like gospel truth, holding the student government and the university administration to account as if the very life of the campus depended on it.
While I’m less starry-eyed now, I still believe a free press is essential to a healthy democracy. Media outlets have their flaws, but when journalists ask leaders tough questions or dig into bureaucratic or corporate paper trails, the information they bring to light allows all of us to better understand our communities and to act accordingly.
But local media, newspapers in particular, are in trouble. In the July/August issue, David Wilson, this magazine’s former editor, details the decline of local reporting in Canada. Had I foreseen this state of affairs, 20-something me would have been appalled.
What concerns me even more than Canadian news outlets quietly going bankrupt is that journalism in other parts of the world is under attack. In Russia, objective war reporting has been criminalized and more than 150 journalists have fled the country. In Mexico, journalists are being murdered, the crimes rarely prosecuted. Since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, most female journalists, like the woman profiled in our story “Forgotten Refugees,” are too afraid to work in their field.
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On World Freedom Press Day in 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called free, independent and diverse journalism “our greatest ally in combatting misinformation and disinformation” and urged governments to “do everything in their power” to support it. When news media are silenced, those in power don’t have to defend their decisions, and the void can be filled with lies, conspiracy theories and divisive rhetoric.
Threats to the media make me thankful that Broadview is independent and free to commit to truth-telling in all that we publish. We hire professional journalists, seek out diverse voices, fact-check our longform features, and print corrections when we make factual mistakes. My younger, more zealous self asserts that Broadview’s journalism helps the engine of democracy keep chugging along.
Jocelyn Bell is the editor-publisher of Broadview.
This editorial first appeared in Broadview’s July/August 2022 issue with the title “Truth tellers.”
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