May 18, 2016 3 years 5 months ago

LOCAL NEWS: Journalists tell MPs more funding is needed

"Citizen journalists" don't follow same high standards as pros, says RTDNA

OTTAWA - The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) told the Heritage Committee Tuesday that there has to be a way to deliver more local news to communities, and one that doesn’t necessarily require the major broadcasters to fund the endeavour.

Speaking at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, RTDNA president Ian Koenigsfest said regardless of whether it’s media concentration or a shrinking diversity of voices that have led to less local news in communities, it’s imperative that more be delivered to them.

“Local news isn’t only about the local bingo or baseball game or community fundraiser, it’s about connecting the community and its leaders to accountability. As journalists we’d like to think there’s a way for truly local news to survive without tapping into the revenue streams of the major players,” he said in his opening remarks.

Andy LeBlanc, past president of RTDNA, added that while the media environment is undergoing a rapid transformation as a result of social media and other online platforms, it can’t replace professional journalism. (Both Koenigsfest and LeBlanc are long-time journalists who were most recently with Corus and CTV, respectively.)

“The digital media environment undoubtedly represents considerable potential for inspiring new forms of local journalism but we need to go beyond the notion that so called citizen journalists will be able to replace trained professionals who adhere to the codes of professional ethical conduct,” he said.

RTDNA argued in its presentation that digital media could fill the gap in local news but said seed money would be needed to fund this sort of initiative. It also suggested that the association could work with industry to administer “a fund that would help maintain the existence of viable local news in communities across the country.”

“We think if there was a fund developed, there have been in the past for the movie industry and for the entertainment sector, if there’s one specifically for local news, we think that moves in the right direction in terms of protection of local news.” – Ian Koenigsfest, RTDNA

Asked where money to fund this type of initiative would come from, Koenigsfest said he didn’t know. The important thing is once this fund is created RTDNA would administer it in conjunction with industry to protect local news in communities.

“We think if there was a fund developed, there have been in the past for the movie industry and for the entertainment sector, if there’s one specifically for local news, we think that moves in the right direction in terms of protection of local news,” he said.

The association acknowledged that social media is changing the news landscape, but LeBlanc said there’s a worry that citizen journalists are acting mostly in their self interest and not necessarily giving a story its full due.

“The key is at the very local level we fear a time when the only news coming out of a community, the only information about things that are happening are coming from people who have motives, specific bias,” he said. “They’re not putting it through the kind of filter that a journalist who has had years of experience understanding how to filter things that are happening and ask the other question.”

This isn’t to say that social journalism can’t be of high quality. If it was under the same umbrella as the CBSC, then accountability, transparency and integrity could be ensured, added LeBlanc.

RTDNA had a couple of other recommendations. One called for the expansion of the scope of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) to include online journalists who adhere to a code of journalistic ethics. Lastly, the association suggested that funding be made available to study the impact on journalism of media concentration because the rapidly changing factors affecting broadcast, print and online journalism are being played out in communities across Canada.

“I think we need the context, and we need the understanding in terms of how things have changed in the last five or 10 years and how rapidly they’re changing now to be able to come up with solutions for a Canadian way and how we can move forward,” said Koenigsfest.