Being in a newsroom teaches you one thing quickly — good news usually starts from something very, very bad. It starts when something under the surface is exposed, its harm shown. Only then does work toward something better begin.
That moment is where journalism lives.
That start can be found deep in a flurry of breaking news, when something violently and publicly ruptures. A plane crash, for example, which provokes deeper investigation into issues from engineering to pilot training. That investigation is the start of the journey toward a fix.
It is found in deep, methodical reporting, revealing a central flaw in our jury selection process that significantly impacts who decides the fate of those on trial. With that flaw, the justness of the jury system is compromised. And with a line item buried in the recent provincial budget following a Star investigation, arguably one of the most transformative judicial reforms in years takes place.
That changes lives. That is the power of journalism. That is the importance of journalism, and the purpose of journalism.
It is the enemy of no one and nothing except that which prefers to operate in darkness. Its interest is the public interest.
That means in your interest.
When journalism is not about investigation, it is about information, about describing the world we share. Society works better when people understand what’s going on around them — who’s making decisions, and why. How a decision or movement impacts your city, neighbourhood, or family. Journalism is a daily reminder of the humanity around us; it is a survey of what it is to be alive, here and now.
Understanding begins with reporting. Exposing a wrong begins with reporting. Change begins with reporting.
The work of journalists is public. Their name is on their stories, their email addresses and often social media handles easily accessible. There is agony taken to prevent mistakes, then even worse agony if one is made. That mistake, and its correction, is public.
Yet much of the impact of journalism at its best is felt, not seen.
An undercover investigation prompts labour reforms, to be enjoyed by temp and contract workers who don’t have to know our stories existed.
A more inclusive jury selection process should result in a more equitable justice system, to be experienced by many who may not have read our investigation.
A more humane form of long-term care is flowing across the GTA. It should have positive effects on residents who do not know the Star spent a year investigating, wonderfully, how to do something right.
Those with a clearer picture of how public money is spent on OHIP billings may never know it’s the result of a five-year legal journey that started with a newsroom freedom-of-information request and ended at the Supreme Court’s door.
And that is OK. The point is it happened, because of journalism.
Examples like these are in newsrooms across Canada, the U.S., the world. It requires a hefty expense of time and money. Often it comes at some risk to the journalist, who does it anyway because it matters. In too many places in the world, that risk can be fatal. Journalists can risk their lives to expose wrongs and start that process toward making it better.
It matters at a global level — for example, climate change, that plane problem, human rights.
It matters at a federal level — fair elections, fair taxes, the criminal law, citizenship and immigration
It matters at a provincial level — health care, education, the justice system, accountable policing, fair and open courts.
It matters at a local level — your roads and transportation, democratic representation closest to where you live.
Not everything you see or read will speak to you. You won’t agree with it all. You won’t like it all.
But journalism is a light. It can be hard to look at, but its glare holds systems and people accountable. It provides reported information when real details are missing, amplified or even fabricated — such as amid a mass attack, something we have all become far too acquainted with.
It helps inform and explain things as large as our world and as small as our community.
It is messy, because life is messy, but it aims to help make things cleaner. It is imperfect, because life is imperfect, but it aims for accuracy and fairness and publicly posts its errors. It can be impolite, even intrusive, because truth can be buried, and journalism aims to expose what some would prefer to keep hidden. Not hidden from the media — that narrative is reckless, divisive and inaccurate. Hidden from you.
Yes, the world that news reflects can look like a heart-wrenching dumpster fire. A world without news is infinitely worse. Because exposing what is wrong begins the transition to the better.
Thank you for supporting journalism.
Irene Gentle is the Editor of the Toronto Star. Follow her on Twitter: @IreneGentle
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