A new journalism — an old idea

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By Kenny Yum 

An institution that should always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty” Joseph Pulitzer, May 10 1883.

It is a statement that I scalped from Hunter S. Thompson’s The Proud Highway this past summer.  I have kept it ever since by my desk and in my mind.  Never have words, written more than a century ago, rung truer in my mind about the profession that I have chosen.

By writing this editorial, I am breaking to rules of journalism in order to achieve one goal.  The two rules are 1) don’t write in the first person and 2) don’t write about journalism.  The goal, at least my intention, is to talk about newspapers and their role in society.

Recently, talk about newspapers have reached an irritating level: the birth of the National Post, Torstar’s hostile takeover bid of Sun Media, the Globe’s relaunch in colour.  It has been accompanied by a general mass examination of the profession, from John Miller’s critique of our newspapers in his recent book, Yesterday’s News, to laments for the arts of storytelling and our obsession with sex and stars to Robert Fulford’s “scoop” on journalism schools.

I’m using this hysteria to talk about The Eyeopener.

When we launched our newspaper in September, our pages and design reflect what goes on every year: We looked different.  But our readers will realize that we also read different.  Our Uncoverage section, an investigative feature published on page five every week, takes an in-depth look at a campus-related story and it is our attempt to give you context, meaning and understanding.  It is also our means to go back to the art of storytelling.

The Other Side Of The Street is our flagship Uncoverage investigative series of this term.  In it, you will read about the development that will happen right on Ryerson’s doorstep at Yonge and Dundas.  This week, you will read about the players who initiated the project and the man who created the vision — one that will tower over our campus and recreate this neighbourhood.

What is surprising, and indeed a bit troubling, is that the print media — including the Star, Globe, Sun, Now and even our campus counterpart — failed to look at the issues surrounding a development in the heart of our city.

Whatever coverage was given to this project was either admiring fluff pieces on the development, or supportive articles of the land owners who will lose their properties.  I realized that other media outlets had failed to scratch the surface, to look a little deeper.  General questions like: “How did this development happen?”  “Why does it have to occur?”  “How did they pull it off” or “How did Ryerson get involved?” were not even touched upon.

The general rule of thumb in the print industry is to get the story, but to get it out fast … now … today.  It is a challenge that newspapers must meet to beat the immediacy of broadcasters, who can reach the air, and audience, in mere minutes.

But by doing so, newspapers have lost the ability to provide you, the readers, with context and, in the end, a good story.

Our Project, as we have dubbed it in old fashion secrecy style, took us months to complete, from initial research to digging for documents to conducting dozens of interviews.  We saw our competitor publish their side of the story a few weeks ago, but we plodded on, waiting till we had the rest of the story — the true story.

Our stories — and yes, they are stories, with characters, plots and scenes — don’t put some of the players in the greatest light.  On the contrary, we found that the process of getting a quick development in the heart of Toronto took more than a little wheeling and dealing.

We trust we have smart readers, who are willing to read a story if it gives them the benefit of learning something and helping them shed light to what is going on in our society.

In the recent issue of Toronto Life, Robert Fulford, a veteran of newspapers and magazines, blasted journalism schools’ lack of preparation of students for the real working world.

The question to ask, perhaps, is what kind of journalism world are we entering?

Well, here we are, a group of journalism students (or a recent one, in my case) with our six-page rebuttal.

Cross over to the other side of the street of journalism and join the view.

It’s less crowded here.

Mr. Pulitzer would be proud.

Because there’s more to come.

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