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Between the Bylines: Your job is to hold us ‘scumbags’ accountable

Between the Bylines will be an ongoing commentary on media and the issues around it by Eyeopener staff.

The Internet is terrifying. It’s filled with opinions, news stories, and pictures of cats riding skateboards. All of which are all left up to you, the reader, to interpret and determine what is fact and what is fiction. The pressure is on you to determine whether media scumbags like me are worth trusting or shamelessly ridiculing in comment sections.

From the first day you arrived at Ryerson, you’ve probably been lectured by parents, professors and your reflection about what it is you’re supposed to be learning while you’re here. Here is one more: between trips to the Ram I’d like you to consider the importance of understanding the media, and using these precious four years of obscurity and supposed self-growth to be critical about what you read and where you’re reading it.

For the sake of comprehensiveness, lets use an example that we can all relate to, Rob Ford.

The Ford saga is something that we’ve all discussed in social settings, possibly in some of your classes and undoubtedly you’ve been showered by Facebook memes of the ex-mayor’s face with some ridiculous semi-accurate text about his escapades.

What I’m asking you to do when considering an example like Ford, is when consuming media, whether it be a meme or a Toronto Star article, is consider the entirety of the coverage.

Consider the reporters who have stake in the story, and in the case of Ford have defined their careers by it, think about the need for consumers and what angle of reporting may or may not sell the most papers, or monthly subscriptions.

Before the truth came out about Ford’s drug habits, he publicly attacked The Star for claiming they had evidence of him smoking crack-cocaine. As far as I’m concerned this was a major turning point in the coverage of Ford. It’s important to understand that by publicly attacking The Star’s credibility Ford made their job much more difficult. Thus, the coming months the story became about proving the then-mayor wrong, and reclaiming the accountability that journalists so desperately desire.

As a student involved in reading and discussing the mayor and his habits, this has got to play a role in the way you think when you’re consuming news. You see the case become more about who’s right and who’s wrong than what is potentially the most newsworthy. The front page of The Star turned into, “what Rob Ford did yesterday and what he might do tomorrow.”

I believe seeing trends like this and developing an opinion based on how reporting is happening becomes very important for every reader. We become a part of the story, we contribute to every meme, talk show appearance and viral image every time we talk about them, click them and up-vote them.

All this in mind it becomes imperative for people to develop a filter for the media, to see The Star’s Ford coverage not as good or bad but as the outcome of the complications of reporting under the public’s eye, and say to ourselves “maybe I’ll read about Ford somewhere else as well.”

This is equally important on campus, because I want you to walk into The Eyeopener office and tell me I’m wrong, or biased so that we can ensure the most accurate and rigorously critiqued information falls into public hands. Media should be conversational and approachable.

This way the next time I’m standing in the middle of Gould Street looking for someone to ask a question about a story, you won’t think I’m some evil media freak bent on deception.

It’s concerning the amount of students on campus that look petrified to be interviewed about some student organization they’re involved in, like I’m going to ruin their lives in the paper. It’s common for me and my news team to have trouble contacting sources simply because they’re intimidated by the way we can make them sound in the paper.

Please take that “power” away from us. Media accountability is communal and the best way for you to feel safe doing an interview is for you to hold me accountable for reporting the things you tell me as accurately as possible.

All of this considered it becomes clear that the media is now in a place that all contributing parties end up playing an important role in the development of stories. The all-encompassing nature of the Internet ties the reader to the reporter and the reporter to their subject.

This changes the way that all parties roles are defined so drastically in that the more we’re all intertwined the more I feel inclined to inform  you and ask you to call me out when I do something wrong, so in turn, I can report with the utmost transparency.

This metaphorical wheel of accountability is what allows the fifth estate to still exist while bloggers can report in their underwear, because the real journalists are the ones holding their readers accountable and who are being held accountable by their readers in return.

Which is why, we have to care, and why we have to be critical, because even a 21-year-old behind a computer screen at The Ram can have an impact on what the next big Rob Ford scoop will be.

Keith Capstick is a News Editor at The Eyeopener

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