Letter to the Editor: The medium is not the message

I am writing in my capacity as a member of the editorial board of the NB Media Co-op, which held an event at St. Thomas on Feb. 3 concerning a column that ran Feb. 11. The column chided organizers and participants for being “immature.” This is quite surprising and disappointing to me as an organizer. Even your news story on the event focuses undue attention on one comment made by a participant that took issue with a statement purportedly made by Philip Lee, who teaches journalism at St. Thomas. Yet, the event was not about Lee, nor about whether students should go to journalism school (for the record, I have and it has served me well).

The main focus of the event was to call into question the corporate culture and standards of contemporary journalism in the context of intensive extractive industry. Among the more notable comments by Miles Howe was the importance of cultivating social contacts and building relationships with people whose status in society may be marginal or outside of mainstream, middle class ideas and tastes. In what ways do journalistic standards and the training of professional journalists (through expensive journalism schools, for instance) reproduce some of the existing status inequalities in our society? In what ways do professional ethics and objectivity also obscure the truth about a story by marginalizing certain voices? I assume that these issues are taught at St. Thomas’s journalism school, and they were central to the discussion, Lee was not.

It is typical of middle-class journalism to take issue with the form of the message in order to discredit non-middle class messengers. Because the message wasn’t sufficiently polite, we should dismiss it, label it as immature and ignore it. This is also what the CBC did when they labeled Howe a blogger, while Radio-Canada continued to refer to him as a journalist. Indeed, this decision and column say more about the middle-class anxieties of English-language New Brunswickers than they do about the quality of Howe’s journalism—they attempt to distinguish themselves from practices labeled blogging or “immature.”

If journalism is to dig deeper, it must seek to understand why some (who may not share the same ideas about politeness) think what they do, regardless of how it is said. There is much more to be said about race, class and gender in journalism in New Brunswick, and hopefully St. Thomas’s program, its students and the Media Co-op can cooperate more in future to help us all relay stories that reflect the realities of more people in our province.

Matthew Hayes

NB Media Co-op editorial board


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