Good citizens

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

ilustration Graham Pilsworth

Congratulations to Stephen Kimber, Lezlie Lowe and Robert Plowman, the members of Team Coast honoured at Saturday's Atlantic Journalism Awards. Kimber took home a silver award for Enterprise Reporting. Lowe and Plowman were both nominated in the Feature Writing category; Plowman was awarded silver, Lowe the gold for her profiles of Haligonians with HIV. Three nominations was unprecedented for The Coast—we'd received a total of two nominations over the previous 12 years—and Lowe's gold AJA was the icing on the gravy. As she made her way to the stage, from a seat at the very back of the Marriott ballroom, the moment stretched out and lingered pleasantly.

The AJA gala was a rare event: a gathering of hundreds of media types that did not dissolve into free-for-all fretting about the internet. Over the course of almost five hours of dinner and ceremony, with a couple dozen awards presented and accepted in newspaper, magazine, radio and TV categories, the i-word almost never came up. (An exception was when Plowman's story, about going offline for a month, was introduced.) Print people didn't defend the vitality of their 550-year-old medium. Broadcasters went without promoting the value of government-regulated "public" airwaves.

It was at once refreshing and deeply weird. Maybe the people at the awards accept the technological evolution so naturally they don't think to mention it—living up to the propaganda about the east coast being a wired, educated hub ready to embrace the new world order. On the other hand, the gala celebration might have been an exercise in re-arranging the deck chairs on Halifax's most famous doomed tourist attraction.

The AJA's keynote speaker was Mike Duffy, the veteran CTV political reporter from PEI. He talked about resistance he faced trying to land his first radio job, to make the point that the traditional media industry doesn't easily change. (At least I think that's what he was getting at. The speech was off-the-cuff and it went long, especially after he received a standing ovation—the local version of polite applause—and returned to the podium for an encore.) Although it's paradoxical for news organizations to be in thrall to old habits, the conservatism Duffy experienced continues today.

The mainstream media feels threatened by tech innovators like Craig Newmark, whose free sites have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in classified ads to simply disappear from papers around the world. When Newmark spoke at the Newspaper Association of America convention in early May, the media-centric site Gawker observed, "Perhaps what they find most frustrating about Mr. Newmark is his (so-far) almost total disregard for making a huge profit off of Craigslist—he's a competitor, but he's rejecting the cash that so many others would gladly, desperately take."

Not content to disrupt the business side of journalism, Newmark's also taking on the journalism side of the business through an investment in NewAssignment is a leading light in the so-called citizen journalism movement, which challenges the notion that professional journalists deserve a monopoly on reporting facts for public consumption. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of professional journalists who don't want their reputations and/or privileges diminished by people whose primary qualification is having internet access.

The rise, or threat, of citizen journalism didn't come up at the AJA ceremony, but in a way the matter was settled. When Lezlie Lowe took the stage, she credited Robert Allan, the former director of the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia, for suggesting she write the profiles. She thanked her subjects for sharing their lives for countless hours and she thanked me, her editor. Producing those stories took all of us: some full-time journalists, each of us citizens. As the night wore on, other award-winners described similar collaborations behind their work, and a pattern became clear. Tech tools may make it easy for any citizen—from professional reporter to subject of award-winning article—to speak, but the best journalism starts with listening.

Stories from this year's crop of AJA finalists are archived at:
My electronic ears are wide open:

About The Author

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.

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