When classes ended at 2:20 pm on Friday November 23, I expected to head home and take a short rest before heading back to Campus Saint-Jean for the evening. However, at 2:30, fellow Wanderer writer Dongwoo Kim contacted me on Facebook about a Huff Post Quebec editor, Jean-Philippe Cipriani, participating in a talk at Edmonton’s Westin Hotel. Naturally, I couldn’t decline, quickly catching the nearest bus heading downtown. The Trudeau Conference was much more than I expected, though my expectations were quite elevated in the first place. Upon arriving at the Westin, I took the escalator upstairs, only to come across dozens of students and professors mingling over coffee and appetizers, probably discussing the talk just-completed talk by Preston Manning. I zigzagged through the crowd and found Dongwoo, in addition to several other writers of the Wanderer team, Phil Stachnik and Navneet Khinda.
As 3:00 pm hit and we sat down to listen to Cipriani and Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star begin their talks, I was excited to see an editor from one of my favourite news sources – the Huff Post – in action. The two panelists discussed a wide range of topics, but several ones stuck out to me in particular. To begin, the cuts made to major Canadian newspapers were deeper than I thought. Though I knew that restrained budgets have affected many newspapers, such as the hometown Edmonton Journal, I was unaware that papers like the Toronto Star have cut dozens of staff, dropping from over 400 staff to somewhere in the 300-person range. The dearth of writers has likely diminished the quality of papers, for journalists now need to do more and more. For instance, Cipriani mentioned that he often writes, researches, films, creates podcasts and updates his social media accounts in the same day. Perhaps one could argue that this sort of journalism is better, since journalists now possess more skills than they did in the past. However, it seemed that both Hepburn and Cipriani viewed the evolving landscape as a reduction in the overall quality of journalism. (This is especially true for investigative journalism, which requires meticulous attention and significant funds.)
The two writers also remarked that journalists now tend to rely on a narrow set of sources. In other words, the same sources are being quoted over and over. If journalists are crunched for time, then how do they interview individuals that were directly involved in particular incidents, along with witnesses, experts and so on? Additionally, how does a journalist balance his/her time providing updates on Twitter with actual writing? I believe that it was Cipriani who remarked that social media still serves as an “echo chamber” of sorts, where journalists from different organizations simply talk with each other. If an echo chamber is indeed the correct representation of social media, then how do journalists use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to advance the common good? This was only one of the several questions raised during the Cipriani and Hepburn speeches and subsequent discussion period with delegates.
Overall, I was delighted to have attended the talk and to have participated – even if it was for a mere hour and a half – in the Trudeau Conference. Moreover, there are few things that I enjoy more than the French language being spoken in Alberta, so Cipriani’s discours in French was much appreciated. Though there are many challenges confronting journalism in 2012, the passion exhibited by Cipriani, Hepburn and the dozens of delegates in the Westin Hotel conference room indicate that we have the leaders needed to transform the profession in the years to come.