Thoughts On Moving Forward

I think it is safe to say that most of the world is still grappling — in slack-jawed disbelief — with what happened last night.

Donald Trump's election as President of the United States exposed many truths about America which, I must admit, I naively believed the country had moved past.

The racism, xenophobia and misogyny that Trump seemingly normalized during the campaign hearkened back to a time when the KKK was hanging black people from trees.

As an outsider, it was a terrifying election to watch. I cannot imagine how people of colour living in America must feel this morning; my heart goes out to them. 

A dangerous precedent was set in America last night that made a lot of hate-filled people feel justified in their beliefs.

What happened and what was said during the campaign is part of history now; only time will tell how Trump will act as President.  His surprisingly measured speech last night gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, for all his showmanship, he may proffer a more steady hand in the White House than he has shown during the campaign. 

For now, though, everything that we read or watch today about the future of America and the world is conjecture. There are still good people working to make this world a better place.

But what isn't conjecture, in my mind, is what happened to journalism throughout this election.

Two tweets struck me last night.

The first: "So all the fact-checking of Trump's lies, all the investigative journalism about his failures, even the tapes -- none of it meant anything," tweeted Mathew Ingram, a writer and journalist.

The second: "Journalists: you are more important in the next four years than you ever have been. This is a challenge. Rise to it," tweeted Robert Quigley, a journalism professor at the University of Texas.

Ingram's tweet speaks to the state of journalism and how a large portion of the public views it.

Many, many people don't respect or trust journalism. They see reporters as mouthpieces for corporate or political agendas. I've seen this not only during the election but in my day-to-day interactions.

Journalism has been hijacked by the never-ending stream of self-proclaimed news outlets spreading misinformation, trivial clickbait and lies. Fewer and fewer people are interested in fact-based debate and the discussion that strong journalism creates. People don't seek out stories that perhaps challenge their belief in an effort to better understand beyond the bubble of their world. Rather, they drift toward the Fox News' and truly biased publications that only reaffirm their narrow perspective of the world.

The US election proved this.

But the consumers of media are only half the equation. Media outlets and journalist are equally to blame. We have become lazy and cynical toward our own work.

We need to take a hard look in the proverbial mirror and ask ourselves: "what is the role of a journalist?"

Which brings us to the second tweet, the one about how journalists are more important in the next four years than they ever have been.

Quigley, the writer of the tweet, wrote: "This is a challenge. Rise to it."

This is our opportunity to change the course of journalism and be proud of our profession again. Journalists are the gatekeepers, we hold politicians and corporations to account and we expose truths to ensure the public can make informed decisions. We ensure our facts are correct and reported in a fair manner. We do our job.

Journalists need to rise to this challenge, not just when reporting on politicians like Trump, but in every story we write. Make sure it matters to the public and that it makes a difference. Don’t shy away from controversy for an easier story, we need to make the public trust us again and excite them about being informed.

Use this moment as a turning point to be more important than ever before and to be better than we ever have been. Rise to the challenge.  

Where Do We Go From Here

Journalism is not going away. It is not dying and it is not losing it's power to inform the public. 

Journalism IS going through a lengthy period of change. The stories of substance have been diluted by a glut of online content and the litany of entertaining apps competing for our attention. Newsrooms are closing and talented journalists are losing their jobs, but journalism is NOT going away. The current business model, however, is dying, if not already dead.

News is a business. Media outlets--whether print or digital, television or radio--are top heavy corporations driven by profits. At it's core, there is nothing wrong with that. How else will reporters and photographers be paid? A sound business model is necessary for media to survive, but the current one is not working. 

The origins of journalism were seeded by town criers; individuals who would take to the streets and shout news to the people. Journalism became a voice of the subversives. It was about uniting the people through knowledge. It was used as a tool to hold the oligarchs to account; it was a tool that scared those in power.

But, just as journalism was used to bring attention to important issues and expose truth, it also became a tool for the elites to misinform and confuse the public. People learned how to control the message. They learned how to control the media and in many cases owned it.

We have come to a place where the public's trust in journalists is equal to their trust in a used-car salesman. In most media-developed countries, public relations professionals now outnumber journalists three to one. Any journalism that reports on controversial issues is easily branded as activism or biased and it's value is called into question.  

It hasn't helped that the new wave of online, so-called, news publications posting click-bait content and trending cat videos are making all media look bad. What's worse is the number of traditional publications who have followed suit. It is about the clicks, it is about the money. And this is why it is not working.

The goal of a business is to remain profitable. This often means delivering a product that appeals to the masses. For whatever reason, I still don't understand it, the masses seem attracted to the click-bait, flashy content that is often devoid of any substance. But if you ask an average consumer of this content, they will quickly complain about the poor quality of journalism. Media consumers want better. Journalists, not media corporations, have an opportunity to capitalize on this. 

As much as the Internet has disrupted traditional media, it has also re-democratized journalism. It has given the town criers a voice again. It has, for better or worse, given everyone a platform to spread their message and inform the public.

Journalists need to get off their asses, abandon the traditional publications and jobs, and advocate for themselves. They need to use all the tools the Internet and technology have provided to create content that is flashy and exciting for the masses, but it must also inform. They need to create their own publications and different ways of publishing stories. Journalists need to explore other ways to fund their work. 

There is no single answer for how to accomplish these things. It is an extremely tough road ahead and unless a person can afford the financial ups and downs another career might be best. But most never wanted to be a journalist for the money.  

So, where do we go from here? We begin producing more great content delivered in a spectacular fashion. We produce it on our terms, with integrity and fairness, and without the influence of corporate ownership. We don't give up on what journalism should be. 

I recently listened to two podcasts related to this post by journalists far more qualified than I. I highly recommend them as both away to understand and become inspired. 

The News Is Dead So What Comes Next?
- A conversation with Ian Gill on Canadaland

Imprisoned By Profit: Media & Democracy

- A conversation with alagummi Sainath on CBC's Ideas

Fool Me Twice

Shame on me, so the saying goes.

Websites have been the bane of my existence since I was told I needed an online presence during my first year of j-school. 

For some deluded reason, I began to fancy myself a competent website manager. I built several iterations of mattlaw.ca for myself, re-built my student newspaper's site during a two-year stint as digital/online editor, and even built several websites for businesses. 

All of this was done by setting up Wordpress.org sites on a little chunk of server space with a hosting company. It wasn't all that difficult.

But setting up a website isn't the difficult part. It's the maintenance, the browser compatibility, the backing up, and the often overlooked security. Security was my failing.

When my website was first hacked in 2010 I was annoyed. I was playing with web development then and didn't have much invested in it. But I should have paid attention to the sign.

When two of my websites were hacked a few months ago I was devastated. BC Photohub, a blog I ran on the photography scene in B.C., went down like a sack of bricks. One moment it was there, the next it was gone. My website, mattlaw.ca, remained live but was crippled. I had caught the hack before it fully spread from one site to the next but the damage was done.

I had no backup. I had no idea what to do. I realized I knew nothing about building websites.

In this DIY age we often succumb to delusions of grandeur, or, perhaps we are just trying to save a dollar. But we have to ask ourselves, what do I actually know how to do and how do I want to invest my time?

I am a content creator, not a website developer.

I spent countless hours building websites, time that could have been better spent working on paid jobs or projects that I am passionate about.     

Now, after months of banging my head against the wall beside my computer, I have re-launched mattlaw.ca. This time it is with a professional website hosting company that looks after all of the things I failed to do.

The question still begs to be answered; why do we use professional services or hire professionals? They cost more for services that often seem very simple. 

Building your own website or hiring your friend who really likes photography might seem like a good idea, but what happens when your website crashes or your friend's camera dies in the middle of your wedding ceremony? What happens when the citizen journalist names names and puts someones family in danger? 

Simply put, we hire, or should be hiring, professionals because they know what to do when shit hits the proverbial fan, or they know how to keep said shit from hitting said fan in the first place.

A professional will have a backup camera (or two). A professional website service will backup your content and maintain your site with no hassle. A professional knows how to check facts and keep stories balanced. 

I am not a brand cheerleader by any means but for those wondering, I'm using Squarespace to host my new website. Aside from the headache of transferring domains and uploading all new content, it has been ridiculously easy. Now I can focus on my work.

It can be simple, I wish I knew this from the start.

Image 001

Let's start at the beginning.

The first photograph, that is, the first to be published, was a grainy image captured at the 2010 BC High School Basketball Championships. It was shot with an entry-level Pentax and a kit zoom-lens at 20mm and as wide open as photographically possible; a whopping f.5.  

Jordan Blackman cuts down the net after his team won the 2010 BC High School Basketball Championships.

Jordan Blackman cuts down the net after his team won the 2010 BC High School Basketball Championships.

I knew this shot was coming. I watched as they brought the ladder out onto the court and handed the captain a pair of scissors. It's a simple shot, really, nothing special. I don't recall even being paid for it but it was that triumphant first image in print.