Journalism degrees or degrees of journalism

This week’s kerfuffle over the Rebel Media website’s fight with the Government of Alberta has dominated the news cycle, demonstrating the lack of experience of an NDP government still in their first year in government. Here is a quick summary of what I understand happened:

  1. Rebel freelancer Holly Nicholas attended a technical briefing meeting for media before the release of the Royalty Review Panel report on Jan. 29, 2016. She says that she was asked to leave after being in the room for most of the meeting. It is not clear why she would have been asked to leave.
  2. Rebel freelancer Sheila Gunn Reid was denied entry into a technical briefing meeting for stakeholders before the release of the Royalty Review Panel report which was being held on the same day as the technical briefing meeting for media. It is my understating that no media were allowed entry into this meeting.
  3. Ms. Gunn Reid was not allowed entry into the Alberta Legislature on Feb. 3, 2016 to attend a joint press conference held by Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Neither was I, or was blogger David Climenhaga. On that day, I was informed by the Premier’s Communications Office that this was a decision made by the Prime Minster’s Communications Office.
  4. In response to a letter sent by Rebel’s lawyer Fred Kozak on Feb. 8, 2016, a letter from a government lawyer on Feb. 12, 2016 stated the government believes that Rebel and those identifying as being connected to the website are not journalists and not entitled to access media lock-ups or other events.

The fourth point in the most mind-boggling. The Government of Alberta does not have the authority to decide who is and who is not a “journalist.” I cannot understand how someone in government thought that response would be a good idea. It makes the NDP look heavy-handed and is a good example of what the right-wing fringe means when it uses the phrase ‘nanny-state.”

Founded by former lobbyist and Sun TV host Ezra Levant, the Rebel website speaks to Alberta’s right-wing fringe and essentially operates with the characteristics of an opposition group. I find much of their coverage distasteful and intentionally provocative, but they should be allowed to attend government media events, just as other media and opposition groups would be allowed.

As Warren Kinsella and Jason Markusoff pointed out, this is exactly the reaction that Mr. Levant and his crew wanted. And even though the NDP backed down from the ban today, they have already delivered Mr. Levant the attention he sought.

Heather Boyd, the former western bureau director for Canadian Press, has been recruited by the government to recommend new rules for media access. It would be a step backward for media in Alberta if new rules restrict access and participation of new online media.

Ms. Boyd’s recommendations will be submitted to the government in two or three weeks, which means this issue will become a topic of media coverage as MLAs return for the spring session of the Legislative Assembly and the government presents a Speech from the Throne.

A changing media landscape means there will be more online media with employees and freelancers who may not fall under the traditional description of “journalist.” As the large media corporations slash staff and cut back on local content, there is still a public demand for news. Citizens are turning online for their news sources, something that most of these news companies already recognize.

As the corporate media cuts back, I expect some newly unemployed journalists to start their own innovative online news companies. New trusted sources for political information will continue to sprout up online – this cannot be stopped by the government or the already established media companies.

25 thoughts on “Journalism degrees or degrees of journalism

  1. Diane Marie

    If rules are not established, any person who blogs, posts, or tweets who has attracted a following will demand access. At that point, the professional press might find itself blindsided (sidelined?) by people who are good at sideshows, which Rebel is. Another issue is just how large these venues will have to be to accommodate all those who insinuate themselves into the press, however defined. Then there are the security issues and costs. I suppose we can thank Rebel for bringing these issues to the fore, but that’s the only good thing I can say about them. Acting as an opposition is a compliment too far, IMHO. They are charlatans and retailers and I cannot take them seriously.

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  2. Gary Feltham

    I liked this comment, especially as it is one of the few out there that provides a sequence of events. Your conclusion that the NDP government should not regulate media access is also spot on.

    However, you did take a cheap shot in labelling followers of Rebel as “right-wing fringe.” Would you also classify the readers of your Blog or Rabble.ca as “left-wing fringe?” That kind of labelling only serves to divide Albertans (and Canadians).

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    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Gary. It took a while to patch together the sequence of events from other news reports. It provides some useful context to this story.

      Your comment about Rebel and Rabble was fair. They are both aimed at audiences on the political right and political left, and it’s completely intentional on their part.

      – Dave

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      1. Gary Feltham

        Dave:

        Thanks for the response. While I am on the centre-right part of the spectrum, I like to read from a wide range of media, including the Economist, the Toronto Star, the Globe, your blog, and so on. [I used to read Rabble, but after getting some disturbing responses to my comments cancelled my Disqus account.]

        Bottom line: this Wildrose supporter also supports your blog. Keep up the good work.

        Cheers,

        Gary

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        1. Mable

          The distinguishing factor is journalism. As you mentioned, Dave researched the timeline presented it in a fairly objective way. The Rebel does very little of this, instead they present opinion pieces – designed to strike an emotional cord with readers – as fact.

          Sadly, once that chord is struck, no amount of fact or reason will trump emotion. And this is why I support the ban, and hopefully the new policy will have some sort of old school journalistic standard – even if the media used to deliver it is new school.

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    2. Alfredo Louro

      Oh no, you don’t. There is no comparison between rabble.ca, and Ezra Levant’s obscene little website. Here are some headlines from the site:

      “Learning English or French “too burdensome” for new Canadians? “Then don’t come.” (The person who said this is Ezra Levant’s colleague, but the quotation marks are there to make you think this was somebody else’s stated position, What this is actually about is that the government has expressed a desire to back to the conditions before 2006 and scrap the language test that Harper created, on top of the citizenship test).

      “Merging of mosque and state in Canada?” (If you read the post, the complaint is that Syrian immigrants are being temporarily lodged in military barracks).

      And so on. You can’t claim that this is journalism if you want to be taken seriously.

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  3. Smokey

    I watch the Rebel because I hate saying it, they report news that other places do not. If they were not so effective at their job they would have no trouble being let in.

    The first response any logical person would have to Notley’s dictator-esk baring of the media or pseudo media is “she can’t do that.” The NDP walked into this pile of dung on their own, it is kinda fun watching try to get it off their shoe.

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    1. Diane Marie

      Well, I’d be very careful with what you refer to as “news”, and I doubt very much that you or anyone else would get very far with Rebel when it comes to challenging the accuracy or fairness of that “news”.

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  4. Meagan Wade

    So with all that said – would you then, by the definitions you’ve eluded to, consider yourself a journalist or an editorialist? Is there a difference in your eyes, and if so what is it? Do you have an opinion on what the future of journalism might look like?

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  5. Dan McAvena

    Accreditation or press gallery pass matters very little when security is an issue that appears front and center of our Alberta Legislature. Given the threats and Vitriol that have in recent weeks been directed towards our Elected officials. I believe they acted accordingly to a defined set of regulations set forth by the previous administration. I also believe that those parameters need to be reexamined for flaws look at a new set of Metrics that specifically apply to our new administration . So that security is never fatally compromised in our Legislature.

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  6. Alfredo Louro

    If Ezra Levant’s blog qualifies as journalism, then so does the National Enquirer. Any jackass can put up a website, and many do. Moreover, certainly the government gets to decide whom to invite to a closed event organized by them. I think it’s sad that they ultimately let themselves, and therefore the public, be bullied by Levant.

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    1. Diane Marie

      Well, they may be pursuing a strategy. Levant has shown that he has poor self-management skills, so this may be an invitation for him to demonstrate that to a much larger and less tolerant audience.

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  7. AlbertaRusH

    What is the word for people that claim rights and deny responsibilities? I don’t think it’s journalist.

    The fact that you (and others) mistake propaganda constructed for confirmation and consumption with journalism crafted for a public good is corrosive to the future of a free press in a free society. The false equivalence of the new online media satisfying public demand for “news” with professional “traditional” journalism is also not helpful. Daveberta.ca is great at what it does, but your 500 word part-time perspectives on low hanging fruit should not be the model for the future of a free press fulfilling its essential role.

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  8. David Harrigan

    Not sure I agree with you at all. You say “The Government of Alberta does not have the authority to decide who is and who is not a ‘journalist.'”

    But if they are going to have technical briefings and press conferences they must have some rules as to who is going to be allowed in the room and who is not. The rooms are only so large. Who do you suggest makes the decision as to who is allowed in and who is not?

    The decline traditional media and the rise of social media has made it all more difficult. Even in your piece you note that the Prime Minister’s Communications Office decided neither you nor fellow blogger Climenhega would be allowed in to a press conference. You express no surprise or dismay about this. But the very next paragraph, you find it “mind boggling” that the Provincial Government would make similar decisions.

    It should also be remembered that Mr. Levant himself testified under oath that he was not a reporter. In the words of the National Post:

    “And yet Mr. Levant, by his own admission, is not a journalist. “I’m a commentator, I’m a pundit,” he explained to the judge. “I don’t think in my entire life I’ve ever called myself a reporter.” ”

    http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-unrepentant-ezra-levant-pleads-fair-comment-in-theatrical-testimony

    Kinsella and Markusoff are correct. Ezra is an attention whore and the correct response is to ignore him. If an immature teenager insisted on being permitted in to the session or he would shout and hold his breath until he turned blue, the correct response would be to not allow him in, and ignore his tantrums.

    The NDP Government initially used the correct approach. It was mainstream media who gave Mr Levant what he so badly craved.

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    1. jay

      Given the way the press has rallied to The Rebel’s cause, maybe the government should leave all these decisions to the press gallery and let them deal with the headaches–and there will be headaches. As for what constitutes a journalist, evidently the bar is set low. If you argue, as many journalists have over the past 24 hours, that anyone qualifies, then maybe it doesn’t really matter if news organizations like Postmedia tank.

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  9. RLDakin

    Re: “… The Government of Alberta does not have the authority to decide who is and who is not a “journalist.”

    My own understanding of this interpretation is that it is based on Ezra Levant’s self-disclosure in court: “I don’t think in my entire life I’ve ever called myself a reporter.”

    It’s my understanding the source of that statement comes from a piece by Christie Blatchford: http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com%2Ffull-comment%2Fchristie-blatchford-unrepentant-ezra-levant-pleads-fair-comment-in-theatrical-testimony

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  10. RLDakin

    “… they should be allowed to attend government media events, just as other media and opposition groups would be allowed…”

    “… Ms. Gunn Reid was not allowed entry into the Alberta Legislature on Feb. 3, 2016 to attend a joint press conference held by Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Neither was I, or was blogger David Climenhaga…”

    Your point here is not clear to me. On the one hand, you state your belief that the Rebel should be allowed access, even as you note that other bloggers of equitable merit were not allowed to attend.

    Meantime, what defines a “journalist” these days? Is it merely the ability to create words on a page in reference to an issue? If so, social media is swarming with them. Or does it refer to someone who undertakes an extensive program of studies and adheres to an ethical standard determined by the profession?

    The Rebel’s bio page on Ms. Gunn Reid describes her as:

    “… a contributor for TheRebel.media from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. She’s a stay at home mom of 3 and conservative activist. She grew up on the family farm and she has strong ties to the oil patch.

    Sheila has been a contributor to Corus radio’s nationally broadcast Roy Green Show, where she was part of the Hockey Mom’s Panel, tackling issues like government over reach and encroachment into our families.

    Sheila tries unsuccessfully to read the entire Internet before noon each day. She also enjoys being in nature with her family, where incidentally she encounters very few environmentalists.”

    I think a lack of a clear professional standard is confusing the issue.

    Meantime, I did find a list of ethics at The Canadian Association of Journalists. Is compliancy with those ethics a standard that should be adopted before it is determined who is or is not a “journalist”? If so, who is adhering to the standard?

    http://www.caj.ca/ethics-guidelines/

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  11. Darren

    The first thing you have to do is take content/conduct out of the picture. Many of the criticisms of this have been related to the content of Rebel Media. To make a judgement based on that is a dangerous precendent. And to base it on Levants statement that he is not a journalist is just plain stupid. I’ve worked for several owners of newspapers, none of which considered themselves journalists (they were businessmen) but that didn’t make the businesses any less a newspaper outlet.
    I’m conservative but I’m not a fan of Rebel. That said, I agree with the Rebel/Rabble comparison. Rabble is just as biased but on the other side of the spectrum so, as Alfredo seems to demonstrate “my bias is accurate, your bias is unacceptable”. If this government can ban Rebel, the next government can ban Rabble and so on.
    Look at the operation. Does it gather and disseminate information (all or some, as-is or tweaked?) Does an organization claiming to be a media outlet pay business taxes? It should, media is a business. What does it say on the business license? How do you label your employees? Reporter, Journalist, Columnist, Editor, Editorialist. Do you publish/broadcast and do you generate revenues based on your publications/broadcasts? Generally, if something looks, walks and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
    If online media only muddies the waters as to what is or is not a journalist, the best way for the government to respond is open up the opportunities. Make press conferences online accessible. Video broadcast the event, hell even create a method for those online to pose questions (text feed?).

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    1. Harvey

      Look at how the “reporters” in the Rebel Media conduct themselves. This is the issue. They only seem to have one goal in mind. That is to remove the democratically elected NDP government and the democratically elected Federal Liberals from power. What else do they seem to be about? Ezra Levant has been taken to court for libel. News reporters or journalists don’t conduct themselves the way that Ezra Levant and his group do. He seems to crave attention and control and goes on childish rants if he doesn’t have his way. He should never been given the right to attend any government press conferences. Whatever he is doing lacks any merit.

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  12. ED

    I have read many of the comments, and all I am seeing is everyone’s opinion. Look the definition of Journalism is: the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast. So what does it take to become a Journalist, well like Darren has said ‘ media is a business’! So to me if you are willing to pay your taxes as a news agency and hire people to conduct themselves as a journalist, which means to: gather, process, and dissemination of news, and information related to news, to an audience. Like the news agency or not, they have the right to be at any and all government events. The government does not have the same rights as a private company, they are a public entity and have to answer to the people. The minute we allow any government to start dictating what news organization can and can not be allowed in, is when we the people belong to a dictatorship government!

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    1. Harvey

      We cannot accept every person into government press conferences, simply because they say they are a “reporter” or “journalist”. That is asking for trouble. Look at how the “journalists” and “reporters” in the Rebel Media conduct themselves. It is very unethical. There has to be a proper level of decorum. The “journalists” or “reporters” in the Rebel Media don’t seem to be showing any integrity or ethics.

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      1. ED

        Harvey, Just because you may not like how the Rebel and how they report, does not make them a threat to any government. They are reporting on what our government’s are trying to get away with! Why is that trouble? They are no different from any other media outlet expressing and writing about the companies own interests. It is refreshing to have someone ask the difficult questions to our politician’s. that is why the ND are trying to block them out. They don’t want to have to answer tough questions! Just look at the Finance minister the other day. What a joke he is making himself and his party look like. To stubborn to answer a simple question!

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  13. Edison

    I find it quite ironic that the ones who cry foul the loudest when they are not identified as media professionals, are the same ones who didn’t utter a squeak during the last decade of “openess and transparency” as delivered by Harper.

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  14. CountingtheDays

    I’m glad to see that, in this piece, you pulled back a bit from you comments on the Ryan Jesperson show that, at least to my ears, were an attempt to minimize the whole sordid affair. One example was your assertion that you personally had never attended the sort of press “lock up” the Rebel journalist was kicked out of, the implication being “what’s the big deal”?

    Time will tell whether the ND effect a full retreat from their outrageous attempt to ban critical media from press briefings but the fact they continue to justify such bans on the ostensible basis of “security” (IIRC, it has historically been the left that consider disruption of media availability a legitimate tactic) or “logistics” (surely the skypalace can hold every last media person inclined to listen to this week’s political drivel) suggests further contrition might still be in order.

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