Each month we reach out to journalists and media professionals to chat with them about their experiences in the industry. For this month’s ‘Questions for Journalists,’ we spoke with Archie McLean, journalism professor at Mount Royal University and former managing editor at CBC.
Journalism Professor, Mount Royal University
You’re starting as journalism professor at Mount Royal University soon – congratulations! What are you looking forward to most about this new role?
Thanks! I’m most excited to help young journalists learn skills that will help them navigate this interesting, exciting, scary time in the media world. There are plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about the news business these days, with layoffs and cuts at a number of prominent media organizations.
The flip side is that technology is allowing journalists to tell stories in new and innovative ways that simply weren’t possible when I started my career. Just look at something like Facebook Live, or Periscope that allows anyone to broadcast live video from anywhere in the world at any time. Or mapping and database tools that let programmers present complex data in engaging ways. Many of these tools also let us interact with citizens in a much richer way than was possible in the analog world.
I find many reasons to be hopeful for the practice and business of journalism and I’m looking forward to exploring that.
What are some common misconceptions about journalists?
I think many people misunderstand why journalists do what they do. Being a journalist often means reporting unpleasant information or exposing institutional and personal failings. We do this not because we’re obsessed with scandal and hardship, but because we believe deeply that this work serves the public interest.
My favorite defense of reporting bad news is from Governor General David Johnston, speaking at the Michener Awards ceremony in 2015. Johnston said journalists are often accused of being cynics, but are in fact our most hopeful citizens. The news audience, he said, shares that hope for something better.
“We, too, want to build a smarter, more caring Canada for our kids and grandkids. And sometimes, that means having the courage to face hard facts, and tell unpleasant stories.
Also known as bad news!
Nations, and indeed whole civilizations, that lose the courage or the appetite to face troubling news and change the status quo accordingly are incapable of making necessary corrections.”
It’s worth reading the whole speech, here.
What advice do you have for PR professionals about working with journalists?
A good start is to have an understanding of a journalist’s role and how it differs from a PR professional. Often times our interests overlap. For example, if you’ve got a great story pitch or if you can share important information the public needs to know.
Sometimes our interests don’t overlap and that’s OK too. It’s important that PR professionals and journalists can talk with with each other and develop a mutual trust and respect. In the long run, that’s a better strategy than blowing up a relationship over one disagreement, because those will happen.
Everyone is busy, so it can be tough to find time, but a coffee or even a quick phone call once the deadline or disagreement has passed can go a long way.
Thank you, Archie!
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