Journalists more important than ever

Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star passes on tricks of the trade to students

Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star
Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star speaks about the value and future of journalism.

Mount Royal University and the School of Communication Studies recently hosted award-winning investigative reporter and editor for the Toronto Star, Kevin Donovan.

In his introduction of Donovan, Brad Clark, chair of broadcasting and journalism, lauded the journalist for his efforts in maintaining and promoting journalistic professionalism. Clark pointed to the processes Donovan followed when covering the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, which led to the creation of his national best-selling book, Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation.

"Given what we have seen south of the border with the presidential administration challenging the truth and accuracy in a way we have never seen, never mind assailing the media, we need people that are skilled investigative journalists with strong fact checking skills to ensure our democracy is more fully informed," says Clark.

Donovan took attendees behind the scenes of his book Secret Life, which sheds light on the journalistic process and the complexity of gathering information about a highly sensitive matter from named and confidential sources, including women who would eventually have to pit their word against a well-known public figure's.

The underlying message to the budding journalists and audience present was that Donovan firmly believes there is a future in journalism ― specifically, traditional media ― saying that information accessed from social media platforms is largely unconfirmed and unsubstantiated.

"The reality is in the shrinking media landscape you are only going to get traditional media following these cases. Social media (personalities) or bloggers are not going to court or to council chamber meetings," says Donavan, and that the public is becoming increasingly reliant on the work of professional journalists.

The impact of fake news puts the public in a position of having to be careful of where they get their information. And this he believes is the role of journalists.

According to Donovan, "Journalists have a duty to seek the truth just like lawyers in a courtroom, and that often involves asking tough questions."

The established integrity of reporters and news sources means people will ultimately turn to them as resources they can trust when seeking out clarity.

"The tried and true rule, shared by journalists and firefighters," says Donovan, "is when the alarm goes off you have to answer the call and check to see if there is something there."

Sometimes there is no fire, just a pile of information (and sometimes misinformation) that becomes the journalist's job to sift through, confirm and if need be, simplify and illuminate. This is where he says the public will continue to recognize the value in the ethics followed in traditional media.

Ethics and integrity in journalistic research are not just catch phrases, but rather requirements of the craft as the public has a growing expectation of this from investigative reporters.

Donovan is a thirty-year veteran of the Toronto Sun, winning two Governor General's Awards (Michener) for public service journalism, three National Newspaper Awards, and three Canadian Association of Journalists Awards. He is also the author of ORNGE: The Star Investigation that Broke the Story.

March 6, 2017 ― Arlene Ridgeway