Don’t get me wrong: I have the greatest admiration for the real journalists of this world—to the point of nausea when I see how few of them are still fully employed and allowed to follow the best practices of their craft.

On the other hand, my stomach rebels as much, if not more, at what passes for journalism in some circles these days. There are few things more revolting than turning on the news only to see a gaggle of so-called reporters jostling one another for the privilege of eliciting yet another meaningless sound-bite to serve as an excuse for guessing what it *might* mean if it means anything at all.

In the wee hours last night, my insomnia was aggravated by one example: the madness of reporters pestering the Australian authorities about whether or not the as-yet-unexamined debris on indistinct satellite images were the wreckage of the missing Malayan plane, when those gentlemen had already stated clearly several times that those images were merely a lead to follow up in a confusing and distressingly-large search area, about which no further information was yet available.

Earlier in the evening, I was treated to a similar spectacle in yet another noisy clutch of microphone-holders chasing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford down a hallway, asking questions they knew full well would not receive satisfactory answers of a man as notorious for evasion as for chatter-fodder about the as-yet-unseen “crack video.” The fact of the matter—that the police account of what the much-discussed video shows had been released to the public—deserved reporting, as did the fact that said report did not say categorically that what the mayor was inhaling was crack, though it did look enough like it to warrant further investigation. However, as we all know, speculation about that video has been clogging the airwaves for months and, given past performance, it was most improbable that the corridor-chase was yield any useful result. Instead, it was yet another excuse for idle wondering about when that video might surface and other irrelevancies.

Surely the real story was the evidence of reasons to pursue the criminal investigations and the degree to which the mayor might be implicated in the activities of his friends? And surely anyone of reasonable intelligence knows that, though guilt-by-association is not a principle of Canadian law and “innocent until proven guilty” is,
chasing an overweight, apoplectic-complexioned man into an office with all cameras rolling is not journalism but paparazzi-ism at its worst.
In that realm, what matters is to catch a “celebrity” in some embarrassing situation—creating one, if necessary—to win a spot on the “infotainment” that so often passes as TV news and serve as click-bait on the network’s website. The collateral damage—elevating to martyrdom a man who deserves treatment as a mere suspect—is that simply reinforces in ignorant minds the notion that the poor persecuted man should be compensated with another term as mayor.

By the same token, the choice of Pierre-Karl Péladeau as a candidate for the Parti Québecois got a lot of attention, often to the detriment of sensible political comment. My last rant was admittedly too quick off the mark, since the parallel to Berlusconi did get its measure of ink. But most of the on-air chatter was about the man’s intention to leave a country to his children—with the focus on his separatism (rather than the seigneurial attitude implicit in it) or Première Pauline Marois’ hasty intervention at the podium, rather than why an avowedly rightwing business mogul would feel comfortable running for the [at least ostensibly] progressive PQ.

Meanwhile, whether putting his holdings into a blind trust was enough or whether he would need to sell his Québecor shares to avoid conflict of interest questions formed part of the discussion but I’ve heard little of how the interests of “Québec Inc.” (over those of the rest of us citizens) are furthered by the near-monopoly of French-language media which somehow earned the CRTC’s approval. (It will be interesting to see whether that august body does anything to preserve “net neutrality” or whether PKP’s Vidéotron will get to throttle its customers’ access to other media sources over the Internet. I admit I am not immune to the speculation bug, either.)

It seems to me that we, the public, have lost something important in the drift of the news media from significant reporting to constant speculation and punditry. A well-informed public is essential to democracy, but how can the public be well-informed when the media spend less time on communicating salient facts and more time guessing what polling numbers might mean and which politicians might do or say something embarrassing on camera?

The problem is very like that of fast food versus healthy diet: the former is cheap and available everywhere, while the latter requires deliberate effort and thought, and may well require one to go further and spend more for something substantial. It’s just so much easier to join the feeding frenzy than to investigate the facts and put them before the public in digestible form. And it’s so much easier for the politicians and tycoons to control what the public gets to know this way that I don’t see it changing anything like soon enough.