In December, I left my job as a radio news producer at the Société Radio-Canada. This month, I wrote an open letter, explaining that I felt a pervasive “woke” ideology and an obsession with identity politics – coupled with a lack of interest in broader issues – had created a climate in which it was difficult to do good journalism.
I worried that niche stories — like non-binary Filipinos upset over the lack of LGBT terms in Tagalog, or a list of offensive words Canadians should avoid using, including “brainstorm” and “lame” — had become editorial priorities, while issues that affect people nationally, such as the housing crisis, the opioid epidemic and wealth inequality, have been underreported. I was also concerned about the lack of alternative viewpoints on stories, such as vaccination mandates, school closures and lockdowns, and the Dave Chappelle Netflix controversy.
Over the years at the CBC, I’ve come to find our coverage increasingly ideological and lacking in critical thinking, but my repeated efforts to push back from within have been unsuccessful. The network’s atmosphere was stuffy and driven by groupthink, with a narrow range of viewpoints represented.
Since then, I have received letters from all over my country, and from yours, from journalists with surprisingly similar experiences – and surprisingly similar concerns. I also received very many messages from members of the public who, for precisely these reasons, disconnected us.
So what’s going on in our newsrooms? Why has a segment of our media shifted drastically to the left? Why has the liberal press embraced a “woke” ideology that is largely unpopular with the public? And why are media executives so unaware of all this?
A number of pressures on newsrooms deserve consideration.
More importantly, the business itself is under threat. In recent years, we’ve lost subscribers, advertising dollars and social media following, disrupting traditional business models and leading to layoffs and store closures. At the same time, the digital media revolution has produced an army of young, inexperienced writers willing to work for next to nothing, driving down writing rates, devaluing our work, and oversimplifying dialogue.
Then there’s the fact that outrage reliably generates online engagement and therefore dollars. Financial incentives generate aggressive and polarizing content. Outlets are increasingly targeting consumers on both sides of the political spectrum and providing content to these echo chambers. In doing so, they abandon the goal of speaking to a large audience – and a shared conversation.
Then, of course, you have the pandemic. Anyone who has talked about it will tell you how exhausting it is. Many of us have gone from covering a mix of stories to covering COVID day in and day out, often from the isolation of tiny city apartments, doing our best to absorb devastation, loss and change. radical societal without the buffer of newsroom camaraderie, or, in some cases, any face-to-face social accompaniment whatsoever. Many are tired and exhausted.
Add to all of this, there is the changing nature of our workforce. What was once a blue-collar job has become, especially in the United States, an elite profession. Partly because the business itself is so precarious, journalists often come from wealthy backgrounds, are educated in elite schools, and live among society’s decision makers.
As a group, we have every interest in maintaining the status quo and we have little contact with those who do not share our point of view.
If all that weren’t enough, hiring and training practices are increasingly shaped by “woke” ideology, the selection of journalists who are on board – or at least willing to embrace it.
Twitter, too, puts undue pressure on newsrooms, giving the illusion of societal consensus where none exists. And cancel culture imposes a climate of fear. The consequences of speaking out against “woke” ideology are significant. Jobs and reputations can be lost, as well as livelihoods; few journalists are in a position to risk it. The vocal minority thus prevails over the majority in the middle. And curiosity is supplanted by a public representation of certainty.
The outing begins, I think, when we all ask ourselves a question: “What if we are wrong? »
If we can get a story wrong – a narrative, a collection of established facts, a point of view, an analysis, an entire approach to journalism or politics – the natural conclusion is that we need to talk to more people, to understand more deeply. We need to incorporate more opinions, more dissenting voices, more educational, economic and political experiences. We need to hear more, to think more, to discern more, to contemplate more.
If there’s a possibility we got it wrong, we can also give up trying to influence audience behavior — and go back to trying to tell the story in the most thoughtful and accurate way possible.
This approach would also hopefully engender the small daily acts of courage that this extreme moment requires. If we can be wrong, then of course we have to talk, question, investigate, rethink, reframe.
It’s a simple change, and it certainly won’t fix things. But that might be enough to convince audiences to stick around while we embark on the drudgery of course-correcting.
Tara Henley is a journalist, podcaster, best-selling author. Twitter: @TaraRHenley