Welcome to Rideau Hall for the presentation of the Michener Awards for Journalism.
Very few of us are able to look back on a career and know with certainty that we influenced change. Very few of us can say that we played a role in illuminating important issues and telling the stories of Canadians. Very few of us have the responsibility to the public that journalists have.
Now, more than ever, journalists are faced with a difficult task. Before the rise of the Internet, instant communication and the 24-hour news cycle, news organizations were the primary sources of information to understand what was going on in the world.
Today, news travels through social media as quickly as through a news agency. Rumour becomes fact and fact becomes rumour, the truth oftentimes blurred. And yet, despite the rise of citizen journalism, the fundamental role of the journalist has not changed.
With so much information—and misinformation—at our fingertips, more than at any other point in our collective history, journalists have an even greater responsibility, not just to the public, but also to the truth.
But to do so, to get to the heart of a story, a journalist first needs to engender trust. Without trust, without the assurance that journalism is protecting and safeguarding our society or challenging the status quo to improve our lives—in other words, serving the public interest—the field cannot succeed.
Trust is the underpinning of the social contract between the profession and the public—and once that trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.
In fact, journalists have had a social contract with society virtually since the invention of the printing press, agreeing to search for the truth, to protect our most basic freedoms, and to be a check and balance for those in power. But in changing times, we must understand that although news is not purely the domain of journalists anymore, there is still a need for the type of journalism being honoured here: in-depth and honest reporting.
Those of you here, those of you who pursued the truth and brought to light injustices in our society, are examples to which professionals in your field should aspire. You were dogged, relentless and focussed. You told the stories of ordinary Canadians. You fought for ordinary Canadians—sometimes against all odds—enabling real and lasting change.
And you were able to do so because of your reputation as a trusted source for news, as people who respected the role that you embraced.
And, like lawyers, doctors and engineers, journalists have an additional responsibility to the next generation. That is where a quality education comes in and why I applaud the addition of the Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education.
This fellowship will allow a new generation of journalists to learn directly from the source. When you share your own story, your successes and your failures, the lessons you have learned throughout your careers, you are ensuring that we continue the great tradition of freedom of thought, expression and speech, which we value so highly.
Your dedication to society and to the truth is laudable, and the results you have achieved are inspirational. For more than 40 years, the Michener Awards have looked for Canadians like you to honour. You embody the journalistic spirit of the past and embrace the challenges of the future. I congratulate all of you on this occasion and wish you the very best as you continue your pursuit of truth for the public good.
His Excellency David Johnston
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
Tuesday, June 12, 2012