Thank you for the honour of being a Michener Fellow. I spent September to December 1988 on my fellowship and would like to tell you how things went.
So far, I have published a series in Le Devoir, which I am enclosing. In May 1989, Le 30, the magazine of Quebec journalism, is giving me the better part of an entire issue to publish five articles on my findings as a Michener Fellow. I have been discussing a similar series with the CIJ Bulletin, and anticipate in coming months twenty or thirty pieces in other publications.
1. What did I do?
Between the beginning of September and the end of December 1988, I devoted my energies full-time to my fellowship. This meant not only copious reading and consultations with journalists and editors and the Federation of Quebec Journalists in Montreal, but also travel to Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, New York, Washington, San Francisco, Paris and London, to interview leading editors, producers, reporters, journalism professor and journalism students.
In Toronto, I met with Mel Suffrin, executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council, John Fraser, editor of Saturday Night, John Godfrey, editor of the Financial Post, Joe Hall, feature editor, Phil Bingley, Insight editor, and Rod Goodman, ombudsman of The Toronto Star.
In Ottawa, I met with Scott Honeyman, managing editor, and Ilya Gerol, foreign editor of the Ottawa Citizen.
In Montreal, I had many conversations with, among others, René Mailhot, editor of Le 30 and journalist at Radio-Canada, Paule Beaugrand-Champagne, assistant editor-in-chief of Le Devoir, Michel Roy, formerly editor-in-chief of La Presse, Mark Harrison editor-in-chief of the Montreal Gazette, Leo Rampen, executive producer of Radio-Quebec’s TV programme Nord-Sud.
In Boston, I met with John Hart, host of World Monitor, a television show produced by the Christian Science Monitor, as well as John Hughes, former editor-in-chief of the Monitor and now director of broadcasting for the same organization. I had the opportunity of sitting in on editorial meetings, and speaking to many staff members both on the print and broadcasting sides, on television as well as at American Public Radio.
In New York, my efforts to meet Max Frankel or anyone else at the New York Times met with failure. I have described this encounter in the first piece of my Le Devoir series. Mike Shuster of National Public Radio gave me a lot of time however. In Washington, I could not meet with anyone at the Post, but I met Jan Kruze, correspondent of Le Monde, Richard Kleeman of the First Amendment Center of the Society of Professional Journalists, Cameron Thrall, a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism of Evanston, Illinois (Medill has a semester in Washington), while in San Francisco I met with Elie Abel at Stanford and spoke to a number of other journalists.
In London, I met with Kevin Boyle, executive director of Article 19, John Torode and Roger Berthoud of The Independent, Keith Hindell, Malcom Billings, Alan Le Breton and Michael Harrison (the latter two are both acting directors of current affairs) of the BBC World Service, Bill Buzenberg, correspondent of National Public Radio, Joe Haines, political editor of the Mirror Group and biographer of Robert Maxwell, Mark Knight of the Financial Times and Sally Gilbert of the National Union of Journalists.
In Paris, I interviewed Annick Cojean, journalist at Le Monde, Beatrice Lacoste, former freelancer and now public affairs editor at the European Space Agency, Dominique Pouchin, editor-in-chief of Liberation, Robert Bruin, a businessman working for the international conglomerate Cerus SA, Bill Echikson, correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, Jean Schmitt, assistant editor of Le Point, Patrick Lamm, industrial editor of Les Echos De L’Economie, Jean-Jacques Mevel, finance editor of Liberation, Francis Balle, vice-chancellor of the Sorbonne and an authority on communications, Aline Reale, assistant director of the Centre Francais de Perfectionnement des Journalistes, as well as four engaging students, and a number of other figures interested in media issues.
I should point out that quite a few journalists refused to see me, specifically on the grounds I was inquiring into media ethics!
2. What did I learn?
I learned of the paramount importance of the subject. I learned that journalists give a thought from time to time to ethics, but generally don’t have time for it. Some people I met thanked me for drawing their attention to problems they had only half thought about. The BBC were perhaps the most positive about my fellowship. The French, although they don’t have a good track record, were surely the most open and self-critical, since they are going through a period of self-questioning, and enjoy vigorous debate through a period of self-questioning, and enjoy vigorous debate in any case. The Americans were the most cautious of all. I learned there is a big difference in attitudes between English and French Canadians; each group has its own agenda as far as ethics as considered. My experience confirmed that my fellowship has been a tremendous opportunity and should not be wasted.
3. What did I accomplish?
I can’t say what effect my stories will have as a result of my fellowship. As an individual journalist, my four months have given me a deeper understanding of problems, not just of rules of thumb, but of the reasons behind them. The prestige of the fellowship has given me greater visibility, and has allowed me to be more frank in my judgments. I think I can help a broader debate get started, at least in Quebec. Recent events, such as coverage of the Alliance-Quebec fire, suggest we need this debate badly.
4. What are my plans for publication of the results?
As I wrote above, I foresee twenty of thirty pieces incoming months on the subject of media ethics. These will appear on Canadian, American and British radio, and in newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States. I will be glad to send you copies of scripts and clippings.
5. What are my future plans on the subject of media ethics?
Currently I am working on a book project on media ethics. I am also in the discussion stage with a major Canadian television network of French and English versions of a documentary series on media ethics. Since my half-hour co-producti8on with the National Film Board on native journalism is going to be s hot this May, I think the TV series will be easy to sell. I am in a way forced to write a book and do a documentary series, because I faced a lot of resistance from editors and producers over running my pieces on media ethics. Many were prepared to criticize their own work, in private, but would not publish anything. Three thousand dollars of work that was commissioned as a result of my fellowship was cancelled boy one media organization, because of lay-offs and new management, and fear of ‘rocking the boat’! I can’t let that stop me.
PS The book and documentaries will take some time to pull together.