I’d like to begin by saying how pleased Sharon and I are to have Mrs. Diana Michener Schatz and her husband, Ray Schatz, with us this evening.
It was Diana’s father, Roland Michener, who inaugurated this award for outstanding public service journalism 45 years ago.
We are so pleased to see you here.
Normally, journalists are the ones who ask the questions, but today I’d like to pose a question to all of you:
Why do you do what you do?
I’m not talking about what you do—which is to say research, write and air significant news stories in the public interest.
Nor am I’m talking about how you do it—by cultivating sources, asking tough questions and relentlessly chasing the facts.
I’m talking about why.
You might answer: to tell the truth;
to shine a light on important, untold stories;
to give a voice to the voiceless;
to hold the powerful to account.
But those answers don’t tell the whole story. They fail to get to the heart of the matter.
The real reason why you do what you do is because you believe in hope.
Journalists are often accused of being hard-boiled and cynical. But in fact, the very best journalists—such as you are—are the least cynical people among us.
You believe in right and wrong.
You believe that people, while quite capable of doing the very worst to each other, are also capable of the very best.
You believe in our country and in our ability to create a fair and just society.
That’s why you do what you do. Because you believe, and because you hope.
That’s why you endure the long hours, the calls not returned, the half-truths and the frequent spin.
It’s a job, yes, but there are other jobs you could be doing.
You do yours for the common good.
When we read or listen to or watch one of your news stories, we aren’t ultimately doing so to learn about some state of affairs in our military, our labour market, our health-care system, our democracy, our treatment of victims or our foster-care system—the stories and themes for which you’ve been nominated.
Ultimately, we’re not reading, watching or listening to what you report, but rather why you report.
We’re following because we, too, believe in the common good, and in the promise of Canada.
We, too, are full of hope, and want this country to live up to its potential.
We, too, want to build a smarter, more caring Canada for our kids and grandkids.
And sometimes, that means having the courage to face hard facts, and tell unpleasant stories.
Also known as bad news!
Nations, and indeed whole civilizations, that lose the courage or the appetite to face troubling news and change the status quo accordingly are incapable of making necessary corrections.
Eventually, they lose their way. They fail.
I think of Hugh MacLennan’s comparison of civilizations to gardens in his final novel, Voices in Time.
“In the relatively rare periods in the past that we call civilized, people understood that a civilization is like a garden cultivated in a jungle. As flowers and vegetables grow from cultivated seeds, so do civilizations grow from carefully studied, diligently examined ideas and perceptions. In nature, if there are no gardeners, the weeds that need no cultivation take over the garden and destroy it.”
The best journalists are like gardeners, helping us weed the garden, allowing space for new plants to grow.
You certainly know how to dig!
Despite everything that’s changed in the news industry in recent years—and that’s a lot—the basic principles of good journalism have not changed.
And they won’t. Journalistic ethics and integrity will never go out of style.
I thank and congratulate all of you—journalists, editors, producers, teachers, students alike—for your dedication to those principles, and to Canada.
Each of you and the organizations you represent are worthy nominees and recipients of the Michener Award and the Michener-Deacon Fellowship.
I wish you the very best.