As a broadcast journalist, I'm well aware of the challenges today's reporters and journalists face in covering stories — from tight deadlines and a lack of resources, to corporate ownership and the pervasion of tabloid-style reporting in mainstream media. But as guest editor for a recent Saturday edition of the Vancouver Sun, I found out that I still have a lot to learn.
I've never been a news reporter. In fact, more often than not, I'm the focus of a news story, rather than reporting it. Still, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how the news game worked. I know that news is what's happening right now, and that reporters have to crank out copy fast. And I know that daily news is an ephemeral beast. I myself have been guilty of picking up a newspaper, starting to read it, then throwing it down in disgust upon realizing that it was a day old. Yesterday's news just isn't news anymore.
So it was amazing to find out just how much goes into producing a daily newspaper. I was at the Vancouver Sun for a 12-hour shift. In spite of the fact that I had assigned some stories weeks before, there were still dozens of decisions to be made on the fly — everything from writing headlines to story placement, getting reporters to follow up on leads, use of language, fact checking, and, of course, meetings, meetings, meetings.
And that was just the editorial part of the day. At 7 p.m., when I thought we had put the paper to bed, we were off to the production facility where the paper was printed — another whole set of decisions and new challenges. The entire process left me exhausted and humbled.
Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the result. We managed to include some stories that I thought would never run — an article on the true cost of gasoline in the Business section, for example. A reporter looked into what a litre of gasoline costs society if "full-cost accounting" is factored into the equation. This kind of analysis considers factors that are normally considered "externalities" in economics — things like air and water pollution and climate change. When these things are considered, gasoline actually costs upwards of $4.00 per litre — far more than the $1.25 we're currently paying at the pump.
Throughout the stories, my goal was to weave a common thread of sustainability. I hoped to get people thinking about the environmental footprint of everything we do and stimulate discussion about how we can do things better. It was actually pretty easy to find stories that touched on these issues for every section of the newspaper, from Sports to Arts. The reality is our economy and our way of life depends on the natural services that we generally take for granted. We can't afford to do that any longer.
I'm sure that some people will be unhappy with "my" newspaper, because I didn't make it only available online to save paper (great idea, but not an option for the publisher) or that car advertisements were still allowed in the paper, or that the stories weren't deep enough or didn't cover all the environmental challenges we face. In the end, it was just one day. I hope that the edition got a few people thinking in different ways. And I hope it gave the reporters and editors some new ways to think about things too.
So, here's my suggestion to everyone reading who, like me, gets frustrated with the media and the coverage of certain stories, or the lack of it: Tell somebody. If you don't think your local newspaper, radio or television station is covering something adequately, give them a call. Reporters are reporters because they are inquisitive people. They like telling stories. If you have a story idea, don't be afraid to write or call and suggest it. Environmental problems affect all of us. And it's up to all of us to solve them.