While on Twitter this weekend on behalf of the Martlet, I noticed that we were mentioned in a conversation with Tom Fletcher, Black Press reporter and columnist, and some industry professionals. While the conversation actually began because a Twitter user (and past Martlet contributor) disagreed with Fletcher’s stance on the influence of NGOs on the media, it turned into a bit of a discussion about student journalists and corporate influence. As I read on, I felt angry, but ultimately disappointed.
The conversation went back and forth about the perceived prevalence of anti-capitalism in journalism schools and universities, but it seems Fletcher had had enough when he said, “My mistake. . .I don’t usually debate with Martlet types who have no concept of the real world.”
My mistake @OrcaCedarbough. I don't usually debate with Martlet types who have no concept of the real world.
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) October 24, 2014
Those tweets brought up several complex topics, and the conversation is worth looking at online, but from my perspective, I found Fletcher’s responses sarcastic, unnecessarily hostile, and a turn-off for aspiring journalists.
First, I am somewhat shocked that Fletcher, president of the B.C. Legislature Press Gallery, would express his opinions on issues he has to report on. Call me old-fashioned, but I find that to be a bit of an inherent conflict. I am not here to debate the merits of natural gas extraction in B.C., but I don’t know if I could trust his neutrality while reporting on those issues. Yes, reporters are entitled to their opinions on contentious issues, but at the very least, they shouldn’t be writing opinions on issues they are covering.
Second, I find it rather rich that Fletcher would believe student journalists to be out of touch with “the real world.” If he’s saying what I think he’s saying (that opponents of capitalism fail to acknowledge the influence of existing sociopolitical structures), he might be right, but I don’t quite know who he’s addressing, because it sure as hell isn’t anyone on the Martlet staff. Every person I work with, whatever their political beliefs, face “the real world” each day, and while they are young, they certainly aren’t deluded.
Somewhere in the conversation, Fletcher accuses an interlocutor of doing “what passes for enviro-journalism these days,” and says that anti-capitalist sentiments are abound in journalism schools and academia. I don’t doubt that those sentiments exist, at least on the UVic campus, but in my own courses, I have never been taught to “stick it to the man” or bring down corporate interests because I disagree with them politically. We, like all university students, are taught to be skeptical and analytical. Though I work with and learn from many left-wingers, I interact with people from all sides of the political spectrum, and our opinions pages would never exclude contrary views, so long as they are well-reasoned and fair.
Finally, his pessimism about student media in general is rather disappointing. In the past, it might have been easy to paint all student papers as left-wing rags (even though they highlighted important social issues that have only recently turned mainstream). With fewer internships available and increasing concentration in media ownership, student media sources free from corporate influence are as relevant as ever.
To fill the void left by mainstream media, university papers across the country are quickly building their credibility, instituting stricter fact-checking procedures and separating their editorial and financial staff. We offer hands-on training in writing, editing, photography, videography, and more—skills that mainstream papers require as a condition of employment. If that vocation is not for them, these skills are transferable to countless other jobs.
So, I reject the notion that student journalists can be reduced to a single “type” with “no concept of the real world.” In particular, I’m saddened that the leader of the Press Gallery, no doubt a prestigious and important position, feels such pessimism about those who might aspire to have his job someday. From what I’ve seen, I don’t know if it’s a job I want.
Hugo Wong is the editor-in-chief of the Martlet.