Journalism has changed – and not always for the better, says broadcaster

photo of Michael Enright

News and news coverage is much different now than when Michael Enright started as a reporter more than 30 years ago. Journalism has changed radically – not always for the better, the host of CBC Radio’s “The Sunday Edition” told his convocation audience Tuesday.

photo of Michael Enright“Descriptions of events which used to take hours or even days to reach vast publics across the world are now transmitted in seconds,” said Enright. “Ancient images of foreign correspondents in trenchcoats have been replaced by thousands of ordinary people, young people with cellphone cameras in crowded revolutionary squares.”

Over a long and distinguished career, Enright has written for Time, Maclean’s, the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. He was managing editor of CBC Radio News and a longtime co-host of CBC Radio’s “As It Happens”. A fearless interviewer with boundless curiosity and a commitment to looking at stories differently, he was at York to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Michael Enright

“Reporting and commentary historically done by people we call journalists have been superseded by blogs and people we call bloggers,” Enright told graduates from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “The traditional form of news transmission, the daily morning or evening newspapers, is on life support and while the decline of print journalism seems to carry on apace, the electronic explosions of information proliferate.

“This has led to a number of serious consequences for journalism, not all of them good,” said Enright. “On the plus side, it has made more transparent the inner workings of journalism. It has made reporters more accountable for what they do. On the other hand, much of what passes for journalism these days is the tabloid reporting of inauthentic people doing inauthentic things. The tonnage of information we’re constantly pouring out of our media in 24-7 all-news formats is making people crazy.

“We crave information and facts in the hope they will lead to understanding, insight, perhaps even wisdom, but there is a paradox at work here: we’re so attached to the universe of instantaneous communication, that we sometimes feel disconnected from everything else, from the world even,” said Enright. “We spend hours staring at screens, surfing, searching, soaking up images. We say it’s our work and we have to do it or it’s our hobby and we want to do it. I wonder what the impact is on our ability to understand things.”

Enright said he might know more than he did at 20 but he wasn’t sure he was any wiser. He shared “a couple of things I’ve learned along the way.”

“My friend June Callwood taught me years ago that there are no innocent bystanders. If you come across pain in any form and do nothing to help, you are responsible. It is from her and people like her that I learned that small things are what give life its meaning,” said Enright.

“I’ve learned,” he said, “that laughter is prayer, work is therapy, and music and poetry are gifts from heaven.” That you should not do too much planning. “Always leave room for chance, for plain old-fashioned luck.” That “you should constantly do, because action is more fulfilling than doing nothing.”

He advised graduates to “reread a book that you loved as a child”, leave the room when grown-ups tell you to be realistic, learn to fix or make things with your hands.  Remember, he said, that “things are never as bad as they appear. Most things improve if you simply get up and go outside.” Learn to cook, to ride a motorcyle.

“Next time you give a loony to a homeless man, talk to him for five minutes, get his story.” When you argue with your children, remember what a horse’s ass you were at their age, he said. Develop the habit of learning.

“Remember that women hold up half the sky and misogyny and murder of women anywhere is a crime against humanity,” he said to cheers and applause.

York’s Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Enright‘s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.