Jana Pruden delivers a riveting speech about the future of journalism

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Pruden, a sessional at MacEwan, delivered the latest Minifie Lecture. Kate Thiessen

Pruden calls on journalists to rethink their approach

Globe and Mail crime and feature writer, Jana Pruden delivered a talk to a roomful of journalism enthusiasts on Tuesday, Mar. 3, at the University Theatre in the Riddell Centre. Pruden joins a long list of iconic journalists who have presented thought-provoking lectures at the annual Minifie lecture series. Titled, “Give Me a Rewrite: Drafting a New Future for Journalism,” Pruden’s lecture evaluated the genesis of journalism, where it is headed, and where she thinks it should head. Pruden began by showing that the problems journalists are encountering today are not new. She referenced the Minifie lecture delivered by Pamela Wallin in 1992, where Wallin decried a president (George H. W. Bush) as “intentionally using the media to manipulate the public” and discussed the problems that will arise because people are “spending too much time looking at an illuminated screen” and its effects on the brain (she mentioned cable tv, pay per view, and the remote control).

“All of the big fundamental concerns and existential threats I have just mentioned were discussed in lectures in the 1980s and 1990s, in the years I’ve always been told were the great old days of journalism,” Pruden said on the university theatre stage.

Pruden also discussed other issues facing journalists today such as public trust, job insecurity, as well as the “internet giants profiting from our content while keeping the revenue for themselves and hedge funds who do not care at all about journalism sucking out the remaining life … from newsrooms.” These statements brought Pruden brought to begin to rethink whether the structure of journalism as we have always known it is to blame.

“If we believe we are a pillar of democracy, that we are the eyes and the voice of the people, and that we deserve the public trust, we will have to earn it over and over again…. We can no longer rely on people giving us their money – whether for subscriptions or advertising, or car ads, or death notices,” Pruden said. “We cannot assume people understand what we do or why or that people know or feel like we represent them.”

She called on journalists to be more intentional and creative with their approach to tackling the issues riddling the profession. It is Pruden’s belief that humility will go far in rescuing the reputation of journalism and journalists in the public’s eyes.

“There was for a long time a belief that we knew best and a resistance to news outlets even acknowledging our mistakes and correcting our errors. It was believed that admitting we could get anything wrong would undermine our credibility,” she noted. “Instead it was that arrogance that hurt us and hurts us still. We carry with us those failures…. We need to admit and own our mistakes. We need to really listen to the people that we report on and the communities we serve.”

Pruden’s riveting submission was received with a standing ovation as she left attendees rethinking the future of journalism.

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