“I fear we will all become just a herd of sheep”

Opinion by Valerie MacDonald

The fourth estate is a key player in democracy and it is drowning in economic ruin.

The loss of local, professional journalism is having a profound impact on the decimation of information and a direct impact on our quality – and our way – of life – in towns, villages and rural areas not only across this county, and this province, but across our country.

It’s said that information is power and if acquiring it is harder than ever, people are making more uninformed decisions whether it’s about housing, food, saving, mortgages, child care and/or health.

Social media permits organizations, governments and individuals to put out their own views as if they are proven facts when most times it is a solitary and biased view point and doesn’t reflect other, or even better, options and directions.

Forms of journalism that, by definition, should report local decisions and directions taken by organizations and individuals as well as questioning them, or aspects of them, and getting reaction to those that might lead to discussions or looking at achieving the same results in a different/better way, have pretty much gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Taxpayers hear very little from their governments unless it is something they want them to know…. like it’s time to pay their taxes or water bills. And if it’s a decision about future actions, it’s couched in words that don’t really encourage participation in the democratic process. Maybe it’s unclear language, maybe it’s using technology all are not comfortable using, maybe it’s when and how information is being made available. Local journalism offers the opportunity to question the operations of our elected leaders and the bureaucracies that support them.

For example, if a questionnaire geared to a senior issue, say about health for seniors, is only made public on the internet, the technical limitations could be an impediment in the participation of the very group being targeted. This is a group that has historically relied on local news providers to find out about the happenings in their community and various views about those.

I question whether some young people, so adept at using new technologies, really understand the difference between an opinion versus the truth or various versions of the truth without the necessary intrusion of local journalism pointing out shortfalls in the narratives on social media or contained in a media release from one organization reflecting just one point of view.

I fear we will all become just a herd of sheep clamouring to watch what is getting the most “hits” and ignoring what is happening at local councils, health units, hospitals, school boards, conservation authorities, and other organizations that truly impact us directly, where we live.

Without active participation in the democratic process, we are giving up our freedoms. And without supporting journalism, especially local journalism, were are handing over those freedoms to others without questioning – not holding institutions, organizations, governments and individuals accountable. This has been the job of local journalism, now all but lost, due to the failure of the long-time economic model that once supported it.

With more and more news organizations amalgamating to make ends meet, there are fewer sources using fewer journalists to report professionally on both local and national journalism, let alone on world events in our global society.

If you have fewer voices covering important decision making processes, you have fewer, informed points of view. It is not a stretch to say, the public will possibly be more easily hoodwinked as a consequence. Which will likely lead to people becoming more  disengaged.

It’s a full time job to follow what governments, organizations and others are doing in and to our neighbourhoods – and citizens with jobs, families and other responsibilities have no time to do it.

Without journalism, that important responsibility in society, is not being addressed.

Editor’s Note: Valerie MacDonald started out in TV as an on screen reporter but soon came to her senses and joined the Cobourg Daily Star as a journalist. She covered local and national events for that paper and its spawn, Northumberland Today for almost thirty years. When the paper shut down she jumped on board the News Now Network and shortly afterwards started covering agribusiness and rural issues for Ontario Farmer, as well. At present, she is a happily employed senior still rounding up facts and delivering them on a regular basis to Ontario Farmer.

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