The Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema was packed March 3 for a sold-out discussion of truth during the time of president Donald Trump.
The Globe and Mail’s editor-in-chief David Walmsley spoke with Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron as part of the second annual Curious Minds Weekend that ran from March 2 to 4.
The Curious Weekend, according to its website, is focused on ”the most urgent and exciting issues of our time with the innovative thinkers who shape them.”
There was discussion about Academy Award-winning film Spotlight, which was based on the investigation that journalist Martin Baron and his team at the Boston Globe conducted into the child sex abuse scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church. Baron praised the film, saying it showed the public what journalists really do.
“The movie captures all the struggles of that work, but also the value of it,” Baron said. “The public needs to know how we do what we do and why we do it. Popular culture can illuminate what journalism is all about.”
Baron and his team won the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2003 for their investigative work. According to Baron, the work that reporters and media institutions do has not gotten any easier.
“There has been a decline in the lack of trust in media institutions. It’s a tumultuous period. It gives us a lot to do.”
As an industry, he noted, “We have to worry about our survival.”
A large part of the night’s discussion revolved around how recent technological changes and developments impact the work that journalists do.
“We are not just a journalistic institution,” Baron said. “We are a technological institution. We must be at the forefront of technology and [be] using it in the way others are.”
Baron discussed Trump and the way journalists cover him, saying that the old ways of covering news has to change to be able to keep up with the new president. He also noted how journalism, as a profession, had to be aware of its limitations, and that its practitioners had to be aware of how they could be better.
“We have a primary obligation to cover the president, and this could affect how we cover other issues. We need to do a better job of covering departments outside of the White House. We are highly imperfect and flawed as a profession because we are human beings and we make these calls on the fly.”
Baron criticized how people consume news, saying, “We live in a time where people can go to a lot of different sources of information. And some are not good and are closely aligned with ideological partisans or actual parties. And people believe some really crazy things.”
The work of journalists who search for the truth can be dangerous, Baron noted, but he said there is nothing more dangerous than not doing that work.
“There can be consequences if we do that work. But there will be consequences if we don’t. The public won’t forgive us if we don’t do that work, and I don’t think they should forgive us if we don’t do that work.”
Baron ended the discussion on a hopeful note by explaining a vital role of journalism that should never be forgotten.
“A special obligation of journalists is to listen to people whose voices are not heard. There are always people out there who need out attention and journalists have a special obligation to find these people and talk to them.
“I believe this very strongly: Journalists have a special responsibility to not just pay attention to the people who are yelling the loudest, but those who are whispering. Whispering something very important.”