In his 35-year career, award-winning journalist Tony Burman has served as the managing director of Al Jazeera English and editor-in-chief of CBC News. He is now a research chair at Ryerson University. Read Tony’s full bio here…
Click here to watch Tony’s interview, “Covering the Uncoverable: Social Media in the Arab Spring,” part 2.
Ramona: Who is the new journalist? Is it the trained person, is it the person who’s been inside of the news organization and paid those dues, or is it the blogger, the citizen journalist?
Tony: People, when I speak at conferences or whatever, particularly at universities, come to me and say, “Okay, if you were starting over in your early twenties, what would you do?” And what I would do, unlike what I did, and when I graduated from university I went to the Montreal Star, went to a conventional news organization and spent most of my working life in that context, I wouldn’t do that now. What I would do is I would get some equipment, I would go abroad, go to Africa, go to Latin America, make connections with various news outlets, that right now, with the cutbacks in foreign bureaus are desperate for stringers and freelancers. So I think there is a blend between the two, I think both enrich the media environment. I think that there are also weaknesses on both sides. I don’t think the perfect journalist anymore can be identified in either camp, but I think both camps working together can produce better journalism than we’ve had up to now.
I think if you have, in the mainstream media, professional, trained journalists, then you’ve got to ask the question, “Well, what is their training?” And I think the training of a good journalist is to be detached as they can be, to be able to process a multitude of sources and to, in a fair, comprehensive way, provide their audience with a sense of what are the key elements they should understand. I think there’s always a need for that. Not so much a gatekeeper, i.e. preventing a lot of things from sliding through the gate, but being somewhat selective, but in a very open-minded way. And I think in that sense, they work in tandem with social media, in tandem with bloggers, in tandem with users.
What is the future of news?
I am an incredible optimist about the future, both for the media and for the audiences of that media, but also for people who want to be part of the media. Whether it’s in the conventional news organizations, or more informally in blogging contexts. I think that the doom and gloom that one often hears is, number one, a lot of news organizations outside of North America are doing far better per capita than they are inside North America. In other words, it’s not true that the media businesses worldwide is in trouble. It’s in trouble in certain parts of North America, certain sectors. I think there’s certain structural business reasons for that, but I think if I were a journalist in my early twenties, or aspiring to be a journalist in university, I would feel as optimistic, as excited about what’s ahead, as I did when I was in university, about to become a journalist. Although things are incredibly uncertain, probably far more than perhaps they were at an equivalent time in my post-university period, I think that can all be turned for the better.
I think it’s a great period for people in general, in terms of the use of technology and how it impacts on media. But I think it’s also an exciting time for young people who want to take advantage and use that media in some sort of public service way.
- Both citizen journalism and professional journalism can combine to create quality news coverage
- Tony is optimistic about the future of journalism
- Technology and media are evolving and though that makes things uncertain, Tony says that it also an opportunity for people to learn how to take advantage of new media in a public service way
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyBurman.