News­pa­pers: Re­flec­tions of our com­mu­ni­ties or those imag­ined?

If read­ers can’t learn from their daily pa­per, it’s all for naught

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - PAUL BER­TON Paul Ber­ton is editor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thes­ You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thes­

A reader re­cently can­celled his sub­scrip­tion be­cause he was un­happy about a front-page ar­ti­cle on Mus­lims. He doesn’t want to read about them, he said.

I won­dered, though, if it was just Mus­lims, or did he also not want to read about Hin­dus, Jews, Bud­dhists or Chris­tians?

Or maybe it’s just peo­ple from the Mid­dle East and South Asia?

Or was it also sto­ries about the Chi­nese, the Por­tuguese or the Ir­ish?

It is pos­si­ble he was sim­ply try­ing to make a po­lit­i­cal state­ment, em­bold­ened by the likes of Donald Trump.

There are many rea­sons why peo­ple can­cel their de­liv­ery of a news­pa­per, and it’s true ev­ery­one has dif­fer­ent com­plaints and pref­er­ences.

But a news­pa­per must re­flect its com­mu­nity. Some do a bet­ter job of this than oth­ers, but we all try. And we are reg­u­larly as­sailed by read­ers for fail­ing.

Some of these crit­i­cisms are petty jeal­ousies:

For ex­am­ple, those (stu­dents, par­ents, teach­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors) as­so­ci­ated with both pub­lic school sys­tems of­ten won­der why one sys­tem gets more cov­er­age of sport­ing and school events than the other. The Lib­er­als, the NDP and the Con­ser­va­tives are all con­vinced their events, causes and ini­tia­tives get less cov­er­age than those of their op­po­nents.

Some are crit­i­cisms about the na­ture of jour­nal­ism:

We prob­a­bly fea­ture more tri­als than tri­umphs in ar­ti­cles. We tend to com­fort the af­flicted and af­flict the com­fort­able. Such ob­ser­va­tions are ei­ther flat­ter­ing or un­flat­ter­ing, de­pend­ing on your per­spec­tive. And peo­ple say we are more neg­a­tive than pos­i­tive, which is de­bat­able.

And some are le­git­i­mate com­plaints:

For ex­am­ple, we likely in­clude more men than women in news sto­ries, and fewer vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties than we should given the makeup of so­ci­ety.

We take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity at The Spec­ta­tor to write about mi­nori­ties and cel­e­brate di­ver­sity. Some are pro­vided to us on a sil­ver plat­ter, such as fes­ti­vals. We go out of our way to por­tray the suc­cesses of mi­nor­ity groups, but we don’t shy away from their fail­ures ei­ther.

And when­ever pos­si­ble, we try to in­clude per­spec­tives from dif­fer­ent walks of life in ev­ery­day sto­ries, by look­ing for com­ments or pro­files from com­mu­nity lead­ers who might be out­side “the usual sus­pects” (i.e. older white guys) cat­e­gory.

Like most news­pa­pers, we are not nearly as good at that as we should be.

But the re­sult of those ef­forts of­ten leads to com­plaints by peo­ple who think a news­pa­per should not re­flect the com­mu­nity as it is, but in­stead an im­age of the com­mu­nity they feel or want it to be. The re­sult? Peo­ple stick to them­selves and do not get to know each other. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, when hu­mans do not take the time to know oth­ers, they end up fear­ing them, hat­ing them — and in­evitably fight­ing them.

News­pa­pers are here to bridge that gap, and we won’t ever give it up.

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