Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - Jes­sica John­son

My first mag­a­zine job was at Satur­day Night, then Canada’s old­est gen­er­al­in­ter­est mag­a­zine. Our of­fices were a few blocks from the St. Lawrence Mar­ket, in a non­de­script build­ing that also housed the of­fices of a ru­moured cult and a for­get­table cof­fee shop. When I joined The Wal­rus a cou­ple of years ago, it was a sur­prise to find my­self not only still work­ing in jour­nal­ism but do­ing so a few blocks from the same build­ing where I started out — and still eat­ing lunch at the Pa­tri­cian Grill. Cer­tain as­pects of the job have greatly changed. In the 1990s, when you wanted to fact-check a story about a cer­tain kind of fish, you might have no choice but to call an ichthy­ol­o­gist at a uni­ver­sity in Aus­tralia; to­day, much ba­sic in­for­ma­tion is avail­able through Google. But, in many ways, jour­nal­ism ad­heres to the pro­cesses that have ex­isted at mag­a­zines for a cen­tury. We still work far too late into the night, we rely on a net­work of in­cred­i­bly ded­i­cated and hard-work­ing writ­ers, and we fact-check rig­or­ously. Jour­nal­ism has never faced so many threats — fi­nan­cial, tech­nol­o­gyre­lated, ide­o­log­i­cal—but it has never felt more vi­tal to do this work. Since the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Don­ald Trump, es­pe­cially, my col­leagues and I have been check­ing our phones in the mid­dle of the night for break­ing news—and ly­ing awake think­ing about whether and how we should cover the sur­round­ing is­sues the next day. Many of our staff at­tended The Wal­rus Talks Canada 150 events last year around the coun­try and ob­served that, in the midst of cel­e­bra­tions, many needed con­ver­sa­tions were emerg­ing about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, gen­der, the econ­omy, and the state of im­mi­gra­tion. When it came time to cre­ate the fif­teenth an­niver­sary is­sue of this mag­a­zine, our minds turned not to the past but to the fu­ture. (This is partly be­cause jour­nal­ists are not very pa­tient peo­ple.) We knew what con­ver­sa­tions we were al­ready hav­ing, and we won­dered what con­ver­sa­tions we should be hav­ing. We turned to ex­perts across sub­ject ar­eas: sci­ence, his­tory, pol­i­tics. The sto­ries on the fol­low­ing pages are the re­sult of many on- and off-the-record con­ver­sa­tions, all of which helped to in­form the over­sized is­sue you are read­ing. There are peo­ple so fa­mil­iar they are im­me­di­ately as­so­ci­ated with a sub­ject, such as David Suzuki (“The Fu­ture of Na­ture”), and ex­perts who may be new, like Kate Sloan (“The Fu­ture of Sex”), be­cause their sub­ject ar­eas are still emerg­ing. We are heart­ened that some of our cor­re­spon­dents see the fu­ture in the past, like David Sax in his piece (“Con­serve and Pro­tect”) on the chal­lenge of build­ing ar­chives for the dig­i­tal age. All of this is only a slice of the com­pen­dium that could have been, but we hope it will spark the con­ver­sa­tions we need to start hav­ing, now and into to­mor­row. It’s no se­cret that the con­tin­ued suc­cess of The Wal­rus is partly due to a char­i­ta­ble, non-profit busi­ness model our founders pre­sciently es­tab­lished a few years af­ter the mag­a­zine’s in­cep­tion. At a time when other pub­li­ca­tions are dy­ing out, or hav­ing to find new sources of rev­enue, we are for­tu­nate to be able to con­tinue to pro­duce well-re­searched, con­sid­ered, fact-checked jour­nal­ism to the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard. That doesn’t mean that we don’t fear the fu­ture, though. By the time this mag­a­zine’s next mile­stone an­niver­sary rolls around, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence may have ad­vanced so that ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tors won’t have to type. Bots are al­ready writ­ing ar­ti­cles at some ma­jor news or­ga­ni­za­tions (though they do mostly stick to re­port­ing sports scores and stock re­ports). “Are we all go­ing to be re­placed by robots?” I asked my col­league Maxime St.Pierre of Ra­dio-canada—which hap­pens to be an in­dus­try leader in dig­i­tal jour­nal­ism. “No,” he an­swered. “Well,” he qual­i­fied, “things will change, but there will al­ways be a need for hu­man be­ings to make sense of the news.” With that in mind, we hope that this is­sue pro­vides some of that in­sight. We also hope you’ll con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion—send us your re­sponses and ideas for fu­ture sto­ries at pitches@the­wal­rus.ca. —

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