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Dan McCaffery's picture

Kiss our democracy goodbye

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 12:52 -- Dan McCaffery

When I first started reporting 45 years ago, this country had a vibrant, robust media.

And not just in the big cities like Toronto, or even medium-sized communities like Sarnia.

A case in point would be the former Moore Township, known today as St. Clair Township. In the mid-1970s I covered Moore Township council for the old Sarnia Gazette.

And I was not alone. Not by any means. At many council meetings there were five reporters keeping an eye on proceedings. One from the Gazette, another from the Sarnia Observer, still another from the London Free Press (which had a bureau in Sarnia back then) and two radio reporters, one from CHOK and another from the now defunct CKJD. If there was an especially important issue being debated there might also be a journalist on hand from CBC Windsor.

In other words, in a largely rural township south of Sarnia, you could have up to six reporters recording the goings-on of the local politicians. Each one of them would be looking for an angle that the other reporters might miss. Competition was fierce.

As a result of that kind of coverage Moore leaders such as Don Beaton and Marg Stacey were well known across Sarnia-Lambton. More importantly, what they were doing was well known.

It was a good thing, too, because Moore council was dealing with many important issues in those days, including rapid growth in the Chemical Valley and the expansion of Corunna.

But this intense coverage wasn’t something confined to Moore Township. I covered municipal council meetings in Sombra, Wyoming, Petrolia, Forest, Sarnia, the old Sarnia Township and Point Edward. Before the villages of Courtright and Brigden were swallowed up by Moore Township in amalgamations, I covered meetings in those places as well.

In many instances I was not the only reporter on hand. Nor was the coverage restricted to council meetings. In the city, you would find journalists attending planning board, parks board and hydro commission sessions. And of course the two local school boards and Lambton County council were covered extensively.

Today, in most Lambton municipalities, a reporter seldom darkens the door of the municipal offices. Councillors do not have to hold secret meetings to hide things from the public because almost no one is watching them.

Much of this has to do with economics. The mainstream media is in full retreat, with dramatically reduced staffs. They simply do not have the budgets to send reporters to places that were once routinely covered.

Not that many people care. They think they can get their news from ‘social media.’

South of the border you have a president who tells the American people that the press is the enemy and who has allegedly discussed jailing journalists with the former FBI director.

I don’t know what the answer is to all of this. But I do know if we don’t find one in the not too distant future we can kiss our democracy goodbye.

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