70-year-old Carl Bernstein was in Winnipeg last month, speaking to a conference on investigative journalism, sponsored by the CBC. There was a brief time, in the 1970’s, when many teenagers might have been heard to say “I want to be a journalist like Bernstein”. Today that name probably draws a lot of blank stares from most people under the age of 40.
A month from now it will be 40 years since Richard Nixon was forced to leave the White House because of the Watergate scandal. Bernstein and his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward were the young reporters who broke the story that brought down an American President.
In the wider world, journalists have never been that highly regarded. We usually rank near the bottom, along with politicians and the folks who sell used cars, when they take surveys about the value of certain jobs.
Journalism schools in both Canada and the U.S. still churn out hundreds of graduates each year, but you have to wonder how long that will continue. The CBC who sponsored that Winnipeg conference, are still the gold standard when it comes to reporting the news in this country, but their future is very cloudy indeed. The ‘death of a thousand cuts’ in recent years, and the never ending digital revolution have hit hard at what the CBC and other news organizations do best.
It was American humourist Finley Peter Dunne who first declared that the purpose of good journalism is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. A century later, as we tweet and text our way in search of truth, Carl Bernstein defines that task this way. He says “good reporting is about getting the best obtainable version of the truth.”
Somehow that seems quite different from what he and Bob Woodward might have said about their work 40 years ago.
I’m Roger Currie