On November 16, The University of King’s College, the Rideau Hall Foundation and the Michener Awards Foundation co-hosted “Positive Change for Public Good: Michener Awards Laureates Live,” a public panel discussion featuring recent Michener Award laureates.
The Michener Awards honour public service journalism and are one of the highest awards a Canadian journalist can receive. Each of the five panellists at the event had published a story or series in the past two years that brought about meaningful change as a result of their reporting.
The panellists featured were 2020 finalists Caroline Touzin and Gabrielle Duchaine from La Presse, for their story L’autre épidémie: celle de l’exploitation sexuelle des enfants sur le web (The Other Epidemic: Sexual exploitation of kids on the Internet); 2019 finalist Tim Bousquet from The Halifax Examiner, for his story The Wrongful Conviction of Glen Assoun; Ethan Cox from Ricochet Media, recipient of the 2021 Michener-Deacon Fellowship for his reporting on police misconduct in Canada; and Kenneth Jackson with APTN media, recipient of the 2020 Michener Award for his work on the series Death by Neglect.
Earlier in the day, the panellists had spoken with first-year journalism students about investigative reporting, followed by two afternoon breakout sessions in which students could hear about the panellists’ individual experiences.
“It’s a big deal when we can gather this number of Canada’s premier journalists together at King’s. That’s always a reason to celebrate and to honour their work,” he said. “But having come out of Covid I think it’s especially great, the fact that we’re getting to do this in person and not solely online.”
The public evening event began with an introduction by King’s President William Lahey. Following a land acknowledgement and a blessing offered by an Elder, President Lahey introduced the moderator for the evening, Brian Daly, assistant professor in the faculty of journalism.
Daly began the hour-long discussion by asking the panellists what role public service journalism plays in demythologizing Canadian stereotypes, especially those surrounding Canada’s “polite” public image. Each of the journalists agreed that their stories challenged this public image by bringing to light heavy, unpleasant topics such as child abuse, police misconduct and wrongful convictions.
Daly then asked each of the journalists how their stories changed the communities or groups they reported on. Jackson, for example, shared how as a result of his reporting, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called a moratorium on youth in care aging out of government services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The panellists also all agreed that while their work was incredibly important, news organizations and journalists could always be doing more to put pressure on those in power to bring about change.
The conversation then shifted to the topic of financial challenges in journalism. The panellists discussed two models for sustainable funding: one in which newsrooms relied on ad revenue and clicks for money, and one in which they relied on donations and subscriptions. It was agreed that the latter tended to incentivize producing longer, well-researched articles.
A Q&A session concluded the panel discussion, with questions about how—and if— journalists can stay impartial, advice on how to break into investigative reporting and how the journalists maintained their mental health while covering such heavy topics.
Jill Clark, manager of communications at the Rideau Hall Foundation, says that the foundations would like to make these panel discussions a recurring event, appearing at journalism schools across the country. Clark says they chose to start at King’s because it’s “one of the premier journalism schools in the country.”