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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Going down the road

I’ll miss this. Yes, even this. —
I’ll miss this. Yes, even this. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network

Well, the cat is out of the bag.

Well and truly out of the bag.

After years at the very edge of the East Coast of this country, my wife Leslie and I are moving west — so far west, in fact, that we’ll be closer to the Pacific Ocean than to the Atlantic.

We’ll be moving to Saskatoon, where I’ll be taking over as editor-in-chief of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post. They’re two city dailies that are already doing inventive, interesting and creative work — work that, hopefully, I can encourage and expand.

It will be a big change from years in St. John’s in a variety of editorial roles, and for the last seven years, as a columnist writing for readers across the Atlantic region. I’ll be writing columns and editorials here for the next few weeks, and after that, will learn a new place and be introduced to a new and different outlook.

I think we’re at a critical turning point over whether we’re an informed democracy, or an ignorant one.

Why now, after so many years in the Atlantic news business? Well, in part because the opportunity came up, but also because of the state of the news business itself in the last four years. More and more, I find myself frustrated by the willingness of what seems like a growing part of the public to simply dismiss the hard work and professionalism of experienced reporters and editors, turning instead to sources that feed off the desire of people to have their own personal views confirmed.

Why seek out accurate information, when you can simply have a stamp of approval on your already-existing point of view? You don’t have to take the time or energy to ponder your outlook if you only follow the sources that tell you you’re already right.

I think we’re at a critical turning point over whether we’re an informed democracy, or an ignorant one.

I want to be a voice at the front of that debate again — and not just in the world of opinion writing (which I’ll still be doing, as well).

I want to be part of changing and improving what careful, thoughtful local news can bring to communities fractured by the new trend of simply dismissing anything you don’t agree with, out of hand, as “fake,” whether you have any sort of facts to prove your contention or not.

That attitude exacts a clear price, one that we’re paying now. Not just to the south of us, where the Capitol Building was stormed in Washington, but by the scores of people who, because they don’t want to believe that there’s such a thing as a life-changing pandemic, find the most tenuous and unverifiable sources to dismiss COVID-19 deaths and demonize vaccines as dangerous. And, as a result, put us all in far greater danger.

But it’s not only hardliners. It’s remarkable how many people have essentially turned to social media gossip as their news source. A reporter who puts their real name and reputation at the top of every story has far more skin in the accuracy game than any number of icons using made-up handles like “Barb234636” or “Hand of Truth.”

I want to fight the whisper-world of anonymous innuendo. And I don’t think I can do that just from a pundit’s chair. So, big, life-changing disruption to move to a job that will be more work than anything I think I’ve done.

Will it be hard, frustrating and sometimes unpleasant work?

Yes and yes and yes.

But I’d hate to look back one day and say I deliberately chose not to try.

A last thought? Pay for local news.

Pay for experienced professionals to examine, question, write and put their names on news. Or else it really will go away.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


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