Readers, I have a confession: On behalf of the Brunswickan, I would like to inform you that Sharkie, the beloved Brunswickan mascot, is not a shark. He is a red herring. I know, I know. I, too, see the irony in this: a red herring is something that is purposely misleading; we, a newspaper, have likely been misleading generations of Brunswickan readers into thinking that Sharkie is a shark. But he simply is not. According to Brunswickan lore, staff members of old once chose a red herring as their mascot—an admittedly poor mascot for a newspaper—to serve as a reminder to never mislead their readers; and then they named their symbolic mascot Sharkie.
I bring this up mainly because of how prominent the topics of media reliability and accountability have become in recent months. We’ve all seen the video clips of Trump calling journalists “fake news” at press conferences in an attempt to devalue those who do not toe his line. We have seen major news outlets—the likes of CNN and FOX—descend to the level of the tabloid press with their flashy, divisive representation of politics and their penchant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. A little closer to home, we have Canadians calling out the CBC for being too left-leaning; closer still, we have the Irving media conglomerate.
While the mess of the Trump administration has made the public more aware of journalism’s role in maintaining the flow of vital information in democratic societies, there has also been an upsurge—or perhaps a rise in the visibility—of those who scorn the elite media and what it stands for, turning instead to the populist press. The latter group, which so often seems to yell the loudest, is creating a dangerous climate for the spread of the truth.
It was at a family reunion this summer that I first personally experienced pushback against journalism. I was asked the inevitable question any university student faces—you know the one: ”So, what are you going to do with your life?”
I didn’t hesitate. “Journalism,” I said. “Probably journalism.”
The reaction I faced wasn’t exactly that of disapproval, but a pause in the conversation told me that journalism wasn’t quite a profession that garnered the respect of the individual asking. “Just don’t go working for the CBC, now,” he said finally.
I was thrown off by that reaction and tried (and failed) to laugh it off. In my head, though, I was thinking, I’ll work anywhere I damn well please. Later, I heard this same individual talking to my uncle about how the media are all a bunch of liars, and how you have to look elsewhere to find out what’s really happening. Now, I’m not naive—I’m well aware that this is a sentiment shared by many; only, for the first time I was hearing it on my own turf, within my own family.
It really got me thinking about the Bruns and its role here at UNB. Going back to Sharkie, we do our best to avoid misleading our readers. No media organization is perfect, but we—like many others—try to correct our mistakes as swiftly as possible. Sometimes, what we write might be disagreeable to certain people or groups on campus. When this happens, people try to shut us up by saying that we’re misleading and spreading falsehoods.
In my four plus years with the Brunswickan, I’ve been called a bad journalist for telling unpopular truths; I’ve been told to kill stories that showed a negative side of the university—even when it was a side that needed to come to light—and I’ve been asked to give up my sources when I refused to do so. Throughout all of this, the Bruns didn’t budge—and it is my promise that this year will be no different.
Inevitably, the Bruns will cover topics that people disagree with, but like the current concerns with the elite media, trying to shut out what one dislikes isn’t going to help the conversation surrounding issues of public importance. We’re all at a university, a place where, more than anywhere, there should be a healthy environment for robust and vigorous discussion and debate. I see the Bruns as being one facet of this. Ideally, journalism should be an agent of public discourse.
I’m going to end off this rather depressing welcome editorial with a request: Think about participating with the Brunswickan this year. Without readers, we might as well be shouting into a vacuum; without contributors, we have no paper. So, please, join the discussion. Pick up the paper and read it. Talk about the issues we address with your friends. Submit a response—or better yet, make the best decision of your academic career and write for us. Whatever you do from the above, I promise you won’t regret it.
Emma McPhee is the Editor-in-Chief of The Brunswickan