The independent newspaper: elusive dream or beacon of democracy?


Media@McGill and le Centre d'études sur les médias co-host international symposium to mark Le Devoir's 100th anniversary

On March 12, 2010, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Quebec's iconic daily Le Devoir, journalism experts from Québec, Canada and around the world will join a symposium at the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal to discuss the future of the independent daily newspaper.

The event, organized by Media@McGill and le Centre d'études sur les médias, will provide participants with a forum for reflecting on the roles, content, financing, management and audience for independent newspapers in the 21st Century.

Marc Raboy and Florian Sauvageau, Directors of Media@McGill and le Centre d'études sur les médias, respectively, will call upon the participants to answer the following questions: "Is the newspaper as we know it today on the verge of disappearing? Who will be responsible for gathering news and processing it journalistically if the major dailies, which are the leading suppliers of this news, do not have the necessary resources to do the job? What will the consequences be in terms of democracy?"

Raboy and Sauvageau explain: "The world of media is in turmoil everywhere, and daily newspapers in particular are experiencing difficulties. Readers, especially the younger audience, are moving toward the Internet, and advertising revenues are dropping. The existing method for financing newspapers appears to be dying out. Journalists are being laid off, and working conditions are deteriorating for those who still have work. Given this state of uncertainty for the daily press, what role remains for the independent daily newspaper - a concept that may be already virtually obsolete?"

Professors Raboy and Sauvageau suggested this international symposium be held as part of the activities celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Le Devoir, a newspaper they describe as "the only independent daily in Québec, and a quality newspaper."

Several influential figures from the world of journalism have been invited to debate these questions, including:

Liz Forgan, President of Scott Trust, which publishes and is responsible for guaranteeing the independence of the British daily The Guardian. Ms. Forgan has enjoyed a lengthy career as a journalist and Manager at The Guardian, at the UK's Channel 4 (television), and at BBC (radio). She is President of the British Arts Council.

John Honderich, Chairman of the Board of Torstar, parent company of The Toronto Star, which boasts the highest daily circulation in Canada. Mr. Honderich is one of the most highly respected individuals in the world of English journalism in Canada, and worked as publisher of The Toronto Star for many years.

Persephone Miel, who headed the Media Re:public project at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Her work sought to discover ways to reinvent journalism from a public-interest perspective in the digital age, when new players were being integrated into the world of information. She analyzes the benefits and the limitations of ongoing changes.

Anne Nivat, an independent journalist who has covered major conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya for a variety of media in recent years. She has documented her life experience with the victims of these conflicts in her books entitled Lendemains de guerre (2004) [The Wake of War: Encounters with the People of Iraq and Afghanistan] and Chienne de guerre (2000) [Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya].

Robert Picard, one of the most prominent economists interested in the world of media and journalism. Following a long career in the United States, he now pursues his research at the Jönköping International Business School in Sweden. Mr. Picard is the founder of the Journal of Media Economics, and more recently, the Journal of Media Business Studies.

Bernard Poulet, Managing Editor for the French economic magazine L'Expansion. In 2009, he published a book entitled La fin des journaux et l'avenir de l'information, in which he presented an overview of an industry that is in the throes of disaster. Beyond the crisis that faces newspapers, he is of the opinion that society as a whole is increasingly less interested in information.

More panelists will be added, including several from Québec. A full list of participants and complete symposium schedule will be made available early in March.

Media@McGill is a university research and public outreach hub that focuses on issues related to media, technology and culture. Through critical observation of media and the main issues raised by media policies, Media@McGill strives to enrich knowledge and to increase public awareness of the ethical, political and cultural challenges associated with media and communication.

Marc Raboy is the Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications, and Director of Media@McGill at McGill University. A former journalist, he has been a university researcher since 1980, authoring many works on the subject of media and communication, including Les médias québécois (Montréal/Paris: Gaëtan Morin publisher, 2000).

Le Centre d'études sur les médias, a non-profit organization founded in 1992, is a research venue and an agent of co-operation between communication companies, government entities and universities. It comprises two partner universities: the Department of Information and Communication at Université Laval and HEC Montréal.

Florian Sauvageau is Director of le Centre d'études sur les médias and a Professor at Université Laval. During the 1980s, following a career in journalism, he decided to focus on teaching and research in the field of media. He is frequently sought for commentary on news items relating to journalism and the media industries.

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