Stop the presses! There’s a new kid in town. Well really, it’s a new media source for New Brunswick.
The Brief is a one-page, double-sided publication printed on 30 per cent recycled paper. On average it contains five or six stories and a list of community events. Oh, and it’s a monthly publication with stories to get people asking questions. Stories like “many felt it took too long to get police to respond to missing N. B. First Nations teen Hilary Bonnell.”
The Brief could also be considered the baby of the much larger and more sophisticated parent: nbmediacoop.org. This web based publication launched in August of this year.
Marie-Christine Allard describes her position as being one of the founding members and a part of the editorial collective. She and other members feel it’s important for N.B. to have an alternative news source.
“The idea was that it would be accessible and it would be critical and independent,” said Allard.
Allard said the idea for the media co-op was inspired at the New Brunswick Social Forum in Sept. 2008 and was spurred on by the closure of the Carlton Free Press in Woodstock just one month later.
“Because of what we consider to be Irving’s anti-competitive practices. Which it’s very clear, legally they didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s very clear that they were just trying to get the Carlton Free Press out of business. So we kind of felt a certain sense of urgency there, that we really needed to get something together,” said Allard.
Via email correspondence and frequent meetings in Fredericton, the concept of the media co-op was formed.
“It was mostly just people that were really concerned about this,” Allard said.
The project consists of the “editorial collective” and a “broader organizing body”. Allard said they are mainly based in Fredericton at this time but plan to spread throughout the province with an “advisory committee.”
“It’s a group of 14 people who are democratically elected, who represent just different sectors of underrepresented communities or issues in the province.”
Allard said they currently have representatives for gay and lesbian issues, women’s issues, Acadian and Francophone, First Nations and rural farming issues.
“It’s all these issues and communities that we feel are often underrepresented in the media.”
She said the job of these representatives is to ensure they’re not ignoring an issue or certain sector of society.
“The role of that rep is also to seek out stories or seek out people who could offer commentary or that kind of thing.”
Michael Camp is an assistant professor and the chair of journalism at St. Thomas University. He said the ability for citizens to write and publish things they care about on the internet, “is a wonderful thing.”
“There is definitely room and I think a desire, in this province in particular to have a completely free and unfettered journalistic outlet. We have a few, we could use more. So it’s a good thing,” Camp said.
Camp said with internet access and word of mouth, small publications have the potential to reach an enormous audience.
“All it takes is a few friends telling a few friends telling a few friends that this new website for example is out there and suddenly you’ve got a core of people reading something that has as much reach as the Telegraph Journal. I think these can be explosive.”
Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation was the guest lecturer at St. Thomas University’s annual Dalton Camp Lecture last week. Her assertion that professional journalism could survive alongside the volunteers on the internet was compelling but not entirely convincing. Many in the field are wondering just who is going to pay journalists to do their jobs when there’s so much news available for free.
While the organizers for The Brief and the website nbmediacoop.org are currently all volunteers, Allard said they are working to change that.
“We do want to have a paid staff and be able to pay for stories. But that’s going to come when we’re able to have a solid business plan and can get some grants, get some funding,” said Allard.
Allard feels the media concentration by the Irving empire in N. B. is a problem because some issues are glossed over or don’t get coverage at all.
“I do feel that a lot of things aren’t being covered in the Irving media and I’m not blaming the journalists at all… I’ve actually been talking to some former Irving employees or current Irving employees that said ‘Yeah, we do know who our employer is and you can’t help that’ and even if there isn’t that actual person looking over your shoulder, they felt there was a certain amount of self-censorship knowing that you can’t write certain things about the Irvings or you can’t cover certain issues or certain criticisms. We’re not funded by them so we don’t have that obligations, we’re member funded… so we hope to offer an independent perspective.”
Michael Camp understands the issue of media concentration; he started his career with the Irvings.
“Knowing some of the Irvings as I do, they feel that they’re helping New Brunswick… they feel without them this would be a much more troubled place with many fewer jobs… That’s the sort of bias I would have if I was an Irving, but it is a bias and I think it’s impossible for it not to rub off on the editorial and news content of their newspapers.”
Allard said it’s about accountability.
“I personally feel like that’s the role, like the role of media is accountability, to keep leaders accountable and companies, so that’s really what we’re going for… Not only do we have a media monopoly in New Brunswick, but the family that owns that monopoly also owns a really big part of the industrial base. That’s pretty much unprecedented in what we call the developed world. The company that’s supposed to bring accountability to those companies, they’re the same. It’s a really big conflict and a really big problem in our democracy.”
Allard describes herself as an optimist but concedes “grassroots” projects alone won’t fix the media monopoly in N. B.
“We need to have some legislation around media concentration, there’s some of that legislation pretty much everywhere except for here, from what I understand.”
See the NB Media Co-op website here: