Our Meeting with Andrew Coyne
The OLIP interns had the honour to meet Canadian journalist and columnist at the Globe and Mail, Andrew Coyne. Mr. Coyne spent the hour reflecting on his career journey, as well as his views on the role of journalism within democracy, maintaining identity and integrity within one’s career, the growth of misinformation, and the role of expertise within the modern political landscape.
While Mr. Coyne stated that he never had the goal of becoming a journalist, it was apparent that he has always had a strong desire to tell the truth. Various opportunities presented themselves throughout his life that allowed him to pursue journalism – a field dedicated to telling it “as you see it”—as a full-time career; a blessing he never takes for granted. “The reader does not owe you anything,” he repeated throughout the conversation. In his view, a good journalist must make their work worth the reader’s time, whether that be through their analysis, unique framing, or their wit. So, while journalism plays a role in upholding accountability in our democratic institutions, writers must also pay attention to the quality of their story-telling craft. This advice is especially useful in our roles as OLIP interns, as creating engaging and narratively cohesive policy briefings, press releases, and speeches is a daily expectation in the work we do for Members.
That is not to say that a good journalist only focuses on the sensational elements of their piece. Especially in an era where there is so much misinformation online, journalists have a responsibility to thoroughly research the topics they write about and give every side of an argument its due consideration. These are responsibilities Mr. Coyne takes seriously when he writes his columns. Similar expectations for thoroughness and critical thinking are placed on us in our placements with Members, especially when it comes to our research work.
However, the responsibility for navigating misinformation does not only lie with the journalist. Mr. Coyne says that, to the extent that they can, the reader should also bring a certain level of critical literacy to what they read. It is understandable if they cannot do this every time they read something. Mr. Coyne put it best when he said that trying to stay engaged with current events today is akin to drinking out of a firehose. Humans were never designed to be critically engaged with such sheer quantities of information, and at a certain point, readers need to place their trust on certain institutions to act as mediators of truth.
Especially with the highly abstract and nuanced topics that fill the news today, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a journalist’s ability to appeal to and translate the knowledge of experts to their readers is critical to their responsibilities to the democratic process. When trust in expertise breaks down, and the facts simply become whatever a person already believes, politics enters dangerous territory. While no solutions were discussed within our conversation, the OLIP interns were left with a deep respect of the complexities and responsibilities of journalism and nuanced writing.