Just finished Eric Reguly’s excellent book, Ghosts of War, that celebrates his father, Robert Reguly. Eric, who writes for the Globe and Mail, is one of the few journalists of his generation still working. All his life Eric has been chasing his father’s legacy as one of the most fearless and innovative journalists ever. In the 1960s, writing for the Toronto Star, Robert found Hal Banks and Gerda Munsinger, scoops no one else could muster. With panache he also covered international stories such as the Vietnam War and the starving children of Biafra. Says Eric, Robert was “a truth warrior” with “astounding bravery.”
As Eric dealt so elegantly with his own ghosts from the past, I got thinking about how far journalism has fallen in general. While there were few who could match Robert Reguly in the field, today’s journalism is a far cry even from the rest of the herd in Robert’s day. Journalists today spend far too much of their time writing “tweets” to gather as many followers as possible. Other than Kevin Donovan at the Toronto Star and Robert Fife at the Globe, I can’t name any other writer who breaks very many stories.
Business writing in particular has suffered. The only dirt comes from court proceedings. Business writing is a blood sport like sports writing. But in sports, blood is spilled on the field, in public. In business, the blood flows behind closed doors. By the time the doors are opened, the taint is all cleaned up. Hard work is required to find out what happened. A tough question these days to any newsmaker too often seems to be, “How does it feel?” I’d like something a little more behind-the-scenes than that.
Too many journalists have too few contacts who can supply information. Instead, they curry favour so that one day they can join some high-paying consulting firm or think tank. Journalism needs more outsiders with perspective and no conflicts of interest. How do I define a conflict of interest? If you have to think about it, you probably have a conflict. Journalists should’t exist for their own fame or fortune. Instead, they should be honest brokers of information for the rest of us. If they tried hard enough, maybe there’s another Robert Reguly among them.