On Risk and Journalism

From Spur Toronto RBC Emerging Scholar Sara Tatelman in anticipation of Spur Toronto 2017, launching April 6.


Risk permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. Is it too risky to visit London after the recent attack? Does it make sense for businesses to take on unpaid interns, or are they opening themselves up to bad karma, bad PR and litigation? How dangerous are the “healthy living” tips that Gwyneth Paltrow endorses? What about precision medicine? And even if sequencing my genes could help cure my disease, will that data be safely kept?

I work as a financial reporter, covering pensions, employee benefits and insurance. So I think a lot about risk every day, from pension funds’ investment strategies to preparing for natural disasters to employee wellness programs that aim to, in part, reduce costly drug claims. And of course, journalism as a profession is at risk of extinction, or at least mutation into glossy, sponsored look books filled with nothing but alternative facts.

On that note, I’m particularly looking forward to the discussion on Risk and Journalism” at this year’s Toronto Spur Festival. I used to work at a now-defunct trade magazine called Corporate Risk Canada where we wrote about financial risks executives should consider when running their businesses. But that didn’t save the brand from its own financial woes: as print advertising plummeted and the website remained hopelessly out of date, one issue was cancelled and then the entire title went under.

I’m interested to see what solutions for the precarious print media the panel might suggest. In January, the Public Policy Forum released a study on the state of the Canadian news industry, and their recommendations include more government funding of journalism and the creation of a research institute to examine the links between news and democracy. Are these proposals sound, or are there better ways? Is there anything we can learn from how media is funded in other countries? How much do Canadians not ensconced in the Toronto media and culture bubble even care?

Of course, there are risks beyond the print media’s woes. Journalists reporting in certain regions face the risk of bodily harm and kidnapping, and journalists in certain other regions must work against politicians who don’t care for truth and who’ve called the media outlets they don’t favour, “the enemy of the American people.” Is fake news likely to spread to other countries? How can we ensure it doesn’t? And is it ethical for news outlets to run fake stories on April Fool’s Day?

Sara is a financial journalist currently covering pensions and employee benefits (which are not as dry as you might think!). Her activism focuses on labour rights, especially those of precarious workers, and reproductive justice. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Classics from McGill University, and previously worked at a magazine covering the insurance industry.

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