Shining a light to keep democracy alive

As Nunatsiaq News celebrates 50 years, its managing editor says newspapers are essential to prevent readers from being left in the dark

Nunatsiaq News managing editor Corey Larocque looks through the paper’s history at the National Archives in Ottawa in February. As the paper celebrates its 50th anniversary, Larocque says a strong newspaper has an important role to play in addressing challenges in the North. (File photo)

By Corey Larocque

Nunatsiaq News should be the “Washington Post of Canada’s North,” I told a group of journalism students about a year after becoming the managing editor of this paper.

Many journalists have favourite news sources they admire and want to emulate. Publisher Michael Roberts, for example, is a fan of the Guardian news site, something that influences the look of our website.

I have long admired the Washington Post’s legacy — the paper whose reporting brought down former U.S. president Richard Nixon. Watergate was a defining moment in journalism and helped define the role modern news media play.

In 2017, the Post adopted the motto “Democracy dies in darkness.” It’s a tribute to the adage that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

There is a lot of darkness in Canada’s North.

 

It’s no secret there are social issues that devastate Nunavut and Nunavik.

Suicide, sexual abuse, alcoholism and drug addictions. Housing, poverty and hunger. Lower high school graduation rates.

They all hit differently in the North than they do in the south. The solutions need to be different. The discussion needs to be different.

But if people in Nunavut and Nunavik — both Inuit and non-Inuit — are going to fix these problems, they need to talk about them, openly and honestly.

Giving people the information they need in order to have that discussion is Nunatsiaq News’ job.

But just about everywhere you turn, there’s silence from government, Inuit associations and other institutions. That silence is a barrier to the discussion that needs to take place.

The Government of Nunavut keeps its staff on a short leash. The GN, which employs about 15 per cent of the territory’s adult population, prevents its employees from speaking publicly, even about matters that aren’t related to their jobs.

The GN needs an “attitude change,” according to information and privacy commissioner Graham Steele, whose most recent annual report says the government doesn’t disclose information in accordance with the territory’s access to information law.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Nunavut’s regional Inuit associations and Nunavik’s Makivvik Corp., lack the transparency their beneficiaries deserve.

Yes, they’re accountable through public meetings, annual reports and elections. But very few people pay attention to meetings and reports, and voter turnout it dismal. Being more responsive to the news media would help their members understand the important business the organizations do.

And neither the RCMP in Nunavut nor the Nunavik Police Service are as forthcoming as their counterparts elsewhere in Canada.

There’s an unofficial silence that can impede the discussion, too.

Inuit are often more reserved than southern, non-Inuit. People in both Nunavut and Nunavik are often reluctant to stick their necks out and talk to reporters — on the record — about the problems in their communities and the solutions they’d like to see.

During this paper’s 50th anniversary, previous editors Ann Hanson, Patricia Lightfoot and Matthew Spence shared their memories of working for Nunatsiaq News. We paid tribute to long-serving editor Jim Bell, who died in 2021 after decades guiding the paper. Former owner Monica Connolly and current publisher Michael Roberts recounted the paper’s history.

However, sitting in the editor’s chair on the paper’s golden anniversary made me imagine the future.

People need to be well-informed about the issues that affect them. That’s where Nunatsiaq News comes in. For 50 years, this paper has played the news media’s traditional role as public watchdog.

My hope is that Nunatsiaq News will keep cutting through the silence and continue to shine a light into the darkness.

 

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Digging Deeper than the Iceberg’s Tip in Journalism on

    While your admiration for the Washington Post’s legacy and your desire to position Nunatsiaq News as the premier source of truth for the North are commendable, I would urge the paper to pivot more toward substantive investigative journalism.

    In this digital age, where clickbait headlines reign supreme, genuine and deeply researched journalism has become a rarity. The issues facing the North – from social concerns like suicide and addiction to the political and bureaucratic silences – are far too grave to be addressed with surface-level reporting. The people of Nunavut and Nunavik deserve more than just headline-worthy news pieces; they deserve thorough investigations that dig deep into the heart of these issues.

    A valid point you touched upon was the reluctance of many, both Inuit and non-Inuit, to speak openly with reporters. But can we blame them? If there’s a perception, rightly or wrongly, that speaking out would lead to misrepresentation or a sensationalized story, it’s no wonder many choose to remain silent. Having dedicated journalists on the ground, truly immersed in these communities, can help bridge this trust gap.

    Moreover, if Nunatsiaq News aims for accountability from Inuit organizations and institutions, it must itself embody that principle. Turning off comments on articles, especially those concerning such organizations, seems counterintuitive to fostering open dialogue and understanding.

    Mr. Larocque, your paper has a golden opportunity not just to inform but to truly understand and relay the intricate tapestry of life in the North. I hope to see Nunatsiaq News evolve from being perceived as a platform that sometimes leans into clickbait to a beacon of investigative journalism. The North deserves nothing less.

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    • Posted by Free Speech Advocates? on

      Ironic that you are calling for open discussion, Corey, while I am unable to post a comment under the pseudonym iThink, which I regularly use here. Don’t think readers miss this kind of hypocrisy on your part.

      A response to ‘Digging Deeper’ (by iThink):

      Good comment, but I think you are reading in the idea that people are afraid to speak to reporters for fear of misrepresentation. There may be some truth to that, but it’s a little pixelated.

      Despite its massive geographical space, the north has a tiny demography. Communities are fish bowls and speaking out on the corruption and incompetence that surround us is likely to have consequences most will understandably avoid knowing how inert and unresponsive to correction our institutions are.

      You’ve pointed to a critical, missing piece in our information eco-system though, in depth journalism. Which is to say we rarely get the information we need to more fully understand the dynamics that animate any given issue. This is a niche we need filled.

      For its part I think Nunatsiaq has made some effort to do this. See the special series on housing or recently on school infrastructure. Yet, despite the hard work, even these seemed constrained to unsatisfying level of analysis. What accounts for that? Limited connections to institutional knowledge and local history? The “short leash” that tethers bureaucrats from free and open discussion? Anything else?

      The point is our institutions protect themselves behind a wall of silence, because they can get away with it. This is a cultural issue that sits upstream from the norms and expectations we come to eventually accept around the transparency of our institutions.

      The application of counter pressure from civil society and especially institutions like the media is the best corrective I can think of. But is it enough to expect media to solve this issue alone?

      Perhaps new citizen driven institutions focused on accountability are necessary here. We see these all over the south; taxpayers associations, parent associations, etc… is this the next and needed step in the evolution of our public culture?

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  2. Posted by Will this get past the moderators on

    The washington post? more like the Ottawa sun, nothing but trashy journalism with no actual true reporting.

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    • Posted by Not really on

      It’s not trashy. It can lack depth, nuance and perspective at times, but to say it is trashy feels like a cheap smear.

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      • Posted by Do you agree? on

        I would call it a cross between the Huffington Post and Pink News.

  3. Posted by Binky the Doormat on

    The news landscape is changing. The more in depth stuff people are after is often delivered through different mediums like substack, podcasts, and news platforms dedicated to longer form journalism, not under pressure to churn stories out at some set rate (See ‘The Hub Canada’ as an example). These often rely on memberships, donations and are structured as charitable organizations.

    I’d like to see this in Nunavut, but we are a tiny market. I don’t know if it would receive enough support.

  4. Posted by Steven on

    Good work NN. What with ever greater concentration of media ownership and the Internet use maintaining a freer press is a huge challenge. Bezos owns the Washington Post, it no longer is a beacon of freedom it once was. As Brazil’s president said at his speech to the UN last week, we have 10 individuals wealth equivalent to 40% of the entire population on earth, there is much to question about the fairness in existing systems that allow for that great inequality.

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