By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor
When David Topping set out to take the pulse of Canadian journalism, he was hoping it might help him shape something new—a project, or a product.
In early January, Topping, the digital strategy and product manager for Toronto Life, 12:36 and Torontoist, started promoting a survey of his own creation that asked journalists and others what they feel is missing in Canadian journalism. The results, though intended to help Topping shape his own personal, extra-curricular project, are beginning to paint a picture of how Canadian journalists are feeling about an industry that many consider to be in crisis. Topping has shared some of those results with J-Source.
Since Jan. 6, 2016, over 750 people have taken the survey, a majority of whom consider themselves journalists (about 21 per cent say they have no connection to journalism at all). Topping is first to point out that a most of these people have identified as living in a big city, and many—about 71 per cent—either live in or near Toronto. “I would like a good sample of what Canadian journalists think about journalism,” he told J-Source. He’s hoping to push the survey coast-to-coast, so he can get a better idea of what journalists are thinking about the industry outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
That said, what he has learned is illuminating. The first part of the survey asks respondents to rank what they feel is missing in Canadian journalism right now. The most highly ranked response was, no surprise, money, followed by diversity, innovation and guts. “I don’t think it’s any secret that the thing journalism needs right now is new ways to make money, or new ways to support good things, or new combinations of funding to support stuff in this country,” Topping said.
The survey has also revealed that there is a sizeable chunk of people who want to dig in and do the work. Over 80 per cent of people who work in media say they want to help those with less experience. About 94 per cent of respondents expressed some interest in being involved in trying to fix some of the problems in Canadian journalism. And while they were small in number, there are a group of people who say they have a pile of money they’d like to kick towards funding the next big journalism project.
And a lot of people have a big idea for journalism—they just haven’t been able to make it happen yet. “That is so great and frustrating, because there are so many people with great ideas who aren’t getting a chance to do them,” said Topping.
Topping is still tight-lipped about what project the survey might lead to, mostly because he is still developing his thoughts on it. “Everyone is really looking for something to make things better and everyone is really willing to do work to help,” he said. “That’s amazing because they don’t even know what this is yet, because I don’t know what this is yet.” He thinks it may end up being something centred around mentorship or helping new ideas happen.
But for now, he’s still trying to widen the scope of the survey. “I feel like I know a lot more about what people like me want and are thinking about,” he said. “The thing that I really want to try and do next is find out what people who aren't like me and don't think like me but still care think.”