Journalism's budding new beat: Cannabis reporter

With recreational cannabis about to become legal on Oct. 17, we take a look at what kind of media coverage of this new beat Canadians should expect.

Ahead of legalization on Oct. 17, media outlets are creating new specialized beats for pot coverage

More and more media outlets across Canada are hiring specialized cannabis reporters. (CBC)

Even in the heyday of cigarettes, when people still smoked in their offices, you wouldn't expect to open a newspaper and see a reporter assigned to cover the "tobacco beat." 

And, alcohol, which is consumed by Canadians in quantities greater than ever, still only typically gets covered by wine reviewers, who suggest the best new vintages for under $20.

Why, then, are many media outlets in Canada now hiring reporters assigned to cover the cannabis beat?

"I think from a journalism perspective, this is more than just a product," said Solomon Israel, a former writer and producer with the CBC News business unit who now covers cannabis for the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper and its online publication, the Leaf News.

"This is something that touches issues of politics and the law ... medicine and health and science and, of course, business."

Solomon Israel, a former writer and producer with the CBC News business unit, is now the cannabis reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and its pot-focused website, The Leaf News. (Solomon Israel)

In fact, in the past several months, as some other jobs in journalism have dried up, the National Post, the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press, are among the media outlets who've hired reporters to cover what's happening with cannabis.

And while some reporting has looked at lingering misgivings about the federal government's decision to legalize cannabis on Oct. 17, other coverage has been more enthusiastic.

"There are certainly cannabis reporters in Canada who are, shall we say, more advocate-y. But I try to take a critical lens," Israel said of the work he's done since joining the Free Press over a year ago. 

He claims it was the tone of much of the reporting he saw during the lead up to Canada's decision to legalize recreational marijuana that convinced him cannabis needed more thoughtful journalism.

Cannabis in Canada - what’s it like to be a pot reporter? (The Investigators with Diana Swain)

4 years ago
Duration 3:00
It’s suddenly the hottest job in journalism - cannabis reporter. Diana talks to Solomon Israel of Winnipeg Free Press and The Leaf News about how he approaches reporting on pot. Watch The Investigators Thursdays at 7:00 pm on CBC Television; Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network.

"I was just disappointed in some of the coverage," he said.

Much of it tended toward reporting that was "alarmist" or glib.

But is a cannabis reporter expected to use a product that some Canadians, regardless of pending legalization, aren't interested in or comfortable trying?

"I would say that a wine reviewer who doesn't drink wine or an auto reviewer who doesn't know how to drive a car wouldn't be very good," Israel said. "On the other hand, you know, a politics reporter doesn't need to be a politician, and a crime reporter doesn't need to be a lawyer. I don't think that my bosses expect me to use cannabis."

But, Israel says, that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect to see the cannabis equivalent of a wine review.

"We talked about the idea of maybe doing reviews after legalization. I'm not personally sure that I have the palette for that kind of thing."

Also this week on The Investigators with Diana Swain: Journalists David Common and Nelisha Vellani talk about how they tracked down some of the people behind those threatening calls that are purportedly from the Canada Revenue Agency. And, a U.K. journalist explains why the BBC has new guidelines about reporting on climate change.