Ideas

'We have to do what we do even better': a journalist's rallying cry to her contemporaries

As Chief Foreign Correspondent for the BBC, Acadian journalist Lyse Doucet has covered conflicts and disasters around the globe. She was recently honoured by Carleton University's Journalism School with the first annual Peter Stursberg Award, which commemorates CBC's legendary frontline reporter during World War II.
As Chief Foreign Correspondent for the BBC, Acadian journalist Lyse Doucet has covered conflicts and disasters around the globe. She was recently honoured by Carleton University's Journalism School with the first annual Peter Stursberg Award. (Carleton University)

According to the Collins Dictionary, the word of 2017 is 'fake news.' Last year, the Oxford Dictionary declared post-truth as 2016's word.

Newspapers—especially local papers—are cutting down and closing up shop across the country and around the world.

Frontlines now include war zones and even the White House.

It's been a hard year for journalism, and Lyse Doucet, Chief Foreign Correspondent for the BBC, sees more change coming.  

"We need to do a better job at telling stories," Doucet implored while speaking earlier this month at Carleton University's Journalism School's first annual Peter Stursberg Award.

Legendary CBC correspondent Peter Stursberg saw first-hand the liberation of Holland from Nazi occupation and was one of the last reporters in Hitler's bunker. (CBC)

Stories from all sides about the people who are racing ahead, and the people who get left behind. About the stories that are far from our shores, but in reality are about all of us," she continued.

Doucet, who was honoured with the first Peter Stursberg Award commemorating the legendary CBC World War II frontline reporter, has spent her career covering disasters and conflicts around the globe.
 

"War is dark and distant. But it's also deeply personal and very small," she said in her award speech. Sometimes, as small as a four-dollar loaf of bread—she said, recounting Stursberg's reporting from Apeldoorn during the Dutch famine of 1944-1945. He was one of the few journalists to witness the Allied forces liberating western Netherlands, and bringing relief to the 3.5 million starving Dutch residents.

"Friend and foe [sat] around rough wooden tables, talking instead of fighting," Stursberg reported at the time.

As one of six young male journalists sent by the CBC to go across the Atlantic and report on the war from Africa, Italy and Europe, he was one of the first reporters to see action when the invasion of Allied forces began in Italy. And one of the last to report from the bunker where Adolf Hitler died.

His work, according to Doucet, was instrumental in bringing "the raw sounds of war into Canadians' tidy homes."

Foreign news as a concept

"Wars are about stories, about families trying to survive, fighters trying to go home, stories about mothers and fathers and children, too," said the Acadian journalist, who's also seen her fair share of frontlines. But, she warns, the effects of those wars tend to reverberate.

"The wars that seem so far from us, are not far at all. The consequences of wars and conflicts and disasters are in schools and they're on our streets."

In October 2014, just down the street from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa where Doucet was being presented with the award, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau opened fire on Parliament Hill, killing Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

"It was a reminder that we live in a time when... international news is no longer foreign. There are threads of light and dark that bind us all," she said.

The 7 Ws of journalism

"Never have we been able to know so much. But never have we struggled to find out what is really happening," Doucet laments, citing her own desire to turn off the constant stream of information once in a while.

Never, she says, has it been more necessary to sift through and verify the information flow. Never has a journalist's desire for truth been more needed. 

Journalism schools around the world teach the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why.

Doucet would like to add two more Ws to that list.

"In a world like ours there's a sixth new W: 'WTF'," she said to laughs from the audience.

And the seventh? "Wow." These are the stories that take our breath away, make us pause, laugh and cry, make us think, and even make us act.

"We live in a time where in journalism, everything has changed, and nothing has changed."

There's an old journalism adage: you're only as good as your last story. "In fact," Doucet adds, "we're only as good as our next one. We have to do what we do even better."


Lyse Doucet was born in Bathurst, New Brunswick, and educated at Queen's University and at the University of Toronto, where she earned her Master's Degree in International Relations. She worked at a volunteer for Crossroads Africa in Cote d'Ivoire, and ended up staying in West Africa to freelance for Canadian media and the BBC. After that, Doucet moved to Asia and the Middle East, where she opened the BBC office in Amman, Jordan, in 1994. She worked for five years in Jerusalem, and reported from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring

** This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy

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