Editorial

Gertrude J. Robinson (McGill University)

I must apologize to all subscribers for the delay of this issue which was to have been published in November 1991. However, cash-flow problems have plagued the Journal and made it impossible to cover a fourth issue this year. Though the Canadian Journal of Communication now boasts about 420 subscribers, the additional subscription income does not cover sharply increased publication costs. In 1991 the cost per issue has been about $6,000. We also had start-up costs for implementing the lay-out requirements requested by the Wilfrid Laurier Press and were given a belated bill from Calgary covering activities from the previous year. Careful cost accounting by the new press, a SSHRC publication grant and author-originated formating will help balance editorial costs in 1992.

Still, we still need to increase our subscriber base to 500 in order to create a financial safety margin for the Journal. Would you please encourage colleagues ($45) and graduate students ($22) to take out subscriptions and order back issues as teaching aids? The McLuhan issue is still available for $15 and contains important articles by Donald Theall, Paul Heyer, Liss Jeffrey and McLuhan's son, Eric.

The financial problems of the Journal were the primary concern of the newly elected members of the Board of Directors who serve for three years. They are Claude-Yves Charron (UQAM) as president, David Mitchell (Calgary University) as treasurer, and Gail Valaskakis (Concordia). The Board and the editorial staff thank Annie Méar (Université de Montréal) outgoingpresident, Donald Theall (Trent) past treasurer, Nikos Metallinos (Concordia) and Roland Lorimer (Simon Fraser) for their good advice and devoted service. The Board singled out Donald Theall, in particular, for having established the Journal's financial base eleven years ago and for having provided advice and counsel ever since.

Our first issue of 1992 features a discussion of the meaning and practice of "balance" in reporting. Both social scientists and journalists are deeply concerned about this concept, though their conversations have been unproductive because they start from mutually exclusive assumptions. Social scientists on their part, are curious about the degree to which a balanced or faithful description of events is possible, while journalists look for practical rules to distinguish between a balanced and an unbalanced report. Since the former assume that "balance" is an epistemological ideal which can never be achieved and the latter assume that "balance" exists as a feature of reality, there is no end of misunderstandings between the two groups. So why should the Canadian Journal of Communication re-enter the fray and lend its pages to yet another unproductive debate which promises to generate more heat than light?

The answer to this question, it seems to me, lies in the fact that understanding why there is such controversy about "balance" has relevance for all of us as moral human beings and as media users. As readers of newspaper texts and viewers of television programs, professional communication teachers and/or reporters have a stake in knowing whether or not a writer has violated the rules of his or her genre. Janet Malcolm in her article "The Morality of Journalism" (New York Review of Books, XXXVII, March 1, 1990) suggests that as audience members, we make different assumptions about writers of fiction and of non- fiction, which determine the ways in which we read and understand theses two types of texts. According to Malcolm: "The writer of non-fiction is under contract to the reader to limit himself to events that actually occurred and to characters who have counterparts in real life... Although it is a world by no means as coherent as the world of fiction, readers accept it without complaint. They feel compensated for the inferiority of the reading experience by what may be regarded as the edifying character of the genre: a work about something that is true" (Malcolm, 1990, p. 20). This indicates that a kind of credit is extended to the writer of non-fiction that is not extended to the writer of fiction.

In spite of this distinction however, it is generally acknowledged that there are no works of pure factuality, any more than of pure fictitiousness. Every work of fiction draws on life, and every work of non-fiction draws on art. Just as the novelist must curb the imagination to keep the text grounded in common human experience, so the journalist must temper her literal-mindedness with the narrative devices of imaginative literature. One good example of the ways in which journalists utilize narrative devices is exemplified in the transformation of recorded interview transcripts. Because of our hesitating, pause-filled and non-explicit speech delivery, journalists cannot use transcripts more than aids to memory, a sort of second chance at note-taking. Transcripts are useless as texts for quotationbecause they do not truthfully render the drift of a subject's thought. Such a "rendition", though based on speech, involves two complementary journalistic processes: the translation of tape-recorderese into English and the trustworthy recreation of the subject's drift of thought. Both of these are ephemeral recreations.

As a result of these narrative processes, there are two moral ambiguities involved in the practice of journalism. The first lies in the identity of the character called "I" in a work of journalism. This character, unlike all the journalists' other characters, forms the exception to the rule that nothing may be invented. Unlike the "I" in autobiography, which is a representation of the writer, the "I" character in journalism is almost pure invention. It is an ad hoc creation like the chorus of Greek tragedy, to whom the crucial tasks of narration and argument and tone have been professionally entrusted. The journalistic "I" is consequently what Malcolm calls an "emblematic figure," an embodiment of the idea of the dispassionate observer of life, an unprejudiced "participant observer" in the lingo of social science. Such an embodiment clearly represents a moral "ideal" rather than an existential fact, which individual practitioners achieve to varying degrees of perfection.

The second moral ambiguity of journalism arises out of the asymmetrical relationship between the reporter and the subject, from which the text takes its beginning. This relationship is always lopsided, the subject is always at the mercy of the reporter, because it is she or he who has the power to transform the living person into the "good" or the "bad" character of the reportage. In making this choice, the journalist has to decide whether the reader's interests or the subject's susceptibilities should come first. There is an infinite variety of ways in which journalists struggle with this impasse. Because the wisest journalists in Janet Malcolm's words: "know that the choice is a moral one, they also know that the best they can do is still not good enough. The not so wise, in (contrast) choose to believe there is no problem and that they have solved it" (Malcolm, 1990, p. 23). In the same manner, we as communication scholars and/or reporter journalists, need to know on what moral ground we stand in our teaching and in our reporting activities.

The "Balance" issue was guest edited by Philip Savage, William Gilsdorf and Robert Hackett, respected colleagues from CBC Audience Research, Concordia and Simon Fraser universities respectively. It brings together both journalism and communications scholarship from across Canada, reflecting the differing points of view of media practitioners and media researchers.



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