Journalism: From Howe to how-not-to

There is, it is fair to say, nothing new in the incestuous relationship between journalism and politics.

Joseph Howe was a journalist — can you say freedom of the press? — before he (belatedly) became our father who art in confederation. The 27th premier of Nova Scotia — a.k.a. Darrell Dexter — trained as a journalist, and even briefly played one at the late, lamented Halifax Daily News. Not to forget — how could we forget? — Andrew Younger, our documentary-film-maker-turned-Liberal-cabinet-minister-become-independent-blogger-MLA.

Neither is there much new in the story of underpaid, underappreciated journalists jumping their leaking rafts for what seem like unsinkable government cruise liners. When the Daily News sank close to a decade ago, I quickly lost count of the number of former first-class journalists who washed ashore at Communications Nova Scotia. The joke — less funny than telling — was that CNS boasted the biggest newsroom in Nova Scotia.

What is perhaps more interesting these days is the number of ex-journalists who keep popping up in the premier’s office, and not just in the usual media-minder role.

Consider Marilla Stephenson, the long time Halifax Herald columnist who neatly timed her buyout-package two years ago with an 18-month contract to advise Premier Stephen McNeil’s One Nova Scotia Coalition on the Ivany report.

Last week, Stephenson won a competition for a newly invented civil service “leadership role”: managing director of corporate and external relations in the Executive Council Office. She’ll liaise with key players in various departments, including Laura Lee Langley, the former MITV anchor, now deputy minister in the Office of the Premier.

During the past four months, McNeil’s office has beefed up its media-in-non-media-roles with more reporting refugees: Laurie Graham, ex-CTV/CBC as principal secretary, and Jackie Foster, ex-CTV as policy and outreach advisor.

And that doesn’t count ex-Herald provincial reporter David Jackson, now playing the more traditional premier’s press-secretary role.

There is no question journalistic skills — the ability to research, assimilate unfamiliar information and communicate it clearly and quickly as story — are valuable transferrable skills.

The larger question — given a recent report showing 146-and-counting journalism jobs have disappeared in Canada since January — is whether this is really the best use of journalistic skills.

The answer may lie in the current dismal state of our public discourse.

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