Dawn Johnston is an Associate Dean at the University of Calgary. She provides leadership in teaching, learning and student engagement for the Faculty of Arts. Dawn and I are kindred spirits in that we both advocate for interdisciplinary programs at our university, such as the Arts and Science Honours Academy.
Dawn also oversees research and teaching in communication, media and film at our institution. I asked Dawn to share her thoughts about one particular honorary degree that I was able to confer during this fulfilling week of convocation. Here is her guest blog entry about our newest UCalgary graduate:
A year ago, I, like many others, had never heard the term “fake news.” Let’s be clear – as a media studies scholar and teacher, it’s been my responsibility and my passion to emphasize the importance of taking a critical lens to the media, including the news media. Media scholars and savvy media fans alike have long known that news is not without bias, and that not all news is trustworthy, but that coining of the phrase “fake news” as something malicious and deliberately misleading – that’s a relatively new development.
The last decade has been a fascinating time in news production and consumption. Digital media, social media, and do-it-yourself online platforms have, in many ways, democratized media-making, allowing anyone with a smart phone to declare her or himself a journalist. And simultaneously, we are seeing ever increasing conglomeration and corporatization of mainstream and established news media. Between the two extremes, we have the CBC, which has remained steadfastly trustworthy. And at the centre of the CBC – and in the heart of many of our homes – we have Peter Mansbridge, whose authenticity, credibility, and gravitas has helped us understand the news in the midst of all the noise.
This week, I had the opportunity to meet Peter Mansbridge, a true Canadian icon and one of the most distinguished figures in Canadian media, as the University of Calgary presented him with an honorary doctorate. As University Orator Aritha van Herk so eloquently suggested in her citation of Dr. Mansbridge, one of the few certainties Canadians hold is that every night, as a nation, we can turn on our televisions and know we’ll hear that famous voice saying those famous words: “Good evening. I’m Peter Mansbridge, and this is The National.” Peter Mansbridge has a unique ability to report on highly nuanced news stories in a way that respects the intelligence of his audience and makes complex issues understandable. He has been one of the most trusted voices in Canadian news for more than 40 years.
In his convocation address to graduates on Wednesday morning, Dr. Mansbridge spoke thoughtfully and eloquently about his fear that as a society, we seem to be losing the will to understand each other and to recognize the value of diverse perspectives. He told us that hate is the greatest issue our society faces today – that the bar of our expectations of behaviour toward one another is shifting, and that it’s hurting us. Dr. Mansbridge wasn’t asking us to ignore the substantial issues that divide us; on the contrary, he called on us all to challenge messages of hate and stand up and fight against the things that are unacceptable to us. But he also called on us to do that with compassion, kindness and respect. Looking out over an auditorium full of talented and hopeful new graduates, he said “If you don’t do it, no one will.”
Peter Mansbridge’s contributions to Canadian media are too numerous to count. He is a fixture on our national media landscape and has taken all of us along with him into interviews with world leaders, on trips to the farthest reaches of the globe, and deep into the complex news stories which dominate our world today. As he retires next month from his role as our nightly guide to the news, and reflects on the experiences that have defined his career, we can all reflect on the role he has played in defining our understanding of ourselves as Canadians and our responsibility, in his words, to do no less than change the world.