Media @ McGill

The Gadfly in the Ointment: 100 Years of Questioning the Status Quo


UPDATE: An audio recording of this event is now available for download. You can download an MP3 of the event (~55MB) or you can retrieve it as a podcast from our iTunes channel.

With the appearance of former and current gadflies among the panel speakers for this combined Media@McGill and McGill Development and Alumni Relations event, the discussion on the precarious future of the gadfly press promised to be a spirited one.

Journalist and cofounder, Judy Rebick joined Concordia communications professor, Enn Raudsepp and Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship, Darin Barney, in a panel discussion chaired by Media@McGill director, Professor Marc Raboy, to mark the 100th anniversary of the McGill Daily on Saturday, October 15.

Corporatization and monopolization of the media, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the opposing force of community and campus media to the demoralization offered by mainstream media vessels were all themes touched upon by the panelists in their search for an answer to the question: will new technology save gadflies from extinction?

Outside alternative media, social media and the blogosphere, the present outlook appears grim. "All of the media in Canada have come under the control of big corporations that aren't interested in any way in questioning the status quo and, in fact, reinforce the status quo," said Rebick.

However, while acknowledging that mainstream journalism generally fails to report on social movements, Rebick used the initial indifference that characterized the corporate media's reaction to Occupy Wall Street to show how some within those circles can still be counted upon to provide good reporting if a campaign is powerful enough to reel them in.

"There are people in the mainstream media who, when there's a movement that comes, will step out of their careerism, their fears of not being seen as good journalists, and they will do some good and honest reporting," said Rebick, referring to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's recent controversial piece on the cynical relationship journalists have with change.

Darin Barney, who also sits on the board of directors of McGill campus radio CKUT, agreed with Rebick that these exceptions to the rule - both in the commercial and alternative media - remain pivotal in determining the survival of the gadfly journalist.


Alternative, non-commercial community and campus media, in many ways, represent a solution to sensationalist, demoralizing forms of mass media said Barney. Equally, technology has also formed part of the rhetoric for a solution, with many believing the likes of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will empower journalists and non-journalists alike to disseminate a more truthful representation of events.

Yet, while there is no disputing that technology has succeeded in "loosen[ing] the grip that commercial mass media have on the landscape of communication and information," Barney argued that the internet is merely a very useful platform for making and sustaining a democratic media. Instead, it is in the efforts and courage of independent community and campus media organizations that we should place our hopes for change and justice.

In the spirit of the gadfly, the panel speakers transgressed the topic at hand to comment on events closer to home in support of the ongoing MUNACA strike at McGill as well as the Occupy Montreal protests. While Rebick, a well-known Canadian political activist, encouraged the audience to presently refrain from giving financial support to McGill, Barney was quick to direct any willing donors to support CKUT's annual fund drive this week, adding: "do what you can to encourage those who do so much, with so little, to encourage us".

By Theodora Tsentas Project Administrator, Media@McGill