Here’s why Amy van den Berg decided to take a close look at Canadaland in the new Ryerson Review of Journalism.
Last summer I interned at This Magazine, a progressive publication that doesn’t take anything at face value. The office is on the top floor of 401 Richmond, an old red-brick factory building that now rents out spaces to small creative companies, NGOs and publications. My desk was in front of a large window, which looked down onto the courtyard—and the Canadaland office. I had not been a regular listener to Jesse Brown’s media criticism podcast at that point, and in fact it had only been that summer where at a party one of my good friends told me to subscribe, “especially since you’re studying journalism!” I became a big fan, and was thrilled to work in the same building as the voice who fed me my weekly industry intel.
But studying and working in journalism has taught me to question everything, and I quickly realized nobody was questioning him. More out of curiosity than criticism, I began researching the inception and role of Canadaland, and the man behind it. Learning about the company turned out to be a fascinating adventure, and I fell down more than a few rabbit holes, mostly on Twitter.
By the time it came around to pitching stories to the Ryerson Review of Journalism, I felt like I had already started my story. But as I went along, I hit many road bumps, the biggest of which was finding sources. While Brown was always friendly and open — in fact, I not only respect him but also consider him a genuinely good guy — many others were not.
I got the impression that Canadaland operated in a grey zone. While many listeners liked this about the podcast company, an equal amount brushed it off as a small media criticism show without a serious following. Trying to gather voices to defend each side was an uphill battle. This wasn’t surprising — Brown is a divisive guy, and the show pokes at every corner of the industry. But the unwillingness of many to go on the record about their opinions confirmed for me the industry’s mass fear of speaking up. This is an irritating and seemingly Canadian quality, which Brown has also expressed frustration over.
Why are journalists so closed and afraid to question each other? The work that is done by Canadaland and its numerous podcast branches is credible and important, but I believe that a good pair of eyes on any media source is healthy and valuable. I hope this piece contributes to a more informed industry.