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Passing the torch

By: /
19 November, 2021
Petrou writing
Petrou in Tripoli, Lebanon, 2017.

When Open Canada relaunched over a year ago, among the first articles I published as editor-in-chief was an essay by journalist Kareem Shaheen in which he reflected on his reporting on the death and suffering of civilians during Syria’s civil war, and on the apparent absence of any difference that reporting had made. The experience changed him. “When the heart breaks it is remolded in its survival, hardened against further shocks,” he wrote.

Shaheen is not alone. Journalist Martha Gellhorn chronicled the rise of fascism in the 1930s and the wars that followed. She later looked back on the consequent erosion of her idealism. “When I was young I believed in the perfectibility of man, and in progress, and thought of journalism as a guiding light,” she wrote, before concluding: “For all the good our articles did, they might have been written in invisible ink, printed on leaves, and loosed to the wind.” 

I understand something of what Shaheen, and Gellhorn, felt. I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years. I’ve revealed injustice, shined lights in dark places and tried to amplify quiet voices. Injustice and darkness persist. Quiet voices are ignored or silenced.

And yet my belief in the necessity of journalism persists also. With apologies to the poet Alfred Tennyson, though much is taken, much abides. Not all reporting produces the results we might hope for. But injustice can never be challenged unless it is first exposed. Citizens in a democracy cannot hold their elected officials to account for the decisions they make unless they are informed. The best journalism outlets also promote analysis and freewheeling debate so that from these exchanges we might imagine new ideas and craft better policy. Some outlets share compelling personal stories so that readers might recognize themselves in others or discover something new. There’s value in that, too.

I’ve tried to do all this as Open Canada’s editor and, as you might already have guessed, I’m taking stock of that work now because my time at Open Canada is coming to an end.

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished since the relaunch, and I’m especially proud of the people with whom I’ve had the privilege of working. There are too many to name everyone individually, but I must thank Canadian International Council President Ben Rowswell for showing faith in me when he brought me on board to lead Open Canada’s relaunch. I enjoyed working shoulder-to-shoulder with Jean-Luc Ferland as we built up Open Canada’s French presence. Canadians can’t have a true national conversation unless it takes place in both French and English. The Canadian International Council is committed to continuing those efforts.

Open Canada could not function without the tremendous work of its volunteers. These include members of its advisory board, whose counsel I cherish, and those who regularly copy edit, lay out and promote the magazine, and do much else besides. I’m grateful for their assistance and comradeship.

I’m grateful, also, to Open Canada’s many contributors who have taught me much and have consistently been a pleasure to read. Finally, and most importantly, thank you to our readers for your attention and trust. None of this would matter without you.

I’m stepping down, but Open Canada will charge ahead. It will soon begin a search for a new editor. I encourage anyone who believes in what journalism can accomplish and who cares about Canada’s place in the world to apply. It will be an adventure.

Before you click away, we’d like to ask you for a favour … 

Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

At Open Canada, we believe this must change. If anything, the pandemic has taught us we can’t afford to ignore the changing world. What’s more, we believe, most Canadians don’t want to. Many of us, after all, come from somewhere else and have connections that reach around the world.

Our mission is to build a conversation that involves everyone — not just politicians, academics and policy makers. We need your help to do so. Your support helps us find stories and pay writers to tell them. It helps us grow that conversation. It helps us encourage more Canadians to play an active role in shaping our country’s place in the world.

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