Although Douglas Bell was one of dozens of Canadian journalists covering media baron Conrad Black’s trial in Chicago last year, his approach often veered from that of his peers. “I always felt myself to be standing outside the event itself and watching the journalists cover it, rather than covering the trial itself,” Bell says of The Trial of Conrad Black, the popular blog he wrote for Torontolife.com. With his new project for the website, Spectator, Bell is expanding his lens, taking on not just those journalists covering Black, but the media as a whole, not to mention Bay Street and Canada’s wealthy elites.
Media criticism might be the most difficult beat in journalism. “Reporters like to dish the dirt on every institution in the country, but they don't like the dirt dished on them,” The Globe and Mail’s Michael Posner once told Masthead editor Marco Ursi. Reporters such as Antonia Zerbisias, John Fraser and Gregory Boyd Bell all took jabs and stabs at the Canadian fourth estate before eventually moving on to less masochistic areas of work.
Bell, however, believes a light must be shone on the inner workings of newsrooms (and magazine offices) across the country and beyond. “[The media] is the single most important industry in terms of creating perception in the developed and developing world,” he says. “Go back to muckrakers in the early part of the 20th century. This is a question of holding people to account. Why should [reporters] get a pass because they think they’re doing God’s work?”
At same time, Bell, a working journalist of 20 years who also wrote and acted in CBCs The Newsroom, doesn’t want to take himself too seriously. His blogging philosophy? “If you can't make people laugh, keep it in your pants.”