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Mother Jones meets Grist at Hollyhock Social Change Institute in June

Steve Katz is the publisher of Mother Jones. Photo source: Steve Katz

There’s no doubt that the world of journalism is changing rapidly. With a wealth of information available at the click of a mouse, the journalist is no longer the sole purveyor of knowledge. But that’s not to say we have no purpose, says Steve Katz, publisher of the American newsmagazine Mother Jones.

“There's a lot of noise in the system. Part of the job of working journalists is to help people cut through the clutter,” he said, “and give the key information folks need to make up their own minds about what’s going on.”

This June, Katz will be coming to BC’s Cortes Island as a keynote speaker at Hollyhock’s Social Change Institute.

Katz and Dave Roberts of Grist will engage in a conversation with presenter Cara Pike about current affairs across the continent; the lessons we can learn from American conflicts around issues such as oil sands development, fracking, gun control and marriage equality; as well as the state of independent media in Canada and the US.

Mother Jones is an independent but widely read publication that focuses on investigative, political and social justice reporting. Katz cited their “longstanding history of looking at money and politics” as one of the centrepieces of their success.

Resource extraction, and the pipelines that send out our resources, will certainly be a topic of conversation.  Katz is quick to stress the importance of the ongoing debates. “This may be the opening chapter in a generational fight about climate policy and climate realism,” he told VO.

On independent media

Katz pointed to the importance of independent media outlets such as Mother Jones (and VO of course) in such debates.

“Our job is to report the parts of the story that other media outlets are unwilling to cover,“ he said.

He highlighted the importance of following stories closely over a long period of time to truly get at the brunt of the matter. Last year, Mother Jones got international attention when it broke the story of Mitt Romney criticizing the “47 per cent” of Americans who “pay no income tax,” and support President Barack Obama. But it wasn’t just a lucky break for Mother Jones.

“That story was the culmination of many, many years of patient building, organizational strategy, raising money, hiring great people, and giving them the space to stretch out and do their work,” said Katz.

On open communication

“It’s a great time to be a journalist,” he said. "It’s  a lousy time to get paid to do journalism.”  He is enthusiastic about the digital tools enabling anyone to “commit acts of journalism.”

“Keep the internet open and keep those tools available to people,” he said, stressing the importance of free communication in democracy.

Katz said he’s looking forward to free communication at the Social Change Institute, where he will get to share thoughts and hear ideas from the other guests.

“I’m hoping it will be a two-way conversation all the way through,” he said.

Looking forward to Hollyhock

The natural setting of Hollyhock provides a venue for deep thinking and discussion away from the pressures of day-to-day life.

“In our workdays we get so focussed on keeping on task, and the next crisis that needs to be handled,” said Katz, saying he’s looking forward to getting up to “a beautiful place that gives us a chance to reflect more broadly on the work,” in the company of like-minded thinkers.

The Social Change Institute event will take place June 5 to 9. In addition to Katz and Robarts, speakers will also include Nathan Cullen, house leader of the official opposition in Canada’s parliament, and Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, who deals with aboriginal land and rights issues.

Katz has been with Mother Jones since 2003 and worked with them to set up the Media Consortium, a network of independent and progressive media organizations across the United States. Previously, he worked with groups in environmental advocacy, non-profit arts and urban housing.

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