Bert Archer: As the Gazette turns 244, trust is more important than ever


If we lose our trust in news, things start to fall apart. A functioning media is one of the most important forces keeping us from sliding into incoherence.

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It’s our 244th birthday today.

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So Thursday, I went to visit our first issue, published on June 3, 1778, which McGill’s rare books team is taking very good care of. The man who put it out, printer Fleury Mesplet, dedicated it to “the progress of arts and sciences in general, and the necessary introduction to concord, and the union among individuals, from which flows several advantages to society.”

That was worth celebrating then, and it’s worth celebrating today: We’ve made it through a lot, especially recently.

It’s worth celebrating because 216 years after the Montreal Gazette published its first issue, the internet got its first popular browserallowing ordinary people to get their news somewhere other than the morning paper and the evening news.

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It’s worth celebrating because 227 years after we started reporting on the issues and events that matter most to Montrealers, Arianna Huffington started what looked like a media revolution with her Post. (If you do the math, you’ll see it wasn’t our first revolution.)

And it’s worth celebrating because 243 years after Montrealers began seeing themselves and their city reflected in our pages, Huffington Post Canada ceased operations, its revolutionary offspring Buzzfeed pivoted away from news (one of only four stories Buzzfeed Canada appear to have published since the beginning of April is subtitled “A goose stole my car once… no, really!”), and after shuttering its Quebec operations, Vice is being sold off forparts.

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An inside page of the first issue of Gazette from June 3, 1778.
An inside page of the first issue of Gazette from June 3, 1778. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

The Montreal Gazette’s print edition has gotten smaller in recent years as funds that once sustained those thick papers of yore have been siphoned off by Google and Facebook. But we are still ourselves, with our focus on what matters to people who live in and love this city.

Readers’ trust in news found through social media is disastrously low — 18 per cent according to a global study by Reuters (working with the Center d’études sur les médias, among others) — and it’s pulling down trust in all media. In the US, only 29 per cent of people say they trust most of the news they read most of the time. Canada is significantly higher, and the Montreal Gazette is still higher, but the downward trend is deeply worrying.

Trust is vital. If we lose our trust in news, things start to fall apart. If we feel we can’t trust the news to tell us truths, we can start to believe vaccines are fake and Bill Gates microchipping us all It’s real.

It’s not overstating the fact to say that trust is what keeps societies intact, and alongside government, judicial and police transparency — which the Montreal Gazette works daily to ensure — a functioning media is one of the most important forces keeping us from sliding into incoherence.

So happy 244th birthday to us, and to you, because we wouldn’t be able to do it without you.

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