Building a keynote lineup is like putting together a puzzle. You want speakers who fit your theme to some degree, who work in different mediums, and who come from different backgrounds. Then there’s the issue of availability and cost. It takes months to figure out.
But we finally solved the puzzle and we’re thrilled with the result. Some of you aren’t, though, because of one piece: Ezra Levant. And that’s understandable. I knew full well what I was getting into when I reached out to him.
I invite speakers that delegates request. You’re paying the fees, after all, and this is your conference. Suggestions have been streaming in since the summer, via email, social media and word of mouth. Our most requested keynote this year was Robyn Doolittle. Our second top pick? Ezra Levant.
There are many reasons for that. Some find him entertaining. Others are genuinely interested in his right-wing views. Whatever the motive, Levant draws a considerable audience, and that much is clear.
More importantly, Levant exemplifies a brand of journalism that is proving more relevant than ever. Politics and ideology are seeping into contemporary journalism and consumers are eating it up. It begs the question, what is considered journalism today? Or better yet, does objectivity still exist? How do politics factor in? Levant is one of Canada’s most recognizable partisan commentators and people are familiar with his work. We feel he’s highly suited to tackle these questions.
The Link raised a valid point yesterday in their opinion piece on our decision. Levant has been condemned in the past for his derogatory comments, and accused of libel, so why give him a platform? Our selection is not an endorsement of his values, but a catalyst for discussion. We’ve asked Levant to dedicate about half of his one-hour slot to questions. This will not be a lecture, but a rare opportunity to address Levant directly. We expect you to come armed with questions.
I’ve attended two NASH conferences and have closely studied the lineups from previous years. In my experience, keynotes veer in two directions: an inspiring success story or grappling with change. Not a single NASH keynote I’ve seen has challenged my views of journalism or prompted me to speak up.
That’s what we want to see this year. And judging from the response, so do other delegates. I’m happy to see the discussion already taking place and value the opinions shared by all delegates. With that said, we remain confident in our decision to invite Levant.
A point of clarification: A total of $10,000 is allotted for speakers out of a $200,000+ budget made up of both student-paid fees and sponsorship.