The Travers Debates: A star-studded evening of support for a unique cause

Will Twitter be the death of journalism? Well, that will be up for debate at a unique already sold-out event organized to plump up the profile and funds available in a fellowship that commemorates a journalist who held foreign reporting dear to his heart.

After the R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship was established last year in the wake of legendary Canadian journalist Jim Travers’ death in March 2011, Katie DeRosa, a Victoria Times Colonist reporter, received the first of $25,000 annual awards that will finance significant foreign reporting projects by Canadian journalists. DeRosa will be working on asylum, detention and human smuggling issues in Australia and Thailand.

Carleton adjunct Prof. Peter Calamai, a colleague and friend of Travers’ for more than 30 years, and a member of the fellowship’s steering and event committees, says the ultimate goal is to reach $500,000 to establish an endowment in perpetuity.

The Travers Debates, which has attracted a star-studded cast of participants, reflects some of Travers’ favourite things, say organizers: ideas, good wine, good company and good conversation.

At least $35,000 will be raised through the upcoming event at the National Arts Centre on Oct. 16, bringing the fellowship close to the $400,000 mark and guaranteeing another 16 years of grants.

More than 200 writers, journalists, politicians and academics, as well as friends and readers of Travers, have bought the $75 tickets for the debate, organized by friends of Travers’ along with honorary co-chairs John Manley, former Liberal MP and cabinet minister, and Conservative MP and environment minister Peter Kent. Hosted by veteran broadcaster Don Newman, and moderated by Senator Hugh Segal, with former auditor general Sheila Fraser as timekeeper, the debates will set columnist Chantal Hebert and NDP MP Nathan Cullen against interim Liberal leader Bob Rae and CBC’s Kady O’Malley over the issue of Twitter’s effect on journalism.

In the second debate, author Dan Gardner will support the resolution that the future of the United States is brighter than that of Canada, while political adviser and pundit Allan Gregg will argue on Canada’s behalf.

A silent auction for items such as Via Rail tickets, cooking lessons and gift certificates from a sports store,will bring in additional funds. A door prize will provide the winner with a trip anywhere Porter Airlines flies.

An event such as this “gives a renewed profile to the fellowship and reminds people it exists,” says Calamai. Noting tickets have already sold out, Calamai adds, “This is a bigger success than we could have hoped for. It’s possible it could become the annual Travers Debates.”

News reporting from abroad has been cut back extensively over the past 10 years, and the fellowship hopes to offer Canadian journalists the opportunity to focus on foreign news.

While the field of journalism may be going through a “shakedown,” Calamai believes, “There is always going to be a demand and an appetite for first-hand reporting of the world around us by Canadians, looking at it through Canadian eyes. And this is what our fellowship supports.”

For more information about the Travers Fellowship, please go to:

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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