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Staff Reporter

16X9's Laurie Few speaks to students at Ryerson University about investigative reporting.

16×9 executive producer Laurie Few speaks to students at Ryerson University about investigative reporting.

Before she picks up a hidden camera, 16×9 executive producer Laurie Few consults with a lawyer.

“[Don’t move] unless you have checked with someone up the food chain,” Few told students at the Ryerson School of Journalism during a recent presentation.

“Right now I have a $10-million lawsuit with my show and I’m like woohoo, bring it on, waste your time, because every ‘T’ here is crossed 10 times, every ‘I’ is dotted. There’s enough to worry about when you use a hidden camera without stepping on a landmine.”

Few, a former lawyer and veteran investigative journalist, leads the team at Global Television’s investigative news program, 16×9. Her presentation, organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, guided students through a variety of her investigations and the process of investigative TV journalism.

Few said journalists must first understand Canadian law and the journalistic policies of their organizations before they begin an investigation. Many agencies, for instance, only allow the use of hidden cameras if that is the only way to get the “highest attainable version of the truth for this story,” she noted.

In Canada, the law governing hidden cameras or recording devices allows for one-way consent, which means only one party in the conversation needs to consent to being recorded, Few reminded students in the audience. If journalists are part of the conversation, they are the consenting party.

Cameras and audio recording devices, Few added, can be placed within pens and bags, under the journalists’ clothes or on their glasses or hats, and around the room where the conversation or investigation will be taking place. Journalists should also be armed with several recording devices just in case one fails, she advised.

Few said going undercover is also easier said than done: “It’s a really tough thing, [blending into the character you’re supposed to be.] It’s not as easy as people think.”

With the dangerous and unpredictable situations they are sometimes faced with, investigative reporters must be both brave and street smart, she said. By way of example, she pointed to a 2013 investigation into illegal cross-border gun sales, where an undercover producer arranged to buy an assault rifle from an American seller. 16×9 producer Brennan Leffler set up a meeting with the sellers and was able to illustrate how simple it was to buy the gun. But then he had to extricate himself from the deal because it would have been illegal to make the purchase.

Leffler created enough chaos and confusion that they sellers backed out of the deal, Few said.

“Brennan is fearless; he’s really smart too… You have to be fearless, but you can’t be stupid and you have to know yourself. You have to know when I’m going to back away from this. I’ve seen it happen before where people have actually purchased the guns illegally, journalists. They just broke the law, so you have to be super careful.”

When it comes to business fraud or scam investigations, Few said she insists upon finding at least 20 victims before she takes on a story.

“I need to see a pattern. Business opportunity fraud is one of the hardest things to prove. I’m not there to prove fraud in court, but really I am,” she said, noting that she will only takes on stories she thinks could and should be the subject of successful court proceedings.

And that’s just the start of it. She said she must “test the market” to ensure that she experiences the same fraud in the course of her investigation. And she emphasized the need to give the “bad guys” a chance to respond before the story airs: “You are not doing journalism if you do not give the person an opportunity to respond to those allegations; that is always a must.”

While they may not want to give a statement, she says journalists must make several attempts to contact them and no response or an unclear answer is not enough: “I need the person saying no.”

Laurie Few gives students a demonstration on hidden camera techniques.

Laurie Few gives students a demonstration on hidden camera techniques.

Investigative work, Few insisted, is also about more than hidden cameras and undercover work. She said investigative journalists must also care deeply about the stories they tell and be optimistic about their ability to get the story. It was the empathy and patience of 16×9 host and producer Carolyn Jarvis, Few noted, that led to their successful investigation of the 2014 shooting deaths of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B.

“We were looking at the lack of training and the lack of equipment…Long story short, as one of the [officers interviewed] said: ‘We took a knife to a gunfight.’ Those officers are dead, almost without question, because they weren’t properly armed or trained,” she said.

The challenge with the investigation was that most RCMP officers were unwilling to talk.

“They sign an agreement when they are taken on by the force that they cannot speak out against the force; it’s written into their contract. So how the heck are we going to get these guys to talk to us? They are risking their careers, their lifetime commitment to the RCMP, their reputations.”

But as Few says: “Don’t walk into a situation thinking ‘Why would anyone talk to me?’”

Jarvis devised a way for members of the RCMP to anonymously share their stories and opinions with the country.

“Carolyn Jarvis got the word out, one member at a time. She flew to Moncton, found a crappy hotel, set up in a room… and let the word leak out that she was going to be sitting there. Just sitting there, no recording devices, nothing. And slowly, they came. She sat there for three, long, boring days and I think at the end of those days, she had five or six officers come in and talk to her.”

To this day, not even Few knows the identities of the officers who spoke. While their words were used, it was actors who read them on the show. “We didn’t even want to risk putting them in silhouette,” Few said.

“You have to believe it. Carolyn cared so deeply about this story [that people came.]”

Few’s presentation can be viewed here.

Special to the RJRC

Photo reprinted courtesy of The City of Brampton

Photo reprinted courtesy of The City of Brampton

Efforts by the City of Brampton to reach newcomers through ethnic media will be an important test of how municipalities can better communicate with newcomers, particularly those who struggle with English, new research suggests.

The study, by Ryerson University journalism professor April Lindgren, examines the evolution of Brampton’s ethnic media strategy over the past decade.

“I knew that [Brampton] had a large number of media that served the Punjabi-speaking community,” Lindgren said. “A decade or so ago, a research study showed that the city’s policies in general weren’t all that welcoming to newcomers. But then in 2015 Brampton introduced a new ethnic media policy that is probably the most pro-active in the country. I wanted to investigate the reasons for this dramatic shift in attitude.”

Lindgren said local ethnic newspapers, websites and television programs play a key role in making local news and information accessible to immigrants, particularly those who are not fluent in English or French.

“Telling local stories is a really important role for ethnic media,” she said. “It helps newcomers to understand everything from the practical things, like what are the rules for clearing snow off the sidewalk, to intangible things such as what does this society value.”


Lindgren used Kristin R. Good’s book “Municipalities and Multiculturalism: The Politics of Immigration in Toronto and Vancouver” as the starting point for examining Brampton’s evolving communication policy. Good’s 2004 fieldwork showed that Brampton officials were generally unresponsive to the dramatic demographic changes happening in the city. The city’s population surged by more than 60 per cent between 2001 and 2011, mostly the result of immigration. More than 17 per cent (91,345 people) of city residents now identify Punjabi as their mother tongue, which Statistics Canada says makes it the second most frequently spoken language after English.

The number of ethnic media outlets also expanded rapidly so that today about 50 ethnic news organizations — including 40 that target South Asian groups — receive press releases from the city.

Brampton’s communications department tried to reach out to its newest residents in 2007 by expanding the distribution of English-language news releases to include ethnic media. But Lindgren’s research showed this didn’t have much effect.

Her content analysis of the Canadian Punjabi Post, one of the higher profile Punjabi-language publications in Brampton, identified 480 news items about the Greater Toronto Area published over a three-week period in 2011. While 157 of the news items were about Brampton, only three pertained to city hall matters.

“When we looked at the Canadian Punjabi Post we found that there was actually very little Brampton city news in the paper. So clearly the city’s message wasn’t getting through – it wasn’t enough to just send out those English-language press releases to ethnic media,” Lindgren said.

Significant changes

In 2013 the city hired a specialty media coordinator who speaks and reads Punjabi. And then, in 2015, Brampton councillors embraced an expanded ethnic media strategy, approving an additional $408,937 to hire a second specialty media coordinator and engage an ethnic media monitoring service. The money was also allocated to translate some key corporate communications materials and all press releases into French and the 10 most commonly spoken languages other than English.

Although the original plan was scaled back, the city council did commit to funding the translation of media releases into French, Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese for a trial period until the end of 2015.

In the paper, Lindgren attributes Brampton’s attempts to reach out to residents via ethic media to rapid demographic shifts that caused “friction between newcomers and other residents.” The tensions, she said, pointed to the need for a more proactive policies to foster better intercultural understanding.

Major changes to the local council as a result of the 2014 municipal also helps explains the shift in direction, Lindgren wrote, noting that Brampton’s new mayor, Linda Jeffrey, “championed the expansion of ethnic media services.”

Lindgren suggested the new policy is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural communities: “I don’t think you can underestimate the symbolic importance of what the city’s done in terms of saying ‘we recognize these media outlets as being part of the established media’ in a sense and as being legitimate and valuable way to get their message out,” she said in an interview.

She speculated that the changes may lead to more city hall coverage in the ethnic media because the “staffing and financial constraints that plague many small news organizations suggest that a ready supply of translated local news may be to some degree irresistible.”

In a recent news report, however, the publisher of the Canadian Punjabi Post argues that better access to city politicians would be more helpful than translated press releases.

“The city is spending a lot of money on translation, which is not worth it as I have to rewrite the releases. This does not make sense to me,” Jagdish Gewal told New Canadian Media.

“My reporters are capable of writing news in English and Punjabi.”

Meanwhile, the trial period for Bampton’s expanded ethnic media strategy has been extended and a report on its effect will be discussed by council in the next few months, a city official said.

Lindgren’s paper, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise,” was published in the 2015 fall Issue of the Global Media Journal — Canadian Edition, Multicultural Media and Immigrant Integration.



Shannon Clarke
Special to the RJRC


Editorial cartoonists from across North America will meet at the Ryerson School of Journalism this weekend to grapple with issues of censorship, intimidation and other challenges they face in the course of doing their work.

The 2016 convention of the Association of Canadian Cartoonists/Association des Caricaturistes Canadiens (ACC) is meeting in Toronto for the first time in more than a decade. The biannual event will bring together prominent members from the cartooning community in Canada and abroad, including 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee.

“The advancement of the profession of cartooning in Canada is a mandate of ours,” said ACC president, Wes Tyrell. “[Editorial cartooning] is a critical component of opinion, editorial pieces.”

Together with the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, the ACC will hold two public presentations that are free and open to the public at the Rogers Communications Centre. The lineup for the morning of Friday, May 6, includes Christian Vachon, curator of The McCord Museum in Montreal; Shahid Mahmood a Toronto-based political cartoonist who has been been fighting to get his name removed from the U.S. no-fly list; and Nik Kowsar of Cartoonists Rights Network International will join  former Vancouver Province political cartoonist Dan Murphy for an update on global CRNI issues.

On Saturday morning, Ohman will join fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes (Washington Post) to discuss editorial cartooning and the U.S election. They will be joined by Université du Québec à Montréal professor Dominic Hardy who will talk about the history of cartooning in Quebec. There will also be a Q&A session with American caricaturist Philip Burke, whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and The New York Times among other publications.

The editorial cartooning community is small and getting smaller as members have retired, lost their jobs or left the business, said Tyrell. Add to this the technological changes involved in producing work for publication, he said, and conferences like these become more important each year.

“When I started doing this…just about every paper in the country had their own cartoonist on staff, so there would be 70 or 80 cartoonists working across the country,” he said. “Now we’re down to maybe 20 people who are actually on staff.”

The presentations are an opportunity for student journalists and aspiring artists to learn more about editorial cartooning and the powerful impact it can have. A cartoon by the Chronicle Herald’s Bruce MacKinnon captured the grief of a country shocked by the murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at Parliament Hill in 2014. It quickly went viral and appeared on television broadcasts and news sites across the country.

Last year’s attacks at Charlie Hebdo, meanwhile, reignited an international debate about free speech. And when the Toronto Star rejected a cartoon of Canada without Quebec (it was later published on Twitter) the Huffington Post asked if the newspaper “[went] too far.

Although the craft and the community have changed, editorial cartoonists face many of the same challenges, Tyrell said. “You have to be prepared to deal with your public. You should have enough control and common sense for what’s going to work but you want your voice to be true.”

The convention allows journalists to address these issues together, including how to grapple with the new and sometimes dangerous environment in which they’re publishing.

The convention runs until May 8 and coincides with a Royal Ontario Museum exhibition of original editorial cartoons from before Confederation to the present. “Point & Punch: Historical Editorial Cartoons of J.W. Bengough (1851-1923) and Sam Hunter (1858-1939) runs until Sept. 18.


Click here to see the live blog transcript for this event.

Special to the RJRC


Changes in how the public consumes news and the implications of these changes for journalism and journalism education will be the focus of an April 28 colloquium hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

The meeting of international scholars, journalists and educators is the first in a series of Journalism Transformations colloquia organized by the RJRC. The morning lecture, which is open to the public, will feature presentations that examine changes in local news coverage, audience behaviour and technology.

The day begins with “The Audience Revolution,” a public panel with Philip Napoli, professor and associate dean of research at Rutgers University; Kim Schrøder, professor of communications at Roskilde University in Denmark; Alexis Lloyd, creative director of The New York Times R&D Lab; and discussant, Retha Hill, a professor at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism. Rich Gordon of Northwestern University and Carrie Brown of City University of New York will also be a part of the day’s events.

The panel discussion is an opportunity for journalists and non-journalists alike to hear how newsrooms are adapting to the evolving media landscape and the interests of their audiences.

Asmaa Malik, an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said the idea for the event grew out of a discussion with co-organizers Gavin Adamson and Ivor Shapiro, and other journalism professors on the changing value proposition of journalism school. As the industry changes, more prospective students (and their parents) question what comes after a journalism degree.

Malik said the job of educators now is to prepare journalism students for careers both inside and outside of traditional newsrooms: “It’s not like we’re training reporters or editors; we’re trying to train people who are fully-equipped for whatever’s ahead and we don’t know necessarily what’s coming down the pipe.”

Napoli, the principal investigator for the News Measures Research Project at Rutgers, will discuss how news has responded to audience behaviour, with an emphasis on how those changes affect local news consumption. Schrøder will contribute his research, the bulk of which was conducted before the digital era began, examining international news consumption shift away from traditional mediums to digital platforms. Alexis Lloyd will discuss her experience at The New York Times, reflecting on how technology engages news audiences and enhances journalism.

Update: Alex Watson, of The Telegraph Media Group in London, will replace Alexis Lloyd on April 28. He is The Telegraph’s head of product and a former technology journalist and led the team behind the creation of the newspaper’s new content management system


Special to the RJRC

(Left to right) Theirry Gervias, head of research at Ryerson Image Centre, and photojournalist and journalism instructor Peter Bregg Photo: Steph Wechsler

(Left to right) Thierry Gervias, head of research at Ryerson Image Centre, and photojournalist and journalism instructor Peter Bregg. Photo: Steph Wechsler

Digital photography and the capacity to edit pictures quickly and affordably have reopened debate over what editorializing means in images and the nature of photojournalistic neutrality, says award-winning photographer Peter Bregg.

New technologies have expanded the options for manipulating photographs, Bregg said during a panel discussion organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre: “If a photo is heavily enhanced in post production is it the truth as it happened, or is the photographer trying to influence the reader?”

Bregg, winner of the 2014 Canadian Journalism Foundation’s lifetime achievement award and an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, was joined on the panel by Thierry Gervais, the head of research at the Ryerson Image Centre and curator of Dispatch: War Photographs in Print, 1854-2008. The pair discussed the evolution of war photography, photojournalism trends, neutrality and how the meaning of images can change depending on the audience and where they are displayed.

“If you’re taking a picture where half the picture [is] in sunlight and the other half [is] in shadow, in the days of film, it wasn’t worth printing usually,” Bregg said. “But with RAW [the uncompressed image file from the sensor in a digital camera or scanner], you can go in there and lighten the shadows so it looks proper. You can darken the highlights in the sunshine so it looks okay.”

The ability to alter images has led to new rules governing what can and cannot be changed, he noted. In the World Press Photo contest, for example, “entrants are not permitted to make changes in colour that result in significant changes in hue to the extent that the processed colours diverge from the original colours,” he said. The rules, however, have not put an end to debates about photo manipulation.

Major controversy, for instance, surrounded Swedish photographer Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo prize for “Gaza Burial.” Hansen’s image, which depicts a procession of grieving uncles carrying their dead nephews through an alleyway after the children were killed in an Israeli airstrike, came under fire for what critics said appeared to be excessive tonal manipulation in post-production.

Forensic experts who studied the photo found that there were, “no additions– pixel for pixel– or subtractions,” Bregg said, noting that Hansen was allowed to keep his prize. “They did find there was a fair amount of post production, meaning the guy went into Photoshop. He changed the colours a bit to make it more dramatic. Made the shadows darker.”

The rules listed on the World Press Photo website say that adjusting colour is considered acceptable so long as it doesn’t excessively divert from the original image. Minor cropping or removing spots from negatives is also permitted, but staging scenes is completely prohibited. While some of these rules are fairly straightforward, others, as Bregg and Gervais suggested, are highly subjective. The World Press Photo’s 2015 entry rules page, for instance, says that “the content of an image must not be altered. Only retouching that conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards.”

Bregg argued that while “the standards really haven’t changed, the technology has changed dramatically.” He noted that there is a long history of manipulating news images: “People have been doing this for years in that you went into the darkroom, and if the background didn’t suit you, you could make it darker” by exposing an area of a print for longer.

Alternatively, the practice of dodging – what Bregg said photographers once called “the hand of God,” – is an old darkroom technique that involves waving an object, like a hand, between the enlarger lamp and the paper to limit the exposure, effectively lightening the image.

Gervais pointed to even earlier examples of photo manipulation. Engravings, he noted, were used to reproduce photographs in newspapers in the 19th century, and to make what were considered improvements at the time. Early photographs had a very narrow depth of field so the background was often blurry, but wood engravings could be etched with a higher degree of background detail compared to the original photographs.

Since the wood carvings conveyed details the photographic image could not, the engravings were considered a more complete depiction of the truth, Gervais said.

Editorial discretion, he added, is exercised in every aspect of journalism: “We are always talking about photography as a mechanical process and because of that, [we assume it is] more truthful, it’s more credible. And, okay, we can say that, but of course when you write, you emphasize something and not something else. I think that’s exactly what photographers are doing in this time.”

Gervais said meaning can also be changed depending on the camera used and where and how the photograph is displayed. As an example, he pointed to “Taliban” by French photographer Luc Delahaye. Delahaye’s 2001 image of a dead Taliban fighter was produced in two ways – with a common digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, and a panoramic camera. The former resulted in a regular-sized image that was published in the press, while the wider-format image from the latter was hung on the walls of a gallery.

The panoramic image, he noted, tells a story the press photos could not. In it, you can see footprints around the body and that the dead man’s shoes are missing. “He’s been robbed,” said Gervais. “That’s war. That’s what they do. They kill people, take their money, take their boots and leave.

“When you look at [the] photo that has been published taken with the SLR, all of that is gone,” he said. “I saw a kind of paradox. For me, you have a big image in which you can see a lot of detail because everything was super-sharp for the art gallery, and you have a cropped image losing a lot of information in the press. What can we say about that?

“I would have thought that the more information you put the better it is in the press,” he said.

Gervais and Bregg also discussed what makes an image “good.”

To Gervais, “an image is made of lines, it’s made of tones, it’s made of colours.” But most people can’t articulate why they like or dislike an image – it’s the intangible combination of visual elements, style and subject matter that make an image a success or a failure, he said.

Bregg said that instinct factors into the sense that a photograph works. He noted that submissions to the World Press Photo contest have soared in recent years so that these days a picture has to be “different” to get a judge’s attention. And while black and white was once the photographic standard, now it’s considered novel and arty: “What’s old is new and what’s new is old,” he observed.

The panelists agreed that while there have been momentous changes in equipment, access and taste, the core principle of photojournalism – the need to accurately convey what happened – hasn’t changed.

“The technology has changed but the ethics haven’t,” said Bregg. “We’re still supposed to work with the same ethics we did 100 years ago.”

Based on guidelines listed by Word Press Photo, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the National Press Photographer’s Association.

Based on guidelines listed by Word Press Photo, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the National Press Photographer’s Association.