September 28, 2015


Staff Reporter  

Toronto residents who are concerned about how their neighbourhoods are portrayed in the news can now test their perceptions of news coverage against the reality.

The Local News Research Project at the Ryerson University’s School of Journalism has launched online interactive maps that allow residents in different city wards to explore in detail how their communities are depicted in the news.

Users can click each point to find out about the news articles that referenced the location.

“[The maps] allow people to test what their perception of the news is and what the reality is and see if the two coincide,” said April Lindgren, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and the project’s principal researcher.  The maps give the public access to data the research project collected on local news reporting by the Toronto Star and the user-driven local news website

Residents can use the maps to get an overall sense of where news in the city is – and isn’t – covered; compare patterns of local news coverage by two different news organizations; examine the geographic patterns of reporting on crime, entertainment and other major news topics; and find out what kind of news is covered in each of the city’s wards.

“The patterns are interesting because they show a lot of coverage of the downtown neighbourhoods and central Toronto and as you go away from the centre of the city, you see less and less reporting overall in more far-flung neighbourhoods… This suggests there might be lots of opportunities to do stories in those other areas outside of the core,” Lindgren said.

The Toronto Star news coverage concentrated on the downtown core.

The maps are based on the Toronto Star’s local news coverage published on 21 days between January and August 2011, a sample that is large enough to be considered representative of a whole year.  The data for, which suspended publishing in 2012, was collected for every day between January and August 2011.

“While the maps capture only a snapshot of news coverage at a fixed point in time, they nonetheless demonstrate the importance of geospatial analysis in local news research,” Lindgren writes in an article on The Local News Research Project website.  

They are “a powerful data visualization tool that allows members of the public to independently explore media portrayals of neighbourhoods and the extent to which some parts of a city are represented in the news while others are largely ignored.”

Lindgren says she decided to investigate how different neighbourhoods are portrayed in the news because of concerns periodically raised by residents and local politicians about how certain parts of the city are covered. Residents in Scarborough were outraged after disparaging references to Scarborough as “Scarberia” in a Toronto Star column; in the Jane-Finch area, concerns about crime-centred coverage led long-time resident and neighbourhood advocate Paul Nguyen to establish, a local news website created to dispel negative stereotypes.

Users can click within a ward to access charts summarizing news coverage by topic.

Drawing upon the same data used to create the interactive maps, Lindgren also produced a research paper  that showed the city’s high-needs areas tend to appear infrequently in the news. Her research also demonstrated that the stories that are covered tend to be crime-related.  As a result, she says,  residents in the city’s disadvantaged communities worry “about how they’re portrayed and say that the media is negatively stereotyping their community.”

“There is research that suggests that the negative portrayals of neighbourhoods can affect how people perceive themselves and also how they are perceived by the outside.”

Studies have found, for instance, that job seekers from so-called ‘bad neighbourhoods’ are at a disadvantage when it comes to having their job applications considered, Lindgren said, citing a 2007 incident when a young, black university student from Toronto’s Malvern area was described as a “ghetto dude” in an email mistakenly sent to him by the Ontario government employee dealing with his job application.

“These potential effects of geographic stereotyping aren’t imagined,” Lindgren said.

The Toronto Star coverage of crime and policing news.

Other studies have suggested that negative media depictions of particular neighbourhoods can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because they shape outsiders’ perceptions of an area.  The stigmatization of a community can also be internalized by its residents, leading to further problems. Researchers have suggested, for example, that residents who believe they live in a troubled areas distance themselves from other residents, do not invest time and effort in improving their neighbourhoods, and instead focus on moving away. The resulting lack of cohesion and high turnover rate leave these communities even more vulnerable to crime and other problems.

September 22, 2015


Staff Reporter

Canadian Press photo editor Marie-Espérance Cerda was in the midst of this year’s violent May Day protests in Montreal and her virtual reality coverage of the event allows audiences to share in the experience.

Cerda’s experiment in virtual reality journalism plunges the user into a three-dimensional world, entirely filling the user’s field of view with 360 degrees of video that shifts with the gaze of the viewer. Her project also pairs this video with real-time audio from the scene, completing the immersive experience.


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Marie-Espérance Cerda demonstrates her experiment in virtual reality journalism – playing in the background is her coverage of the 2015 May Day protests in Montreal. [Ilina Ghosh]

“With virtual reality you are no longer representing reality or an event, you are recreating an experience. You are trying to get someone to feel something,” said Cerda, who produced the immersive journalism experiment as the major project for her master’s in media production degree at Ryerson University.

Gene Allen, a professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and the supervisor of Cerda’s work, praised the innovative nature of the project: “[It] allows viewers to focus on any aspect of the unfolding action, just as if they were there.

“You can look in one direction — with the images filling your whole visual field — and see the cops approaching, beating shields with their batons, then turn around and see the protesters cursing and throwing water bombs, then turn 90 degrees to see a group that broke off and ran up McGill College Avenue, then back to the cops — or wherever you like.”

Cerda said her interest in technology and its function in journalism led her to explore the relatively new concept of virtual reality as a journalistic medium. She is not, however,  the first to experiment with the tools. American journalist Nonny de la Peña, “the godmother of virtual reality,” pioneered the use of immersive technology in reporting. Her latest piece, Project Syria, commissioned by the World Economic Forum, simulates the bombing of a Syrian refugee camp. Each element of the film is drawn from real audio, video and photographs taken on scene.

Similarly, The Wall Street Journal took its readers on a roller coaster ride of the NASDAQ, while VICE News asked, “what if, instead of watching a news broadcast about the latest protest, you could walk into it?” when it created VICE News VR: Millions March. It places the viewer in the midst of 60,000 protesters on the streets of New York City.

“I saw huge potential. I wanted to do the same thing and see what the implications of that would be,” Cerda said.

Intrigued by the work of those before her, Cerda began creating her own piece of immersive journalism. To capture all 360 degrees of the Montreal riot, she walked the streets of Montreal with six GoPro cameras set into a 3D printed rig: the result is what looks like a baseball bristling with cameras pointing in six different directions.

Cerda’s rig of six GoPro cameras in action on May Day. [Marie-Espérance Cerda]

The rig and cameras used by Cerda to capture all 360 degrees of the protest. [Marie-Espérance Cerda]

The next steps involved asking Ryerson to purchase a computer program called VideoStitch and teaming up with an undergrad student to plug all the audio and visuals into a 3D content development software called Unity.

While Cerda’s video can also be watched in a two-dimensional interactive 360 degree video, it becomes immersive when viewed through the lens of Google Cardboard, a low-tech virtual reality viewing headset that attaches to a smartphone.

The headset, made of folded cardboard, two biconvex lenses, magnets, velcro and a rubber band, is available for around $20 from Google Cardboard. Users can also build their own Google Cardboard at home using Google’s free instructions, with the lenses available online and other materials available at home or at a hardware store.

Google Cardboard, the low-tech attachment used by Cerda to transform a smartphone into virtual reality viewer. [Handout/Google]

Unlike traditional broadcast journalism, immersive journalism does not involve narrating a story, Allen said.  “It’s an exploration. It’s much more similar to a game than a standard news story. You’re in a defined area, but how you move around is really up to you and yet it’s reality.”

While virtual reality journalism can offer a viewer a way to experience a story that traditional forms of journalism cannot, Cerda says it is just one of the tools in a journalist’s storytelling toolkit. “VR journalism can’t be a stand alone product… because you can’t get the full story in a virtual reality experience,” she observed. “It’s best place is to offer a different aspect of… the information so that you can better understand it.”

Cerda said one of the drawbacks with the new medium is that it cannot be edited like reels of traditional footage and will likely not be successful with all news audiences. In her research, she found younger males were most receptive to the technology, while people over 35 were less interested and more set in their ways in terms of how they received their news. She said producing immersive journalism is also more labour intensive and technologically demanding than current approaches.

Allen, a historian whose research involves exploring the impact of new technologies on journalism, said that despite the limitations, “[the future possibilities] are pretty amazing.”


Students crowded into the Venn last week for CBC journalist Jody Porter’s talk on how indigenous issues are covered in Canadian media.

“Stories about indigenous people in this country rarely satisfy editors unless the main character is dead, drunk or drumming,” said Porter, who is based in Thunder Bay. “I’m not sure the newsrooms in this country are prepared to spend the necessary resources to get at the stories that Canadians have yet to hear from Indigenous peoples in this country.”

Porter’s presentation, which was organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, focused on the four central components of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) summary report, including an awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm inflicted, atonement for the cause and action to change.

“For the day-to-day coverage of Indigenous issues, we as journalists should have a working knowledge of the Truth and Reconciliation report,” Porter said.

Journalist Jody Porter speaks at the Ryerson School of Journalism on Sept. 16 (Photo: Cait Martin Newnham)

Journalist Jody Porter speaks at the Ryerson School of Journalism on Sept. 16 (Photo: Cait Martin Newnham)

Even the simple terminology used by journalists is important in framing the tone of media coverage, Porter said, and suggested the journalists try to refer to groups of people as specifically as possible. “The way that we as journalists are introducing people frames our stories, and the way we introduce people to our readers, our audience, frames their perceptions,” she said.

Although the TRC report has made journalists more aware of the complexities and challenges of reporting on indigenous issues, there is still more educators can do to ensure that young journalists are prepared to cover Indigenous issues. Inciting honest curiosity about the issues in their students is one of the most important things, Porter said.

The first step in telling stories affecting indigenous peoples is knowing that those stories are layered, said Porter. Many reporters approach indigenous issues with the opinion that they “get it,” she said.

Porter’s experience in reporting on indigenous issues spans almost two decades, and began at community newspapers across Canada before she settled at CBC in Thunder Bay.

Porter, who is the editor of Strength and Struggle: Perspectives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canada, has created social experiments on and off the air that take people out of their cultural comfort zones. CBC Thunder Bay’s Common Ground Café series, for example, brought strangers together to make a meal and discuss race relations in the city.

Even now, she is constantly discovering new ways to cover issues, she said.

“The best piece of advice I can offer you today is that you don’t know what you don’t know,” Porter said.

“Reporting on indigenous communities is very like being a foreign correspondent, except that there’s a reluctance in mainstream media in Canada to acknowledge that. I’m telling you right now, after 20 years at this, I’m surprised every day by what I do not know and do not understand.”

This story originally appeared on the Ryerson School of Journalism website (republished with permission).

Canada’s mainstream news outlets have covered stories from Idle No More to decades of missing and murdered indigenous women to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But what are the implications of the TRC for newsrooms? How can reporters do justice to these issues and where is the line between advocacy and journalism?

Join us as we continue our series on journalism and indigenous communities with a discussion on language and activism with CBC’s Jody Porter.

Jody Porter worked in community papers in small towns across the country for a decade before starting as a reporter at CBC Radio in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is the editor of Strength and Struggle: Perspectives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canada, published in 2011 by McGraw-Hill Ryerson and currently being used in high schools across the country. Jody is fond of creating radio/social experiments that take ordinary people out of their cultural comfort zones. This includes CBC Thunder Bay’s Common Ground Café series that brought strangers together to make a meal and discuss race relations in the city. She was given the 2011 Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award, RTDNA for her work on this series. She is also a Clarkson Laureate, having received the public service award from Massey College in 2015. Jody considers her highest honour an owl feather, received from the Anishnabek Nation as part of the 2013 Debwewin Citation for excellence in reporting on First Nations issues.

WHAT: Indigenous Issues and the Mainstream Media: can truth be reconciled?

DATE: September 16, 2015

TIME: Noon – 1 p.m.

WHERE: The Venn RCC-103, Rogers Communication Centre, 80 Gould Street, Toronto

View event poster here


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