• Local News Conference Register

Feb. 12, 2018

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

CBC journalist and As It Happens host Carol Off will explore the relationship between reporters and sources when she delivers the annual Atkinson lecture at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism on Feb. 14.

During the public lecture Off will draw upon her new book All We Leave Behind, which documents her experience interviewing Asad Aryubwal in Afghanistan about his country’s notorious warlords. She was forced to rethink the professional barriers between journalists and sources when the warlords sent death squads to kill Aryubwal for speaking out. He and he and his family had to flee for their lives. Nearly a decade later, with Off’s help, they finally found refuge in Canada.

“Professional barriers between journalists and sources are being challenged,” said Janice Neil, the chair of the RSJ. “Now there is more transparency and the journalistic process is becoming a lot more visible to sources and people outside of journalism than it was before.”

The Atkinson lecture, made possible by an Atkinson Charitable Foundation endowment in honour of former Toronto Star publisher Joseph E. Atkinson, traditionally draws both members of the public and the journalism community. Last year’s lecturer was Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman who discussed issues related to fake news and trust in the news media. Former journalist Dr. Marie Wilson has spoken about news coverage of Indigenous issues from her perspective as one of the three commissioners on Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Toronto Star reporter and author Michelle Shephard lectured on journalism and national security reporting, while Toronto Sun editorial cartoonist Susan Dewar discussed freedom of expression and editorial cartooning in the aftermath of the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

“When you look at the range of speakers and the topics discussed,” Neil said,” the relationship between sources and journalists certainly falls within the Atkinson lecture’s focus on social justice issues.”

Off’s willingness to write about her decision to set aside the traditional role of reporters as disinterested observers is important for journalists to understand, Neil said.

“I hope students come away with an understanding of how things are not necessarily black and white,” Neil said. They will hopefully leave with an appreciation of how big these questions are, how deeply they need to be thought about and (how) the answers may be different from what you have always expected.”

The lecture will take place on Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. in the Sears Atrium inside the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre at Ryerson University. It can also be watched live by clicking here. There will be a reception following the lecture.

Feb. 5, 2017

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Producer and broadcaster Jesse Wente delivers his keynote lecture at the launch of the Digital News Innovation Challenge at Ryerson University. (Amanda Pope)

A website to help children understand the news, a mobile platform that provides newsrooms with better access to eyewitness videos, and an online platform for distributing newscasts on voice-activated devices were among the ideas-in-progress at the recent launch of the Digital News Innovation Challenge.

Nearly 100 journalists, aspiring entrepreneurs and students attended the Jan. 25 launch of the Canada-wide incubation program in Ryerson University’s DMZ. The event was an opportunity to learn more about how to become one of five journalism startups accepted into the Facebook-sponsored program. The teams selected through the Challenge process will each have access to up to $100,000 in seed capital.

Participants attending Digital News Innovation: Framing the Challenge heard working journalists, scholars, DMZ leaders and officials from Facebook outline the selection procedure as well as specific journalism challenges in need of entrepreneurial solutions.

“These days, the most captivating footage of any event is usually captured by someone on the scene with a smartphone,” said Andrei Sabau, the founder of Seen, a platform he says will make it easier for news organizations to discover, verify and license photos and video published online. “While we can be certain that most events are well documented by those in attendance, the inability for news organizations to quickly and securely access that content leads to a slow dissemination of information. Global events take hours to be clearly communicated to the broader population, while many local stories are never covered.”

The Challenge, a partnership between the Facebook Journalism Project, the DMZ and the Ryerson School of Journalism, will accept applications now through to March 9. The five applicants admitted to the program will be announced this spring. In addition to access to seed money, participants will each receive a Facebook marketing budget of up to $50,000 to promote their innovations on the social platform.

The startups will spend from April to September in Sandbox, the DMZ’s skills development space. In addition to accessing support for entrepreneurial ideas and early-stage startups, participants will gain access to high-profile senior mentors, workshops designed by digital news experts in Canada, workspace in Ryerson’s DMZ and the opportunity to work with investors, journalists, experts and researchers.

Richard Lachman, Ryerson’s director of zone learning, said that, among other qualities, adjudicators will be looking for applicants who are coachable: “If you are so fixated on your idea that you are sure you have the most brilliant thing in the world, you probably shouldn’t apply. We are hoping to help. We have expertise to help you pivot that idea, to alter that idea, to become coached with all the expertise around. We are looking for people who are open to refining their ideas based on the program.”

The $100,000 in seed capital will be dispersed in phases beginning with the release of $20,000 to each participant at the start of the Challenge. Each team will receive two more installments of $20,000 upon completion of clearly identified milestones. At the end of September, there will be a final presentation where teams will be eligible for another $40,000.

The launch included a mini symposium that explored journalism-related challenges, including how to attract and retain audiences, the impacts of an advertising-based model on traditional journalism, and the social impacts of obtaining news from platforms that weren’t purpose-built for journalism.

Jesse Wente, the event’s keynote speaker, identified the disconnect between news organizations and their audiences as a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

“When large institutions fail to be inclusive and at the same time their audiences are rapidly becoming more diverse, you have a recipe for irrelevance,” said Wente, an Ojibwe broadcaster and columnist on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “What happens is you create…enormous gaps where people cannot find themselves in your coverage. They don’t see stories that represent them, that speak to the issues that are present in their daily lives.”

During a panel on the state of local news media, April Lindgren, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, outlined a list of problems besetting local news organizations.

“We need ideas that make it easy for local news organizations to engage with their audiences or build them; ideas that measure the impact of individual local news stories; … ideas that make it easier for citizens to contribute to local coverage; and innovations for older audiences that aren’t really digitally savvy,” said Lindgren, who leads the Local News Research Project.

She said her research shows that local news is at risk and unevenly available across Canada. The latest data from the Local News Map, which Lindgren created with the University of British Columbia’s Jon Corbett, shows that 238 local news outlets have closed since 2008, including 212 newspapers in 173 communities. Most were community newspapers that published fewer than five times per week.

Radha Tailor, a senior correspondent for the Bramptonist, said residents in Brampton are news deprived: “Brampton has a population of around 600,000 people, but we are limited on news accessibility. We don’t have our own television channel. There is a huge challenge in that people have not been interested in the news in Brampton for a long time. How do we make them interested?”

The lack of full time staff at the Bramptonist, she said, also means there is no time for innovation: “We have a small team of eight and everyone is freelance or on contract. We don’t have anyone there that is full-time.”

Laura Ellis, the head of online for English regions at the BBC, said the challenges faced by local journalism in the United Kingdom are similar to what is happening in Canada. The United Kingdom has lost about 200 local newspapers over the last decade, she said, along with about half of the journalists who once worked in local news.

The BBC, Ellis said, is seeking to address this “democratic deficit” by hiring reporters to cover civic institutions, placing them in local newsrooms, and sharing their content far and wide.

“We cannot go to council meetings and people are getting away with stuff,” Ellis said. “We now have 150 new journalists who will be covering their institutions, including local councils and health boards. They will be publishing stories everyday online and in the newspapers.”

While panelists outlined a long list of journalism challenges in need of solutions, many in the audience already had ideas in the works.

Trebble.fm is an online platform to distribute newscasts on voice-activated devices such as Google Home or Alexa. Armel Beaudry said his media startup makes it easier for audiences to find local content and for journalists to share news coverage. Local journalists, for instance, can share newscasts with their audience using “capsules”– audio messages that journalists can record through the platform to play to listeners.

With the loss of so many local newspapers, Beaudry says, “there is a need to better distribute local journalism. There are a lot of people who want news and content but there is only coverage with a broad appeal and a limited amount of coverage with a local appeal.”

Teaching Kids News, co-founded by Joyce Grant, is an online site that publishes stories about the news of the day with extra context and in language children can understand. The team of volunteer journalists working on the site also produces curriculum and grammar questions for every news article that children can understand and that is relevant for teachers and parents who are homeschooling their offspring. Grant said she would use the Challenge funds to pay the volunteers and build her startup.

“We’re looking for expertise and information on how to monetize our innovative idea,” said Grant. “It is really exciting to think we may be able to get into this program and learn what we need to learn. Everything that they’re offering is what we are looking for– a space to work out of, a community to get information from, and contacts and funding. This program can help us to take our idea that is solving a problem and build it.”

Feb. 2, 2018

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Snow-covered newspaper boxes in a small town in Alberta. (Kurt Bauschardt via Creative Commons)

A new online survey is asking Canadian journalists working for newspapers with a print circulation under 50,000 to provide information about how their newsrooms are managing and adapting to the turbulent times.

Ryerson journalism professor April Lindgren and the not-for-profit National NewsMedia Council – an alliance of the former provincial press councils – are conducting the research. Questions on the survey deal with everything from the number of reporters on staff and journalists’ perception of job security to the use of social media and the major challenges facing local newspapers.

“We are interested to see how small-market newspapers are faring,” said Lindgren, who runs the Local News Research Project at Ryerson’s School of Journalism. “Past research that we have tends to treat the newspaper industry as monolithic, when in fact we suspect there are major differences between what is happening with bigger metropolitan newspapers and small-market newspapers.”

Statistics from the Local News Map produced by Lindgren and the University of British Columbia’s John Corbett point to a sector in decline. The 238 markers on the map documenting the loss of local news outlets since 2008 include 212 newspaper closings in 164 communities. Most were community newspapers that publish fewer than five times per week.

The Local News Map (as of Feb. 2, 2018), created as part of the Local News Research Project. (Screenshot) 

“We know from the Local News Map that there has been a high mortality rate for small-market papers, so the question is, ‘What is life like for the people working at the remaining publications and how do they see their prospects?’” Lindgren said.

Not everyone is writing newspapers off, she noted. In December 2017, Alberta-based Star News Publishing sold the Prince Albert Daily Herald to a group of employees led by publisher Donna Pfeil. Similarly, former employees in some cases are getting into the publishing business as Transcontinental sells off its weekly newpaper portfolio.

“These employee buyouts – admittedly there are just a few – make me wonder if they know something we don’t know about the viability of a smaller publication,” Lindgren said. “To what extent are there differences in what’s happening to the small-market papers versus the larger players?”

The questionnaire, which is based on a similar survey of 420 respondents conducted in the United States between November and December 2016, includes additional queries about newsroom diversity, ethics education, and efforts by smaller-market newspapers to engage audiences through events such as town hall meetings and the creation of community advisory boards.

Brent Jolly, the director of communications for the National Newsmedia Council, says the ethics questions in the survey explore how journalists access information regarding ethical issues and social media in particular.

“We want to get an idea of how journalists are using ethical guidelines and what shapes their opinions on ethics,” Jolly said. “The second part is asking how familiar journalists are with ethical conduct relating to social media. As an organization that looks at designing best ethical practices for journalists, it is useful for us to understand where journalists are going to be informed (about) the guidelines we establish.”

Lindgren said the research team will be encouraging journalists who work for ethnic newspapers to respond to the survey in particular.

The Canadian data will be compared to the results of the U.S. questionnaire, as well as results from Spain and Austria where the survey is also being conducted.

Jolly says the survey is designed to address gaps in knowledge about the situation in Canada: “Canada is not the United States. We have our own geographical limitations and challenges of being a country of many communities. While there is a lot of documentation and data from the United States, Canada is lacking in terms of numbers that Canada can statistically relate to and use to develop an answer to why local news matters to Canadians.”

The U.S. study, which included in-depth interviews in addition to the survey, painted a picture of local newspaper journalists as hardworking, surprisingly optimistic about the future of the industry, and eager to know more about emerging digital tools for storytelling. That said, respondents also identified a number of key challenges for the sector, including:

  • shrinking newsrooms: 59 per cent of survey participants said that the number of staff in their newsrooms had shrunk since 2014.
  • recruitment challenges: Low pay, long hours and limited opportunities for career progression make it difficult to attract and retain young journalists.
  • a long-hours culture: Many respondents reported that they regularly work more than 50 hours a week.
  • mixed feelings about job security: 51 per cent of respondents said they feel secure in their positions.

“We’re eager to find out how the Canadian environment for smaller-market publications compares to the situation in the United States and eventually in Spain and Austria,” Lindgren said. “The media environments are different in different countries. So is the experience different across the board?”

The Canadian survey responses will be released later in 2018. The results will be made available via social media and on various websites including that of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, the National NewsMedia Council and the Local News Research Project

Feb. 1, 2018

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Ann Rauhala, associate professor of journalism at Ryerson University. (Courtesy of the Ryerson School of Journalism)

Ryerson journalism students are participating in a study investigating whether mindfulness and meditation can help them cope better with the stresses of the job.

A four-week course led by associate professor Ann Rauhala and assistant professor Lisa Taylor, both from the School of Journalism, will introduce student journalists to mindfulness strategies for dealing with the anxiety arising from interviewing and may also help participants handle the stresses of deadlines and career uncertainty.

“I became really concerned about the pain and suffering I was seeing among our students,” said Rauhala, who is also the teaching chair for the Faculty of Communication and Design. “People becoming so anxious about their future and depressed about their possibilities and not enjoying themselves. What [journalists] do is important and it is good to have the clarity and resilience to keep on pursuing the truth when everyone is insulting and berating you.”

The mindfulness class will introduce students to the fundamentals of mindfulness, review the scientific evidence of its benefits and explore different forms of meditation practice. The 15 participants will complete a pre-course questionnaire that is a well-established general anxiety assessment tool. At the end of the course, participants will do the assessment again and they will also be asked about the course content, including questions about which skills and exercises they found most or least helpful, and the degree to which they are likely to continue to practice mindfulness meditation.

In addition to attending the one-hour class once per week, students are being asked to meditate every day for 10 minutes and to record their experiences in a log. The classes, which will begin with a short meditation, will be a place for participants to talk about their efforts to meditate during the previous week and discuss the challenges of developing a meditation practice.

Lisa Taylor, assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University. (Peter Bregg)

Taylor says the goal is to help participants regulate their anxiousness: “Some degree of stress is healthy for journalists. Stress is what lights a fire under us to go out the door to get our interviews and what compels us to meet our deadlines.” The key, she said, is to regulate this state of arousal so that instead of being paralyzed by fear, individuals experience a healthy level of anxiety that makes them energetic and focused.

Mindfulness stimulates creativity

Rauhala said research on mindfulness shows it has the potential to benefit students in their journalism practice and in life in general.

“Mindfulness helps you manage your time better because you’re not wasting time on diversions,” Rauhala said. “It helps you to manage your response to situations that are frustrating such as someone cancelling an interview or working with a difficult person.”

She said the research also suggests that mindfulness practices can boost creativity in a way that would potentially benefit journalists as they go about their work: “It stimulates looking at things from different angles. It quiets the mind so that you can listen to what people are saying instead of barreling along with what you think the story is … It helps you to be more empathetic and understand where people are coming from and they will therefore have better sources, better interviews and get better stories.”

Students at Ryerson are quickly immersed in journalism and, by the second week of classes, they are interviewing strangers on the streets of Toronto. Taylor says the students in her first-year reporting class tell her about levels of anxiety that she seldom heard about 10 years ago when she came to Ryerson.

“More students were saying they freeze up when they interview or get stressed over deadlines,” Taylor said. “You can only help a student to a certain point by teaching them to write a cutline or take a photo…At some point you have to look carefully at the challenges they face in their daily lives and their anxiety.”

To help students be more positive, she said, participants in the study will record one or two things they are grateful for each day: “In our lives as humans it is very easy to focus on what goes wrong, not what goes right,” Taylor said. “As journalists, because of the very nature of what constitutes news, we are often deeply immersed in negative, unhappy stories. So if anyone needs to be pushed to see the goodness and the light in the day, it’s a journalist.”