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By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Gail Cohen, former editor of the Law Times, kicks off the Ryerson School of Journalism’s teach-in event on March 13, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

Journalism matters now more than ever, the media director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told journalism students and faculty during the Ryerson School of Journalism’s (RSJ) recent teach-in day.

Gail Cohen, former editor of the Law Times, said that while the news industry is struggling to adjust to digital and business challenges, the fundamental role of journalists in a democracy has not changed.

“[Journalism] changes the law and it uncovers tremendous harm,” Cohen told the crowd. “It rights wrongs by shining light on unjust and harmful behaviour by individuals, corporations and most importantly, by the government.

“These are definitely troubled times and the role of journalists – however you define that – is still tremendously important, particularly [in] protecting our democracy and fundamental freedoms.”

The RSJ cancelled classes on March 14 and instead hosted a daylong program of workshops and panels designed to help students make sense of the current news environment. These sessions were designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge to manage at a time when “journalists – and so many others – are being insulted, demeaned and dismissed,” reads the teach-in’s website.

Following Cohen’s address, working journalists delivered a series of 10-minute power pep talks. Toronto Star columnist and digital editor

Shree Paradkar said she gets a relentless stream of comments from trolls who attack her personally. “I actually don’t care about it,” she said. “I have the conviction that what I’m doing or what I’m saying is right. So when people resort to attacks that are just personal and have nothing to do with the topic on hand, then I think that’s an unravelling on their part.”

Paradkar said when her column on race and gender launched she “only expected negativity.” She therefore celebrates any positive comments that come to her and engages senders in conversation.

“It’s only when people actually come with a point and counterargument that I’m able to have a discussion,” she said.

During her power pep talk, Torontoist interim managing editor Andrea Houston said that although the line between advocacy and regular reporting is increasingly blurred, accuracy is still what defines quality journalism: “Having an opinion and having a bias doesn’t make you a bad journalist,” she said. “We’re at a place now in this new world that we’re in – reporting in an age of Trump – where [advocacy] can’t be a bad word. It has to be your motivation. It has to feed that fire in your belly.”

Interim Torontoist managing editor and RSJ lecturer Andrea Houston talks about advocacy journalism during her power pep talk. (Jasmine Bala)

Houston, who teaches a course on queer media at the RSJ, said journalists have to go back to the basics and be “frontline watchdogs.” This means challenging authority and “calling out injustice, calling out oppression and not being afraid to put your cards on the table,” she said. “We’re meant to be that person in between power and the public to filter information, but also to amplify voices … that don’t normally get amplified.”

The need for journalists to give voice to the voiceless was also a theme during the event’s workshop: “Refugee, Immigrant, Permanent Resident, Citizen: Why you need to know the difference.” Graham Hudson, an associate professor in Ryerson’s criminology department, said journalists have a responsibility to make sure the voices of non-status migrants are heard and to ensure the public understands what the migration experience really looks like.

A non-status migrant, Hudson said, is a person who has entered and remained in Canada without explicit authorization from the federal government. Terms that are synonymous with this, he adds, are “irregular migrant,” “undocumented migrant” and “migrant with precarious status.”

Using the term “illegal migrant,” on the other hand, “distorts the discourse,” Hudson said, noting that it has been used incorrectly to describe refugees crossing the U.S. border into Manitoba and Quebec.

In fact, he said, asylum seekers have a “legal right to enter a country without legal permission. It sounds weird, but that’s how the statute of Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was phrased and that’s how international law is phrased and it makes a lot of sense.

“If you’re a refugee and you’re fleeing from persecution or grave human rights abuses, you don’t have the luxury of time to wait, to apply for a visa to enter the country – you’re fleeing for your life and time is of the essence.”

Terms such as “illegal migrants” are used to frame debates and shift discussion – and media coverage – away from “what’s going on in the real world of migration,” Hudson said.

A recent study he worked on with fellow researchers Charity-Ann Hannan, Michele Manocchi and Idil Atak, for instance, concludes that Toronto is not living up to its promises of being a “sanctuary city.”

“The policy,” Hudson and his co-authors write, “directs city officials not to: 1) inquire into immigration status when providing select services, 2) deny non-status residents access to services to which they are entitled and 3) share personal or identifying information with federal authorities, unless required to do so by federal or provincial law.”

The policies are designed to ensure the children of non-status migrants go to school and that they and their families have access to healthcare and police protection. Contrary to the policy, however, the report notes that police officers do ask about immigration status and have “engaged in unsolicited sharing of personal information with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and arrested and transferred non-status persons to the CBSA.”

Melita Kuburas, RSJ graduate, and Ryerson associate professor Graham Hudson deliver a workshop on immigration during the RSJ’s teach-in. (Jasmine Bala)

RSJ graduate Melita Kuburas, who was also part of the immigration workshop, said she and her family came to Toronto as refugees in 1993 and that a Toronto Star article about her family’s arrival influenced her career choice.

Kuburas, who is now the associate managing editor of Metro News’ entertainment and lifestyle section, said her parents kept a clipping of the story and photo in a drawer. “I always looked at the [photo] and I think – I’m sure – that symbolically, that made me want to go into journalism,” she said.

Kuburas and her family were Bosnian Muslims caught up in the civil war and conflict after the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia.

“One day, we just saw tanks coming through our little town and Serb military soldiers knocked on everyone’s doors,” she told the rapt audience. The soldiers ordered teenage boys and all grown men, including her father, to go with them, Kuburas said, but one of her youngest uncles – who was only 18 at the time – fled and hid.

“When Serbs found out that he was hiding, they came to collect him and he was killed,” she said. “We have never found his body.”

The body of her grandfather, she said, was found in a mass grave along with 200 or 300 others.

Her father was shipped to a concentration camp, where he was “starved, beaten, kept from his family for nothing more than being Muslim,” Kuburas wrote in an article about her own refugee experience following the announcement in 2015 of Canada’s plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Kuburas said the family was reunited with her father in December 1992 with help from the Red Cross, and a year later they came to Canada as government-sponsored refugees.

“Welcoming refugees is very generous of Canada, and of Canadians,” Kuburas wrote in her article, “but I can assure you: refugees are not freeloading.”

Watch one of the RSJ’s teach-in sessions, “Surveillance: Borders and Beyond,” below:

By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

A guessing contest in The San Francisco Examiner on Sept. 29, 1895 (Courtesy of Paul Moore).

Building audience engagement has long been a newsroom preoccupation, only today it involves Instagram and Facebook, while in the past publishers seduced readers with paper cut-out toys and thrilling accounts of reporters on around-the-world races against time.

New research on the history of Sunday newspapers by Paul Moore, an associate professor in Ryerson University’s sociology department, examines one of the greatest audience engagement gimmicks of all time: The New York World’s decision to send reporter Nellie Bly travelling around the globe. Bly was assigned to beat the fictional record described in the Jules Verne novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She completed the trip in 72 days.

“There was, of course, a guessing contest for readers to be more personally invested in The World’s regular reports of Bly’s travels,” Moore and Concordia University professor Sandra Gabriele write in their forthcoming book, The Sunday Paper.

They examine Bly’s exploits as part of their research on the history and role of weekend newspapers in mass consumer society between 1888 and 1922 in North America. The research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, will be published by the University of Illinois Press as part of a larger series, The History of Communication.

The 1890s was a period of innovation and experimentation as publishers tried to attract audiences and teach people “how to read the newspaper when it was a new object – a mass-leisure object,” Moore said. What was happening back then, he explained, is similar to what’s going on today: News organizations faced with massive disruption due to digital technologies are experimenting with “new practices of reading and new practices of engaging with the [news] now that it has a new form.”

Guessing contests were a popular form of audience engagement in the 1890s. In the case of Bly’s travel assignment, readers were asked to guess how many days the trip would take. The winner received a free trip to Europe. Guessing contests, Moore added, almost always required the purchase of a newspaper to obtain a ballot, so the device was “clearly about selling papers. But it’s also about engaging people with the act of buying the paper and with the act of reading the paper closely.”

The guessing games usually involved contests more modest than circumnavigations of the globe. In 1895, for instance, both The San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle ran contests asking people to guess the size of their large Sunday editions and offering cash prizes to the winners, Moore and Gabriele wrote.

The publishers asked “how many words [were] in a 32-page Examiner or how many words [were] in a 28-page San Francisco Chronicle…which is just crazy to think of,” Moore said. “But people sent in guesses – educated guesses – and won those contests.”

Advertising, puzzles and photographs in the Sunday paper were other early strategies designed to make reading the paper and engaging with the news a habit. Supplements like paper cut-out toys were included for younger audiences; The Boston Sunday Globe, for example, gave away paper dolls with miniature stage sets.

A cut-out paper printing press with dolls from a 1896 copy of The Boston Sunday Globe.

 

While the supplements weren’t news, Moore said, “they are as important as the news itself or even more important than the news itself for that role that the historic newspaper had in creating [engagement in] mass society.”

Publishers also built engagement by offering readers behind-the-scene glimpses of how newspapers were produced. The Chicago Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer did this by installing viewing galleries overlooking pressrooms to show off their new press machines at work, Moore and Gabriele wrote.

While the technologies have changed, the authors argue that variations on the same strategy are still used to engage audiences. These days, for instance, the Chicago Tribune offers opportunities for readers to meet Tribune journalists in person as well as two-hour tours of their printing plants for $25.

Other newsrooms are using virtual reality (VR) tools to provide audience experiences. “They’ll make a New York Times VR documentary about the production of the paper itself,” Moore noted.  And when The New York Times Magazine (NYT) published its first virtual reality piece, “The Displaced,” two years ago, it gave all print subscribers a Google Cardboard VR viewer with the weekend paper so they could watch it.

Still from the virtual reality documentary “The Displaced” by The New York Times Magazine.

More recently, the magazine created its own Minecraft world as part of a larger feature on the video game. Readers could log onto the NYT server and explore the magazine’s world if they had the game downloaded. A video that showcased the world was available for those who did not have Minecraft.

Historically, Moore said, the Sunday papers touched on all parts of daily life: leisure, business, democratic engagement and shopping. But in the 21st century, he observed, the newspaper for the most part no longer carries the department store ads, movie listings and the classifieds that are all easily accessible online.

“The paper has been left with only the news and not the other sections in the same website,” Moore said. “So, you know, the internet itself, unfortunately for newspapers, is the new Sunday paper in the 21st century…The internet itself is that form that contains all the supplements to the news and that doesn’t hold out hope for traditional news organizations maintaining their commercial dominance.”

Audience Engagement Then

  • Contests: Prizes were offered to individuals who won guessing contests on everything from elections outcome and census population counts to the newspaper’s own production statistics.
  • Paper cut-out toys: As Sunday papers turned to colour print papers they introduced paper cut-out toys such as paper dolls and miniature stage sets. The Boston Sunday Globe also gave away miniature toy versions of their colour printing machine.
  • Tours: In the 1890s, news organizations including The New Yorks World, The Chicago Herald, The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer offered tours and installed viewing galleries above their pressrooms.
  • Hot air balloon trips: In 1887, The World’s Sunday edition sent a reporter out in a hot air balloon to go from St. Louis to just outside of New York. The trip, inspired by another of Jules Verne’s novels, was designed to show readers that the newspaper could bring fiction to life.
  • Comic mascots: Some of the earliest recurring cartoon characters were newspaper mascots.  The Boston Sunday Globe’s “Globe man,” for example, had a torso the shape of a globe and a waistband reading: “The Largest Circulation in New England.”

Audience Engagement Now

  • Virtual reality documentaries: The New York Times has a virtual reality app to showcase its VR films while other major news outlets, like The Globe and Mail, are experimenting with the new immersive technology.
  • Social media apps: Most, if not all, major news outlets can be found on Instagram and Facebook, where they engage with their readers through comments. The New York Times has combined an app with celebrity by collaborating with Nigella Lawson to create a food-themed Pinterest board for Valentine’s day.
  • Tours and meetups: The Chicago Tribune and other news outlets offer tours of their pressrooms and face-to-face meetups with their journalists to give readers a look into what goes on behind-the-scenes.
  • Collaboration between writing and radio: The New York Times has worked with public radio WBUR to create a podcast of its weekly “Modern Love” column, and with WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life to tell a patient’s story about being shot in the chest by hospital guards.

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Duncan McCue, the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Rogers Visiting Journalist, discusses politics and Indigenous communities at Ryerson University on Feb. 13, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

Indigenous people want their leaders held accountable, but journalists should be cautious about perpetuating negative stereotypes, Ryerson School of Journalism Rogers Visiting Journalist Duncan McCue said during a lecture on Indigenous politics.

By way of example, McCue said stories such as those of the “crooked” and “corrupt” chiefs that make massive salaries and go on vacations should be reported by journalists. But they need to be put into perspective – a vast majority of chiefs do not make that much and have average salaries, he said. Some of them make less than municipal councillors even though they have the same or more responsibilities, including municipal infrastructure and treaties, he explained.

“Not all First Nations in this country are operating in these corrupt manners,” said McCue, who is a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario. “There are some though…and they absolutely should be reported from my perspective because First Nations citizens want to see them reported,” McCue told the crowd of mostly journalism students attending the discussion organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

“First Nations citizens aren’t happy when they find out that their chief has been collecting a $400,000 or $500,000 salary every year. They want to know that kind of thing and…the way that the Indian Act has been set up, they don’t always know. Band councils are not always sharing and transparent [with] the kinds of documents that First Nations band members want,” he said.

Between elections, he said, the chief and council are politically accountable to the minister of Indigenous and northern affairs: “If your chief isn’t showing up, you know, books off and doesn’t show up for six months, there’s nothing that an individual band member can do other than file an appeal that goes to the Minister of [Indigenous and northern] affairs,” McCue said. “And it’s the minister…who has to decide whether or not this person is irresponsible under the Indian Act with regards to their governance.”

McCue is Anishinaabe and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia. The host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup, he has been a reporter for CBC’s The National and was part of an award-winning CBC Aboriginal investigation into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

At the start of his presentation, McCue said he was deliberately using “archaic” terms, like “Indian” and “band council” when analyzing and explaining Indigenous history and talking about politics because the terms are from the Indian Act, which “is the system that still governs the majority of First Nations in this country.” When reporting on Indigenous communities, he added, journalists should ask the people they interview which terms they prefer and use those in their stories.

He said effective reporting on Indigenous politics also requires an understanding of who wields power at the community level. Many of the 600 First Nations groups in Canada have hereditary chiefs who wield influence, McCue said, but the Indian Act also requires that band members vote by secret ballot for chief and council members. The more members you have in a band, he added, the more councillors you have.

Other communities, he added,  have negotiated treaties with the federal government and therefore operate with their own election codes outside of the Indian Act.

“Every journalist should be aware when so-and-so says he’s a chief, what does that mean? Does that mean you’re an elected chief under the Indian act? Does it mean you’re a hereditary chief? If you’re a hereditary chief, how did you become appointed? How did you get your name? Who has given you the authority to speak for a particular clan?” McCue said. “It’s important to understand that the elected Indian Act chief may not speak for all of the community members, that there may be traditional leaders who also represent a portion of the community – in some cases, a majority of the community.”

Bands typically have an election every four years, he said, and many newsrooms have not shown an interest in covering these events. Although most First Nations may have an “open-door policy” when it comes to giving journalists access to Indigenous affairs such as band council meetings, there are no clear rules governing media access under the Indian Act, McCue said.

This same conclusion was reached by Discourse Media recently, which recently published a five-part investigation that examined press freedom issues and access to information in First Nations communities, including the legislatures of self-governing First Nations established by modern-day treaties.

“It really is a gray area that’s been untested legally about whether freedom of the press actually exists on Indian reserves,” McCue said. Whether you can cover an election, he said, depends on the chief and council.

“There are laws in the Indian Act about trespassing on an Indian reserves, and anybody who is not a band member can be asked to leave,” he said, noting that refusing to leave can result in trespassing charges.

“It’s not like walking around the City of Toronto, where you have a right to be in any public area and cover anything that you can see with your eye.”

Being sent away, he said, may the result of the difficult relationship journalists have had with First Nations in the past.  But it can also arise in other situations: McCue, for instance, said he was asked to leave a reserve while he was writing a story about an allegedly corrupt chief and council.

“I went to do the story, asked the chief and council for an interview several times, got no answer whatsoever,” he said. “Finally told them that I was in their community to do the story and that this was kind of their final opportunity to offer up their side of the story. And I got a letter from a lawyer – from the band’s lawyer – saying no comment and you’re not allowed to step foot on the reserve.”

Understanding the rules regarding access, however, helped McCue find a workaround: If journalists are invited onto a reserve by a band member, he said, they are allowed to be there with the member.

More generally, McCue said journalists have a role in helping Canadians understand the historical context that has not been provided through schooling. Treaties with Indigenous groups, he said, are not dusty historical records but real agreements that are still relevant today: “Canadians…need to understand that the treaties are not ancient documents…that they’re living, breathing documents and that we’re all treaty peoples.”

While it can be challenging to incorporate basic history lessons into daily reporting, it can be done, McCue said, adding that creating an accompanying item can provide the context:  “Can you put up an infographic that explains some of this complicated history in a more visually appealing or even entertaining way that someone will be able to digest so that they don’t feel like they’re going to a lecture?”

He pointed to key documents that are essential to understanding Indigenous politics and the political relationship between First Nations and Canada. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 established a relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people that was maintained in the British North America Act of 1867, which established that the federal government has responsibility for “Indians and lands reserved for Indians.” He said that explains why “you’ll often see First Nations saying that they’re going to take their concerns or their complaints about their treaties to the Queen…You’ll see them setting off to England.”

McCue also urged journalists to build relationships with Indigenous communities by covering the good news as well as the bad news.

“One of the reasons that we have bad relationships when we go to cover politics…is because we only show up when there’s crisis and tragedy,” McCue said. “[We] don’t form those relationships and cover the good news stories – the judo club or the hockey team that does well…. Those kinds of stories are important. It’s important to share the whole broad range of experience in Indigenous communities, not just the crisis and tragedy.”

Watch the full lecture below:

By STEPH WECHSLER
Special to the RJRC

Robert Washburn, professor of journalism at Loyalist College, and Gretchen King, PhD candidate and community media advocate, discuss their research at the Journalism in Crisis book launch panel at the Ryerson School of Journalism Feb. 9. (Steph Wechsler)

The ongoing discussion about the state of Canadian news media tends to overlook what’s happening in smaller communities, local news advocate Robert Washburn said during a recent presentation at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Community-based newsrooms, including local television and community-run radio stations, are deeply rooted in smaller cities, towns and rural areas and reflect those places in their news coverage, said Washburn, a professor of journalism at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont.

But much of the discussion about how to boost Canadian journalism isn’t necessarily helping support these hyperlocal outlets: “The lack of resources for these newsrooms is an abomination. The expectations are ridiculous. There’s a lack of staff, there’s poor wages, there’s unpaid overtime. Little or no training and the use of personal equipment. It goes on and on,” says Washburn. who runs Consider This, a hyperlocal news site that focuses on Northumberland County.

“I would encourage the discussion going forward to include neighborhoods, hamlets, villages, towns and small cities.”

Washburn was part of a Feb. 9 panel marking the book launch of Journalism in Crisis: Bridging Theory and Practice for Democratic Media Strategies in Canada. The book, published by University of Toronto Press, is an anthology of writing by academics, activists and other stakeholders. Edited by Errol Salamon, Christine Crowther, Mike Gasher, Colette Brin and Simon Thibault, the collection presents recommendations on public policies to bolster journalism that supports democracy. Washburn’s chapter, “Journalism on the ground in rural Ontario,” argues for promoting innovation in the community news sector, and calls for funding to be made available for journalists to develop hyperlocal sites.

Washburn characterizes hyperlocal journalism as news that serves populations of fewer than 150,000 people. The term is used more in this context in the United States and United Kingdom, but Washburn said it would be helpful in Canada and make “an important distinction in our discussions.”

On-the-ground reporting in smaller communities is essential, he said, because major news organizations don’t typically have many resources available to cover places beyond their own city limits.

“When anything happens outside of an urban area –– in a small community –– (their) only interest is if there’s a cute event like a church bazaar or the pickle festival, or when there’s a tragedy or a crisis. Reporters are often parachuted in, with little understanding of the local context. Then they disappear without going any deeper or following up,” he said.

“It’s sort of a hit and run approach.”

Gretchen King, one of the book’s co-editors and another of the panelists, said community-based newsrooms are not only ignored but put at a disadvantage by Canadian policies, including those of the federal broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. This fall, for instance, new CRTC rules will require increased spending on local television news shows, but the money will come from funding currently allocated to community TV stations that carry local sports, community-service programs and talk shows.

King, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa and community media advocate, works with Groundwire, a local, independent community radio program available online or on community and campus radio stations across the county. All production is volunteer-driven and collaborative, notes King in her chapter, “Groundwire: Growing Community News Journalism in Canada.”

“Groundwire not only does journalism but it defines its own journalism. We push aside the notion of objectivity and we define accuracy for the communities that we report on. So we also define that our news practices include context. Our headlines will include as much context as we can in 90 seconds. Our features do as well,” says King.

“Context is often what’s left on the cutting room floors of most newsrooms.”

Recent Groundwire programming includes:

  • the “Homeless Marathon Edition,” where Groundwire explores housing-first strategies for the homeless in Medicine Hat, Alberta and how Prince George, B. C. is trying to follow suit.
  • the “Canoe of Reconciliation,” which includes a story about the Algonquin people of Barriere Lake’s concerns about environmental destruction from mining on their territory.
  • “Violence Against Asian Communities,” featuring discussions of sexual violence at the University of British Columbia.
  • an August episode that focused on Prisoners Justice Day.

King says volunteer-run outlets like Groundwire also find it difficult to survive because audiences often don’t recognize their work as actual journalism. The assumption, she said, is that real journalism is only done by professionals. To give projects like this the opportunity to both thrive and be recognized as an essential part of the media ecosystem in Canada, she argued, people need to acknowledge that volunteer-driven urban and rural media have very different concerns and will not benefit from blanket solutions to the challenges faced by news media in general.

“It’s not just a crisis of economics, it’s a crisis of politics…If (Canadians) want a democratic, vibrant, independent, autonomous, sustainable news system that’s going to serve them the kind of news that will help them make informed political decisions, then they have to have the political will to have the policies, the politics, and the economics in place to support that news system,” King said. “We don’t have that now and we need to get organized so we can have that in the future. Where is the advocacy centre for journalism? It sounds like we need to get organized.”

By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

Ryerson professors Shauna Rempel, Jessica Thom and Anne McNeilly discussing what young people want from their news media at a panel that took place on Jan. 27, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

While newsrooms benefit from online analytics that help journalists understand what audiences want and how to package stories, this data can’t be the only determinants of the news that gets served up, says the national managing editor for social media at Global News.

Shauna Rempel, who is also an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said she uses services such as NewsWhip Spike to see which Global News stories are trending on social media and CrowdTangle to determine engagement with these posts across all platforms.

“I’m using half a dozen every day and it’s helping determine not just what we’re posting, what we’re writing, talking about and covering, but also how we’re doing it,” she told a crowd of mostly Ryerson journalism students attending a panel discussion about what young people want from their news media.

Rempel noted, however, that if her newsroom only focused on stories that resonated on social media “it would be a very lopsided thing.”

“We would have a lot of animal videos and things like that, and we need to balance that out with political news and other news that people need to be aware of. But we need to also look at how we’re presenting it on social media and elsewhere in a way that will still get to the audience and will connect with the audience.”

To do this, Rempel said she takes topics that are complicated and makes them more accessible by adding graphics and animations to help her audience develop a clearer understanding of the story: “It’s not dumbed down, but it’s cutting through to how it matters to you as the audience member.”

While Rempel said her newsroom recognizes the need to include actual news in what it offers its audience, new research conducted by Anne McNeilly, an associate professor at Ryerson, and Aneurin Bosley, assistant professor at Carleton University, suggests many up-and-coming journalists have different priorities. They are interested in reporting on cultural, travel, lifestyle and entertainment stories.

“The sort of pillars of what we think of as news–politics, business, the economy–are way here at the bottom” in terms of what students want to cover, McNeilly said during the panel. “There’s not a lot of interest at this stage in reporting on politics and on the economy or business. This really surprises me because politics is an absolutely fascinating area and all you have to do is look at the news and see how Trump has taken over to see…how important an area it is.”

McNeilly and Bosley conducted a survey of about 600 journalism students from Carleton University and Ryerson University last year. The responses are part of a bigger international study being conducted by scholars in Chile and Australia that examines the similarities and differences in journalism education around the world. Journalism schools from more than 30 countries are participating in the study including the United States, Brazil, Spain and Indonesia. Comparative data from these other jurisdictions is not yet available.

The journalist’s role in deciding which stories are newsworthy and which have more prominence, McNeilly said, has changed with the shift to online journalism.

“As the digital transformation got underway, it changed from the journalist telling people what was news and how important it was to more of what’s called a conversation,” she said. “So, there is much more participation by readers and audiences. The gatekeeper function that journalists used to have is no longer nearly as dramatic as it used to be. [Now], the audience indicates what they’re interested in and what they want” from news outlets.

Readers and viewers, McNeilly added, are also “increasingly fragmented depending on what their interests are” and they read stories from news outlets that pertain to these interests.

Jessica Thom, who teaches in Ryerson’s School of Image Arts, found something similar in her research. The young people in her study, she said, largely only felt compelled to read the news if they were interested in the story

“Interest was a couple of different things,” Thom said. “Did they find the information interesting? Was it something that was about a hobby or a topic that they were kind of following? Or was this something that they thought was really important or relevant to someone in their life? … They also identified interest in stories that are important to the world in general.”

Thom conducted her research as part of her doctoral dissertation investigating how young people choose which news to consume and which news to believe. Her study involved focus groups, interviews and online diary-keeping. Participants were between the ages of 18-29.

Erica Lenti, the editor of This Magazine and a Ryerson graduate, said she has made moving her magazine online a priority in order to reach younger audiences and get feedback on what stories they connect with.

“We have a way bigger audience now because we used to just look at our subscribers and now we have people who aren’t subscribers who are engaging with our content. That’s been really eye-opening in terms of what they’re really enjoying and what they’re maybe not enjoying as much.”

Her readers, Lenti said in a follow-up email, enjoy analysis-driven narrative journalism in both print and online: “We’re moving past the age of the blog, and so we’re focusing less on quantity of content going up online and more on quality,” she wrote. “So, instead of assigning multiple blog posts, for instance, I’ll assign one longer online feature.”

This Magazine’s readers, she added, also value timely analysis on current events. One of their most successful online stories, for example, was an opinion piece calling on the University of Toronto not to let Jordan Peterson, a professor who refuses to use gender neutral pronouns, participate in a campus debate on legislation surrounding gender identity.