By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

Scholars, journalists and educators from around the world will gather in Toronto this spring to discuss the state of local journalism, develop new research initiatives and explore solutions for communities that are underserved in terms of access to local news.

“Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” will take place June 3 to 4, 2017 on Ryerson University’s campus in downtown Toronto. Organized by more than a dozen journalism scholars from across Canada and hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC), the purpose of the conference is to inform and promote public discussion about the state of local news and provide a forum for an exchange of ideas among researchers, practicing journalists and journalism educators.

“In discussions about the media, we tend to think a lot about what’s happening at the national level with national media or the big players,” said April Lindgren, the RJRC’s academic director. “But the reality is many, many people in many, many communities get a lot of their information from their local media – or at least they used to.

“This event will be an opportunity to highlight problems and share ideas, research methods and information about possible solutions for communities where the critical information needs of citizens aren’t being met.”

The opening day of the conference will feature two panels that are open to all members of the public and are free of charge. The first panel will provide an overview of local news-related research undertaken by scholars in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The second consists of speakers who will provide first-hand accounts about why local news matters: “We wanted to look really concretely at the impact of reporting in communities,” Lindgren said. The lineup of speakers for this panel includes a representative of Toronto’s black community, who will discuss the impact of the Toronto Star’s coverage of random police checks on minority communities, and a city councillor from Guelph, Ont. who will talk about the availability of local news in the aftermath of the closure of the Guelph Mercury daily newspaper.

On Saturday afternoon and Sunday, conference registrants will also hear from more than 50 speakers on topics that include:

  • new research and methodologies, including the results of a major project that is investigating the availability of local news in 100 U.S. communities
  • experiments designed to improve the quality and quantity of local news
  • issues related to police and crime reporting at the local level
  • the challenges faced by local newspapers and television stations
  • the impact of media ownership/concentration on the provision of local news
  • local news coverage in Indigenous communities
  • the role of schools of journalism in meeting local news needs
  • how local news can foster understanding in diverse communities

The conference takes place amidst growing concerns over the state of local news media in many jurisdictions. In Canada, the House of Commons Canadian Heritage Committee held hearings over the past year on how communities are informed about local news through broadcast, digital and print media.

Think tanks have also joined the local news conversation. After observing that “towns and cities continue to lose their local news sources, major city newspapers and TV stations are bleeding staff and the industry is scrambling to find ways of securing revenue and holding the public’s trust and interest,” the Institute for Research on Public Policy launched a series of articles exploring the future of Canadian journalism.

The Public Policy Forum, meanwhile, recently released a new report that includes survey results indicating that 69 per cent of respondents think having access to less local news coverage is a serious consequence of news media decline. The same survey also suggested that while Canadians value journalism and believe it is essential to a well-functioning democracy, they don’t want to pay for it.

CLICK HERE to find out more about conference sessions that are open at no cost to non-registrants or to register for the full program ($75 for regular registration; $30 for students).

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