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By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Unknown photographer for Chesterfield & Maclaren, Untitled [Members of snow-shoeing club initiating a new member by means of the “Montreal Bounce,” Montreal, Quebec], ca. 1924, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

The 25,000 New York Times news photographs of Canada now archived in the Ryerson Image Centre represent a “treasure trove” for journalism historians and researchers, says the head of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

The collection of photos dating from about 1910 until 1990 includes images of major Canadian political events and conflicts, landscapes, sports heroes, candid reportage on the lives of diverse communities and portraits of notable Canadians.

“I can imagine researchers using the archive for projects on everything from who and what was considered newsworthy in Canada during those years to how outsiders – in this case the New York Times – viewed Canada,” said April Lindgren, the research centre’s academic director.

“There are many, many research opportunities for journalism scholars and historians and students. What do the photographs tell us about who wielded power at the time the photos were taken? How were women portrayed in those images? Did Indigenous people appear and if so, how were they presented?”

Denise Birkhofer, the RIC’s collections curator and research centre manager, said the archive is a valuable resource for the university as it increases the representation of Canadian photojournalism within the RIC’s holding.

“We [now] have a vast resource for students, scholars and researchers to look into various issues related to the 20th century in Canada,” Birkhofer said. She said the photographs themselves reveal information about how they were used by the New York Times.

“Photo editors throughout the 20th century were marking on photos with grease pencil to make crop lines and editing notes,” she said. “If you flip the photograph over you have stamps and inscriptions that tell you when photographs were taken or when they were published.”

“Journalists can research where the [photograph] was published or reproduced and find the original article in the New York Times and then you can see the context of how it was used,” Birkhofer said. “For journalism students who are interested in how images are incorporated into journalism and can lead stories, I think that there are endless opportunities for research with this collection.”

Unknown photographer for The Associated Press, [Princess Elizabeth at Niagara Falls speaking with Ernest Hawkins, mayor of the Ontario community], October 14, 1951, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

The Faraway Nearby exhibition now on at the RIC features a selection photos from the collection, which was donated to Ryerson earlier this year by GTA real estate executive Chris Bratty.

Birkhofer said the images are particularly valuable for what they reveal about how technology has revolutionized photojournalism: “When you are looking at almost a century of photojournalism, you can see the developments and the techniques that were used by photographers over time,” she said.

William E. Sauro for The New York Times, [Wayne Gretzky with Gordie Howe outside the Plaza Hotel, New York, USA], 1978, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

“In the first half of the 20th century, you see the typical black and white solar prints,” Birkhofer added, noting that all the photographs pre-date digital photography. “Then in the second half of the 20th century, you see a lot of electronically submitted, wire-transferred or laser photos. Those developments speak to changes in the journalism world more widely in terms of how technology has been utilized to quickly transmit news internationally.”

Peter Bregg, who worked as a wire service photographer and is now an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, has four photographs featured as part of the current exhibition. One of his photographs pulled from the archive and now on display shows then-Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark waving to crowds alongside Cameroon President Ahmadou Ahidjo as they are driven in an open car through the streets in Yaoundé on July 29, 1979. Bregg, who was working for Canadian Press at the time, said an estimated 50,000 people lined the 15-kilometre route from the airport.

Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark waves alongside Cameroon President Ahmadou Ahidjo as they drive in an open car through the streets here Saturday shortly after the Canadian leader arrived for a four-day visit. Crowds estimated at 50,000 lined the 15-kilometer route from the airport. (Peter Bregg (Canadian, dates unknown) for The Canadian Press. Cameroon, Africa, July 29, 1979, gelatin silver print. The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

Three more of Bregg’s Canadian Press photographs are featured in the book that accompanies the exhibit, including a 1978 image of youngsters Justin, Sasha and Michel Trudeau peeking from then-Prime Minister Trudeau’s office on Parliament Hill.

PEEK-A-BOO–Prime Minister Trudeau’s three boys–Michel, 3, (front), Sacha, 5 and Justin, 7–ham it up with a photographer Monday in Ottawa after they squirmed their way through 45 minutes of the daily question period. Natural showmen, they kept opening and closing the door and making funny faces. (Peter Bregg (Canadian, dates unknown) for The Canadian Press. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 6, 1979, gelatin silver print. The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

Bregg said technological advancements have improved the quality of photography over time.

“In the past, the film speed was very slow so they had to shoot at a very slow shutter speed and therefore people had to stand still,” Bregg said as he looked at a 1928 photo of divers at the Alberta’s Banff Springs Hotel. “When you look at the pictures from this exhibit, the photos are a lot more stiff and more posed … As time went on, the quality of the photography improved and today the quality of photography is so good.”

Canadian Pacific Railway, [Swimming pool at Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta], September 1928, gelatin silver print. (The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre)

Bregg, the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation, said a comparison of the archived images with more contemporary news photos illustrates how how photojournalists today can now be more creative than their predecessors.

“Today, we’re able to take pictures in such difficult circumstances such as in low-light and of fast moving subjects that would be difficult to shoot before the digital era,” he said. “I remember taking hockey pictures 30 years ago and I would get some good ones that were in focus but I would miss a lot because they were out of focus. But today it is easier to take great photographs and be creative.”

The collection is accessible to the public, researchers, scholars and journalists who make an appointment through the Peter Higdon Research Centre. The Faraway Nearby exhibition runs until Dec. 10.

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Amira Elghawaby says strong activist voices are required in the news media to counter prevailing values of “male and pale” newsrooms. (Amanda Pope/RJRC)

Mainstream newsrooms need to diversify coverage produced by “male and pale” newsrooms by giving activists the opportunity to write columns and air their opinions, Ryerson University journalism students were told during a recent panel discussion.

The Ryerson Journalism Research Centre hosted the panel, “Activist, advocate, reporter, columnist: Where’s the line?” as a follow-up to controversy earlier this year over the extent to which writers for a news organization should become participants in news stories. Desmond Cole, who wrote a freelance column for the Toronto Star, disrupted a Police Services Board meeting in April to protest the board’s refusal to destroy information officers had gathered through the now-discredited ‘carding’ policy. An editor subsequently informed Cole of the newspaper’s rules prohibiting journalists from becoming activists. Editors at The Toronto Star said they wanted Cole to continue with his twice-monthly column, but he resigned.

Panelist Amira Elghawaby, the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said questions about the role of advocacy in journalism seem to arise more frequently when it comes to marginalized voices: “Why is it that if I am of a different faith, or a different skin colour, or of a different gender, or of a different sexual orientation – why am I worried about my bias but the male and pale newsrooms have not ever been worried about their bias?”

The Star, she said, “lost a huge audience; this was their opportunity. You want to have incredible voices who are reflecting what is happening on the ground and are doing so in their voices.”

Elghawaby said that when she was working as a journalist she worried that she would no longer be viewed as “neutral’ when she decided to start wearing a headscarf.

“I was afraid because I said to myself … ‘I look like I have a bias.’ But I don’t think everyone thinks about themselves in that way.”

Vicky Mochama, a columnist for Metro News Canada and the Toronto Star, told the audience of more than 100 journalism students that while mainstream news organizations are doing more to include the voices of people from marginalized communities, most are still not willing to give them full-time jobs.

“There are different sets of standards for white journalists than there are for journalists of colour or journalists who advocate for people of colour,” she said, noting that Cole was never hired as a full-time employee at The Toronto Star. “These are institutions that are happy to trade on the work of people of colour without ever substantially supporting people of colour and the communities that they come from … which is to say, ‘We want to hear from you but we don’t want you in the building.’”

Mochama, who is a freelancer, said her identity as a person of colour and her experiences inevitably influence how she does her job: “It informs what sort of sources I talk to because that’s the community that I’m most intimately involved with,” she said. “It informs how I think about word choices around blackness or around being a woman in a way that someone who is in my exact same position who is not a black woman would not have those things in mind.”

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, a digital journalist at Maclean’s Magazine and president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said content must be clearly labelled so audience members understand whether they are reading an opinion column or a news story. And Elghawaby pointed out that news organizations themselves are fueling confusion by not sending reporters to cover events and instead sending columnists who produce opinion pieces that are not clearly labelled.

Mochama said she makes clear distinction between her work as a columnist and work she does as a reporter: “If there’s a thing that comes out for me that’s a piece of reporting, you’ll never see a follow-up column about the same thing,” she said. “There are boundaries that I like to maintain.”

Jorge Barrera, an investigative reporter for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, warned that journalists focused on their own strong viewpoints risk missing important stories.

“My first gig was in Yellowknife and at that time … it was the beginning of a push on land claims,” he said. “In covering the North I realized that all of the assumptions that I had picked up – especially when it came to left-leaning theory – all were blown out.”

Barrera said he arrived in the North with preconceived ideas about the evils of the mining industry and the role of unions. Once he was on the job, he said, those ideas were challenged when he realized many people in Indigenous communities saw mining operations as a pathway to greater prosperity and witnessed unions opposing hiring quotas for Indigenous workers.

“If I were to have approached it from an ideological position from the left,” Barrera said, “I would have missed out on all these stories, I wouldn’t have seen it or have been able to understand what was going on.”

This is one of a series of features, news articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. To read more about the conference and local news, visit: localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By ABBY PLENER
Staff reporter

The Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s upcoming directory will list more than 1,200 outlets currently operating in Canada.

Mohamed Busuri leads the way upstairs from the small retail stores on Weston Road, past the beauty boutique on the first floor, to his office. A Somali Canadian Times label is laminated on the door of his one-room office, which has just enough space for a green screen, lighting equipment, a newsstand full of past issues, three chairs and a single desk. Hanging on the walls are photos and medals from the six different soccer teams he coaches, a journalism and business certificate from Seneca College and a press pass from the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.

For the past decade, Busuri has run the biweekly publication serving Toronto’s Somali community. He is the publisher, editor and only full-time employee. He has two part-time staff and three other freelancers who help produce the paper, which sells for 50 cents at local shops. Busuri pulls out the latest issue, which includes a half-page message from Premier Kathleen Wynne wishing the community Ramadan Mubarak on behalf of the Ontario Liberal Party.

“There are so many newcomers who don’t speak English,” Busuri says, noting that most of the paper is written in Somali. About 20 per cent is reserved for English content because, he says, second-generation immigrants may not speak their parents’ language. He views the paper’s role as educational, and has regularly interviewed local politicians including members of Parliament and Mayor John Tory. “We need to let people know the system and ask how our community will benefit,” he says.

When Busuri moved to Canada 20 years ago, he worked in the advertising department at Corriere Canadese, an Italian-language newspaper. His Italian, he jokes, was better than his English at the time. One of his colleagues encouraged him to start his own paper, which he did in 2007. At one point, there were six other Somali publishers in Toronto. Now, the Somali Canadian Times is the only one left standing.

It hasn’t been easy. While ethnic media outlets cover both local community news and homeland news, many have trouble staying afloat. “Many of them operate as small businesses and the rate of success for ethnic media remains fairly low,” says Daniel Ahadi, who researches ethnic media at Simon Fraser University. “It can take up to a decade to become established, and many of them fold before that.”

Publications with a longer lifespan are more likely to get press releases from government agencies and be invited to press conferences, but those with smaller circulation often fly under the radar. While the Parliamentary Press gallery has 324 members, only 10 are from ethnic media outlets. Yet there are hundreds of publications like the Somali Canadian Times across the country.

The catch-all term “ethnic media” refers to a wide range of outlets. Many are “mom and pop” shops, supported largely by local advertisers in their respective communities and run by a small staff or even volunteers. On the other end of the spectrum, there are larger media entities like Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language paper owned by a Hong Kong-based company and the Toronto Star, with daily editions published in three Canadian cities. Some have access to the Canadian Press wire service, but many don’t, and providing quality translations of government notices can pose its own set of challenges. According to marketing consultant Andrés Machalski, who specializes in multilingual media, some have more ambitious journalistic objectives, while others “are basically commercial vehicles for retailers in that ethnic community.”

The content in ethnic media is often split between Canadian news and news from the country of origin. Researchers suggest this balancing act represents the dual sense of identity immigrants experience: as Canadians and as representatives of their home country. But as University of Toronto journalism professor Sherry Yu explained to attendees at a local news conference hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre in June 2017, this division is not simply an editorial choice – it’s an economic one. Because many ethnic outlets are under-resourced, they lack the capacity for consistent coverage of Canadian issues.

“Obviously they don’t have the same infrastructure as mainstream media,” says George Abraham, founder of New Canadian Media, an online news source for Canadian immigrants. “I can’t think of a single ethnic media outlet that does justice to local [Canadian] politics,” he says, noting that for many ethnic outlets, a substantial amount of coverage is devoted to their country of origin instead Canadian politics

During the last two federal elections, support from ethnic communities was key for both the Liberals and Conservatives, and the multilingual press became a major vehicle for courting these votes. Former immigration minister Jason Kenney said he paid close attention to ethnic press, reading translated summaries as a part of his morning routine. In her study on the 2011 election, Ryerson University local news researcher April Lindgren noted that the Conservatives got the most coverage in Toronto’s ethnic media. Because these newsrooms often have limited budgets, they may be more willing to accept content, photo-ops or press releases provided by various political parties. In part because of Canada’s first-past-the-post system, targeting ridings where specific ethnic groups cluster can be a winning strategy for candidates, and cities with diverse populations like Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver become major battlegrounds.

While many mainstream Canadian media outlets struggled to gain access to Stephen Harper during the 2011 election, the former prime minister made himself available for the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada (NEPMCC), which aims to foster networking opportunities for ethnic outlets. The council includes member organizations from more than  700 ethnic media outlets.

Though NEPMCC president Thomas Saras welcomed Harper’s appearance, the meeting was criticized by Madeline Ziniak, chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA). She told the Globe and Mail it was simply a photo-op for Harper to connect with ethnic voters, with no substantial opportunities for questions.

Because of the Globe interview, Ziniak says she was “blacklisted by Stephen Harper,” and stopped getting press releases and event invites from his staff. “I have to say, some editors and publishers do like having photographs taken with leadership. They put it up on the wall in their office. But that’s not enough. You need to have the conversation and not only to call upon ethnic media when there are elections.”

She says “it’s very important to have ethnic media be a trusted source and contribute to good Canadian citizenry.”

Abraham is concerned about the disproportionate attention paid to ethnic media during campaign periods. “I think the interest is very superficial. It’s what I would call ‘parachute journalism’. It’s not connected to the community,” he says. During the last election, Abraham encouraged writers at New Canadian Media to report on their respective ridings and represent their communities’ interests.

Since Abraham launched New Canadian Media in 2014, the organization has provided a series of free workshops for journalists who report for ethnic media outlets. He hopes to expand the program if funding allows, but admits training can be challenging in these newsrooms because, while some ethnic media producers do have a journalism background, many are generating content for the first time. But “there’s a tremendous appetite for that kind of training,” he says.

Ahadi says it’s problematic to think of ethnic communities as homogeneous voting blocks. For example, he says many in B.C. assume members of the Chinese community are strident Conservative supporters, but that logic was disproven with the most recent provincial election results.

Politicians seeking to court voters from diverse backgrounds have run into controversy before: In 2013, a leaked document from the B.C Liberals revealed an extensive ethnic outreach plan, including directions to develop an ethnic media strategy. In a joint paper published by Ahadi and Yu, the authors noted that Korean media in Vancouver played an important role educating readers on how to vote during the 2008 federal election.

The walls of Saras’ NEPMCC office is covered with photos of past prime ministers. When asked why Harper made meetings with him while ignoring other media outlets, Saras replies “This is baloney. They just don’t know how to play the game.” Saras went on to describe the effort he made to comply with requests from Harper’s security detail to ensure all guests at the NEMPCC meet-and-greet were properly vetted.

Saras organizes monthly meetings which usually feature a guest speaker. At the most recent meeting, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horvath delivered a prepared speech about her party’s plan to reduce electricity costs, then stayed for 45 minutes while editors from various ethnic outlets asked questions. Afterwards, members lined up to take photos with the politician, while her staff passed out printed copies of her speech. Prior to Horvath’s appearance, Saras alerted the 50 members in attendance that there would be an upcoming press conference hosted by the Canadian Armed Forces, and that he was asked to bring “as much ethnic press as possible.” He also encouraged attendees to join the Iftar celebration hosted by one of its members.

Saras says he often gets requests from government agencies and politicians seeking to connect with other members of the ethnic press. At his office, he points to an inbox full of press releases that he forwards to members regularly.

Ahadi says that few ethnic publishers in Vancouver are aware of the Toronto-based CEMA and NEPMCC, despite their supposedly national reach. At the same time, these groups are trying to fill a void in a media landscape where little collective infrastructure exists, and ethnic outlets remain separate from one another and mainstream media. As Yu wrote in a recent paper, “No matter how loud ethnic media owners shout about the growing potential of the ethnic market, their voice is met with cold indifference by the industry stakeholders who are not convinced about the value of ethnic minorities as a commodity and market.”

Because of the volatility in the news sector industry, it’s difficult to ascertain how many ethnic publications are currently operating in Canada. To this end, CEMA is currently developing a directory of ethnic outlets. After surveying radio, print, online and television platforms across Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, Ziniak says more than 1,200 media entities have been added to the directory thus far.

Ziniak says the federal government needs to expand its diverse languages program to help support ethnic media. For its 2017-2018 budget, the diverse languages program will receive $3 million out of a nearly $350 million dollar budget – an amount Ziniak says is not proportionate to the audience served by ethnic media. She also says the CRTC needs to make it easier for independent producers, like ethnic media outlets, to apply for broadcast funding.

Ziniak, a former national vice president of  OMNI Television, a multilingual news network that suffered substantial layoffs in 2015 when Rogers cut its newscasts, said public broadcasters should also play a bigger role in delivering multilingual content, a recommendation Ahadi and his fellow researcher Catherine Murray have also championed. Ahadi points out that in the United Kingdom and Germany, public radio services operate in multiple languages. In fact, Ontario Settlement services direct newcomers to BBC World service to get their news.

“I think it should be a national priority to invest in ethnic media,” says Abraham. “Media plays a big role in making new immigrants feel a part of the national fabric…It will take resources, and professional development and it’s a very fragmented industry. Something has to change and I hope something will in the not so distant future.”

This is one of a series of features, news articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By SIERRA BEIN
Staff reporter

Journalists interview police at a crime scene in Québec. (Photo courtesy GRC – RCMP – DIVISION C – QUÉBEC, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The first time Kim Bolan received a death threat was in 1997, but over the years she has received many. A single gunshot through her home’s window on an early December morning was a reminder that any job as a crime journalist is a 24-hour commitment. The bullet, intended as a message to Bolan to stop sticking her nose in Vancouver’s organized crime scene, was the first threat she received during her career. In 2009 she received a dead rat in the mail with a note attached saying she would be killed if she did not stop reporting on gangs in the region.

In May, Bolan wrote a story about a court trial she attended, where she was the subject in the hearing. A member of British Columbia’s United Nations gang  – now a Crown witness – testified that gang members had been plotting to kill Bolan because of her reporting on their organization. Their name has been withheld under a publication ban.

“Obviously it’s a bit disturbing to be sitting there in court and hearing these details,” Bolan said. The gang members, who had allegedly discussed killing Bolan back in 2011, had her address and had been scouting her property. She was the only reporter in the courtroom covering the story, knowing police would not release the details of the charge and that the courts would only mention the attempt on her life in their final ruling.

For crime journalists, dealing with police is a daily part of the job. But recently, reporters like Bolan have been increasingly pushing back against police in Canada, who they say are withholding more and more information about crime cases. In some instances, reporters are putting their lives on the line to get stories out to the public.

“Half the time they don’t have a specific [law] that’s really about withholding – it’s just a broad interpretation that I would argue isn’t the appropriate interpretation,” Bolan said in an interview, adding that she’s noticed an increased tendency to withhold the names of murder victims.

As a result, she argues, community members aren’t aware of violent crimes in their neighbourhoods.

“I believe there’s too much secrecy with police in B.C. –– that’s certainly been my experience,” says Bolan. “They always withhold as much as they can it seems, and likewise we have a problem with secrecy in the court, and publication bans that are inhibiting our abilities to do our jobs properly and inform the public about what’s going in major cases.”

Reporters have responded by resorting to new tactics to get information about crimes that affect their communities and challenge police institutions across Canada.

Bolan, who has been a reporter at the Vancouver Sun for nearly 30 years, has started the blog REAL SCOOP News, a section of the Vancouver Sun dedicated to crime news. Bolan’s beat focused on organized and gang-related crime that has intensified since the early 2000s, with more drugs and more gun violence making their way onto the streets of British Columbia communities. Bolan says that she is one of the few reporters to consistently focus on the topic

“Oftentimes, people assume that those stories are perhaps small and insignificant,” she says. “But the reality is that oftentimes those stories have bigger connections to other communities in the region in Canada, or in some cases, other parts of the world.”

Lisa Taylor, a journalism professor at Ryerson University, has been studying issues related to police withholding of information. Her research has focused on police services that are not releasing the names of homicide victims. As of May, for example, Edmonton police had not named eight out of 17 victims in homicide cases. The RCMP Alberta Headquarters has withheld two out of 14.

“Our construction of crime is that crime is not just a wrong that one person commits against another: crime is a wrong that one person commits against society at large,” says Taylor, who presented her research at a recent conference on the future of local journalism. “So this whole idea of holding back names of victims and saying ‘it’s just private’ is the first problem.”

RCMP protocols state that names can only be released if the dead individuals give permission or if the disclosure helps with the investigation. More recently, a new framework introduced in Alberta is supporting this similar RCMP protocols and is being opposed by many in Canadian media. Going forward, a list of criteria will have to be filled before releasing the name of a victim to ensure what they consider to be a privacy violation is defensible.

Although the laws and legislation have not changed in more than a decade, in the past few years less information is being released by some police. This mainly has to do with how different divisions and levels of police interpret the laws.

“A piece of legislation is a complex thing,” says Taylor. “There is nothing that tells us that this information needs to be withheld. But, there’s nothing that explicitly says this information needs to be released.”

Releasing important information can be essential in a police investigation where a suspect is not named, Taylor said. For many journalists, being able to provide names also make their work more credible than a broad-brush approach. For families, being able to provide a name can also be a way to help put a face to a crime that might otherwise be swept under the rug in their community.

“We often assume that no victim’s family wants their loved ones mentioned, and I think that’s probably true nine times out of 10,” says Taylor. “But then there’s the tenth family who desperately wants you to know that their loved one wasn’t just some guy shot in a park. He was a dad and a member of a church and a great soccer player and a million other wonderful things.”

In addition to withholding key information, police across Canada have even been encrypting their scanners, making it more difficult for journalists to monitor what is going on.

The lack of transparency has consequences. In Thunder Bay, Ont., for instance, journalists and community members have been demanding more information from the police. James Murray, an editor at NetNewsLedger, says that the public, and Indigenous communities in particular, have major issues when it comes to trusting the Thunder Bay Police Service.

“About six, seven years ago Thunder Bay really was slow on releasing information on almost any crime that was going on,” he says. “Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Treaty 3 and Rainy River First Nations are now complaining that police are coming to judgment really quickly without doing any investigation.”

For Murray, crime reporting in Thunder Bay is still evolving. But the lack of transparency in crime, specifically the lack of information about homicides, is disturbing for many people. And that means journalists have an even bigger role when it comes to chasing down the truth and putting pressure on the police to release more information.

According to Murray, in some cases in Thunder Bay, police have been so slow to release details of victims, that the family and community has put up a full memorial page on Facebook before the police have even confirmed the death to the media. This, combined with serious questions about the quality of police investigations, mean reporters are digging deeper into these cases.

“Over and over and over again there’s been young people come down to Thunder Bay to go to school and end up in the river –– all (of them) Indigenous youth—Ojibwe kids from the north, Cree kids from the north. The usual explanation is that it’s not a crime. First Nation communities are going, ‘Our people are around water all the time, fishing and they’re hunting and in boats. How [do they] all of a sudden come to Thunder Bay and drown?’” said Murray.

Until police release more names of victims, or release more information related to serious crimes in general, journalists will increasingly continue to rely exclusively on sources outside of the police forces to write their stories.

Sarah Ladik is a reporter in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan but worked in the North-West Territories for five years.

“We’ve had cases where so much was held back that we couldn’t report,” she says. “If the family wants to talk to me and the family is cool with having their name out, then we’re out and that’s it. You don’t need the police to confirm with you.

“[Police are] not your only way of getting that information and yeah, it’s a bit tougher to track down families. It’s an emotional thing. It’s rough. It’s unpleasant. Generally they’re more difficult to find, but it’s still worthwhile, that’s the job.”

Journalists can mine information from social media, especially Facebook, to track down family and friends, they can cover court proceedings where names are made public, or they can work their sources in the community to get around police obstacles. Taylor noted, however, that these strategies can also complicate relations with police sources.

“If a journalist is told that the name is not being released by the police but then the journalist uses her own methods and gets that information and publishes it,” she says, “she may risk alienating the police and then find herself in a position of being further frozen out, and given even less information than she was getting before because that seems to be just how subjective these things are.” Taylor added, however, that it’s important that journalists not let one voice control the narrative, even if it’s the police.

Bolan continues to report on organized crime in Vancouver because she knows no one else has a beat as unique as hers. She’s still following the UN gang, even though publication bans stop her from publishing the name of the man who testified about plotting her murder.

In the meantime she keeps fighting for information on behalf of her readers: “Police and court officials sometimes forget that they’re paid by the public and therefore should be accountable to the public,” says Bolan. “We expect a certain level of transparency in all other government operations, but suddenly when it comes to police and courts, secrecy is okay. I don’t accept that as a journalist.”

This is one of a series of features, news articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By ANGELA LONG
Staff reporter

Late afternoon sun filters through the forest canopy of Tow Hill Road on Haida Gwaii, BC. As part of the traditional territory of the Haida Nation, the rural landscape supports a community of nearly 5,000 who look to the Observer and the Haida Laas for their local news.

This is cottage country—Canadian Shield, white pine, and wildflowers lining the road. Around every bend, atop every hill, a lake seems to sparkle in the distance. The Haliburton Echo—”proudly serving the Highlands since 1884″—sits along Haliburton’s main thoroughfare, Highland Street, with a view of Head Lake. A plaque commemorates the building’s heritage status: Laking House, circa 1917.

The Echo serves all of Haliburton County, a 4,076-square-kilometre area bordering Algonquin Park to the north and the City of Kawartha Lakes to the south. The county’s 18,062 year-round residents can get their news from three local papers and two radio stations. The four full-time Echo reporters almost always meet their sources in person. They visit classrooms, ball fields, cottages. They attend the Wilberforce Carnival and the Festival of the August Moon. They are invited to fly Citabria airplanes on Young Eagles Day and wobble on paddle boards at the Home and Cottage Show. They meet with three elderly women who have spent a year making a quilt for a soon-to-arrive Syrian refugee family. The women call the quilt’s colour scheme—rose, lavender, pale yellow—”Haliburton Happy.”

But it isn’t always so “Haliburton Happy” around here. The county is one of the poorest communities per capita in Ontario. Nearly a quarter of its children live in poverty. The Echo documents the challenges of its little corner of rural Canada—reporting on homelessness, inefficient emergency response, service cutbacks and losses. Coverage of these issues creates near-instant results. Anti-gay vandalism at the entrance of Prettypaws Pet Boutique and Spa elicits hundreds of messages of support for the owner and a county-wide campaign where businesses display rainbow stickers that say Safe Zone—I am an Ally. When the town of Wilberforce’s only bank, Scotiabank, says it’s closing and tells residents to drive 30 minutes to Bancroft instead, the Highlands East reeve threatens to withdraw the township’s entire $10-million account.

Whether it’s a township’s millions or a loonie auction’s hundreds, local news covers the full spectrum of civic engagement. In this and many other ways, rural and small-town media outlets play a different role than their urban counterparts, says Joe Banks, a professor and journalism program coordinator at Algonquin College.

“You can’t really compare apples to oranges,” says Banks, who began his career at the Echo in the 1970s. “It’s a different set of priorities. You are an everything person in a small rural paper. You do it all.” You cheerlead, you inform, you investigate.

A  study conducted by the New Rural Economy—a national initiative conducting research in 32 communities across Canada since 1996—calls local media’s relationship to the community “critical,” both in creating links within the community and building bridges beyond. Local news outlets can be directly connected to a community’s capacity-building—the ability of a community to transform assets and liabilities into desired outcomes, the report says. In other words, a healthy local news ecosystem creates a healthier community.

Since his stint at the Echo, Banks has watched Haliburton transform from what he calls  “a tired little town out of the 50s” to a “perked up” civically engaged community hosting farmer’s markets, an arts and design college, theatre groups, even an opera school. He attributes this transformation to “an extension of a vibrant media scene.”

With a population that has grown by more than 1,000 year-round residents since 2011, more and more people are calling Haliburton county home. But population growth is an exception to the rule of rural Canada.

When the Haliburton Echo first opened its doors in 1884, nine out of 10 Canadians lived in rural Canada. Now, only one in five live in what Statistics Canada defines as rural or small town communities—towns and municipalities outside commuting zones of centres with populations of 10,000 or more. Along with a declining population, numerous studies have found rural Canada suffers from high unemployment rates, low immigration numbers, and lack of infrastructure. Rural Canadians also experience a greater number of health risks, including shorter life expectancies, and higher rates of suicide, accident, and disability.

“We have been neglecting rural Canada,” says the 2015 State of Rural Canada report.

As rural Canada weakens, urban centres strengthen. Thirty-five per cent of the national population live in three places—Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal—endowing those cities with what a recent article in Policy Options calls disproportionate economic power and an oversized media influence.

While researchers, journalists and policy makers grapple with the loss of media outlets throughout the country and its possible after-effect on democracy, the unique needs of media outlets in rural communities are often overlooked. From advertising models to internet connectivity to a reader’s relationship with the media— rural solutions differ from urban ones. Communication channels are an essential component in the formula to building community resilience, say researchers from the University of Missouri, the National Academies of Sciences, the Keewaytinook Okimakanak and the International Federation of the Red Cross. For rural communities, a healthy local news ecosystem isn’t just about a healthy democracy, it’s about survival. Local news isn’t just a catchphrase in rural Canada—it’s a lifeline.

“It’s of interest to all of us that these communities not only survive but thrive,” Maureen Kehler, Strengthening Rural Canada’s program manager for literacy outreach says from her home in the Fraser River Canyon, BC.

Robert Washburn, a professor of e-journalism at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont. says the recent conversations swelling around the definitions of “local” are urban-centric. In 2009, the U.S.-based Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy deemed local news “as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools, and public health.” But in a debate where local has come to mean anything from a neighbourhood in Montreal to a hamlet in Saskatchewan, the local news crisis can have very different meanings.  “When we look at the issues that face the Toronto Star, CBC, and the Canadian Press,” Washburn says in a phone interview, “they are very different than the Belleville Intelligencer, which is a small city in southeastern Ontario of 67,000 people, or the Wellington Times, which is a newspaper that serves a community of 1,860 people.”

Washburn says such an urban-centric focus “doesn’t understand rural economies, social or cultural issues because they basically don’t know what it’s like to live in a rural area.” Local news in smaller communities, he says, should be examined through a rural lens. After working for 30 years in community news, Washburn says he sees a direct correlation between local news and a community’s economic survival. “And not just economic,” he adds. ”I could stretch it out to say cultural and social. I think it develops economic capital, social capital and cultural capital, and once that’s sustained people will want to stay and live in those areas.”

There are other reasons beyond the development of capital to cultivate the voices of rural communities, says Michelle Ferrier, the lead researcher for The Media Deserts Project in the United States.

“Local news is really the first cut at history, and it’s important to get it right, “ she says. “If we don’t have good local news and information, residents don’t have a good idea of who their neighbours are or what’s happening, we lose a sense of place and cohesiveness.”

In a system where media outlets have focused on more lucrative markets, the emphasis is on serving people with higher incomes, higher education levels. In most cases, they are also white. “Everybody else has been left to the remainder,” says Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University. “We have huge swaths of people, whether it’s geography in the rural areas or in our very deep urban areas, as well as demographically, populations of people of colour, religious minorities and other immigrant populations that just don’t have a voice in our communities and therefore are fairly invisible in the larger national conversations that we’re having about what’s important to us as a nation.”

What does a nation lose when such populations don’t have a voice? Ferrier sighs. She points to the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and the fact that the awareness of “the deaths of our black boys as well as our black women and girls” first came from social media rather than local news.

When communities don’t have a voice, it’s more challenging to demonstrate a larger pattern, she says. “We see these as isolated incidences when in fact they’re part of a pattern of systemic behaviour by police and structures that are in place designed to minimize and diminish those voices.”

Dubbed “the edge of the world” by locals, Haida Gwaii, BC. is as rural as it gets. Less than 900 residents call Masset, a village located on the northern tip of Graham Island, home.

“We lose a richness to our local conversation, we lose a depth to our local news and information, and when we’re making decisions, we’re missing whole swaths of our population.”

For a Mohawk journalist in a small town of 8,000, Eastern Door publisher Steve Bonspiel says he feels it’s his duty to try and bridge differences and bring people together. “I’m not a journalist like a CBC journalist, or CTV, or any other,” he says in a phone interview from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory of Quebec. “They do their job. They go home. But I have to also add into that a kind of bridge building and way more education about our community than most people do.”

Bonspiel sees his paper, an award-winning Indigenous publication serving the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, as a conduit to educate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers about colonialism, assimilation, genocide, land claims and residential schools. “You know, when people in your communities are killing themselves at 12 years old because of the situation they’re in, when you have a boil water advisory for 15 years in your community and the government’s not doing anything about it, when you have a land claim that’s never been settled,” your job becomes much more serious, he says.

Local media outlets such as the Eastern Door are on the front lines of a new Indigenous awakening, says Bonspiel, an awakening of “Native people’s consciousness and our conscience too.”

“What we are as Native people—first and foremost—we’re environmentalists. We’re defenders of the land, we’re defenders of what’s right and what’s just.”

This connection to the land is an inherent part of Bonspiel’s newspaper. The masthead recognizes the Mohawk’s place as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door” in the Iroquois Confederacy.

In 1992, Kenneth Deer opened the Eastern Door in response to his people’s lack of voice during the Oka Crisis. Bonspiel, who bought the paper in 2008, carries on the tradition Deer started.

“There was nothing,” he says of the time before Deer. “Journalism did not exist here.”

One of several rural media options for Haliburton County, the Echo’s office occupies a historic building in the heart of downtown Haliburton, ON.

Back in Haliburton, at the height of summer, an Echo reporter slings a camera over her shoulder and heads off to cover the historic-plaque unveiling at Miners’ Bay Lodge. The Haliburton County Historical Society offers to buy her lunch at the tuck shop. There’s a choice between a hot dog, a pogo, or a hamburger. Lodge owner Russ Wunker talks for two hours about the history of the area surrounding his 100-year-old board-and-batten building. He talks about the Ojibwa people in their birch bark canoes, the fur traders, the loggers. The audience listens, drinking bottles of pop from straws. He talks about the Echo, still here after 130 years. It was here when white settlers bought the land for 50 cents an acre, through two World Wars, over the years it took for HIghway 35 to be transformed from a dirt track to the paved highway and the din of vehicles you can hear from the dining room.

“This is history,” Wunker says, opening his arms wide. “History is all around us.”

In Local Journalism in a Digital World, Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller, both senior lecturers in communication at Deakin University in Australia, argue that by examining the importance of local news through the lens of democracy, we’re missing the point. The true power of local news, they say, is the power of place.

Local news develops local knowledge, they say, and connects readers to communities in a way nothing else can match. It has the power to educate, bridge divides, prevent divides, create awareness, celebrate diversity, especially in a rural context. In their book, Hess and Waller recount how that power of place exists from Ireland to Papua New Guinea to El Salvador to Turkey.

“A lot of literature suggests that geography is dead, that in a digital age we live in a globalized world, we live in a digital environment,” Hess said during an interview in Toronto where she attended a conference on the future of local journalism. But in the world of local news, geography is far from dead.

“It’s fundamentally important to defining local news,” Hess says. “You might look at print mastheads that have been around for hundreds of years, a lot of them will have the names of towns and cities in their masthead and they serve as signposts,” she says. “To be local is to be embedded in a place, in a geographic place, and so our connection to landscapes, to territory, is really powerful.”

The power of place is alive and well in Haliburton County. Place is the long finger of a lake, Kashagawigamog, named by those who originally fished its waters. Place is a 1940s cottage where a young Robert Bateman learned to paint. Place is a Garlic Festival where a farmer who’s been sowing the fields of Haliburton County since the ’50s hesitates before removing his sunglasses because one of his eyes is sewn shut. He smiles. A reporter clicks a photograph. The farmer fills a paper bag with three heads of Russian Red “for when you return to the city,” he says. “A little taste of Haliburton.”

A conversation about the future of local news that takes place near the shore of Head Lake on HIghland Street is very different from one held in a big city newsroom. Echo editor Jenn Watt walks up a flight of forest-green carpeted stairs past dozens of award plaques to her office. A handwritten Letter to the Editor sits on her desk. At least once a day her phone rings with a story lead.

“They think that their paper is like a friend,” Watt says. ”It’s part of the community.”

Unlike big city dailies, the Echo strives to give voice to the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. But this isn’t always easy. Watt talks about the types of things she learned at journalism school in Toronto where, she says, “courses don’t seem to take into account people in small places.”

“They think you’re going to always be in a city reporting, and you’re not going to have to buy your milk from that person, go through that person’s cash register, have that person service your furnace.”

Doing journalism in a small town, says Watt, means you need to be a jack-of-all-trades capable of reporting, taking photos, doing layout. It means that to pick up court documents you have to drive 90 minutes, that the District Health Unit is 200 kilometres away, that a large percentage of your readers don’t own a computer.

It also means that a nine-year-old winner of the 58th Annual Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners’ Association Regatta will pose for you, towel wrapped around his shoulders like a superhero cape. His smile might just make the front page. “Hey mom,” he yells, “I’m going to be famous!”