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By MADDIE BINNING
Special to the RJRC

Freelance journalists starting out in the business should be wary of working for exposure instead of money, experts said in a recent Ryerson Journalism Research Centre webinar.

The discussion, featuring Lauren McKeon, author and digital editor of The Walrus, vice president of the Canadian Freelance Union Ethan Clarke and Daily Xtra associate editor Eternity Martis, centred on how to navigate a freelance career in journalism and make tough decisions like determining what pay is too low and how to negotiate contracts. The conversation was directed by Ryerson School of Journalism professor Lisa Taylor and broadcast to an audience of mostly journalism students.

“A lot of folks talk about the quality of journalism these days and ask about why it’s not as good as years in the past, and a lot of it has to do with the rate of pay,” Clarke said. “Quality work takes time.”

Free work privileges the people who can afford to work under those conditions, he said, adding that it is important for journalists to do their best to combat this problem in the media industry. Although it can be difficult to resist, Clarke suggested writers should not only avoiding unpaid work but also rates of pay that are too low.

“(Journalism) takes real skill and unfortunately, through dynamics on the internet, that’s been cheapened,” Clarke said, noting that the internet has produced many self-proclaimed journalists. “We’ve really got to fight to bring back that respect and the value of paying for good journalism.”

McKeon urged journalists to wage the battle for better remuneration by talking to each other about pay and bad actors in the publishing industry.

“It’s up to us to start breaking the silence on how much we do get paid, what publications we maybe have challenges with,” she said. “It’s really uncomfortable to talk about how much you get paid and all that sort of stuff, but it’s important that we better the industry.”

That said, the question of what is acceptable pay for freelancers is often a personal choice that writers need to determine for themselves, McKeon said. In her own freelance work, she said she accepted low pay early on in her career to work for publications she believed in.

“Everyone has to weigh how much they want to do the story and how much they want to work with an organization, what it means to them, what type of journalism they want to do, what’s important to them,” McKeon said. “It’s all about gauging what kind of journalism you want to do and what type of career you want to build.”

Martis emphasized that freelancers “will not be fed by exposure.” She suggested that freelance journalists set up a budget that includes how many stories they’re going to write each day and what kind of stories those will be. After completing her Master of Journalism degree at Ryerson, Martis said she did a variety of freelance work, including shorter pieces for publications like Complex magazine and content for non-journalistic groups like the YWCA. She continues to freelance while working at the Daily Xtra.

She said that sometimes making money as a freelancer means doing a variety of work.

“It all really comes down to knowing the publications you want to write for,” Martis said, “but it also comes down to choosing places that maybe you’re not so interested in, if that’s what you need to do to pay the bills.”

Clarke said that if journalists are struggling with pay, contracts or any other of the difficult aspects of freelancing, it’s essential to remember that working as an individual doesn’t leave you alone.

“Stop thinking of yourself as an individual, you’re part of a group,” Clarke said. “There are other workers all around you, find ways to unite with them.”

The Canadian Freelance Union offers services that include support for journalists who are having difficulty getting paid, contract advice, health plans and other insurance options, press cards and more. Find these and other resources on the CFU website.

By ATARA SHIELDS
Special to the RJRC

Ryerson journalism professor Joyce Smith speaks at an Oct. 19 symposium at Ryerson University. (Atara Shields)

Journalists’ tendency to report on religion in the context of war and conflict means society isn’t benefiting from an informed discussion about religious beliefs in general, says Ryerson journalism professor Joyce Smith.

News stories are an important way for Canadians to learn about their own traditions and those outside of their own experiences, Smith said during The Many Gods of Canada: Religion, Secularism and Public Policy, an Oct. 19 symposium at Ryerson University. The problem, she added, is that “at the moment, religion is only covered through the lens of something else.”

“We never get the chance to hear stories about religion on its own terms.”

Smith, whose research examines how religion is represented in the mainstream media, said members of the public who rely on the media for information about religion are more likely to associate religion-centred stories and religion itself with conflict if they are fed a steady – and limited – diet of those sorts of stories.

What’s needed, she said, is more coverage “that will help give people a sense of what religious belief looks like before it is in a conflict situation.” Religion beat reporters used to provide this sort of reporting, she said, and in doing so, they provided a more comprehensive examination of religious issues. They also shaped the work of other beat reporters by, for instance, helping them understand the cultural practices of sources they are about to interview.

Smith compared the work of a dedicated religion beat reporter to the practice of rediscovering the “lost rivers” of Toronto that continue to flow even though they have been buried under Toronto streets for more than a century. Some of the rivers are now little more than sewers. Others, however, are beginning to be recognized today through a process called “day-lighting” where they are dug up and exist above ground once again.

Journalism, she said, performs a similar function: “First, reporting provides archival treasures. It is possible to go back and envision past ideas and practices if they had been captured accurately. But day-lighting also means acknowledging traditions that for a variety of reasons have been marginalized or have been subjected at times to attempts at extinction.”

In response to a question from the audience about journalists’ “poisonous” coverage of minorities and why it has not “stirred the conscience” of the media and the public, Smith maintained that this kind of reporting comes from a place of ignorance as opposed to malice.

She pointed to journalists’ response to calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for more coverage of Indigenous culture, calling it “heartening.”

Smith, whose teaching in the School of Journalism includes a course on covering religion and another on reporting on Indigenous issues, said she hopes that even if her students do not become specialist reporters, they will enter the news industry better equipped to tackle these complex matters when they arise in the context of other types of stories.

“At least when these students go out, if they’re covering sports or business or whatever else, they’ll at least have their antennae up and they’ll have a better sense of these issues.”

By MADDIE BINNING
Special to the RJRC

Researcher Amarnath Amarasingam discusses the newsworthiness of terrorist-produced content with Ryerson professor Joyce Smith at an RJRC event. (Maddie Binning)

Journalists reporting on extremist groups need to arm themselves with knowledge as neo-Nazi and terrorist organizations become more sophisticated in their messaging and media manipulation, a leading expert on radicalization told Ryerson journalism students.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a research fellow at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue and at George Washington University, made the case for beat reporting, arguing that reporters need to be equipped with the knowledge and background to challenge the claims of extremists and to put their claims in context.

“Part of the problem with the alt-right is that they removed their white hoods and put on suit jackets,” he said during a recent Ryerson Journalism Research Centre event that focused on best practices for coverage of extremist views. “I don’t think they should be allowed to just kind of change that image without challenge.”

Journalists need to understand the context behind extremists’ beliefs and the movements they represent, said Amarasingam, who has written about radicalization and terrorism for publications such as The Atlantic and Huffington Post, and also edited Sri Lanka: The Struggle for Peace in the Aftermath of War and The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impacts of Fake News. He was interviewed onstage by Ryerson journalism professor Joyce Smith during the RJRC’s Oct. 5 event, “Covering extremism: Reporting News vs. Being Used.”

“There’s a history of these movements and an ideological backing which you kind of need to know,” Amarasingam said, “and I think sometimes if you don’t know that you can slip into very sloppy reporting, which in this issue particularly can (cause) a lot of damage.”

Drawing upon his own experiences being interviewed, Amarasingam said the journalists who ask the best questions and truly understand the context of their reporting are those working beats.

“This is my case for more beats,” he said. “It’s not even about go read a book, it’s go spend time with the people for long periods of time, and so then you start to report on the issues of the community and how this community interacts with international events a bit more clearly.”

Beat expertise, he suggested, also equips journalists to challenge claims by media savvy representatives of extremist groups so they aren’t given a free pass to spew lies, misinformation and racist propaganda. The CBC’s Power and Politics show, for instance, apologized this summer after guest host Hannah Thibedeau interviewed Proud Boy co-founder Gavin McInnes without challenging his views. Thibedeau said afterwards that viewers should have been informed about McInnes’ anti-Semitic sentiments and that she should have challenged claims he made during the interview.

Amarasingam said it is important to get representatives of neo-Nazi and other groups on the record clearly stating what they believe in – whether it is ethnic cleansing or the subjugation of women – so that their views are exposed and there is no confusion about what they represent.

Smith, whose research focuses on media and religion, said beat expertise also comes into play when reporters are looking for comment from Canadian Muslims for stories related to radicalization and the activities of extremist groups. Trying to find representative voices within Muslim communities, she said, isn’t as straightforward as covering an issue involving the Catholic church.

“There’s a phone book that tells you that this is the bishop…and you know that these are figures of authority that kind of have that stamp on them and you can say with some confidence that this is what Catholics think or this is the party line,” Smith said. “But the Muslim community is so diverse ethnically, language communities, theologically, that it’s really, really challenging to know until you spend more time researching it.”

Smith also cautioned against making uninformed assumptions about religious groups and their links to extremism.

“It’s important for us who are not part of these communities to make it our business (as reporters) to become more familiar with them.”

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 gelatin silver 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.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted Denise Birkhofer saying, “In the first half of the 20th century, you see the typical black and white solar prints.” In fact Birkhofer said,  “In the first half of the 20th century, you see the typical black and white gelatin silver prints.” The RJRC apologizes for the error.

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.”