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By Ben Cohen

After working at Ryerson for most of February, visiting professor Colette Brin is gearing up for a talk on digital news Mar. 1 where she discussed new findings on trust in media, donation models for newsrooms and generational differences in news consumption.

Brin worked on last year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report, an annual survey that looks at how people in 37 countries consume digital news. She was responsible for the summary and analysis of Canada’s data.

The report, which is based on research from 74,000 individuals, focuses on how people use online news platforms, whether they prefer legacy or emerging sources, what devices they use, as well as how big of a role social media and ad-blockers play, Brin said.

Canada more trusting of news, less likely to use Google Home

The report found that Canada “isn’t the most advanced country in terms of using Google Home devices or Apple Watches or things like that for news,” says Brin, who is the director of the Centre for Media Studies at Université Laval.

“In the U.K. and the U.S. studies, they seem to be more interested in asking tech-oriented questions, but (those questions) aren’t as significant in Canada.”

Many Canadians don’t own those sorts of gadgets, she said. And even if she had a device like a Google Home, Brin said she couldn’t see herself using it to browse the news

The study also found that Canadians are far more trusting of media and government compared to other countries – especially the U.S. and France.

Canada’s high trust scores stem from attachment to local and national publications, she said. However, Brin notes the concern that Canadians, along with the rest of the world, are becoming less trusting toward journalists and news media.

Age group differences

The biggest differences were between age groups.

“Younger people, of course, use social media more and follow news less,” Brin said.

“But they’re not more trusting of social media, they’re more sceptical overall of news media.”

Brin says this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it bleeds over into how people pay for news.

Young people are less likely to pay for news, but seem to be more open to donating, she said. Questions about donations to media were fairly sparse on last year’s survey, she said, but will become more detailed and expansive in the future. This is especially relevant now, as the federal government is opening the door to charitable status for news outlets, allowing for the public to receive tax incentives to donate to them. The mechanisms for this are still being fine-tuned at press time.

“The problem is that we’re not sure young people are going to donate to a large newsroom, where you don’t really know where the money’s going to go,” says Brin.

“It could go to management, to marketing, to very high salaries, but how much of is going to go to the actual reporting work?”

“If you’re donating to a media organization, it has to be one whose work you feel very strongly about,” she added.  “It may be more of an incentive to donate if it’s going to work people really care about, like investigative reporting or projects involving climate change.”

Anglophone, Francophone differences

Brin, who conducts the study out of Quebec, compared and contrasted anglophone and francophone news consumers.

She found that French news consumers tend to be a bit more trusting of media. She said Francophones also tend to use Canadian media much more, and American media less than Anglophones.

Brin notes their survey system isn’t perfect.

“When you ask these questions, you always have to wonder how people perceive and respond to them,” she says.

“When you look at certain countries in Asia, they tend to be less trusting (of media) in general, so their answers are very low on trust, but sometimes you wonder if maybe there’s this big cultural gap that we’re not aware of. The comparisons are limited, in a sense, because trust might mean something completely different (to them).”       

What’s next?

When asked what she would like to focus on more in the next survey, Brin pointed to social media.

“A lot of very inflammatory debate happens on social media now,” she said. “That was probably something we should have looked at more in our last study.”

Brin thinks the biggest current problem is making journalism work in the digital and the social media environment.

“Because there are issues of funding, there are issues of polarization and of fake news,” she said.

“For years we’ve been telling journalists ‘just keep doing your work, work on facts, do your work responsibly and ethically, and it’ll all work itself out,’ but that’s not a good business model. If you’re being ethical and factual, you’re not going to get those clicks.”

“But, on the other hand, if you’re doing whatever it takes to get those clicks, well, you’re not being a journalist,” she said.     

Some of Brin’s other projects include an upcoming report on local news, which she spoke about at the June 2017 conference Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future, hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, and a collection of essays on fake news written and compiled by Laval’s Centre for Media Studies. She’s also working on a project on justice and media, where her team will be conducting a series of interviews with judges to gauge how they perceive their relationship with journalists.

Brin held a lunch and learn with the RJRC on March 1 in the Rogers Communications Centre.  Her talk was entitled “Understanding News Users: Rebuilding journalism from citizens’ perspectives.”


By Benjamin Cohen

Imagine the smell of barbeque filling a theatre as you listen to descriptions of the South Korean dog meat industry. Dogs rescued from slaughterhouses are onstage while a video interview with the activist who saved them plays on a screen overhead. A journalist onstage reads their original reporting on the industry — it’s an engaging spoken piece, but maintains journalistic integrity and factuality. Meanwhile, graphs, sound bites and on-location footage accompany the story in real-time.

These are some of the ideas floated at a focus group for a live journalism concept, co-hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, in December.

This March, a team of students from both Ryerson and London South Bank University will be producing a work of journalism live on stage, exploring perceptions of the South Korean dog meat industry.

The project is part of stitched!, a concept created by Sonya Fatah, assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University.

Fatah has been working on stitched! for two years now. She says she started the project to explore new directions in media and new ways to do journalism.

A stitched! student team held a focus group at Ryerson in December.

“I wanted to try to connect with audiences and engage with communities with live journalism in a similar way to what’s already been done in the U.K., the U.S. and in parts of Europe,” Fatah said.  

Members of the student team include Ryerson undergrads Qudisya Jabeen in RTA media production and Elizabeth Colleran from the School of Performance, as well as Master of Journalism student Adam Chen. They hosted the focus group at Ryerson University in Toronto, while their London counterparts, Claudia Van-Nimwegen and Arthur Skinner (both majoring in theatre technologies) appeared via video.

Project needed a journalist

This is the second team to have helmed stitched!, the first having been approached by Fatah in spring 2018.

“It was challenging with the first group,” she said. “There was no journalism student attached to the project. The work was interesting but it lacked what it needed at its core — a journalist.”

Live journalism can look a bit like a deconstructed documentary in practice, in which a journalist “performs” his or her own magazine-style feature in front of an audience. The presentation is supplemented by audio, visual and even olfactory aids to create a unique, immersive experience.

At last month’s focus group, the team presented a snippet of their upcoming performance, scheduled for late March. Chen read aloud from a feature he is working on, accompanied by visuals projected on a screen cloth panel.

In the final version, Chen will perform from within a cube made from transparent screen cloth, allowing data and other visual cues to appear alongside him. Meanwhile, a PA system will disperse auditory effects around the room.

The team demonstrates the apparatus they will use during their performance.

Following the presentation, Chen, Jabeen and Colleran opened the floor to questions, consulting with those in attendance.

For over an hour, the group discussed defining the line between creative expression and fact-based journalistic content, as well as how journalists can improve audience immersion and create more fulfilling multimedia experiences.

Phones off and no social media

Chen cited the work of other projects pioneering live journalism that inspired stitched!, like Pop-Up, This American Life and Live Magazine, saying their performances engage audiences in ways digital journalism can’t.   

“What live magazine pop-ups do is that they make sure that your phones are off and there’s no social media,” said Chen.

“That connects you to the moment, which you’re missing a lot now with the news you read. It’s always in the background, you have like 100 tabs open, it’s hard to get immersed in the content.”  

One benefit of live journalism, Chen said, is that it attracts people that traditional features cannot.

“Because people like live performances, they’ll come out and pay a substantial amount for tickets, whereas they wouldn’t really pay for magazines,” he said.

A second focus group was held in London South Bank University Jan. 17 to further discuss the project. Now, the team will be firing on all cylinders conducting interviews, creating graphics and recording audio until the stitched! spring debut.  

The team’s London counterparts, Claudia Van-Nimwegen and Arthur Skinner (both majoring in theatre technologies) appeared via video during the focus group at Ryerson.

Journalists for Human Rights recently published Emerging Voices, a report from JHR’s Indigenous Reporters Program.

Their goal was, “to have a better understanding of the pathways of opportunity and/or barriers facing Indigenous students interested in studying journalism or media at a post-secondary level in Ontario and the status of journalism schools across Ontario developing and implementing curriculum on coverage of Indigenous stories.”

JHR launched the report at Ryerson University on January 14, with a panel discussion featuring Tanya Talaga, Duncan McCue and Kyle Edwards, moderated by Rebecca Lyon.

You can watch the panel below.

Bridging the open Web and platforms: Alternative social media alongside the corporate Web.
When: Wednesday, January 30 @ 1 p.m.
Where: The Catalyst, RCC 230
All are welcome! RSVP on Facebook here.

Bring your lunch for a discussion with Jack Jamieson, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.

Amid mounting concerns about the power of major Internet platforms, it is important to investigate efforts to build alternatives. This talk presents an empirical study of Bridgy — a tool for engaging with social media without surrendering ownership of one’s content to platforms. Jack Jamieson will describe how Bridgy’s developers attempt (and sometimes fail) to maintain a service that is simultaneously antagonistic and dependent upon corporate platforms. This study presents a glimpse at what the Web might look like in the future, and identifies challenges and strategies for getting there.

Bio: Jack Jamieson is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. His research investigates intersections of digital technologies with culture, with a focus on issues related to values, labour, and interoperability. Specifically, he studies how web developers shape the direction of the Internet by creating, contesting, co-opting and compromising with platforms and standards. His work combines qualitative and quantitative methods such as critical making, analysis of digital trace data, and interviews.

By Ben Cohen

A new event series intended to foster interdisciplinary discourse had its inaugural session last month.

Weaving together clinical psychology and journalism, “Grads Gab” was an evening of discussion emerging from two seemingly disparate research areas. The event was organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre and supported by the Catalyst.

Coordinator Laura Howells said she created the event because, as a former master of journalism student, she only really interacted with students in her own class.

“That felt so limiting – the university has so many students doing fascinating research, and there’s so much value in discussing issues and ideas with people from different backgrounds,” she said.

“Why not encourage more of those connections and conversations?”

Grads Gab will be a semi-regular event at Ryerson. In each session, grad students from two different disciplines will talk about their research, followed by an informal group discussion amongst presenters and audience members.

The first Grads Gab on Nov. 27 featured presentations from Ryerson Clinical Psychology PhD candidates Stephanie Cosma and Emily Thomas, as well as Master of Journalism student Adam Chen. Students attended from a broad spectrum of disciplines, from Engineering to Musicology.

What followed was over an hour of conversation involving both presenters and audience members that Howells said was “thoughtful, spirited and made all sorts of interesting connections.”

“People attended from a range of disciplines, and brought such neat perspectives,” she said. “It was exciting and I think we achieved what we were hoping for.”

A strong crowd attended the first Grads Gab.

The research

Cosma and Thomas are both part of the SHiFT Lab at Ryerson (Sexuality Hub: Integrating Feminist Theory).

Cosma, who kickstarted the night, said she began her research on “hegemonic masculinity” after noticing the immense pressure on men to “be men” and present as such.

This pressure often manifested as a pervasive need for heterosexual men to engage in and brag about their sexual activity, Cosma found, in order to validate their masculinity.    

For her research, Cosma focused on advice from “pick-up artist” community websites, which coach men on how to attract and sleep with women. Cosma said these sites often foster the idea that a woman’s hesitation or denial to consent to sex could be “overcome” with the right techniques.

This segued into Thomas’ presentation; her work is in the areas of consent and unwanted sex.

Emily Thomas discusses her research during the first Grads Gab event.

Collectively, Thomas and Cosma’s research indicates that women are broadly positioned as responsible for receiving unwanted sexual experiences, while at the same time framed as passive recipients of sex, requiring men to interpret their bodies and minds for them.

“As a result, the responsibility for bringing up and negotiating consent is often placed on women,”  said Cosma. “Even though the conditions put forth in the cultural script are strategically designed for them to be silenced and overridden.”

During her talk, Thomas noted that media coverage of academia can be a double-edged sword, citing instances in which some of her research on consent was misconstrued.

Flowing from there, Chen delved into his work developing more immersive and inventive forms of journalism. This includes 360-degree video stories and live, theatrical works of journalism, which he believes can generate more audience engagement.

Chen previously produced 360 videos while taking part in a multimedia journalism course in Hong Kong offered by Ryerson last year. There, he captured a vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, as well as the stories of local street food vendors.   

Chen now works with the live journalism project stitched!,  a concept and current project for Sonya Fatah, assistant professor of Journalism at Ryerson University.

Stitched! asked a supercourse team at Ryerson to take the basic editorial idea for a narrative story and turn it into a performed piece.

Chen and the rest of that team will be debuting their work in March 2019. They hosted a focus group in the Catalyst on Dec. 13 to preview a sample of the performance.

Chen says he hopes to explore the possibility of digitizing this “performance journalism” and making it more widely available.