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This is one of a series of 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 GREGORY FURGALA
Staff Reporter

Across the United States, reporters and editors at local newspapers are working longer hours, in smaller newsrooms and with fewer opportunities for advancement.

They’re also optimistic about the future of local news, and their futures in it, a recent study in the Columbia Journalism Review has found.

Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon and co-author of the study “Life at small-market newspapers: A survey of over 400 journalists,” says that optimism stems from the unique opportunities small markets afford local newspaper reporters, such as  covering under-reported stories and living in the community they work in.

“What’s often really unique to local organizations is the opportunity to bring people together, to actually bump into your readers,” says Radcliffe, “which gives a great opportunity for storytelling in a way that’s much harder to do in a major metropolitan—particularly in a large national publication.”.

He discussed his research on a panel about the economics of local news, joined by Nikki Usher Layser, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University; Nicole Blanchett Neheli, a professor of journalism at Sheridan College; and panel moderator Sherry Yu, an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University.

For the study, Radcliffe and co-author Christopher Ali, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, interviewed 60 industry experts, analyzed data from the Pew Research Center, the Engaging News Project, the American Society of News Editors’ Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey, amongst others, and created an online survey. A majority of the 420 journalists and editors who responded reported that, despite the documented challenges associated with working at a newspaper, they were still eager to embrace new digital tools and looked forward to the future of local news.

Local newspapers are often the only source of original reporting in town, Radcliffe says. Serving smaller markets provides both local newspapers and their reporters with unique opportunities they need to leverage to survive.

“Locality is a real asset,” says Radcliffe, “Both in terms of being able to tap into an audience for readership, and also in terms of potential revenue and local ad dollars.”

Local newspapers still aren’t spared from the general downward trend that’s taken hold of the newspaper industry, though. According to the Pew Research Centre, in 2016, newspapers’ ad revenue suffered its steepest decline since 2009, and newsroom employment continued to fall. The only difference, Radcliffe says, is it happens at a slower pace in smaller markets.

Despite their optimism, reporters are still ultimately overburdened and under-resourced, and they’re still trying to do it all.

“You can do anything,” says Radcliffe, “But you can’t do everything.”

He suggests a less-is-more approach, saying reporters should limit the scope of their work, hone in on their strengths, and play to them.

Stepping away from the 24-hour news cycle could be a start, and it could even strengthen the newspapers reporters work for.

While speaking with reporters at the Seattle Times, Layser says she saw an “obsession” with updating stories online, an impulse prompted by a metrics-driven news environment—one story about a pitbull, she notes, was updated 24 times—and she says it might hurt newspapers in the long-run.

“Most people are coming to you on the web,” says Layser, “And all they’re seeing is a pitbull story instead of that great investigative feature that you actually do have.”

“This may, in turn, undermine your overall authority.”

Blanchett Neheli has seen that process play out at at the Metroland-owned Hamilton Spectator, where one digital team handles thespec.com, the Waterloo Region Record’s site and guelphmercury.com. At the spec.com and record.com, a mandate to get more pageviews can be at odds with local reporters tasked with providing local content to their readers. As a result, local news, which doesn’t always prompt a spike in traffic, can lose out to viral content online.

“At the Record, they really want to keep it local,” says Blanchett Neheli, “But they have to broaden the focus of local to get more pageviews.”

Competing goals are a source of friction, says Blanchett Neheli. Record editors call Hamilton wanting more local content on their website and complain that their readers don’t like what they’re seeing, but for the online team, “it’s about the metrics.”

The focus on up-to-the-second performance might be counterproductive in the long run, as well. While Blanchett Neheli was researching The Spectator, she found that local stories ultimately performed better than viral content in the long run. Moreover, she says, its print product, including classifieds, still generates about five times as much revenue as digital.

Despite ongoing problems, Blanchett Neheli says the journalists she spoke to are still eager to report.

“They’re doing great work. They’re very proud of the work. They’re very supportive of each other.”

While the way forward for local newspapers may not be clear, Radcliffe cautions against buying into the worst predictions about the death of local news.

“Too often, the doom and gloom narrative about the future of journalism, and in particular the future of newspapers stems from journalists themselves,” he says.

“If we keep telling audiences that our industry is dying and is on its last legs, then there’s risk of it becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.”

This is one of a series of 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 ABBY PLENER
Staff reporter

While working in community news, Wawmeesh Hamilton heard a story from a reporter at a rival paper that he found concerning.

The journalist told him that their publisher said that First Nations stories did not warrant enough interest to earn a spot on the front page.

Hamilton recalls being offended as a child by a front page story featuring a non-Indigenous woman dressed as Pocahontas, holding a wine bottle.

“That ignorance I saw [as a kid] had now morphed and taken the form of a suit –  a decision-making suit,” Hamilton said.

Since then, Hamilton has moved on to reporting for Discourse Media, where he produced a series on press freedom issues within First Nations communities. He was joined by Maureen Googoo and Lenny Carpenter on a panel where they shared their personal experiences reporting on Indigenous communities at  a conference on the future of local news hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Throughout his career, Hamilton has welcomed opportunities to cover a wide range of topics, giving him a breadth of knowledge he feels has strengthened his reporting in Indigenous communities.

He said that while many editors are supportive, there have been some who overlook Indigenous stories.

“My Indigeneity may afford certain access to these communities, but once I’m through that door, I’m journalist,” he said.

In 2015, he was awarded the Canadian Journalism Foundation Aboriginal fellowship for a project on how Indigenous sex offenders are reintegrated into their communities.

Maureen Googoo echoed similar concerns about regional chief meetings in Atlantic Canada. Though some are open to the public, this access is often at the chiefs’ discretion. Likewise, Googoo can access band council meeting minutes from her own band but not for other band councils. These minutes can be requested through freedom of information requests, but because the FOI process is so complicated, she often relies on her own sources to fill in the gaps.

Her 30-year career has afforded her a wealth of contacts to draw upon. She started with a summer reporting gig at Micmac News in Nova Scotia, which stopped publishing in 1991 due to funding cuts. Since then, there was no independent Indigenous news source for Atlantic Canada until Googoo launched Kukuwes.com in 2015. The site’s name is a derivation of her last name using its Mi’kmaq spelling.

She runs the site herself, with the help of her husband, and support from a crowdfunding campaign and advertising.

Googoo, who has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, says what separates Kukuwes from other outlets is that her work is targeted specifically to an Indigenous audience, while others are focused are wider readership. She notes that when Micmac News was operating, the paper aimed to challenge Indigenous leaders on key issues.) But since the newspaper closed, there hasn’t been an outlet consistently demanding access to Indigenous organizations and band councils.

“I think Indigenous people in the region deserve that kind of reporting,” she said.

Last fall, Googoo covered a fraud trial where the former director of finance for the Sipekne’katik Band was sentenced to two years in prison. The time-consuming court procedure demanded her full attention. Since she doesn’t have the budget to hire other reporters, there was no opportunity to pursue other stories during that time. Despite her limited resources, she’s determined to keep going. “I consider Kukuwes my baby,” she told attendees.

Googoo emphasized that Indigenous youth need to be encouraged more to pursue journalism, a point echoed by fellow panelist Lenny Carpenter.

At Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), Carpenter manages the Indigenous Reporters Program which aims to both strengthen opportunities for Indigenous journalists in Canada and educate non-Indigenous journalists on best practices. His portfolio includes a training program which has reached over 400 Indigenous community members in Northern Ontario since its launch in 2013. Recently, he was consulted by the Toronto Star ahead of their decision to capitalize “Indigenous” and “Black” in news stories, and he is currently working with Canadian Press to update the “Aboriginal” section of its stylebook. Before working with JHR, he worked as a reporter and editor at Wawatay News.

Since 2015, JHR has conducted over 30 workshops in newsrooms across Canada including The Globe and Mail, The National Post, VICE Canada, and The Toronto Star. The organization also facilitates similar workshops at journalism schools.

Carpenter told the crowd at Ryerson that graduation season is his favourite time of year, because it’s a chance to showcase positive stories of Indigenous youth. Too often, he says, the media portrays Indigenous community members through negative stereotypes. He enjoys writing stories about Indigenous musicians or athletes that “show the humanity” of these communities.

The panel concluded with an audience question about “the appropriation prize” controversy. The panelists emphasized that education on Indigenous topics and listening to community members are paramount.

When asked what advice he had for non-Indigenous reporters covering Indigenous stories, Hamilton offered a simple mantra: “Show up, do what you say you’re going do, and collaborate.”

This is one of a series of 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 SIERRA BEIN
Staff reporter

Journalists around the world make the mistake of assuming that their journalistic ethical approaches are the best – or only – standards. Especially with crime reporting, what might seem normal in North America is shocking to some cultures in Europe, say two researchers from Canada and the United States.

Naming victims and suspects in serious crimes is the default approach in North America, a practice meant to support the public’s right to know critical information about their community. But in some areas of Europe, not identifying people in news stories is meant to serve as a way to rehabilitate people and their reputations.

“I think the first thing we need to alert journalists everywhere to is that we need to stop assuming this culture of sameness,” said Romayne Smith Fullerton, an assistant professor of Information and Media Studies at Western University.

“That’s just not respectful. It’s very colonial.”

Fullerton and her research partner Maggie Jones Patterson, a journalism professor from Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, have been studying how culture and journalism ethics shape crime reporting since 2010. Fullerton presented some of their findings on a panel about police and local news at Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future, a conference hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism on June 3-4.

Naming someone in a serious crime story automatically involves family and friends’ reputations as well, which can be detrimental to criminals making efforts to rehabilitate, and can re-traumatize family members who have lost someone, says Fullerton

One of the biggest differences the researchers noticed is how identity is treated in North America compared to in certain countries in Europe, where different considerations are given to a person involved in crime—suspect or victim.

“There’s a real presumption of innocence until that person is convicted. They deserve every benefit of the doubt, and media coverage can be like punishment,” she said. “You’ve served your time, and paid your debt to society. You ought to be able to rejoin your community and have a life.”

“In the United States,” where there is more value placed on informing the public about everything, “that’s impossible,” said Fullerton.

“If you have a record, you’re not going to work. So it’s very difficult to rejoin [society] after you’ve been othered,” she said. “If you just say that person is a monster instead of a citizen, then you don’t need to take social responsibility for the fact that culture, economics, and education create criminals.”

In coverage of the Manchester bombings in the U.K., where 22 people were killed when a bomb went off at a music concert, for example, U.S. media published the name of one of the assailants while British media did not, instead providing in-depth descriptions and a nickname.

“The anger of the police and U.K government that they had lost control of intelligence material was accompanied by members of the public and other news organisations condemning the insensitive nature of the report,” reads a news story from The Guardian.

Fullerton described a culture clash that emerged when British-owned media began to take over certain news outlets in Ireland. As a result, British tabloid-style standards were imposed on Irish publications. Generally, the Irish did not identify individuals involved in crime to leave room for rehabilitation while the British were more focused on getting the entire story on front pages.

Members of the Irish press soon created a press council and a press ombudsperson to help regulate a Celtic ethic in their news. Now, Irish media have a formal way to enforce their ethical standard in their publications. Fullerton and Patterson say other countries could look to this case study, should they chose to evaluate their ethical standards.

Fullerton says that they may go on to study France and Quebec as well.

“I didn’t want to lump it in with English-speaking Canada, [with its] different laws, different cultural assumptions. I think it deserves it’s own space,” she said.

Fullerton says she and Patterson plan to continue their research and that they hope other researchers will also look beyond the scope of just Europe and North America.

This is one of a series of 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 ALLISON RIDGWAY
Staff reporter

Collaborations between newsrooms and community members could be key to saving local news, says an expert in journalism and community engagement.

Growing sustainable journalism models in areas that are underserved by  local news organizations is more complicated than aiding individual outlets, says Josh Stearns, associate director of the U.S.-based Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program. Instead, he said, stakeholders must find innovative ways to bring newsrooms and community members together to maintain local news.

“The health of local media used to be easily measured by the health of a few institutions,” Stearns said at a recent conference on the future of local journalism. “Today, we have to understand not just the health of individual organizations, but also the networks and relationships between them. We have to understand both the newsrooms and the ecosystems they are a part of.”

Stearns’ luncheon address at the conference, which was hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, focused on finding a framework for creating healthy local news ecosystems.

“The future of local news,” he said, “will be built not as a series of disconnected institutions, but as a network of connected and collaborative ones that, together, create a diverse, vibrant public square.”

While working with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in 2014, Stearns and Molly de Aguiar created New Jersey’s Local News Lab to study interventions for struggling news ecosystems. They worked with six small New Jersey outlets – both online and print – to experiment with new strategies for community engagement, collaboration and financial sustainability.

After one year, all six participating newsrooms saw increases in web traffic and engagement and all developed at least one new revenue stream. Local journalists also ended up with better connections with citizens and fellow reporters thanks to the creation of collaboration hubs, the sharing of common training and support services among newsrooms, and new community engagement initiatives.

The Local News Lab, along with other organizations and universities, created new shared service programs including the Sales Academy, a program that offers newsrooms marketing and ad sales training, and an online list of legal questions and answers for New Jersey journalists.

“I think that a healthy news ecosystem is one that is cohesive, and a cohesive news ecosystem is one that balances the need for collaboration with the role of competition,” said Stearns.

Stearns found that shared services like legal networks and technology co-ops can help small newsrooms become more efficient and enable them to use each other’s strengths – from social media development to community event planning – to ensure that the entire news ecosystem thrives.

Collaboration also means working with community members who need local news to make informed decisions and have their voices heard, he added.

Free Press, for example – one of the Local News Lab’s newsroom participants – created the “News Voices New Jersey” to invite community members to meet with journalists and discuss local issues that mattered to them. Strategies included public forums, community advisory boards and events hosted by the newsroom.

Another Lab participant, the Media Mobilizing Project, created numerous community storytelling projects to give a voice to community members and issues often ignored by the media. One example of this was a video series about casino workers organizing and fighting against poor working standards.

“Right now the incentives to do community engagement work are up against the incentives for getting as many stories and bylines on a page as possible at any given time,” Stearns said in an interview before the conference. “But some news organizations are realizing that deep engagement with communities is fundamental to the sustainability of local news.”

While connecting with community members, many of the news organization participants found new ways to create readership incentives. For example, more than 500 people signed up to a loyalty card pilot program during Brick City Live’s first year with the Lab, and the Newark-based news blog used their initial revenue to create a sustainable app-based version of the program.

Most recently, the New Jersey legislature introduced a new bill that would allocate $100-million from the state budget to support public interest-media in the state. Free Press used the connections it had made with the community and other newsrooms to advocate  for this legislation.

Stearns, who joined Democracy Fund one year ago to take the experimental models into areas with compromised local news systems, said the project is  currently identifying three to five regions where its Ecosystem News Project will support local news innovation in ways similar to the approach used in  New Jersey.

The methods employed to address  New Jersey’s local news issues won’t work for every new region, he said, as all news ecosystems are different, but the framework created will help the organization collaborate and form a “deep partnership” with local stakeholders.

“We’re not going to be a national funder who swoops in and says, ‘Here’s how we fix the news,’” said Stearns. “We’re going to say, ‘Here’s what we’ve learned, here’s some resources – let’s work together.’”

This is one of a series of 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: GREGORY FURGALA
Staff Reporter

Small-scale community news outlets can have a meaningful impact and thrive “on a shoestring,” but decreases in funding have left the sector reeling, say community news researchers.

Non-profit community media in Canada, which has traditionally relied on a combination of government assistance and private investment, have seen those funds dry up in recent years. Unlike the United States, where nonprofit investigative news organizations like ProPublica and the Marshall Project thrive, Canada doesn’t have a strong tradition of “philanthro-journalism.”

“We don’t have the Rockefellers or the Gateses,” says Patricia Elliott, editor of J-Source and assistant professor of journalism at the University of Regina.

“So it’s hard for us to do that.”

Since 1990, Elliott says the number of magazines receiving federal distribution assistance has dropped from 8,000 to 800, and the number receiving operating grants has dropped from 418 in 2000, to 27 in 2015. More than 74 per cent of community access channels have been lost since 1982, while community radio receives no direct government assistance.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle facing community news producers. Elliott says they’re rarely invited into policy discussions about the future of media. For example, the Public Policy Forum’s recent report on Canadian media, “Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age” was primarily concerned with the future of private media conglomerates.

“It’s like [community media] doesn’t even exist,” she said.

Elliott was joined by McGill doctoral candidate Gretchen King and Sarah Stonbely, the research director for cooperative media at Montclair University on a panel discussion about crowdfunding and cooperative media. The panel was part of a recent conference on the future of local journalism hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

Despite the hurdles facing non-profit community media, Elliott says the sector has some advantages over its commercial cousins. “There are more revenue streams available, the ability to share resources with competitors,” she says, “and then there’s public trust and support, which are so important to survive.”

Without the pressure of pleasing advertisers, community media can tackle issues that commercial and state media can’t, and can afford to be less “editorially timid,” says Elliott. She pointed to the Saskatchewan alternative weekly Prairie Dog, which started as a non-profit in 1993 and later became a co-op It survived losing its Crown and city advertising after the Saskatchewan Party took provincial office in 2007.

King agreed, noting that outside of Quebec, existing efforts to fund community radio in Canada are woefully inadequate. She cited as an example the Community Radio Fund of Canada—a fund created in 2007 by a trio of campus radio associations: it caps funding for equipment at $500, which “can barely pay for a professional grade recorder.” Instead, the CRFC awards most of its funding on a per project basis. The net result is chronically underfunded non-profit community radio, and a host of ongoing problems.

“Personnel, funding, volunteers, the capacity of volunteers, the constant need for training, the constant issue of staff turnover, volunteer turnover––all of it affects the consistency of being able to run a regular show,” says King.

And those local losses, King says, have a national impact.

When broadcast nationally, King says, non-profit community-oriented news is a way for marginalized or otherwise unheard voices to come to the fore and offer different perspectives that commercial media can’t—or won’t— provide. Groundwire, an award-winning bi-monthly collaborative community news that King helped launch in 2008, helps make that insight an audible reality.

“You get views and opinions you might not get first hand, so Indigenous people representing themselves on Indigenous issues, immigrants representing themselves on immigration issues, homeless people representing themselves on issues of poverty.”

When funds run dry, Stonbely suggested community radio stations turn to another source for help: each other.

In the United States, “public and nonprofit are on the frontlines of collaboration,” Stonbely says, “because they also tend to receive the most funding and support to experiment with it.”

“They’re also the hungriest sometimes, so it forces them, in a way.”

Several experiments in collaboration have already proven sustainable. In 2014, five community radio stations in upstate New York won a $375,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—a federally funded non-profit with the mandate to support public broadcasting— to form Upstate Insight, a collaborative radio program delivering community news on a regional scale. In 2010, the CPB awarded a grant to five midwest public broadcasters to form Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration that focuses on agricultural issues, and that is now supported by partner stations and syndication. Last year, a successful collaboration between NPR member stations in Colorado and Maine focused on comparing each state’s politics with one another lead to the announcement of a 43-station, 34-state project to replicate the project nationwide.

“We can get beyond Kickstarter,” says Elliott. “But we have other support in the community that we need to draw on more often.”

“When they do get a little funding under them, they do great work.”