• Local News Conference Register

January 26, 2018

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Anton Koschany, executive producer of CTV’s W5, discussed his experiences as an investigative journalist and shared his advice on storytelling with Ryerson journalism students. (Amanda Pope/RJRC)

The technology available to journalists is constantly evolving, but the need for strong storytelling remains central to quality journalism, says the executive producer of CTV’s flagship investigative show W5.

Anton Koschany, W5’s executive producer since 2009, drew on a long career in television journalism in his October 2017 remarks to Ryerson journalism students. With 40 years of experience as an investigative journalist, he has worked in black and white film, edited the morning film reel for the CTV station in Vancouver and worked with colour negative tape when he was a producer for the Fifth Estate on CBC.

“It isn’t what you use to shoot,” Koschany told students. “Teach yourself the technology because that’s our form of communication. You can use the best technology in the world but if you don’t have the story to tell … there is nothing you can do to salvage what you’re trying to do with your stories. They may look pretty but they may not interest anybody.”

During the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre-sponsored session “Tales from the Investigative Trenches,” Koschany showed journalism students two separate clips from stories produced five decades apart to illustrate how stories have been told differently over the years.

The one clip documented a reenactment of the University of Texas Tower mass shooting in August 1966 by Charles Whitman. The Sep. 11, 1966 story, the first ever produced by W5, was recorded in Toronto city hall as a way to make it relevant to Canadians.

The second clip was produced by the W5 team following the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. In that case, the journalists told the story from the perspective of a Las Vegas bartender who comforted a dying Canadian.

While the first clip was recorded with one camera in black and white film and the second clip with multiple HD cameras, Koschany said both approaches told stories in a way that was relevant to their audience.

“You can tell a story in so many different ways,” he observed. “In one case, we’re proactive, we challenge people, we try and do a test to see what would happen and if this was possible in [Canada]. In the other (second) one, we take you into the emotional heart of the story.”

‘Don’t be afraid to let stories play out’

Koschany said capturing human emotion is important in the production of long-form journalism and documentaries. By way of example, he pointed to a W5 story about the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. It documented what happened when a woman revisited the home where she was abused during her youth.

The traditional approach to producing this story would be to record shots of the house and the subjects, conduct an interview and record voiceovers, Koschany said. But it doesn’t help the audience to truly see and understand the emotions involved.

Focusing on the reaction of the woman revisiting her past, on the other hand, brought home to the audience the emotional trauma experienced by children at the home: “It’s a great device in long-form journalism to take someone back to the scene of the crime,” Koschany said. “They confront memories, you take them back and you make it relevant.

“Don’t be afraid to let stories play out,” he added. “The [subjects] are in their souls at that point and it’s visceral and everyone watching that can feel that.”

Koschany said that despite its impact and importance, the long-form journalism landscape is daunting.

“It’s tough. It’s very tough,” he said. “It’s largely because of the pressures of social media and declining audiences … The entry points to long-form often was through local newsrooms. There are some jobs there but those have been shrinking.”

During a question-and-answer session, one first-year journalism student asked for advice on how to succeed in this competitive industry and Koschany returned to his original theme:

“I would suggest to you as you move forward in your careers, it’s not the technology, it’s the story” that matters, he said.

Jan. 24, 2017

By AMANDA POPE
Staff Reporter

Asmaa Malik, an assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, discussed her involvement with the Journalism and Media Lab (JAMLAB) in South Africa. (Amanda Pope/RJRC)

 

A South African news wire service that links community radio journalists with mainstream news outlets is among six media start-ups being supported by a new media innovation program run by Canadian and South African partners.

The goal of Volume News, led by veteran South African broadcaster Paul McNally, is to boost the amount of local news content on radio stations from the current level of only 14 per cent to the 60 per cent required by law.

Asmaa Malik, an assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, said encouraging journalism entrepreneurs to pursue projects like Volume News is one way to address the many challenges faced by South African media: “There are so many different languages, there are so many complications for niche markets in South Africa,” she said. “Everyone is struggling with people paying for information. The program is giving [innovators] who are thinking differently about media a voice and a way for them to think creatively about these challenges.”

Malik is part of the team behind the Journalism and Media Lab (JAMLAB), an accelerator run by Wits Journalism with the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering in partnership with Ryerson University and Journalists for Human Rights. Also on the team is Wits University lecturer Indra de Lanerolle, director of the JAMLAB.

JAMLAB, which launched in June 2017, is a six-month accelerator program that provides journalism innovators with tools, facilities, contacts and support as they build their media startups. It also produces an online magazine to showcase innovations and innovators, share experiences of using new technologies and tools, and provide access to research. At the end of the program, the six teams pitched their innovative companies to a panel of investors at the Nov. 15 JAMLAB Demo Day. The advisory team is currently working to raise funds to organize the program again next year.

“JAMLAB is helping to amplify voices and giving people access to resources and expertise that can help them build their ideas,” said Malik, who was on the advisory board for the project. “The idea for this was what kind of training do journalists get [in South Africa] and how can we look forward for new models for journalists?”

After a call for applications, six teams were chosen from a field of 40 applicants in June 2017. The adjudicators included Romeo Kumalo, the tech investor and chief executive of Washirika Holdings; Ferial Haffajee, editor-at-large at HuffPost SA; Koketso Moeti of Amandla.mobi; Mathatha Tsedu of the SA National Editors Forum and a professor at Wits Journalism; Barry Dwolatzky, the director of the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering and JAMLAB director; and Indra de Lanerolle, a Wits Journalism lecturer.

Malik said teams of women and Black South Africans had a better chance of being selected because adjudicators wanted to introduce new voices into a tech landscape currently dominated by white men: “Tech companies can be very homogeneous.”

In addition to Volume News, the other teams are:

African Tech Round-Up

African Tech Round-Up, led by Andile Masuku, is a podcast focusing on technology, digital and innovation news and insights from across Africa. The startup’s goal during the six-month accelerator program was to extend its existing podcast into video and develop a business strategy.

Black Girl Fat Girl

This online lifestyle magazine, led by Siphumelele Chagwe, challenges media stereotypes. The magazine’s blog says it is written for ‘the fat ones, the skinny ones, the incredibly queer ones and the ‘I don’t know where I fit in’ ones…”

Global Girl Media

The Global Girl Media team, led by Patricia Hlophe, develops the voice and media literacy of teenage girls and young women, aged 14 to 22, in underserved communities by teaching them to create and share digital journalism designed to improve scholastic achievement, ignite community activism and spark social change.

Media Factory

Media Factory, led by Nelisa Ngqulana, is a mobile and content agency for citizen journalists across South Africa. It is a space where unemployed journalists can work and where mainstream media can access a diverse range of perspectives from first responders on the ground when they are working on a story.

Soul City

Soul City is a social justice organization that produces Soul City, Rise, Soul Buddyz, Kwanda and other television and radio shows. Throughout the program, its goal was to build a new young women’s radio station and to start a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) offering data-free listening.

The six teams attended a lean startup course at the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Zone in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. They received coaching, mentoring and access to investors and funders, Malik said.

When Malik was in Johannesburg, she said she met individually with the groups to talk about where they were at and where they were headed: “They had these monthly check-ins where they’d do a presentation on what they had done in the last month. I helped give them feedback and asked them questions.”

Malik, who teaches entrepreneurial journalism to undergraduates and graduate students in Ryerson’s School of Journalism, also delivered a presentation in August 2017 to the program’s entrepreneurs that focused on case studies of media startups that have emerged from the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson. She was joined by South African media innovators for a discussion on where to find opportunities for digital media startups and what support hubs, universities and others should be offering to grow and improve media innovation.

“One [lecture] was on design thinking and how you create products for people to help them solve problems,” Malik said. “The other lecture was about the link between journalism and entrepreneurship and how journalists make natural entrepreneurs and how we can leverage those skills to build interesting tools or opportunities for journalists.”

In the design thinking lecture, Malik said, partners did an exercise from the Stanford d.School where they created a wallet for themselves and then a customer. Teams began by designing the ideal wallet to fit their personal needs. Then they interviewed a customer and created a wallet for that customer based on the customer’s needs and by looking at a wallet the customer had made, including its contents and functionality.

“They had to work with them and respond to their needs, not their own idea of the customer’s needs,” Malik said. “The same thing applies to startups. It helps people to think of their audience and the consumers.

“A student came up to me and said he realized that, ‘I’m not building something for myself, I’m building it for people to use.’”

In the second lecture to the six startup teams, Malik argued that journalists are natural entrepreneurs because they are curious and engaged with the world around them. Journalists interact with people ranging from pioneers and innovators to corrupt leaders, they know how to adapt and be resourceful, and they understand how to seek out information and advisors, she said.

Jan. 23, 2017

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Caption: Journalist Angela Long learning to fly a Citabria airplane on Young Eagles Day – an annual event for aspiring pilots hosted by Stanhope Airport in the Algonquin Highlands, where Long was reporting for the Haliburton Echo. (Photo by Michael J. Hatton)

A recent graduate from Ryerson’s master of journalism program has received a $25,000 Canada Council for the Arts grant to write a book on how local news coverage strengthens rural communities.

Angela Long, who graduated from the MJ program this fall, said ongoing losses of local news outlets prompted her to apply for the grant to explore the role of local news at the community level.

“There has been so much ‘doom and gloom’ lately in the world of journalism,” said Long, who is now a freelance journalist based in Toronto. “No one has looked at any of the smaller, rural newspapers or media outlets and the positive work that they do and the positive influence they have on their communities and the hard work it takes to put together such publications.”

Long, 46, says the voices of rural community members are lost when local media outlets close down: “We are always focusing on what is going on with the bigger media outlets. So we are missing the big picture of what’s going on in these smaller communities and how much more impact there would be if they lose their media outlet. They are already not as heard as urban outlets.”

Long, who is the author of the poetry collection Observations from Off the Grid, plans to write about a study she discussed in her recent article on the future of local news called “The Power of Place.” The study’s authors “found that local media outlets play an important role in strengthening these rural communities,” Long said. “I’m interested in researching the connections between local information, media outlets and resiliency in rural Canada, for my book.”

After interning with the the Haliburton Echo between June and September 2016, Long saw how local coverage connected people: “When you know your neighbours and what’s happening in your community, people have a sense of place. I see the town of Haliburton as a case study for how a community can become so strong because of their local media working which gives a voice to your neighbour.”

Long noted, however, that the internship also opened her eyes to the challenges small newspapers face in this era of news industry disruption.

“There was talk at the Echo on how they were concerned about advertising, losing revenue and their competitor– the Highlander, who was becoming more digital-oriented,” she said. “The Echo was trying to resist going digital even though they had a sense that the journalism landscape was changing.”

Long said her desire to advocate for smaller newspapers was inspired by her observations of the important role the Echo and its hard-working reporters played in their community.

She said she attempted to write a feature on this issue called “The Fluff Stops Here” for a class assignment but soon realized a single article was not enough to tell the full story: “To give the people the voice they deserve for this, I think I need to do something bigger.”

Long said she hopes that by raising awareness of the importance of local news her book will lead to greater recognition of the reporters and editors in small newsrooms who tell the stories of rural Canadians. The grant will allow her to travel across Canada to conduct interviews and other research beginning this spring.

Jan. 16, 2017

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Access and privacy law expert Ken Rubin stands at the gate next to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. (Courtesy Debbie Rubin)

Ken Rubin, an Ottawa-based expert on Canada’s access and privacy laws, has spent 50 years filing requests for government information about everything from airline safety issues to food industry efforts to influence revisions to the Canada Food Guide. His work has resulted in hundreds of reports and news stories about what goes on behind the scenes in government departments and agencies.

Rubin, a senior fellow at Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression and a columnist for The Hill Times, discussed his experiences and best practices for using freedom of information legislation at Battling Secrecy, a Nov. 27 panel organized by the Centre for Free Expression. Afterwards the man who bills himself as “Canada’s information warrior” spoke with Ryerson Journalism Research Centre reporter Amanda Pope about what journalists starting out in the industry should know about freedom of information requests.

Amanda Pope: Do journalists in general use FOI requests enough?

Ken Rubin: Most journalists don’t use FOI. It requires a little bit more work than some of them are used to or they don’t have that research background. But there is always a good, healthy minority of journalists who do. The main reason is that you don’t get an instant answer. There are barriers like fees, deadlines and most editors do not want to pay fees for information. You also need to have a consistent strategy, or beat, that make you want to use [FOIs] again and again. Some people are involved in the in-depth journalism where they would really need it.

AP: What advice would you have for a young journalist in navigating an FOI request for the first time?

KR: Don’t expect the first time to be the best time. You just have to learn from experience or from others. Journalists need to do this simple thing. If it is a federal application, you have to pay your $5 fee, be as specific as possible, identify your department and subject matter such as dates. Be prepared to dialogue, if that’s possible, with the person who is assigned your file and always raise questions. Start off this process by realizing that it’s long and requires your persistency. I would suggest creating yourself a log so you know when you submitted what, what response you got and create a template so you don’t have to fill in the same form all of the time.

AP: What are the most common mistakes journalists young and old make when filing and FOI?

KR: At times it may be limiting it to certain dates, certain types of records or brief notes. But I think the most common mistake is not knowing which department to [file] it to. Journalists also need to learn how to be polite because a lot are impatient when someone does not respond quickly. You have to realize that some of these departments are not very receptive to sharing the information. Before you file the request, you need to have a focus for what you are writing.

AP: If you were a student, what FOI request would you file with your university?

KR: If you don’t know the pressing issues at your school, then read the student newspaper. Look at something that is of interest to you and then ask questions like, “I want the board of governors meeting minutes, I want exchanges between the dean of arts and science and dean of graduate studies.” I would also start with something as simple as requesting to see your student records and your professors’ evaluations. Journalists are supposed to be curious and nosey, and so you have to start with asking questions.

AP: What should a student do if we get an answer back saying the information is available but we’d have to pay an astronomical cost?

KR: You should drill down into your application and find what information you really need and how much you think it’s worth. Ask yourself how you can narrow down your application without losing your dignity and rights to information. There is no harm in asking for previously released information because you might find some of the information you wanted has already been released. Also take things on a diskette instead of a hard copy because it will be $10 instead of 20 cents per page.

AP: What is the single most important thing to remember when filing an FOI request?

KR: Be persistent, patient and don’t ever take no for an answer– even if they have a thousand ways to say no. Your job to see what is really going on behind the scenes not just listening to what you’re told but you’re going to have to work hard at doing that. The internet is great for research but if you only rely on that you’ll never create a real news story.

This interview has been edited for length.