Currently viewing the tag: "Ann Rauhala"

Feb. 1, 2018

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Ann Rauhala, associate professor of journalism at Ryerson University. (Courtesy of the Ryerson School of Journalism)

Ryerson journalism students are participating in a study investigating whether mindfulness and meditation can help them cope better with the stresses of the job.

A four-week course led by associate professor Ann Rauhala and assistant professor Lisa Taylor, both from the School of Journalism, will introduce student journalists to mindfulness strategies for dealing with the anxiety arising from interviewing and may also help participants handle the stresses of deadlines and career uncertainty.

“I became really concerned about the pain and suffering I was seeing among our students,” said Rauhala, who is also the teaching chair for the Faculty of Communication and Design. “People becoming so anxious about their future and depressed about their possibilities and not enjoying themselves. What [journalists] do is important and it is good to have the clarity and resilience to keep on pursuing the truth when everyone is insulting and berating you.”

The mindfulness class will introduce students to the fundamentals of mindfulness, review the scientific evidence of its benefits and explore different forms of meditation practice. The 15 participants will complete a pre-course questionnaire that is a well-established general anxiety assessment tool. At the end of the course, participants will do the assessment again and they will also be asked about the course content, including questions about which skills and exercises they found most or least helpful, and the degree to which they are likely to continue to practice mindfulness meditation.

In addition to attending the one-hour class once per week, students are being asked to meditate every day for 10 minutes and to record their experiences in a log. The classes, which will begin with a short meditation, will be a place for participants to talk about their efforts to meditate during the previous week and discuss the challenges of developing a meditation practice.

Lisa Taylor, assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University. (Peter Bregg)

Taylor says the goal is to help participants regulate their anxiousness: “Some degree of stress is healthy for journalists. Stress is what lights a fire under us to go out the door to get our interviews and what compels us to meet our deadlines.” The key, she said, is to regulate this state of arousal so that instead of being paralyzed by fear, individuals experience a healthy level of anxiety that makes them energetic and focused.

Mindfulness stimulates creativity

Rauhala said research on mindfulness shows it has the potential to benefit students in their journalism practice and in life in general.

“Mindfulness helps you manage your time better because you’re not wasting time on diversions,” Rauhala said. “It helps you to manage your response to situations that are frustrating such as someone cancelling an interview or working with a difficult person.”

She said the research also suggests that mindfulness practices can boost creativity in a way that would potentially benefit journalists as they go about their work: “It stimulates looking at things from different angles. It quiets the mind so that you can listen to what people are saying instead of barreling along with what you think the story is … It helps you to be more empathetic and understand where people are coming from and they will therefore have better sources, better interviews and get better stories.”

Students at Ryerson are quickly immersed in journalism and, by the second week of classes, they are interviewing strangers on the streets of Toronto. Taylor says the students in her first-year reporting class tell her about levels of anxiety that she seldom heard about 10 years ago when she came to Ryerson.

“More students were saying they freeze up when they interview or get stressed over deadlines,” Taylor said. “You can only help a student to a certain point by teaching them to write a cutline or take a photo…At some point you have to look carefully at the challenges they face in their daily lives and their anxiety.”

To help students be more positive, she said, participants in the study will record one or two things they are grateful for each day: “In our lives as humans it is very easy to focus on what goes wrong, not what goes right,” Taylor said. “As journalists, because of the very nature of what constitutes news, we are often deeply immersed in negative, unhappy stories. So if anyone needs to be pushed to see the goodness and the light in the day, it’s a journalist.”

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 market newspapers are being stripped of local content by “predatory” chain ownership groups, a new study suggests.

John Miller, a professor emeritus at the Ryerson School of Journalism, compared local content in the Northumberland Today, the daily newspaper published in Cobourg, Ont., with local news published by its predecessors. The Cobourg Daily Star and the Port Hope Evening Guide amalgamated with the weekly Colborne Chronicle in 2009 to form Northumberland Today.

Since the merger, the amount of local content featured has sharply declined, Miller concluded. His quantitative analysis shows that widely-circulated syndicated material with little relevance to Port Hope or the surrounding area has replaced locally-relevant coverage, and the audience noticed: Northumberland Today, which now only reaches 2,600 people daily, is losing 500 readers every year.

Northumberland Today is now owned by Postmedia, whose primary aim, Miller says, is to extract revenue from its newspapers rather than support good journalism.

“We have to invent a word for that kind of ownership,” Miller said during his presentation at a recent conference on the future of local news. “Gnawing-off-their-own-limbs chain ownership might be more appropriate.”

With the exception of a $17.8 million profit in the first quarter of 2017, which was largely the result of one-off debt restructuring last October, Postmedia has long been losing money, primarily due to a high debt load and declines in print circulation and print ad revenue. During that time, its journalists and editors have been offered voluntary buyouts, faced layoffs, and been merged with other newsrooms.

Miller, Marc Edge, a professor at both Canada West University and the University of Malta, and Adam Szynol, an assistant professor at the University of Wrocław in Poland, discussed the concentration of media ownership on a panel moderated by Ryerson School of Journalism associate chair Ann Rauhala. The session was presented as part of Is no local news bad news? The future of local journalism, a conference held June 3-4 at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Syndicated material now makes up 75 per cent of Northumberland Today, Miller said, while Port Hope-focused content has fallen to six per cent from 41 per cent in 2008. Area news, which includes news about surrounding communities, has also declined, he said, albeit not as much.

“It leads me to believe it’s not a local paper anymore,” says Miller.

Instead of focusing on hiring good reporters and supporting local newspapers, Miller said Postmedia is extracting money from them, leaving editors at local newspapers with too few resources to commit to community-focused work. Even the opinion pages—essentially free, local content—have gone from three or four pieces per day 20 years ago, to none today because people aren’t invited to write in, he says.

“[The editor] seemed to be willing to print letters to the editor,” says Miller, “But the newspaper has lost its engagement with the public.”

Publishers, says Miller, are crucial to building and maintaining relationships with the community.

Nonetheless, he noted, several publishers, including at Northumberland Today. have been cut by Postmedia and replaced with regional managers.

Despite the dire headlines, Edge argued that Postmedia’s financial troubles have been greatly exaggerated.

The company’s $352-million loss last year, for example, includes a $267 million writedown—a devaluation of its assets—which Edge says is only a loss on paper. On an operating basis—the day-to-day costs and revenue of the business, without all the debt—Postmedia reported an $82 million profit. In a study of publicly-traded newspaper owners going back to 2006, Edge found that on an operating basis, none had declared an annual loss.

“The myth of newspaper poverty is alive and well,” says Edge. “Perhaps more so than ever.”

He said newspaper owners have been happy to leverage the hard-times myth for regulatory leniency. In British Columbia, he said, the Competition Bureau, the federal agency tasked with investigating anti-competitive behaviour, has been “derelict in its duty.” Since 2010, Glacier Media and the Black Press, which collectively publish nearly 150 community newspapers in B.C., have bought, sold and traded newspapers, and then proceeded to close 20 of them after they changed hands. One 2014 exchange included a total of 15 newspapers, Edge noted, of which more than half have closed. Their dealings, he said, have created regional monopolies in B.C.

“This is classic anti-competitive behaviour,” Edge said. “Buy your competition, close it. This is clearly tit for tat, quid-pro-quo stuff, and yet the Competition Bureau does nothing.”

The multiple newspaper closures, he said, mask the financial reality that Glacier Media and Black Press are both doing well.

Until the 2008 recession, Glacier, which is publicly traded, enjoyed 20 per cent-plus profit margins, says Edge. That fell to between 15 and 20 per cent in subsequent years. The average profit margin for a Fortune 500 company, he reminded the audience, is 4.7 per cent. Glacier’s most recent financial statement reported a 15 per cent profit margin.

“The newspapers they’ve been closing have died not so much as a result of natural causes,” says Edge, “But as a result of premeditated murder.”

Although Black Press is a private company, Torstar, which is public, owns a 20 per cent stake. From that, Edge estimates that Black Press is profitable.