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By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

Scholars, journalists and educators from around the world will gather in Toronto this spring to discuss the state of local journalism, develop new research initiatives and explore solutions for communities that are underserved in terms of access to local news.

“Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” will take place June 3 to 4, 2017 on Ryerson University’s campus in downtown Toronto. Organized by more than a dozen journalism scholars from across Canada and hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC), the purpose of the conference is to inform and promote public discussion about the state of local news and provide a forum for an exchange of ideas among researchers, practicing journalists and journalism educators.

“In discussions about the media, we tend to think a lot about what’s happening at the national level with national media or the big players,” said April Lindgren, the RJRC’s academic director. “But the reality is many, many people in many, many communities get a lot of their information from their local media – or at least they used to.

“This event will be an opportunity to highlight problems and share ideas, research methods and information about possible solutions for communities where the critical information needs of citizens aren’t being met.”

The opening day of the conference will feature two panels that are open to all members of the public and are free of charge. The first panel will provide an overview of local news-related research undertaken by scholars in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The second consists of speakers who will provide first-hand accounts about why local news matters: “We wanted to look really concretely at the impact of reporting in communities,” Lindgren said. The lineup of speakers for this panel includes a representative of Toronto’s black community, who will discuss the impact of the Toronto Star’s coverage of random police checks on minority communities, and a city councillor from Guelph, Ont. who will talk about the availability of local news in the aftermath of the closure of the Guelph Mercury daily newspaper.

On Saturday afternoon and Sunday, conference registrants will also hear from more than 50 speakers on topics that include:

  • new research and methodologies, including the results of a major project that is investigating the availability of local news in 100 U.S. communities
  • experiments designed to improve the quality and quantity of local news
  • issues related to police and crime reporting at the local level
  • the challenges faced by local newspapers and television stations
  • the impact of media ownership/concentration on the provision of local news
  • local news coverage in Indigenous communities
  • the role of schools of journalism in meeting local news needs
  • how local news can foster understanding in diverse communities

The conference takes place amidst growing concerns over the state of local news media in many jurisdictions. In Canada, the House of Commons Canadian Heritage Committee held hearings over the past year on how communities are informed about local news through broadcast, digital and print media.

Think tanks have also joined the local news conversation. After observing that “towns and cities continue to lose their local news sources, major city newspapers and TV stations are bleeding staff and the industry is scrambling to find ways of securing revenue and holding the public’s trust and interest,” the Institute for Research on Public Policy launched a series of articles exploring the future of Canadian journalism.

The Public Policy Forum, meanwhile, recently released a new report that includes survey results indicating that 69 per cent of respondents think having access to less local news coverage is a serious consequence of news media decline. The same survey also suggested that while Canadians value journalism and believe it is essential to a well-functioning democracy, they don’t want to pay for it.

CLICK HERE to find out more about conference sessions that are open at no cost to non-registrants or to register for the full program ($75 for regular registration; $30 for students).

By STEPH WECHSLER
Special to the RJRC

Moderator Christopher Waddell (Carleton University journalism professor) and panelists Edward Greenspon (Public Policy Forum president),  April Lindgren (Ryerson School of Journalism instructor) and Allan Gregg (Earnscliffe Strategy Group principal) discuss the journalism industry’s financial woes at a Canadian Journalism Foundation panel.

Although Canadians value journalism and believe it is essential to a well-functioning democracy, they don’t want to pay for it, concludes a new study that examined the state of Canadian news media.

A survey conducted as part of the Public Policy Forum (PPF) report, “The Shattered Mirror,” found that the Canadians surveyed do not make a connection between the news industry’s layoffs, closures and other financially-induced problems and what this means for the amount of news available to themselves as readers.

“They assume much like dancers will always dance, painters will always paint, journalists will always cover stories,” said Allan Gregg, principal at the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, which conducted the poll.

“They make no linkage whatsoever to the absence of revenue to news gathering organizations with the inability to pay journalists.”

A 2016 Reuter’s poll cited in the PPF report showed that only nine per cent of those surveyed in Canada pay for online news.

Gregg was joined by April Lindgren, academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre and Ed Greenspon, president of the Public Policy Forum, at the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Jan. 28 talk: “The Changing Ways Canadians Get Their News.” The panel discussion followed the release earlier in the day of the forum’s report and its policy recommendations.

The survey of 1,500 Canadians, conducted this past fall between Sept. 22 and Oct. 2,  found that 70 per cent of respondents think that news has a major role to play in democracy and 60 per cent think that journalists play a major role.

When they were asked to assess the consequences of the decline of news organizations, 73 per cent of people surveyed said having less investigative reporting would be a serious problem and 69 per cent said having less coverage of local news would be a serious consequence of news media decline. Having no one around to keep politicians honest or hold powerful interests accountable were considered serious problems by 68 per cent of respondents.

Gregg said the survey results also suggest Canadians hold journalists in high regard –so much so that they balk at the possibility of the government intervening to bail out the news business. Only 25 per cent of those surveyed said they believe government should help struggling news businesses. Respondents said that journalists’ ability to act as watchdogs on power would be compromised by government involvement in the news industry.

“It is the very thing they value most about news – its role in democracy, especially holding the powerful to account – that forms the objection to government doing anything to get the industry out of the dilemma it obviously faces,” said Gregg.

Forty-four per cent of survey resonsdents said they agreed they would be concerned about journalist’s ability to cover governments if said governments financially supported the news business. Another 24 per cent indicated that they strongly agreed.

Although the poll data make it clear that Canadians feel inundated with news, most said they had little to no information about the industry’s economic challenges.

“Fewer than half – which is kind of ironic – have heard, read or seen anything about news organizations facing business and financial difficulties,” said Gregg. “(It) is not part of the public consciousness.”

He pointed to possible explanations for the disconnect between the importance Canadians place on journalism in democracy and their lack of awareness of the news industry’s financial woes: “They haven’t really come to grips – they haven’t started thinking about the demise of newsgathering organizations – what it means to me as an informed citizen,” he suggested. “Or they simply reject the premise that declining news gathering organizations would result in the decline of availability of news.”

Lindgren, who leads the Local News Research Project, has been investigating what she calls “local news poverty” in Canadian communities. Her research, she says, suggests that local news is available unevenly across the country and is increasingly at risk. Data from The Local News Map, which she created with the University of British Columbia’s Jon Corbett, shows 171 local news outlets have closed in 131 communities across the country. The list of closures documented on the crowd-sourced map includes 120 community newspapers.

Another study by the Local News Research Project examined the output of local news outlets in eight Canadian communities and found major differences in how much reporting they did on the local race for MP during the 2015 federal election.

“Where you live is a big factor in the availability of local news,” Lindgren said, noting that her research shows digital-first outlets do not seem to be filling the gap left by the loss of more traditional news producers.

Greenspon said the challenge in writing the PPF report was “how do you design something that supports journalism without the government gaining undue leverage?”

Some of the report’s 12 recommendations, he said, are “no-brainer(s),” including changes to Canada’s charitable status laws. Current rules that limit the resources a charity can devote to advocacy before having its status revoked have historically limited charitable funding of journalism initiatives in Canada.

The report says the “chilling” provisions related to charitable giving reflect “priorities and mores of 19th century England” and removing them could foster the sort of robust not-for-profit, charitable foundation-funded accountability journalism has seen in places like the U.S and Germany.

The “Shattered Mirror” report also recommended the creation of a Future of Democracy and Journalism Fund, to first be financed through an initial investment from the federal government, and then ultimately funded through the taxation of digital advertisers based outside of Canada. The money would be allocated to digital innovation initiatives outlined in the report and the fund would be overseen by an independent board.

The report also recommended:

  • providing additional funds to CBC online to eliminate ad sales.
  • supporting Indigenous news organizations and training journalists to increase the amount of reliable Indigenous journalism.
  • creating an institute for the study of journalism and democracy.
  • establishing legal advisory services for small, young and university news outlets to pursue accountability journalism “without fear of reprisal.”
  • overhauling the Copyright Act’s fair-dealing clauses to enable content creators to retain stronger intellectual property rights to their work.

Audio of the CJF panel is available in full.

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Local journalism in many jurisdictions is under threat as news outlets scale back operations, consolidate or close altogether, and many online local news sites struggle to stay afloat. Policy makers, citizens and others are now joining journalists in sounding the alarm about these losses and the potential impact on communities.

Is no news bad news? Local journalism and its future is a two-day conference scheduled for June 3-4, 2017 and organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. The conference, which will be held on the Ryerson University campus in Toronto, Ont., Canada, will bring together journalists, citizens, policy makers, educators and Canadian and international scholars to share the latest research related to local journalism and to explore potential solutions to the problems faced by this sector.

The conference will feature public panels as well as scholarly presentations dealing with local news-related issues.

The deadline for the submission of panel ideas and abstracts for research papers is Jan. 5, 2017. Presenters will be notified about the decision by Feb. 1, 2017.

For more information, click here for our Call For Papers: cfp-local-journalism-english_french-version

 

By ISABELLE DOCTO
Special to the RJRC

Photo reprinted courtesy of The City of Brampton

Photo reprinted courtesy of The City of Brampton

Efforts by the City of Brampton to reach newcomers through ethnic media will be an important test of how municipalities can better communicate with newcomers, particularly those who struggle with English, new research suggests.

The study, by Ryerson University journalism professor April Lindgren, examines the evolution of Brampton’s ethnic media strategy over the past decade.

“I knew that [Brampton] had a large number of media that served the Punjabi-speaking community,” Lindgren said. “A decade or so ago, a research study showed that the city’s policies in general weren’t all that welcoming to newcomers. But then in 2015 Brampton introduced a new ethnic media policy that is probably the most pro-active in the country. I wanted to investigate the reasons for this dramatic shift in attitude.”

Lindgren said local ethnic newspapers, websites and television programs play a key role in making local news and information accessible to immigrants, particularly those who are not fluent in English or French.

“Telling local stories is a really important role for ethnic media,” she said. “It helps newcomers to understand everything from the practical things, like what are the rules for clearing snow off the sidewalk, to intangible things such as what does this society value.”

Methodology

Lindgren used Kristin R. Good’s book “Municipalities and Multiculturalism: The Politics of Immigration in Toronto and Vancouver” as the starting point for examining Brampton’s evolving communication policy. Good’s 2004 fieldwork showed that Brampton officials were generally unresponsive to the dramatic demographic changes happening in the city. The city’s population surged by more than 60 per cent between 2001 and 2011, mostly the result of immigration. More than 17 per cent (91,345 people) of city residents now identify Punjabi as their mother tongue, which Statistics Canada says makes it the second most frequently spoken language after English.

The number of ethnic media outlets also expanded rapidly so that today about 50 ethnic news organizations — including 40 that target South Asian groups — receive press releases from the city.

Brampton’s communications department tried to reach out to its newest residents in 2007 by expanding the distribution of English-language news releases to include ethnic media. But Lindgren’s research showed this didn’t have much effect.

Her content analysis of the Canadian Punjabi Post, one of the higher profile Punjabi-language publications in Brampton, identified 480 news items about the Greater Toronto Area published over a three-week period in 2011. While 157 of the news items were about Brampton, only three pertained to city hall matters.

“When we looked at the Canadian Punjabi Post we found that there was actually very little Brampton city news in the paper. So clearly the city’s message wasn’t getting through – it wasn’t enough to just send out those English-language press releases to ethnic media,” Lindgren said.

Significant changes

In 2013 the city hired a specialty media coordinator who speaks and reads Punjabi. And then, in 2015, Brampton councillors embraced an expanded ethnic media strategy, approving an additional $408,937 to hire a second specialty media coordinator and engage an ethnic media monitoring service. The money was also allocated to translate some key corporate communications materials and all press releases into French and the 10 most commonly spoken languages other than English.

Although the original plan was scaled back, the city council did commit to funding the translation of media releases into French, Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese for a trial period until the end of 2015.

In the paper, Lindgren attributes Brampton’s attempts to reach out to residents via ethic media to rapid demographic shifts that caused “friction between newcomers and other residents.” The tensions, she said, pointed to the need for a more proactive policies to foster better intercultural understanding.

Major changes to the local council as a result of the 2014 municipal also helps explains the shift in direction, Lindgren wrote, noting that Brampton’s new mayor, Linda Jeffrey, “championed the expansion of ethnic media services.”

Lindgren suggested the new policy is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural communities: “I don’t think you can underestimate the symbolic importance of what the city’s done in terms of saying ‘we recognize these media outlets as being part of the established media’ in a sense and as being legitimate and valuable way to get their message out,” she said in an interview.

She speculated that the changes may lead to more city hall coverage in the ethnic media because the “staffing and financial constraints that plague many small news organizations suggest that a ready supply of translated local news may be to some degree irresistible.”

In a recent news report, however, the publisher of the Canadian Punjabi Post argues that better access to city politicians would be more helpful than translated press releases.

“The city is spending a lot of money on translation, which is not worth it as I have to rewrite the releases. This does not make sense to me,” Jagdish Gewal told New Canadian Media.

“My reporters are capable of writing news in English and Punjabi.”

Meanwhile, the trial period for Bampton’s expanded ethnic media strategy has been extended and a report on its effect will be discussed by council in the next few months, a city official said.

Lindgren’s paper, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise,” was published in the 2015 fall Issue of the Global Media Journal — Canadian Edition, Multicultural Media and Immigrant Integration.