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Feb. 5, 2017

Staff reporter

Producer and broadcaster Jesse Wente delivers his keynote lecture at the launch of the Digital News Innovation Challenge at Ryerson University. (Amanda Pope)

A website to help children understand the news, a mobile platform that provides newsrooms with better access to eyewitness videos, and an online platform for distributing newscasts on voice-activated devices were among the ideas-in-progress at the recent launch of the Digital News Innovation Challenge.

Nearly 100 journalists, aspiring entrepreneurs and students attended the Jan. 25 launch of the Canada-wide incubation program in Ryerson University’s DMZ. The event was an opportunity to learn more about how to become one of five journalism startups accepted into the Facebook-sponsored program. The teams selected through the Challenge process will each have access to up to $100,000 in seed capital.

Participants attending Digital News Innovation: Framing the Challenge heard working journalists, scholars, DMZ leaders and officials from Facebook outline the selection procedure as well as specific journalism challenges in need of entrepreneurial solutions.

“These days, the most captivating footage of any event is usually captured by someone on the scene with a smartphone,” said Andrei Sabau, the founder of Seen, a platform he says will make it easier for news organizations to discover, verify and license photos and video published online. “While we can be certain that most events are well documented by those in attendance, the inability for news organizations to quickly and securely access that content leads to a slow dissemination of information. Global events take hours to be clearly communicated to the broader population, while many local stories are never covered.”

The Challenge, a partnership between the Facebook Journalism Project, the DMZ and the Ryerson School of Journalism, will accept applications now through to March 9. The five applicants admitted to the program will be announced this spring. In addition to access to seed money, participants will each receive a Facebook marketing budget of up to $50,000 to promote their innovations on the social platform.

The startups will spend from April to September in Sandbox, the DMZ’s skills development space. In addition to accessing support for entrepreneurial ideas and early-stage startups, participants will gain access to high-profile senior mentors, workshops designed by digital news experts in Canada, workspace in Ryerson’s DMZ and the opportunity to work with investors, journalists, experts and researchers.

Richard Lachman, Ryerson’s director of zone learning, said that, among other qualities, adjudicators will be looking for applicants who are coachable: “If you are so fixated on your idea that you are sure you have the most brilliant thing in the world, you probably shouldn’t apply. We are hoping to help. We have expertise to help you pivot that idea, to alter that idea, to become coached with all the expertise around. We are looking for people who are open to refining their ideas based on the program.”

The $100,000 in seed capital will be dispersed in phases beginning with the release of $20,000 to each participant at the start of the Challenge. Each team will receive two more installments of $20,000 upon completion of clearly identified milestones. At the end of September, there will be a final presentation where teams will be eligible for another $40,000.

The launch included a mini symposium that explored journalism-related challenges, including how to attract and retain audiences, the impacts of an advertising-based model on traditional journalism, and the social impacts of obtaining news from platforms that weren’t purpose-built for journalism.

Jesse Wente, the event’s keynote speaker, identified the disconnect between news organizations and their audiences as a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

“When large institutions fail to be inclusive and at the same time their audiences are rapidly becoming more diverse, you have a recipe for irrelevance,” said Wente, an Ojibwe broadcaster and columnist on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “What happens is you create…enormous gaps where people cannot find themselves in your coverage. They don’t see stories that represent them, that speak to the issues that are present in their daily lives.”

During a panel on the state of local news media, April Lindgren, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, outlined a list of problems besetting local news organizations.

“We need ideas that make it easy for local news organizations to engage with their audiences or build them; ideas that measure the impact of individual local news stories; … ideas that make it easier for citizens to contribute to local coverage; and innovations for older audiences that aren’t really digitally savvy,” said Lindgren, who leads the Local News Research Project.

She said her research shows that local news is at risk and unevenly available across Canada. The latest data from the Local News Map, which Lindgren created with the University of British Columbia’s Jon Corbett, shows that 238 local news outlets have closed since 2008, including 212 newspapers in 173 communities. Most were community newspapers that published fewer than five times per week.

Radha Tailor, a senior correspondent for the Bramptonist, said residents in Brampton are news deprived: “Brampton has a population of around 600,000 people, but we are limited on news accessibility. We don’t have our own television channel. There is a huge challenge in that people have not been interested in the news in Brampton for a long time. How do we make them interested?”

The lack of full time staff at the Bramptonist, she said, also means there is no time for innovation: “We have a small team of eight and everyone is freelance or on contract. We don’t have anyone there that is full-time.”

Laura Ellis, the head of online for English regions at the BBC, said the challenges faced by local journalism in the United Kingdom are similar to what is happening in Canada. The United Kingdom has lost about 200 local newspapers over the last decade, she said, along with about half of the journalists who once worked in local news.

The BBC, Ellis said, is seeking to address this “democratic deficit” by hiring reporters to cover civic institutions, placing them in local newsrooms, and sharing their content far and wide.

“We cannot go to council meetings and people are getting away with stuff,” Ellis said. “We now have 150 new journalists who will be covering their institutions, including local councils and health boards. They will be publishing stories everyday online and in the newspapers.”

While panelists outlined a long list of journalism challenges in need of solutions, many in the audience already had ideas in the works. is an online platform to distribute newscasts on voice-activated devices such as Google Home or Alexa. Armel Beaudry said his media startup makes it easier for audiences to find local content and for journalists to share news coverage. Local journalists, for instance, can share newscasts with their audience using “capsules”– audio messages that journalists can record through the platform to play to listeners.

With the loss of so many local newspapers, Beaudry says, “there is a need to better distribute local journalism. There are a lot of people who want news and content but there is only coverage with a broad appeal and a limited amount of coverage with a local appeal.”

Teaching Kids News, co-founded by Joyce Grant, is an online site that publishes stories about the news of the day with extra context and in language children can understand. The team of volunteer journalists working on the site also produces curriculum and grammar questions for every news article that children can understand and that is relevant for teachers and parents who are homeschooling their offspring. Grant said she would use the Challenge funds to pay the volunteers and build her startup.

“We’re looking for expertise and information on how to monetize our innovative idea,” said Grant. “It is really exciting to think we may be able to get into this program and learn what we need to learn. Everything that they’re offering is what we are looking for– a space to work out of, a community to get information from, and contacts and funding. This program can help us to take our idea that is solving a problem and build it.”

Dec. 13, 2017

Staff reporter

Sandbox, a skills development space within Ryerson University’s business incubator the Digital Media Zone, will house five digital news startups. (Courtesy Ryerson University)

Five Canadian journalism entrepreneurs will each receive up to $100,000 in seed money for their early-stage startups as a result of a new program designed to encourage journalism innovation.

In addition to the seed money, each of the finalists in the Digital News Innovation Challenge will receive a Facebook marketing budget of $50,000 to promote their company’s innovation on the social platform. The partnership, between the Facebook Journalism Project, the DMZ and the Ryerson School of Journalism, will support digital news ideas and tech companies that drive innovation for journalism and news organizations.

“A lot of the traditional business models of journalism are floundering and are not finding the readers and audiences they want,” said Janice Neil, the chair of the Ryerson School of Journalism. “ This program will let people explore and create other options and give people a place to think of new ideas– new content that will be appealing, new ways of getting information or new ways of gathering information.”

The program, which will run from April through to September 2018, offers the five startups a place at Sandbox, the DMZ’s skills development space offering support to entrepreneurial ideas and early-stage startups. The entrepreneurs will gain access to high-profile senior mentors; workshops designed by digital news experts in Canada; workspace in Ryerson’s DMZ – the leading university-based business incubator in North America; and the opportunity to work with investors, journalists, experts and researchers.

Neil said the initiative is important for the Ryerson School of Journalism because it offers opportunities to explore new ways of producing quality journalism.

“This is an opportunity to put the Ryerson brand on this program but more importantly, to give our faculty and students the chance to engage with people who have ideas or experts (who are a) part of the process by attending workshops and modules,” Neil said.

Asmaa Malik, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism, said the program is an opportunity for students and faculty members to learn more about journalism innovation.

“There will be robust educational components in terms of a conference talking about frontiers in news and what people are doing across the world,” Malik said. “We spend a lot of time learning about traditional journalism in the classroom so I think this program will bring a different approach to journalism in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“There is a lot for students to learn and for us as a journalism school in terms of looking forward and the changes we need to make as a journalism school.”

The adjudicators, who have yet to be announced, will be looking for projects that tackle a compelling problem within the Canadian digital news and journalism landscape. Successful applicants must have a strong business model, a collaborative leadership team and innovative digital news and storytelling ideas that can be turned into sustainable businesses.

“The money is a great incentive,” Malik said. “We don’t have a robust startup culture like the U.S., like Silicon Valley. So I think when it comes to an investment, this is a great investment for a new Canadian startup.

“It will make the challenge quite exciting in terms of who applies and who shows interest. There will be a lot of competition.”

At the end of the program, there will be a demo day where the startups will present their companies and ideas to a panel of judges, mentors and industry leaders.

Malik, who teaches entrepreneurial journalism to undergraduates and graduate students in the School of Journalism, said the purpose of this Canada-wide program is to drive innovation and find the people who care about the future of journalism and the news.

“The goal is to find unexpected approaches to solving some of the big problems in content, distribution, the diversity of perspectives or access to news and information,” Malik said. “This is a great opportunity to see what people across Canada are up to.”

Applications for the Digital News Innovation Challenge will open on Jan. 25, 2018 and will close on March 9, 2018.

Media lawyer and Ryerson School of Journalism adjunct professor Brian MacLeod Rogers. (Paul Lawrence courtesy Ryerson School of Journalism)

Staff Reporter

The European Court of Justice’s 2014 ruling on the “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) doesn’t just affect search engines, it also has implications for journalists, said Ryerson University School of Journalism adjunct professor and media lawyer Brian MacLeod Rogers.

In 2014, the court ruled that individuals have the right to ask search engines, such as Google, to remove links with personal information if the details are inaccurate or no longer relevant. Search engines have to make case-by-case assessments of requests under EU law.

The decision, Rogers said in an interview, also had implications for reporters in European newsrooms. Journalists there, he explained, have reason to fear that the right could “impact free expression and the ability of news organizations to publish” and to keep information published as a complete historical record.

The ruling has not yet affected Canadian journalists directly, Rogers said. But, he added: “I think that it certainly focuses on an issue that has been a subject of great concern and debate, and that is unpublishing generally.”

Unpublishing is just one of the potential implications of the RTBF idea that is explored by Rogers and Ryerson University School of Journalism professor Ivor Shapiro in a recent paper published in Digital Journalism. The researchers define unpublishing as “retrospective redaction of error-free news reports.”

Researcher and Ryerson School of Journalism professor Ivor Shapiro. (Courtesy Ryerson School of Journalism)

The paper, “How the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Challenges Journalistic Principles,” not only explains the law that now applies in Europe, but also explores how its core ideas might help journalists resolve dilemmas that they face increasingly often.

“We tried to set out some of the legal principles and the ethical principles behind this decision,” Shapiro said, “to make some suggestions to journalists as to how to handle questions of unpublishing and informed consent.”

Although journalists traditionally resist unpublishing, the increased frequency of requests from members of the public for the removal of articles about themselves has journalists reassessing their practices, explains Shapiro and Roger’s report.

Unpublishing requests often come from people who have previously been accused of crimes and want details of these past accusations erased from online history. “Crime reporting is notoriously episodic and often left unfinished in the public record,” the authors observe in their research paper.

“Individuals who’ve been named in those earlier stories are coming up in [Internet searches], and people getting those results don’t see what happened to the charges and the fact that they may have been thrown out,” said Rogers.

Although unpublishing requests aren’t new, they have become much more frequent as web searches become part of daily routine, Rogers and Shapiro wrote. Meanwhile, journalists are slowly changing their practices with the knowledge that the stories they publish will remain on the web—in some form—forever.

Rogers and Shapiro’s paper describes how, in one journalism ethics class co-taught by the two authors, a news reporter said that “he and a colleague had decided to include a video of a criminal act, showing the face of the alleged perpetrator, but decided against including that person’s full name in the written report. Their grounds for doing so: a face on video will not show up in name-based search results.”

If this had been an old-fashioned print story, explained Shapiro, the journalists would probably have just used the alleged perpetrator’s name. “There’s no possible libel case because they have the crime actually captured on video. So from a legal view, it doesn’t matter whether they use his name or not.”

The RTBF issue has also prompted discussions among journalists about informed consent. Just like unpublishing requests, the concept has traditionally been neglected in journalistic practice, the paper says. Today, however, some journalists are doing more to ensure that sources understand how a story’s appearance on the web could potentially harm them.

Journalists who seek informed consent from sources, the authors wrote, show “an attitude of greater consideration toward ordinary citizens” by explaining the long-term implications of publication.

“I’m not saying that every journalist, before talking to a source, needs to get them to sign a waiver indicating their awareness of all the personal consequences of an interview,” said Shapiro. “But I am saying that the discussion around consent needs to take into account the nature of the personal harm that can come to the person and the means by which [we ensure] that the person is aware of the personal harm that can result.”

As for the law in Canada, the right to be forgotten is unlikely to become a fixture here soon, said Rogers—at least not outside Quebec.

Europe has a long-established legal framework for protecting privacy, Rogers explained, as does Quebec. Litigation in this area is governed not by judge-made common law, but by a civil code and a Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which, like the European human-rights convention, explicitly includes the right to privacy and the right to reputation. “And I think that there is, to some extent, a different sensibility about privacy and certainly different judicial reasoning around the issue of privacy,” Rogers said.

In common-law Canada, he added, civil rights complaints fall under provincial jurisdiction, so introducing a right to privacy would require the federal government to work with the provinces.