Currently viewing the tag: "documentary"

Jan. 8, 2017

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

Scholarly research that explores how Canadian journalists view their role in society will be highlighted in a new documentary and accompanying website based on the results of the Canadian Worlds of Journalism Study.

“SHATTERED” directed by Lindsay Fitzgerald, a graduate of Ryerson’s Bachelor of Journalism and documentary-media MFA programs, will explore the working lives of Canadian journalists at a time of major disruption. The documentary, set to be released in 2019, will place these journalists’ stories in the context of Worlds of Journalism survey results that suggest Canadian journalists, more so than journalists in many other countries, see themselves as “detached watchdogs.”

“Scholars have used the phrase ‘detached watchdogs’ to mean the role of finding out information and reporting it, independently of political and business interests,” said Ivor Shapiro, a professor of journalism at Ryerson and the principal investigator for the Canadian study.

The Worlds of Journalism Study is a collaborative effort by international scholars who are comparing how journalists in different countries describe their values and practices. The idea is to help journalism researchers, practitioners, media managers and policymakers better understand the worldviews and changes that are taking place in the professional orientations of journalists, the conditions and limitations under which journalists operate, and the social functions of journalism in a changing world.

The Canadian documentary now in production will supplement traditional scholarly publication to generate wider understanding of journalists’ sense of professional purpose, said Shapiro, who is also associate dean of undergraduate education and student affairs in Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design. “This is a very precarious time to be a journalist and great change is (underway). So the documentary will bring the basic findings to life by following real -life journalists through their work and interactions while reporting.”

The Canadian Worlds of Journalism Study is one of 67 country studies in a global project that involved interviewing more than 27,500 journalists between 2012 and 2016. The questionnaire elicited views of journalists on journalism’s place in society, journalists’ ethics and autonomy, influences on news coverage, journalistic trust in public institutions and transformations of journalism. The Canadian study, which is now funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), received seed funding from the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre in 2014.

In addition to Shapiro and Fitzgerald, the research team for the Canadian study includes Geneviève Bonin, an associate professor in the department of communication at the University of Ottawa; Heather Rollwagen, an assistant professor with the department of sociology at Ryerson; RSJ assistant professor Lisa Taylor; and Lauriane Tremblay, a doctoral candidate in communications at Laval University in Québec.

Shapiro said the team conducted telephone interviews with 361 journalists in Canada. The researchers then followed up on the survey with 50 in-depth interviews conducted in person and by Skype with anglophone and francophone journalists, freelancers and journalists working at large, medium and small organizations.

The global questionnaire asked journalists to rank, from one to five, their agreement with various possible descriptions of their attitudes and influences. Rollwagen, the Ryerson sociologist, then analyzed these indicators to discover four ways in which individual journalists tended to group their answers . These groupings suggested four distinct approaches to journalists’ understanding of their social role – monitorial, collaborative, interventionist and accommodative.

“An interventionist role is an advocacy role,” Shapiro said. “The collaborative role is supporting government policy and the accommodative role is providing material that entertains audiences and finds large audiences (for content) like kittens playing or funny videos of people doing ridiculous things. But Canadian journalists see themselves playing a more monitorial role, because their job is to be independent from the government and power.”

The Canadian team’s findings have been presented at several conferences, and a scholarly journal submission is in progress. The team researchers also collaborated with colleagues in Belgium and Switzerland, where French is a minority language as well, and published a separate study called Quelle Différence? Language, culture and nationality as influences on francophone journalists’ identity. The combined group found that francophone journalists in all three countries were slightly more inclined than their German-speaking, Flemish and anglophone compatriots to identify with a politicized role that included agenda-setting, citizen-motivation and scrutinizing power. Conversely, the francophone journalists were less likely to identify with an audience-serving role of entertaining readers, according to the results.

Shapiro, whose research focuses on ethics and excellence in journalism, said the next phase of the Worlds of Journalism study will include another round in the global survey and new questions.

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Peter Raymont, producer of “All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone,” during a Q-and-A after a screening of the film at Ryerson University on March 23, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

Journalists shouldn’t worry about being branded activists because they are in fact “activists for truth,” says Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Raymont.

The need for hard-hitting investigative journalism is greater now than ever, Raymont said following a March 23 screening of his new documentary on investigative journalism.

“It’s the best of times and the worst of times at the same time,” he observed after the screening at Ryerson University. “One thing that the election of Donald Trump has done is lit a fire under journalists and filmmakers and all sorts of people on the left and on the progressive side of things.”

Nowadays, Raymont added, people are generally also more willing to speak to journalists and filmmakers: “There is more of that openness to speak out, speak truth to power [and] put yourself on the line, which is really helpful [and] really useful in democracy and truth-seeking.”

Raymont’s documentary, All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone, premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and has been screened worldwide, including in the United States, France, Greece and Belgium. The documentary “has been invited to more film festivals than any film I’ve ever had anything to do with,” Raymont said, including Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, his Emmy Award-winning documentary.

All Governments Lie features independent journalists such as Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. Greenwald and Scahill are co-founding editors of The Intercept, an online investigative publication dedicated to holding institutions accountable. The Intercept encourages whistleblowers to share their information and was founded after Greenwald’s work at the Guardian, where he was the lead reporter on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden. His reporting was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2014. Following in famous investigative journalist I.F. Stone’s footsteps, these American journalists expose government deception and provide alternatives to mainstream, corporate news outlets.

They are “the children of I.F. Stone – the metaphorical children who are continuing his legacy of independent journalism, aggressive journalism, journalism that really cares and tells the truth,” Raymont said.

Many news outlets in the United States, he said, are owned by huge corporations, resulting in a sort of “corporate coup d’état.”

To challenge this, he added, news outlets need to be more transparent.

“It’s important for journalists, publishers and editors to reveal who owns their newspapers and television networks and institutions,” Raymont said. “I think there’s a lot hidden about that right now. People don’t really know the owners of what they’re reading or what they’re consuming.”

One of his goals with the documentary, he added, was to make citizens more aware of who controls the news they consume so they can work together to turn the tide.

“I mean, one makes films with titles like All Governments Lie and the corporate coup d’état partly as a way of saying come on, folks, let’s get organized,” he said. “Let’s realize what’s happening. Let’s fight back against it…in whatever way we can.”

The screening was co-sponsored by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre and Ryeron’s Centre for Free Expression.

Watch Peter Raymont’s full Q-and-A below:

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Documentary filmmaker James Cullingham and exiled Mexican journalist Luis Horacio Nájera were featured speakers on March 9, 2017, at a Ryerson University panel about attacks on journalists in Mexico. (Jasmine Bala)

Mexico’s drug cartels are making full use of cyberspace to mount a campaign of intimidation targeting the country’s journalists and society, says exiled Mexican journalist Luis Horacio Nájera.

Since he fled Mexico in 2008, the drug cartels’ presence on social media has expanded and they now broadcast torture, decapitations and killings on blogs like Blog Del Narco, Nájera said during a March 9 presentation at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Nájera, who is now the PEN Canada George Brown Writer-in-Residence, said reporting on drug cartels and political corruption is now so dangerous for journalists that it is difficult for them to find safe havens inside the country: “Mexico City, before, was considered a safe place or safe city. But now, this is also a place of risk for journalists.”

In 2015, news magazine Proceso’s photojournalist Rubén Espinosa received threats in Veracruz and fled to Mexico City for safety, where he was subsequently assassinated. His colleague, Proceso crime reporter Regina Martinez Pérez, had been found dead in her Veracruz home in 2012.

No one knows who killed them, said James Cullingham, a documentary filmmaker and journalism professor at Seneca College, who appeared on the panel with Nájera.

“It could have been cartels, it could have been the state government of Veracruz or a police force in Veracruz in collusion with the cartels,” said Cullingham, who teaches a course on Mexico’s relationship to Canada and the United States. “Most of these deaths are not solved and the investigations are either immediately discredited or are so suspect that nobody in Mexico believes them, and in both [of these cases]…no one knows. They were journalists who were investigators and they were killed.”

Former president Felipe Calderón launched Mexico’s war on drug cartels in December 2006. Since then, at least 80,000 people have died in organized crime-related incidents according to estimates in a 2015 report released by the Congressional Research Service.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported last year that 107 journalists were murdered between 2000 and September 2015, making Mexico “one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice journalism.”

Just last week, Armando Arrieta Granados, the editorial director of the Veracruz newspaper La Opinión, was shot and remains in serious condition, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. A few days earlier on March 23, Miroslava Breach Velducea, a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada, was killed as she was leaving her home in Chihuahua.

Nájera said that in his case he was working for Grupo Reforma back in February 2008 when he and a group of journalists wrote a story on a military operation targeting a Juárez Cartel safe house. The day after the story was published, the journalists received a threatening email saying: “You have to stop or we’re going to chop your heads, including you and including those police officers and soldiers who participated in this raid against us.”

Nájera wrote in a 2010 report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists that a reliable source informed him that his name was on an organized crime hit list because of his reporting on the Juárez drug wars.

“Having seen the pervasive climate of violent crime and impunity,” he wrote, “I could not trust the government and I could not simply let myself be killed under some lonely streetlight. In September 2008, I left Mexico with my family and went to Vancouver, Canada.”

Cullingham said many major media organizations in Mexico no longer use bylines in efforts to protect their journalists. Other news organizations have stopped covering crime altogether and “are saying ‘we’ve just walked away from the story. We can’t have our reporters killed regularly,’” he said.

While the situation in Mexico is dire, Cullingham said, reporters are still committed to documenting what is going on in the country: “It amazes me that [they] continue to produce journalism under these conditions…People are risking their lives to try and tell the story.”

The Mexican government, he noted, has taken some steps to protect journalists, including adopting the 2012 Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. It allows the state to offer various forms of protection to journalists at risk, including portable pocket-sized panic buttons, bodyguards and police patrols. A report published by the Washington Office on Latin America and Peace Brigades International, however, found that these measures are “often not adequately implemented.”

Journalists and investigators, Nájera said, are no longer the only ones being targeted by the cartels.

“Before they were [threatening] police officers, journalists, people who were working on these things,” he said. These were “threats to press freedom, but this is moving towards threats to freedom of expression, which includes civil society and that’s the bigger risk for Mexico.”

The presentation by Nájera and Cullingham was co-sponsored by Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression and the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

Watch the full panel below: