Currently viewing the tag: "history of journalism"

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

April 13, 2018

Ryerson University master of journalism student Michael D’Alimonte (Courtesy of Michael D’Alimonte)

Gay men living with HIV/AIDS were underrepresented and often portrayed in a negative light by Toronto mainstream newspapers covering the early years of the health crisis, according to a new study.

The research paper by Ryerson University master of journalism student Michael D’Alimonte also suggests that the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail were too eager to publish scientifically dubious findings during the early years of the crisis in the 1980s.

“The (research) paper is a lesson on reporting on an emerging health crisis,” said D’Alimonte, whose paper has been accepted for presentation at the Canadian Communication Association meeting this spring. “Reporters can’t just take official sources at their word. They have to question things and reporters need to go into these at-risk groups and make connections to get the insiders perspective rather than taking an outsiders approach and reporting from there.”

D’Alimonte, who is completing his final year in the master of journalism program, compared the AIDS coverage by the two mainstream papers to reporting by The Body Politic, a monthly that billed itself as a “gay liberation newspaper.” He found substantial differences.

The Body Politic, he said, was more more likely to question early research claims that AIDS can be spread by casual contact – a claim that turned out to be false. Gay men living with AIDS were also given a voice in the publication’s coverage more frequently than in mainstream publications.

D’Alimonte’s content analysis also revealed that when AIDS was first recognized as a public health issue, The Body Politic reported more extensively on developments and also played the role of an advocate, adopting a critical perspective on AIDS as a social and public health issue, he said.

D’Alimonte said he decided to investigate news coverage of the early years of the AIDS epidemic after having a partner who was diagnosed as HIV-positive. He became more aware of the stigma faced by people who are HIV-positive, he said, when his partner encountered immigration difficulties moving from the United States to Canada.

“This got me interested in where all of this stigma came from,” D’Alimonte said. “As a queer male, I never learned about any of that stuff in school, so I took it upon myself to learn about the AIDS epidemic and also about that period of time in a Toronto context. Not a lot of people are aware that a lot of the activism surrounding AIDS was centred in Toronto.”

The paper, AIDS Coverage By Three Toronto-Based Print News Publications, examines AIDS coverage by the three news outlets in Toronto from 1981, when it was first reported on, to 1987.

In his analysis, D’Alimonte, 26, investigated the extent to which the newspapers focused on people who were diagnosed with AIDS and were ill rather than stories of healthy HIV-positive individuals. He examined how frequently AIDS stories appeared in the newspapers and the significance of word choice and terminology. Use of the term “plague,” he noted, implied that gay men with AIDS were deserving of their affliction because they were sexually deviant. The study also looked at where AIDS-related stories appeared in the publications and the types of sources quoted.

D’Alimonte said he wanted to see if the Toronto coverage mirrored patterns of early AIDS reporting in the United States, where researchers have divided the coverage into four distinct “eras.” He found that in the initial era from from June 1981, when the first AIDS cases were reported, to April 1983, the Star and the Globe virtually ignored the issue.

The Globe published just one article related to AIDS, a 1981 story titled “Young gays sensitive to rare cancer: study.” The article focused on Kaposi’s sarcoma, the “rare cancer” alluded to in the title, and featured only scientific sources. Individuals with the disease were nowhere in the story. Both the title and the lede of the piece connect this rare cancer to the gay male community, but no real explanation was provided for this link.

The Toronto Star, meanwhile, did not publish its first AIDS-related story until November 1982 when it a piece ran under the headline “Atlanta disease detectives hot on trail of ‘gay plague.’”

“Likening AIDS to a ‘gay plague’ makes those afflicted by the disease (who are mostly homosexuals and drug-users, as the piece points out) seem deserving of their fate,” D’Alimonte wrote in the research paper. “Drug-users and homosexuals, already seen as deviants in the public eye at the time, are being punished by God. That is, at least, what the language used implicitly suggests.”

The two mainstream newspapers may not have felt a sense of urgency to report on AIDS, D’Alimonte said, because their team and audience were outside of the community at risk: “No matter what the circumstance is,” he said, “it is always easy to point fingers. We are born in a way that makes the one group as the ‘other’ when you’re not a part of that community. During this time period, there was a lot of research and early reporting saying that the gay community is the reason why this disease is expanding.”

During the subsequent “Science Era,” from the spring of 1983 until June 1985, American journalists relied on scientific, academic sources in their reporting, and the Canadian newspapers did as well. The Globe and the Star would instantly write about new AIDS-related research, D’Alimonte said, and that occasionally led to the dissemination of misleading information.

The Body Politic, D’Alimonte said in an interview, took more cautious approach: “(Its) writers realized that what they wrote would influence how people thought,” he said, “especially when they are coming from their own community. They knew they shouldn’t just take information and report it out as soon as they got it.”

The publication went beyond simply disseminating information, D’Alimonte said, and worked to offer guidance to its readers, pointing out what information may be accurate, what may be false and where they could find out more.

Following the AIDS-related death of Rock Hudson in 1985, the general population became interested and concerned about AIDS, and both Canadian papers dramatically increased coverage. During the so-called Human Era of news coverage between July 1985 to January 1987, D’Alimonte found that the Globe and the Star did a better job of humanizing the disease, drawing upon people affected within the queer community as well as other at-risk groups as sources.

The Body Politic ceased publication in 1987, the same year AIDS coverage took off in the mainstream media during what is known as the Political Era of coverage. By that point, D’Alimonte said, AIDS became a major news topic – a public health issue the general population wanted to know more about. After publishing just 73 stories in 1986, the Globe and Mail carried 236 AIDS-related stories in 1987. The number of stories in the Star increased to 146 in 1987, up from 56 in 1986

D’Alimonte said he hopes his research paper will inform millennials of what happened during the AIDS epidemic and the legacy of it.

By JASMINE BALA
Staff reporter

A guessing contest in The San Francisco Examiner on Sept. 29, 1895 (Courtesy of Paul Moore).

Building audience engagement has long been a newsroom preoccupation, only today it involves Instagram and Facebook, while in the past publishers seduced readers with paper cut-out toys and thrilling accounts of reporters on around-the-world races against time.

New research on the history of Sunday newspapers by Paul Moore, an associate professor in Ryerson University’s sociology department, examines one of the greatest audience engagement gimmicks of all time: The New York World’s decision to send reporter Nellie Bly travelling around the globe. Bly was assigned to beat the fictional record described in the Jules Verne novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She completed the trip in 72 days.

“There was, of course, a guessing contest for readers to be more personally invested in The World’s regular reports of Bly’s travels,” Moore and Concordia University professor Sandra Gabriele write in their forthcoming book, The Sunday Paper.

They examine Bly’s exploits as part of their research on the history and role of weekend newspapers in mass consumer society between 1888 and 1922 in North America. The research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, will be published by the University of Illinois Press as part of a larger series, The History of Communication.

The 1890s was a period of innovation and experimentation as publishers tried to attract audiences and teach people “how to read the newspaper when it was a new object – a mass-leisure object,” Moore said. What was happening back then, he explained, is similar to what’s going on today: News organizations faced with massive disruption due to digital technologies are experimenting with “new practices of reading and new practices of engaging with the [news] now that it has a new form.”

Guessing contests were a popular form of audience engagement in the 1890s. In the case of Bly’s travel assignment, readers were asked to guess how many days the trip would take. The winner received a free trip to Europe. Guessing contests, Moore added, almost always required the purchase of a newspaper to obtain a ballot, so the device was “clearly about selling papers. But it’s also about engaging people with the act of buying the paper and with the act of reading the paper closely.”

The guessing games usually involved contests more modest than circumnavigations of the globe. In 1895, for instance, both The San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle ran contests asking people to guess the size of their large Sunday editions and offering cash prizes to the winners, Moore and Gabriele wrote.

The publishers asked “how many words [were] in a 32-page Examiner or how many words [were] in a 28-page San Francisco Chronicle…which is just crazy to think of,” Moore said. “But people sent in guesses – educated guesses – and won those contests.”

Advertising, puzzles and photographs in the Sunday paper were other early strategies designed to make reading the paper and engaging with the news a habit. Supplements like paper cut-out toys were included for younger audiences; The Boston Sunday Globe, for example, gave away paper dolls with miniature stage sets.

A cut-out paper printing press with dolls from a 1896 copy of The Boston Sunday Globe.

 

While the supplements weren’t news, Moore said, “they are as important as the news itself or even more important than the news itself for that role that the historic newspaper had in creating [engagement in] mass society.”

Publishers also built engagement by offering readers behind-the-scene glimpses of how newspapers were produced. The Chicago Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer did this by installing viewing galleries overlooking pressrooms to show off their new press machines at work, Moore and Gabriele wrote.

While the technologies have changed, the authors argue that variations on the same strategy are still used to engage audiences. These days, for instance, the Chicago Tribune offers opportunities for readers to meet Tribune journalists in person as well as two-hour tours of their printing plants for $25.

Other newsrooms are using virtual reality (VR) tools to provide audience experiences. “They’ll make a New York Times VR documentary about the production of the paper itself,” Moore noted.  And when The New York Times Magazine (NYT) published its first virtual reality piece, “The Displaced,” two years ago, it gave all print subscribers a Google Cardboard VR viewer with the weekend paper so they could watch it.

Still from the virtual reality documentary “The Displaced” by The New York Times Magazine.

More recently, the magazine created its own Minecraft world as part of a larger feature on the video game. Readers could log onto the NYT server and explore the magazine’s world if they had the game downloaded. A video that showcased the world was available for those who did not have Minecraft.

Historically, Moore said, the Sunday papers touched on all parts of daily life: leisure, business, democratic engagement and shopping. But in the 21st century, he observed, the newspaper for the most part no longer carries the department store ads, movie listings and the classifieds that are all easily accessible online.

“The paper has been left with only the news and not the other sections in the same website,” Moore said. “So, you know, the internet itself, unfortunately for newspapers, is the new Sunday paper in the 21st century…The internet itself is that form that contains all the supplements to the news and that doesn’t hold out hope for traditional news organizations maintaining their commercial dominance.”

Audience Engagement Then

  • Contests: Prizes were offered to individuals who won guessing contests on everything from elections outcome and census population counts to the newspaper’s own production statistics.
  • Paper cut-out toys: As Sunday papers turned to colour print papers they introduced paper cut-out toys such as paper dolls and miniature stage sets. The Boston Sunday Globe also gave away miniature toy versions of their colour printing machine.
  • Tours: In the 1890s, news organizations including The New Yorks World, The Chicago Herald, The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer offered tours and installed viewing galleries above their pressrooms.
  • Hot air balloon trips: In 1887, The World’s Sunday edition sent a reporter out in a hot air balloon to go from St. Louis to just outside of New York. The trip, inspired by another of Jules Verne’s novels, was designed to show readers that the newspaper could bring fiction to life.
  • Comic mascots: Some of the earliest recurring cartoon characters were newspaper mascots.  The Boston Sunday Globe’s “Globe man,” for example, had a torso the shape of a globe and a waistband reading: “The Largest Circulation in New England.”

Audience Engagement Now

  • Virtual reality documentaries: The New York Times has a virtual reality app to showcase its VR films while other major news outlets, like The Globe and Mail, are experimenting with the new immersive technology.
  • Social media apps: Most, if not all, major news outlets can be found on Instagram and Facebook, where they engage with their readers through comments. The New York Times has combined an app with celebrity by collaborating with Nigella Lawson to create a food-themed Pinterest board for Valentine’s day.
  • Tours and meetups: The Chicago Tribune and other news outlets offer tours of their pressrooms and face-to-face meetups with their journalists to give readers a look into what goes on behind-the-scenes.
  • Collaboration between writing and radio: The New York Times has worked with public radio WBUR to create a podcast of its weekly “Modern Love” column, and with WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life to tell a patient’s story about being shot in the chest by hospital guards.