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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 MIRIAM VALDES-CARLETTI
Staff reporter

Newsroom collaborations can give students valuable training and provide a service by filling gaps in local news coverage, says a media labour expert.

Errol Salamon, the work and labour editor at J-Source, says that established media publishers and editors have also helped students by giving them the temporary power to run mainstream media companies.

In 1933, the Vancouver Sun gave students at the University of British Columbia an opportunity to take over the newsroom for the day. This was over a decade before formal journalism programs were introduced in Canada.

“Widely distributed content by student journalists could help circulate higher quality news and address the problems of local news deserts,” said Salamon.

He went on to quote Nicholas Lemann, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, saying, “Like teaching hospitals, journalism schools can provide essential services to their communities while they’re educating their students.”

Salamon, who co-wrote Journalism in Crisis: Bridging Theory and Practice for Democratic Media Strategies in Canada, was joined on a panel about students solutions to issues in journalism models by Archie McLean and Janice Paskey – journalism professors from Mount Royal University – at a recent conference on the future of local news at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

There are lessons to be learned from the history of journalistic collaborations between news organizations and college campuses that can be traced back to the early 20th century, he said.

In 1920, the three daily newspapers in Winnipeg stopped publishing for six days due to a print shortage. During this time, The Manitoban – the University of Manitoba’s weekly campus newspaper – shifted to daily production for four of the six days. The editor of the student paper at the time, Graham Spry, went on to champion the cause for public broadcasting in Canada.

Paskey says that faculty editors at student publications would like to collaborate more with local news organizations but don’t get taken up on offers or are still trying to make it happen.

She conducted a study alongside McLean to discover if Canadian journalism programs were trying to fill the gap in local news in their communities. Of the five colleges and fives universities that participated, she discovered that some publications covered campus news, some covered external, and some a mix of both.

Publications that covered news stories that resonate with the wider community got the most traffic, they found.

When the University of Regina’s paper, The Carillon, reported on the Saskatchewan provincial budget, their work garnered 52,000 pageviews– evidence to Paskey that their coverage helped fill a local news gap. Another example cited was the University of King’s College paper, The Signal, which reported the story of a family experiencing homelessness that found housing after asking for help on Kijiji. Paskey says it was a story of the times that resonated with the community by demonstrating a social need for affordable housing.

Pageviews for Canadian campus publications in the study ranged from 6,800 to 18,000 a month – a level of engagement Paskey calls significant.

McLean, who examined social media during the study, found that the usage of Facebook and Twitter was high, but underutilized still.

“If [campus] journalism news sites are serious about filling the news gap then they need to be better on social media and do it differently.” said McLean.

Since audiences are mobile and social, journalistic outlets need to cater their stories to each platform, McLean suggests. While it’s easy enough to share the same article across all platforms without changing things around, it’s not the best strategy to maximize engagement. Campus publications need to better optimize their stories for each social media platform, he says

When using Facebook – what McLean describes as the “900-pound. gorilla of social media”– student outlets had the highest engagement leading to their website. Twitter landed second because driving traffic to the website wasn’t its strength.

“The story sits at the heart of what you do,” he said, “then you take pieces of the story and optimize them for the various platforms. This can be a 30-second Facebook video and some text used for a newsletter.”

It’s important that students learn new strategies going forward since they’re living in a digital era, said McLean.

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Gail Cohen, former editor of the Law Times, kicks off the Ryerson School of Journalism’s teach-in event on March 13, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

Journalism matters now more than ever, the media director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told journalism students and faculty during the Ryerson School of Journalism’s (RSJ) recent teach-in day.

Gail Cohen, former editor of the Law Times, said that while the news industry is struggling to adjust to digital and business challenges, the fundamental role of journalists in a democracy has not changed.

“[Journalism] changes the law and it uncovers tremendous harm,” Cohen told the crowd. “It rights wrongs by shining light on unjust and harmful behaviour by individuals, corporations and most importantly, by the government.

“These are definitely troubled times and the role of journalists – however you define that – is still tremendously important, particularly [in] protecting our democracy and fundamental freedoms.”

The RSJ cancelled classes on March 14 and instead hosted a daylong program of workshops and panels designed to help students make sense of the current news environment. These sessions were designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge to manage at a time when “journalists – and so many others – are being insulted, demeaned and dismissed,” reads the teach-in’s website.

Following Cohen’s address, working journalists delivered a series of 10-minute power pep talks. Toronto Star columnist and digital editor

Shree Paradkar said she gets a relentless stream of comments from trolls who attack her personally. “I actually don’t care about it,” she said. “I have the conviction that what I’m doing or what I’m saying is right. So when people resort to attacks that are just personal and have nothing to do with the topic on hand, then I think that’s an unravelling on their part.”

Paradkar said when her column on race and gender launched she “only expected negativity.” She therefore celebrates any positive comments that come to her and engages senders in conversation.

“It’s only when people actually come with a point and counterargument that I’m able to have a discussion,” she said.

During her power pep talk, Torontoist interim managing editor Andrea Houston said that although the line between advocacy and regular reporting is increasingly blurred, accuracy is still what defines quality journalism: “Having an opinion and having a bias doesn’t make you a bad journalist,” she said. “We’re at a place now in this new world that we’re in – reporting in an age of Trump – where [advocacy] can’t be a bad word. It has to be your motivation. It has to feed that fire in your belly.”

Interim Torontoist managing editor and RSJ lecturer Andrea Houston talks about advocacy journalism during her power pep talk. (Jasmine Bala)

Houston, who teaches a course on queer media at the RSJ, said journalists have to go back to the basics and be “frontline watchdogs.” This means challenging authority and “calling out injustice, calling out oppression and not being afraid to put your cards on the table,” she said. “We’re meant to be that person in between power and the public to filter information, but also to amplify voices … that don’t normally get amplified.”

The need for journalists to give voice to the voiceless was also a theme during the event’s workshop: “Refugee, Immigrant, Permanent Resident, Citizen: Why you need to know the difference.” Graham Hudson, an associate professor in Ryerson’s criminology department, said journalists have a responsibility to make sure the voices of non-status migrants are heard and to ensure the public understands what the migration experience really looks like.

A non-status migrant, Hudson said, is a person who has entered and remained in Canada without explicit authorization from the federal government. Terms that are synonymous with this, he adds, are “irregular migrant,” “undocumented migrant” and “migrant with precarious status.”

Using the term “illegal migrant,” on the other hand, “distorts the discourse,” Hudson said, noting that it has been used incorrectly to describe refugees crossing the U.S. border into Manitoba and Quebec.

In fact, he said, asylum seekers have a “legal right to enter a country without legal permission. It sounds weird, but that’s how the statute of Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was phrased and that’s how international law is phrased and it makes a lot of sense.

“If you’re a refugee and you’re fleeing from persecution or grave human rights abuses, you don’t have the luxury of time to wait, to apply for a visa to enter the country – you’re fleeing for your life and time is of the essence.”

Terms such as “illegal migrants” are used to frame debates and shift discussion – and media coverage – away from “what’s going on in the real world of migration,” Hudson said.

A recent study he worked on with fellow researchers Charity-Ann Hannan, Michele Manocchi and Idil Atak, for instance, concludes that Toronto is not living up to its promises of being a “sanctuary city.”

“The policy,” Hudson and his co-authors write, “directs city officials not to: 1) inquire into immigration status when providing select services, 2) deny non-status residents access to services to which they are entitled and 3) share personal or identifying information with federal authorities, unless required to do so by federal or provincial law.”

The policies are designed to ensure the children of non-status migrants go to school and that they and their families have access to healthcare and police protection. Contrary to the policy, however, the report notes that police officers do ask about immigration status and have “engaged in unsolicited sharing of personal information with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and arrested and transferred non-status persons to the CBSA.”

Melita Kuburas, RSJ graduate, and Ryerson associate professor Graham Hudson deliver a workshop on immigration during the RSJ’s teach-in. (Jasmine Bala)

RSJ graduate Melita Kuburas, who was also part of the immigration workshop, said she and her family came to Toronto as refugees in 1993 and that a Toronto Star article about her family’s arrival influenced her career choice.

Kuburas, who is now the associate managing editor of Metro News’ entertainment and lifestyle section, said her parents kept a clipping of the story and photo in a drawer. “I always looked at the [photo] and I think – I’m sure – that symbolically, that made me want to go into journalism,” she said.

Kuburas and her family were Bosnian Muslims caught up in the civil war and conflict after the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia.

“One day, we just saw tanks coming through our little town and Serb military soldiers knocked on everyone’s doors,” she told the rapt audience. The soldiers ordered teenage boys and all grown men, including her father, to go with them, Kuburas said, but one of her youngest uncles – who was only 18 at the time – fled and hid.

“When Serbs found out that he was hiding, they came to collect him and he was killed,” she said. “We have never found his body.”

The body of her grandfather, she said, was found in a mass grave along with 200 or 300 others.

Her father was shipped to a concentration camp, where he was “starved, beaten, kept from his family for nothing more than being Muslim,” Kuburas wrote in an article about her own refugee experience following the announcement in 2015 of Canada’s plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Kuburas said the family was reunited with her father in December 1992 with help from the Red Cross, and a year later they came to Canada as government-sponsored refugees.

“Welcoming refugees is very generous of Canada, and of Canadians,” Kuburas wrote in her article, “but I can assure you: refugees are not freeloading.”

Watch one of the RSJ’s teach-in sessions, “Surveillance: Borders and Beyond,” below: