Currently viewing the tag: "Robert Osborne"

By SUNDAY AKEN
Special to the RJRC

Border crossings are “legal limbos” where basic rights are virtually non-existent, journalist and Ryerson School of Journalism lecturer Robert Osborne told students and faculty members at the Ryerson School of Journalism’s recent teach-in.

Osborne was one of three guest speakers leading a workshop on how Canadian journalists can do their jobs and protect both their sources and their privacy in an era of increased government surveillance and security measures. The workshop was one of eight sessions held in lieu of regularly scheduled classes during a special Ryerson School of Journalism teach-in on March 14. Programming was designed to help journalism students “make sense of a world in which journalists – and so many others – are being insulted, demeaned and dismissed,” the teach-in website said.

“Border officers have so much power it’s almost frightening,” Osborne said during his presentation at the Rogers Communications Centre. In the absence of legal protections, he said, journalists need to do everything possible to avoid provoking suspicion when crossing into the United States. Keeping a low profile, he said, involves “smiling and being nice” to border guards and “removing sunglasses and hats” when asked.

During his research for the workshop, Osborne said U.S. customs officials informed him that travellers are not afforded any Canadian rights or U.S. rights because they are at the threshold of both countries and are not guaranteed protection. He said the lack of legal recourse for the actions of the border guards means “reducing your profile” is the only option, even if it involves “unpalatable obsequiousness.”

Osborne said journalists travelling for work or leisure need to be mindful of the authority border guards possess to detain, extensively question, seize personal effects or deny entry into the country. He shared his own experience of having two members of his production crew denied entry into the U.S. for a project several years ago. Osborne said the incident occurred when he and his team were flying from Vancouver to Los Angeles. U.S. customs denied his sound technician entry because they believed his reason for travel was to take a job that could be otherwise filled by a U.S. citizen. When officers found out that the camera operator had already cleared customs, they removed him from the plane and denied him entry as well.

“At the time, unions in Los Angeles were particularly sensitive about Canadian crews,” Osborne said via email following the presentation. Osborne said he called U.S. Customs headquarters in Washington and spoke to a high-ranking administration official, but was told there was nothing that could be done for him.

The surveillance workshop also explored issues relating to privacy in a discussion led by Thomas Cooke, a sociology professor at Western University’s King’s University College.

Osborne prefaced the discussion on Internet privacy by noting that 25 per cent of Canada’s Internet traffic is routed through the U.S., where it is subject to traffic analysis by American security organizations. To avoid being a target of U.S. surveillance, he said, people should abstain from any online activity that might raise suspicions.

Cooke said that the “stakes for digital privacy are high,” ­but noted that there are ways to confuse tracking when it comes to digital surveillance.

Journalists, he said, can use tools like The Onion Router (Tor), to protect their online history. The web browser is a secure search engine that uses a system of digital encryption called onion routing. It makes anonymous online browsing and communication possible by encrypting all the search queries or messages sent while using the server. Cooke said the private server is used mostly to access the deep web, a part of the Internet where 87 per cent of illegal activities, like child pornography and human trafficking, take place.

Despite The Onion Router’s usefulness, he warned journalists that it can’t completely protect your digital footprint from scrutiny. While the router hides users’ tracks in the deep web, the very act of using the browser to access that part of the Internet is a red flag for authorities.

“[The deep web] is where most of the black-market trading takes place and it has some of the most exciting opportunities for young journalists to tap into,” said Cooke. “A problem with it is, if you are using The Onion Router to browse, you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb.”

By ILINA GHOSH
Staff Reporter

March 8, 2016

Robert Osborne, veteran freelancer and Ryerson journalism instructor, said pitching to the right outlet is critical to success in freelancing.

Robert Osborne, veteran freelancer and Ryerson journalism instructor, said pitching to the right outlet is critical to success in freelancing. [Ilina Ghosh]

Freelance journalists must pitch strategically and confidently and be “the raccoon[s] of the journalism world,” veteran freelancer Robert Osborne told students at a recent workshop organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

Osborne’s workshop, which focused on selling stories and maximizing the return on work, took students through the freelance process, drawing on lessons he learned over his 14 years as a freelance journalist and producer.  Building a diverse set of skills and performing under a diverse set of conditions is critical to freelance success, he said.

“You’ve got to be the raccoon of the journalism world, where you can eat anything, go anywhere, do anything…to thrive.”  

Osborne, who is also an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, emphasized the need to find a fitting client for a pitch. Be a “heat-seeking missile” when targeting news outlets, he said.

“You can have the best story idea in the world but if you take it to the wrong place, you are going to get a lot of no’s.”

Pitching to the correct outlet is all about research, Osborne said.

“You’d be surprised at how many people will pitch perfectly good ideas to the wrong venue…So the first thing you have to do is read the magazine, watch the darn show, research their webpage, really take some time to think what kind of product are they looking for.”

A good pitch also involves a story with a clear focus, Osborne told students: “If you can’t explain the story in one line, you may not know what the hell your story is about.”

The next step is to expand the one line into what Osborne calls a “one page.”

“[A one page] is going to hit all the major bullet points [without being] a mini version of the story. It’s taking all of the salient issues and facts that are going to be involved in your story and putting them together as a sales pitch.”

When pitching to a broadcaster, a “sizzle reel” or pitch video is also necessary, Osborne said, and means freelance journalists must develop rudimentary shooting and editing skills.

“You may be never be a gifted cinematographer, you may never be a gifted editor, but you have to got to know how to string together something for a minute and 30. As well as a one page, every broadcaster from VICE to CBC to Green Ant Productions is going to be looking for a sizzle reel.”

While freelancing does involve a certain amount of working for free, Osborne also focused on how to “maximize your sweat equity.” Freelancers need to pitch the same idea in a variety of mediums and to a variety of outlets, Osborne said. Once an idea is picked up by a news organization, however, he advised against selling the same piece to a direct competitor.

Nick Dunne, a second-year journalism student, said the advice on pitching to multiple organizations and different mediums was especially interesting.

“[At this stage in school,] we’ve done a lot of focus on print and writing, so it was really interesting to see where you can go with [your work,] the different mediums you can bring it to, the opportunities that lie beyond print and more conventional means.”

Osborne said persistence is also an important part of life as a freelancer because unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails are to be expected.

“You have to have a thick skin. You have to keep going at it… in a persistent and polite way. You have to keep reminding them you’re still out there, find out if there’s an update in a story, that’s a reason to send them [another email.]”

While freelancing involves a lot of rejection, Osborne urged students to “have confidence in your good idea.”

“If you have an idea that you really feel strongly about, don’t let it collapse because the first place you took it says ‘We’re not interested.’ If that’s going to shatter you… then you’re in the wrong business. You’ve got to keep pushing that idea; if one person doesn’t like it, push it to another… until you get a hit,” he said.

Osborne ended the presentation with what to do “when you do get a nibble.” Be professional and willing to word hard, he said.

“If you’re obnoxious, if you’re difficult to work with, you will not get a second chance at any of these places. It is critical that when you do get a hook in, even the smallest of jobs with somebody, that you really act like a professional. Whatever they need done, you get it done.”