Currently viewing the tag: "Ryerson School of Journalism"

Dec. 13, 2017

By AMANDA POPE
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.

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 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:

By ALLISON RIDGWAY
Staff Reporter

Luis de Estores, Suzanne Feldman and Rod Radford discuss creating short documentary films on mental illness and health. (Allison Ridgway)

Luis (who asked that only his first name be used due to privacy concerns), Suzanne Feldman and Rod Radford discuss creating short documentary films on mental illness. (Allison Ridgway)

Three Canadian researchers are giving people who’ve experienced mental illnesses the resources and training to make their own documentary films to see if such videos challenge traditional media stereotypes about people who are mentally ill.

So far, participants have created videos with substantially different themes and frameworks than the stories on mental illness usually found in mainstream media, said Ryerson journalism professor Gavin Adamson, one of three principal investigators for the Recovery Advocacy Documentary Research (RADAR) project.

“Intuitively, it looks like it’s a whole different shape and set of stories that are being produced – mostly (stories) about recovery, social assistance, treatment, challenges with the mental health system in Canada and provincially,” said Adamson, who is working on the four-year project with Rob Whitley of the McGill University psychiatry department and Kathy Sitter, a professor of social work at Memorial University.

“That’s not the same kind of issues you hear from mainstream journalism titles … predominantly they have articles about crime and violence. It’s usually police stories or court stories that reinforce the stigmatizing characteristics and that are a complete misrepresentation of what is happening in Canada on the streets”

Four RADAR films were premiered at the Ryerson School of Journalism earlier this month to an audience of around 50 people.

“People with mental illness want to be heard,” said first-time Suzanne Feldman, one of three participant filmmakers in Toronto.

“We’re here to encourage the truth to be known to people.”

In an interview after the films’ premier, McGill’s Whitley said one of the research aims was to see what happens if people with mental illness are given complete control over the storytelling process.

“If you go onto YouTube, you’ll find loads of documentaries about mental illness, but they’re all made by professional documentary filmmakers … That means [people with mental illnesses] are being represented by other people. They’d talk about them in the third-person. There’s not much out there that actually comes from the people themselves. That was my inspiration [for this research project] – to take out the middle man,” said Whitley.

RADAR began in October 2014, when the research group partnered with mental health-focused community organizations in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax to give clients the training and resources needed to make their own videos about mental illness. The project was borne of the  “participatory filmmaking” concept, wherein groups of people (often those who have traditionally been marginalized by mainstream media) are given the resources to make films about their experiences and communities instead of having films made about them by outsiders.

In each city, the research group used funds from a government grant to buy video equipment and editing software for mental health services clients and hire professional videographers to train the participants.

In Toronto, Feldman and her teammates Rod Radford and Luis, who asked that only his first name be used due to privacy concerns, produced four short documentaries on topics including the Ontario Disability Support Program, Mad Pride and the use of art in mental illness recovery.

“From a journalism perspective it’s interesting to compare the normal frames and themes that are inside mainstream media and compare those themes to the ones that recur in all of the films produced in the recovery centres,” said Adamson. He recently completed another study in which he examined the content of mainstream media articles dealing with mental health and how often they were shared across digital media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. He found that readers were 700 times more likely to share “positive” news stories about recovery and treatment than “negative” stories associating mental illness with crime and violence.

With 15 RADAR films completed and more underway, Whitley says they plan to show the videos to medical professionals, high school students, police services, social workers and other groups that work or are involved with people with mental illness. After each showing, the researchers pass out surveys to audience members to assess whether or not the films change viewers’ opinions about people with mental illness.

Feldman’s film, which explores how people with mental illnesses are marginalized by society, will also be shown at the upcoming Bluenose-Ability Film Festival in Nova Scotia.

If the researchers find that the films do help to fight stereotypes about people with mental illness, Whitley said he wants to expand the program to include more Canadian cities and create a toolkit to help mental health organizations form their own participatory video programs.

“A goal is to really counter the narrative that’s been put forward by the media that people with mental illness are violent, or lazy or useless people,” he said.

The researchers will also interview each participant after the project to assess whether or not the use of participatory video aided them in their own mental health recovery.

“It was really refreshing that [the filmmakers] were able to do as well as they did in such a short time,” said Derreck Roemer, a Gemini-award winning documentary filmmaker who was hired to train RADAR’s Toronto group in filmmaking.

Rod Radford, one of the Toronto filmmakers, said positive representations of people with mental illness can improve the public’s perception of mental illness and decrease the stigma that prevents people from seeking psychiatric help,

“Things are getting better, and people will look towards us – the psychiatric culture – to tell our stories,” said Radford. “We’re reaching out and explaining ourselves to people, and that’s good, because that communication makes things better.”

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.”