Currently viewing the tag: "Toronto Star"

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

Amira Elghawaby says strong activist voices are required in the news media to counter prevailing values of “male and pale” newsrooms. (Amanda Pope/RJRC)

Mainstream newsrooms need to diversify coverage produced by “male and pale” newsrooms by giving activists the opportunity to write columns and air their opinions, Ryerson University journalism students were told during a recent panel discussion.

The Ryerson Journalism Research Centre hosted the panel, “Activist, advocate, reporter, columnist: Where’s the line?” as a follow-up to controversy earlier this year over the extent to which writers for a news organization should become participants in news stories. Desmond Cole, who wrote a freelance column for the Toronto Star, disrupted a Police Services Board meeting in April to protest the board’s refusal to destroy information officers had gathered through the now-discredited ‘carding’ policy. An editor subsequently informed Cole of the newspaper’s rules prohibiting journalists from becoming activists. Editors at The Toronto Star said they wanted Cole to continue with his twice-monthly column, but he resigned.

Panelist Amira Elghawaby, the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said questions about the role of advocacy in journalism seem to arise more frequently when it comes to marginalized voices: “Why is it that if I am of a different faith, or a different skin colour, or of a different gender, or of a different sexual orientation – why am I worried about my bias but the male and pale newsrooms have not ever been worried about their bias?”

The Star, she said, “lost a huge audience; this was their opportunity. You want to have incredible voices who are reflecting what is happening on the ground and are doing so in their voices.”

Elghawaby said that when she was working as a journalist she worried that she would no longer be viewed as “neutral’ when she decided to start wearing a headscarf.

“I was afraid because I said to myself … ‘I look like I have a bias.’ But I don’t think everyone thinks about themselves in that way.”

Vicky Mochama, a columnist for Metro News Canada and the Toronto Star, told the audience of more than 100 journalism students that while mainstream news organizations are doing more to include the voices of people from marginalized communities, most are still not willing to give them full-time jobs.

“There are different sets of standards for white journalists than there are for journalists of colour or journalists who advocate for people of colour,” she said, noting that Cole was never hired as a full-time employee at The Toronto Star. “These are institutions that are happy to trade on the work of people of colour without ever substantially supporting people of colour and the communities that they come from … which is to say, ‘We want to hear from you but we don’t want you in the building.’”

Mochama, who is a freelancer, said her identity as a person of colour and her experiences inevitably influence how she does her job: “It informs what sort of sources I talk to because that’s the community that I’m most intimately involved with,” she said. “It informs how I think about word choices around blackness or around being a woman in a way that someone who is in my exact same position who is not a black woman would not have those things in mind.”

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, a digital journalist at Maclean’s Magazine and president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said content must be clearly labelled so audience members understand whether they are reading an opinion column or a news story. And Elghawaby pointed out that news organizations themselves are fueling confusion by not sending reporters to cover events and instead sending columnists who produce opinion pieces that are not clearly labelled.

Mochama said she makes clear distinction between her work as a columnist and work she does as a reporter: “If there’s a thing that comes out for me that’s a piece of reporting, you’ll never see a follow-up column about the same thing,” she said. “There are boundaries that I like to maintain.”

Jorge Barrera, an investigative reporter for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, warned that journalists focused on their own strong viewpoints risk missing important stories.

“My first gig was in Yellowknife and at that time … it was the beginning of a push on land claims,” he said. “In covering the North I realized that all of the assumptions that I had picked up – especially when it came to left-leaning theory – all were blown out.”

Barrera said he arrived in the North with preconceived ideas about the evils of the mining industry and the role of unions. Once he was on the job, he said, those ideas were challenged when he realized many people in Indigenous communities saw mining operations as a pathway to greater prosperity and witnessed unions opposing hiring quotas for Indigenous workers.

“If I were to have approached it from an ideological position from the left,” Barrera said, “I would have missed out on all these stories, I wouldn’t have seen it or have been able to understand what was going on.”

By MICHAEL OTT
Special to the RJRC

Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star, discusses verification and trust in the media at the George Vari Engineering and Computing Building’s Sears Atrium at Ryerson University, February 15th, 2017. (Michael Ott)

The loss of trust between the media and audiences that has characterised the Donald Trump era in the United States also played out when Rob Ford was mayor of Toronto, says the Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent Daniel Dale.

Just as many Trump supporters dismiss stories about the former real estate magnate’s lies, sexism and other potentially career-destroying behaviours, many Torontonians refused to believe the worst about their former mayor, said Dale, who covered the Ford years

Dale spoke at Ryerson University earlier in February about similarities he found in covering both former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and current US President Donald Trump for the Toronto Star and what Canadian journalists can learn from how the U.S. media covered their 2016 election.

“Here we are, the Toronto Star, biggest newspaper in the city. We reported on the mayor smoking crack,” he said during a Feb. 15 presentation organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. The newspaper had a long-standing relationship with its audience before the journalists involved saw a video of the mayor smoking crack, reported on its contents and made it clear to readers how they came to view it..

Many readers, however, were skeptical: “There was a lot of doubt that what we were saying was true,” Dale told the crowd of mostly journalism students. “There was a poll done—50 per cent of Toronto residents did not believe they were telling the truth about the crack video.

Dale has since gained acclaim in the tough American media market for his coverage of Trump’s path to the White House. “Trump Checks,” his daily fact checking series, earned him a place on Politico’s list of “Breakout Media Stars of 2016” with the moniker “the lie-tracker.” Dale was also invited to discuss his Trump fact-checking coverage on CNN. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore even tweeted his support for the Canadian journalist.

But Dale’s reporting on Trump has drawn the ire of those who refuse to believe news that reflects badly on the man who is now president of the United States.

“My email inbox is a dark place,” Dale told the audience of mainly journalism students before reading this email: “’I’m going to cancel my subscription to the Star after 20 years. Don’t believe everything you read about Trump online!’”

Dale also read a tweet from another reader: “’President Trump is going to make America great again, you may want to check out infowars.com,’” referencing a conspiracy theory-filled site that openly advocates for Trump while posting false or unsupported claims.

“We in the media have problems,” said Dale. “We have a real issue with trust.”

A recent Edelman poll suggests that trust in Canadian media is on the decline. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of survey respondents who indicated they trusted “traditional media” as a source for general news and information decreased by 13 percentage points, to 58 per cent from 71 per cent. Furthermore, respondents were 3.5 times more likely to “ignore information that supports a position they do not believe in.” This echo-chamber effect can have implications for election outcomes because it means voters are inclined to only read and trust media that reinforces their pre-judgments and beliefs.

Dale said the media coverage of Trump holds some lessons for Canadian journalists. Reporting on the U.S. election campaign, he said, suffered from:

  • A sacrifice of the truth in favour of ratings.

The lack of fact-checking by many news organizations meant the pursuit of truth was sacrificed on the alter of what was trending, Dale argued.

  • Problems associated with covering candidates who know how to generate headlines.

“There is a problem with allowing one candidate to crowd out everyone else,” Dale noted.

“CNN essentially became Trump News,” he said. In addition to covering every tweet and everything Trump said in the run-up to the election, the network “handed over entire hours to broadcast his rallies unfiltered.”

Dale went on to warn that something similar has happened with coverage of Kellie Leitch, who is currently running for leadership of Canada’s Conservative Party. She has, he said, made a “deliberate but skillful attempt” to crowd out her rivals and seize attention through the media.

Journalists must guard against letting one candidate dominate the coverage and instead provide equal coverage to all the leading contenders, Dale suggested.

  • Fact-checking structures that focus on the average candidate.

Until Trump arrived on the political scene, fact checking by reporters involved “candidates who may tell a couple lies a week, maybe exaggerate one thing a day,” Dale said.

“These structures are not set up to deal with an avalanche of deceit,” he observed, yet reporters would fact check Trump and then report and write on him like he was an average candidate who indulged in a few minor mistruths.

In his Trump Checks series, Dale would post daily and tweet about Trump’s falsehoods. The number of lies would stretch into 10, 20, sometimes even 30 per day. Dale recently published an article showcasing the fact that Trump has told more than 80 blatant lies since taking office only one month ago.

He noted, however, that there have been improvements in the way fact checking is done. It now often happens in real time, with journalists tweeting instantly whenever Trump lies. Many broadcast news networks like CNN also began publishing live fact checking results at the bottom of the screen while candidates were speaking.

  • Inaccurate reporting on what polls really mean.

Dale said that many media outlets suffered from a forecasting problem that led them to believe Hillary Clinton was destined to become the next president. At the root of it was ignorance – or a willingness to ignore – how polls really work.

“Hillary was three to five points ahead,” Dale said, but the media “was not making clear to people that she was within a pretty standard polling error.”

He said there was also insufficient coverage of the fact that national polls did not demonstrate how Clinton would perform in the key battleground states that she eventually lost to Trump. Journalists can avoid this, he said, by becoming more knowledgeable about how polls really work and avoiding over-reliance on them to tell the story.

Dale also offered advice to young journalists covering a political beat. Best practices, he said, require reporters to:

  1. Call out politicians when they lie. If fact checking suffers, then journalists aren’t doing their job of holding people in power accountable and they can get away with misleading the public.
  1. Pay attention to the other side, and not just the fringe extremist publications such as Breitbart and infowars.com. It’s important to learn about more moderate, rational viewpoints that differ from your own because it is impossible to report accurately on what is going on if you exist in an echo chamber.
  1. Recognize that documentation and evidence are paramount. People need solid proof before they will believe what a journalist is reporting. The Star, Dale said, learned this from the Ford crack video story. Journalists have to provide photos and video footage to back up their stories: “People want proof. They didn’t believe us when we said we saw the video ourselves.”
  1. Be as publicly human as possible by making clear how you go about your job and why you do what you do. Part of trust-building, he said, involves demonstrating that journalists are human and relatable people who are doing the best job they can.
  1. Avoid prognostication. Dale said it’s easy to slip from analysis into opinion, and that further entrenches distrust of the media among people who want verified facts and transparency about how the reporting was done and how the information was obtained.
  1. Become versed in policy issues. Deep knowledge will help reporters produce analysis and investigations that are essential to a well-functioning democracy.

Dale said that despite the shortcomings in the Trump coverage, a lot of important and great reporting was done over the past year.

He cited the impressive number of stories journalists uncovered about Trump by the end of the election campaign, pointing to everything from the leaked video where the candidate bragged about sexual assault, to the scandals surrounding alleged ties to Russia.

“This election was a triumph for investigative reporting,” Dale said, noting that there is “such a demand from people for investigative reporting, for smart commentary, for policy analysis.

“This is a wonderful time for journalists to do journalism.”

Watch Daniel Dale’s full lecture below:

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Journalists Karyn Pugliese, Tanya Talaga and Connie Walker speak on covering Indigenous community at the Ryerson School of Journalism. (Jasmine Bala)

Reporters Karyn Pugliese, Tanya Talaga and Connie Walker speak on covering Indigenous community at the Ryerson School of Journalism. (Jasmine Bala)

When Indigenous people share their stories with journalists, it is a part of the reconciliation process and not about assigning blame, the executive director of APTN said during a recent panel discussion about news coverage of Indigenous communities.

Karyn Pugliese, a member of the Algonquin First Nation of Pikwàkanagàn, said Indigenous people have stories to tell that come from places of hurt and anger and aren’t always easy to hear.

“When we tell you these things, we’re not blaming you,” Pugliese told the crowd of about 200 people attending the panel discussion at Ryerson’s School of Journalism.

“We know you didn’t do it. We know you weren’t the ones that murdered our sisters and you aren’t the ones who ripped the babies out of our arms and put them in residential schools. You weren’t the ones who [took] our leaders and put them in jail. We know these things. And I think I’ve noticed that we’re starting to get to the point where Canadians are saying, ‘okay, yeah, I didn’t do that, and I know you’re not blaming me, so I can listen to you,’” she said.

Pugliese joined three other Indigenous journalists on Nov. 3 for “Beyond Missing and Murdered Women: Covering Indigenous Communities,” a presentation organized by the Canadian Journalism Foundation. The panel was moderated by CBC journalist and Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue.

Building rapport with people and communities is a necessary part of the process of reporting on Indigenous issues, said Lenny Carpenter, program manager for Journalists for Human Rights’ (JHR) Indigenous Reporters Program.

“A lot of Indigenous people have been portrayed negatively in the media and so there’s this natural distrust when being approached by a journalist who wants them to go on the record,” he said. “I think if a journalist would come [to an Indigenous community] day-to-day, come visit, talk to the people and build that relationship, they might have had the opportunity during [more newsworthy events] where they would be welcome.”

Tanya Talaga, one of the reporters for the Toronto Star’s award-winning series on missing and murdered Indigenous women, said that being respectful and making time to listen is part of this relationship-building process.

“It’s very important to just take your time with someone – especially if they’re older – and just listen to their story,” she said. “You can’t do walk-by journalism … It doesn’t really work that way. You can’t be a story taker. You have to listen and it’s always worthwhile.”

Connie Walker, an investigative reporter for CBC National News who has reported extensively on Indigenous issues, said newsroom attitudes are changing and it’s getting easier to sell editors on Indigenous-related news stories.

Ten years ago, story ideas involving Indigenous communities would often be dismissed by editors who thought the ideas weren’t new or would not be of interest to audiences, said Walker.

“But I think in the last three years, it’s transformed just in terms of not only the interest in [missing and murdered Indigenous women], but the interest in all Indigenous issues.”

Pugliese agreed, observing that stories about Indigenous people have become mainstream and that the way they are covered has changed.

“In the ‘70s, if an Aboriginal women went missing or was murdered, the headline might read: ‘Dead Indian found by river.’ This is significantly different than the way you might cover it if a young non-native girl had gone missing. And there’s a name for it that came out of the States – it’s called ‘missing white women syndrome,’” she said.

Pugliese said that positive coverage of such a case might include naming the missing person in the headline. An example, she said, would be “Alicia, please come home,” because it names the victim and humanizes her story.

“I’ve noticed a big change from eight years ago, where we actually are seeing our women treated equally when these things happen, or more fairly when these things happen in the media,” Pugliese said.

Buried Voices, a JHR report that examined media coverage of Indigenous issues in Ontario from 2010-2013, concluded that there would have to be seven times more stories in the media for news coverage to reflect the size of the province’s Indigenous population.

While a more recent JHR study, Buried Voices: Changing Tones, reported little improvement in the representation of Indigenous people in Ontario media, it did find a major shift in tone. Over the past three years, stories involving Indigenous people have been, on average, 30 per cent positive in tone (up from 23 per cent in 2013) compared to 11 per cent negative (down from 33 per cent).

“As much as we’re seeing a shift in terms of the kind of stories we’re hearing from Indigenous communities, I think we’re [also] seeing a shift in the inclusion of Indigenous voices in regular mainstream stories that aren’t Indigenous focused,” Walker said.

An example of this, she said, is McCue’s role as host of CBC’s Cross Country Checkup, a weekly open-line radio show that discusses issues of national interest. As an Indigenous journalist, she noted, McCue brings a perspective to the issues discussed on the show that is the next level of inclusion of Indigenous voices.

“I feel like this is a snowball that is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger as it goes down the hill,” Walker said. “The more Indigenous voices we have, the more of an understanding Canadians have about Indigenous issues.”

Watch the full panel below:

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Kevin Donovan, investigative reporter at the Toronto Star, speaking at the Ryerson School of Journalism on Oct. 18, 2016. (Jasmine Bala)

Kevin Donovan, investigative reporter at the Toronto Star, speaking at the Ryerson School of Journalism on Oct. 18, 2016. (Jasmine Bala)

Transparency is key in earning public trust and that is why journalist Kevin Donovan says he’s tried to be as open as possible about his investigative techniques in his new book about investigating the case of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

At an October 18 event at the Ryerson School of Journalism, Donovan, an investigative reporter and editor at the Toronto Star, discussed writing Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation and how he reported on allegations of sexual violence made against Ghomeshi.

Donovan said that the more journalists identify the processes they use in their reporting – especially when publishing allegations such as the ones about Ghomeshi – the more likely the public is to trust them.

“We have to really be transparent in journalism, to say if we don’t have something,” said Donovan. “[Before publishing, we go through] a series of tests that are not written down, but are in my brain. If they are allegations, we have to make sure we present them as such.”

Secret Life focuses on the stories of 17 women and two men who allege Ghomeshi abused them. Donovan gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look inside the Star’s investigation from beginning to end. He goes back to Ghomeshi’s days as a student at York University and recounts the story through to Ghomeshi’s departure from CBC and criminal trial.

Asking tough questions is a part of the journalistic process that people often don’t like, but is an essential part of good journalism, Donovan told a crowd largely made up of journalism students.

“In one of the iterations of the productions of this book, I was asked to consider removing sections where I was asking questions like, ‘Why did you stay with him?’ I asked that of Carly [a pseudonym for one of the women] in an interview which is in the first chapter of the book,” he said.

“One of the things that’s really important people understand is [that] the role of journalists as truth seekers is to really, truly seek the truth and you cannot seek the truth by just hearing what people say – you have to ask questions … I think [it’s] important for people who read this book and other books like [this] to understand that there is a process to good journalism. Bloggers, podcasters [and] people on twitter serve an important role in society, but they don’t have the same checks and balances that good investigative journalists have.”

Writing the book, he said, presented significant challenges as some important sources refused to be included in the narrative. Two women, who had initially reached out to the Star to get their story out, emailed Donovan to say they didn’t want any part of their stories to be in his book.

“I could not tell this story or this book without their experiences because it would be a huge void … I would have to write a book that would basically have two blank chapters and I’m not going to do that,” he said. “Given that the information is still out there and it lives on the internet, I thought it wouldn’t make any sense to not include it.

“What I did, with the help of the editors and both publishers that had an involvement in this book and with my lawyers, is make sure that there’s no way that even Sherlock Holmes could find out who these people are. So, that means removing a lot of the story, which I did … I knew that [adding in their stories] would upset [those two] people. But I hope that there’s enough good that comes out of the book that they will one day understand that you can’t un-write history. And that what I wrote is the history of what happened.”

Ghomeshi was fired from CBC on Oct. 26, 2014, after two executives were shown videos of a woman he had dated who had bruising from a broken rib. Ghomeshi responded with a Facebook post, that has been since removed, saying he was dismissed because of the risk of his “private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.”

Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking on March 24, 2016. Almost two months after this, another charge of sexual assault was withdrawn after he apologized to former colleague Kathryn Borel in court.

Donovan’s investigation into Ghomeshi initially began when Canadaland podcaster Jesse Brown brought the allegations to the Star months before Ghomeshi’s Facebook message was posted. At that point, Donovan said, the newspaper could not publish the story because they couldn’t back up the allegations.

“I just couldn’t figure out a way to find people,” Donovan said. “I mean, I found people that I was told he may have allegedly abused and some of the people that I talked to just lied to me. Partner-on-partner violence is a very difficult thing to prove. There’s no bank record, there’s no contract. This is one person’s word against another and if one person doesn’t want to talk about it, then you don’t have the information.”

“You can’t just go around and say, ‘I’m looking for victims of Jian Ghomeshi.’ Although, if you did it on Twitter, you might have actually gotten them – but that’s just the wrong thing to do.”

Watch the full discussion below: