Currently viewing the tag: "Truth and Reconciliation Commission"

By ATARA SHIELDS
Special to the RJRC

Ryerson journalism professor Joyce Smith speaks at an Oct. 19 symposium at Ryerson University. (Atara Shields)

Journalists’ tendency to report on religion in the context of war and conflict means society isn’t benefiting from an informed discussion about religious beliefs in general, says Ryerson journalism professor Joyce Smith.

News stories are an important way for Canadians to learn about their own traditions and those outside of their own experiences, Smith said during The Many Gods of Canada: Religion, Secularism and Public Policy, an Oct. 19 symposium at Ryerson University. The problem, she added, is that “at the moment, religion is only covered through the lens of something else.”

“We never get the chance to hear stories about religion on its own terms.”

Smith, whose research examines how religion is represented in the mainstream media, said members of the public who rely on the media for information about religion are more likely to associate religion-centred stories and religion itself with conflict if they are fed a steady – and limited – diet of those sorts of stories.

What’s needed, she said, is more coverage “that will help give people a sense of what religious belief looks like before it is in a conflict situation.” Religion beat reporters used to provide this sort of reporting, she said, and in doing so, they provided a more comprehensive examination of religious issues. They also shaped the work of other beat reporters by, for instance, helping them understand the cultural practices of sources they are about to interview.

Smith compared the work of a dedicated religion beat reporter to the practice of rediscovering the “lost rivers” of Toronto that continue to flow even though they have been buried under Toronto streets for more than a century. Some of the rivers are now little more than sewers. Others, however, are beginning to be recognized today through a process called “day-lighting” where they are dug up and exist above ground once again.

Journalism, she said, performs a similar function: “First, reporting provides archival treasures. It is possible to go back and envision past ideas and practices if they had been captured accurately. But day-lighting also means acknowledging traditions that for a variety of reasons have been marginalized or have been subjected at times to attempts at extinction.”

In response to a question from the audience about journalists’ “poisonous” coverage of minorities and why it has not “stirred the conscience” of the media and the public, Smith maintained that this kind of reporting comes from a place of ignorance as opposed to malice.

She pointed to journalists’ response to calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for more coverage of Indigenous culture, calling it “heartening.”

Smith, whose teaching in the School of Journalism includes a course on covering religion and another on reporting on Indigenous issues, said she hopes that even if her students do not become specialist reporters, they will enter the news industry better equipped to tackle these complex matters when they arise in the context of other types of stories.

“At least when these students go out, if they’re covering sports or business or whatever else, they’ll at least have their antennae up and they’ll have a better sense of these issues.”

BY JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

Duncan McCue, CBC journalist and the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Rogers Visiting Journalist, at CBC’s Toronto studio. (Jasmine Bala)

Duncan McCue, CBC journalist and the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Rogers Visiting Journalist, at CBC’s Toronto studio. (Jasmine Bala)

Reporters working in Canadian newsrooms should receive diversity training just like police officers and health workers do says Duncan McCue, the newly appointed Rogers Visiting Journalist at the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ).

McCue said the training is necessary because journalists who don’t understand indigenous cultures can cause harm while reporting on these communities.

“The reason that police officers get cultural training is because if there’s a cultural misunderstanding in the middle of the street, someone could wind up getting shot. The reason why health workers get diversity training is because if someone is misunderstood … someone could die in an ER room over a cultural misunderstanding,” said McCue.

“But I would suggest that the impact of repeating stereotypes and misrepresentations in the mainstream media about cultural groups — in my case, indigenous groups — is every bit as harmful as some of those dire situations that police and health workers face. So, it’s important that we as journalists have a cultural baseline when it comes to the communities we serve.”

McCue is Anishinaabe, a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the new host of CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup. As a reporter for CBC’s The National, he was part of an award-winning CBC Aboriginal investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

In his capacity as the Rogers Visiting Journalist, McCue will work with Ryerson journalism instructors on developing new approaches for reporting on stories involving indigenous communities. He will also assist in the revision of the RSJ’s curriculum.

“[McCue will] have an influence in a number of different ways,” said Janice Neil, the school’s chair. “He brings his experience — not just 17 years as a journalist and not just his experience being an indigenous person in Canada, but putting those together [to teach journalism] with an understanding.”

McCue said that coverage of indigenous communities needs to go beyond stereotypical accounts of poverty and land claims.

“There’s all kinds of diversity within the indigenous community itself and many, many different stories to tell,” he said, “and so to simplify our stories into poverty, road blocks or land claims is to only give one small slice of life.”

Although indigenous issues still aren’t being covered enough, the amount and quality of coverage has improved, he said, noting that news organizations and schools are responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations.

The TRC, a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, investigated the removal of indigenous children from their homes in placement into residential schools in the 19th century. The country’s last residential school closed in 1996.

In the Atkinson lecture she delivered last winter at the RSJ, TRC commissioner Marie Wilson said the commission’s mandates were to inform the public about the residential school system and to help its survivors heal and reconcile with the rest of Canadian society. As part of the process, the TRC issued 94 calls to action, including three that relate to journalism. It called upon the federal government to restore and increase funding to CBC/Radio-Canada so that the public broadcaster can do a better job of reflecting the diverse perspectives of Aboriginal peoples and for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network to support reconciliation. It also called for Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require students to be educated on indigenous history.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was, in a way, almost like flipping on a switch,” said Neil. “It’s kind of been like a real wake-up call [for journalists and all Canadians].”

Ryerson’s journalism school is responding to the TRC’s call for action with a new online course designed to teach students about indigenous history and how to report accurately on stories involving indigenous communities. Reporting on Indigenous Issues, the online course taught by associate professor Joyce Smith, will be the first of its kind at the RSJ. It will be available for third-year and fourth-year students in January. McCue will be working with Smith to create the course.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Duncan, who teaches a course like this already for UBC,” said Smith. “It’s going to be great having him here to consult and to get a better idea of what has worked for him and what can work for us going forward in the future as well.”

Smith said she wants students who take this course to walk away with a better understanding of indigenous history and more confidence in reporting on these issues.

“As journalists, a big part of our job is making sure that we do our best to inform the public about things that will influence proper policy,” she said. “It’s not just [about] teaching young journalists; it’s teaching the people who will go on to tell the rest of us these important stories.”

The school is also getting input from McCue on a new website that will be a resource for students who are covering indigenous communities.

McCue said he hopes to introduce more hands-on experience with coverage of indigenous issues into the RSJ curriculum.

“My advice [for students] is always just get out and do it. In a classroom setting, it’s a safe environment to make mistakes. Go out, meet indigenous people – many people haven’t – try to find a story, and learn more about the story,” he said. “All of those things will teach you more than I could ever teach you lecturing at you from the front of the classroom. Bring those experiences back and we’ll break them down, talk about them, discuss them, think about ways that we could have approached things better, applaud the great things that we did do, and that is the most valuable thing.”

He said that he is optimistic that reporting on indigenous issues will be better in the future than it has been in the past.

“I know that things are going to change because I’ve worked with journalism students for several years now at UBC and they’re eager,” he said. “[This] generation is going to make a difference in the way that maybe my generation hasn’t and certainly the generation before [mine] didn’t.”

BY: HG WATSON
Special to the RJRC

A screenshot from the This is a Canadian Issue website created by Asmaa Malik's digital reporting class.

A screenshot from the This is a Canadian Issue website created by Asmaa Malik’s digital reporting class.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Kieran Delamont tells the story of how Indigenous people have had a difficult history of representation in video games.

It’s an important story that had its genesis in a classroom in Ryerson University’s journalism school.

During the 2016 Winter semester, Ryerson professor Asmaa Malik dedicated her masters level digital reporting class to working on Indigenous people’s stories. The result is “This is a Canadian Issue,” a microsite dedicated to telling a wide variety of stories about Indigenous people, from the revitalization of Indigenous languages to an interactive story on the importance of reclaiming traditional naming practices.

“I was kind of trying to figure out what would be one thing that we could all learn at the same pace,” said Malik. To her, learning about digital reporting tools is important but without the reporting to support the tools, it can be an empty exercise.

“What was really important for me with this class is that people understand that reporting for digital is in some ways no different than reporting for print but in some ways very different,” Malik explained.

The recently released Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada final report tasked Canadian journalism schools with teaching students “the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools.” The report was front-of-mind for Malik, and she used the calls to action contained in the report as a springboard for her students to look for their stories.

To help her students prepare for their subjects, Malik worked with Journalists for Human Rights. Hannah Clifford, JHR program associate for the Indigenous reporting program, and program manager Miles Kenyon led a workshop on how to report on Indigenous stories.

“Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem—it’s a Canadian one,” said Clifford, who noted that there has been a lack of education around Indigenous issues in Canadian journalism schools. JHR has been partnering with schools to ensure that journalists have the necessary training before they go into the field.

“If journalists are not able to effectively and accurately report on Indigenous issues, how are readers then accurately educated and able to engage in the conversation fully?” said Clifford. She pointed out that a class project like Malik’s is important to further the discussion, adding that she would love to see similar projects across Canada.

In total, the students spent about four weeks discussing the TRC recommendations and finding resources for the stories, which they then worked on for the rest of the semester.

Malik said they also learned a lot from the process of doing the reporting. “We weren’t just going for the usual sources,” she said. JHR’s staff also helped edit the final pieces.

The resulting stories have drawn attention from several North American media outlets. Delamont’s piece, which was picked up by The Atlantic on June 2, came about after classroom conversations about appropriation. Two stories were published by TVO—one by Steph Wechsler about how urban health care providers provide services to LGBTQ Indigenous people and another by Brittany Spencer about the lack of Indigenous history lessons in Ontario schools.

Malik found some students had some trepidation about tackling these stories. But she told them it was important for them to move outside their comfort zones.

“It’s our job to tell stories and we are often telling other people’s stories,” she said. “If we shy away from telling more complex stories…then we are really doing our readers and our subjects and a disservice.”

And it gave the students an opportunity to have their stories read well outside the confines of Ryerson. “Knowing that actually…it’s going be read quite widely, on one hand it can be scary but on the other hand it’s so affirming and so great to actually have an impact,” said Malik.

This article originally appeared on J-Source. Republished with permission.

Canada’s mainstream news outlets have covered stories from Idle No More to decades of missing and murdered indigenous women to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But what are the implications of the TRC for newsrooms? How can reporters do justice to these issues and where is the line between advocacy and journalism?

Join us as we continue our series on journalism and indigenous communities with a discussion on language and activism with CBC’s Jody Porter.

Jody Porter worked in community papers in small towns across the country for a decade before starting as a reporter at CBC Radio in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is the editor of Strength and Struggle: Perspectives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canada, published in 2011 by McGraw-Hill Ryerson and currently being used in high schools across the country. Jody is fond of creating radio/social experiments that take ordinary people out of their cultural comfort zones. This includes CBC Thunder Bay’s Common Ground Café series that brought strangers together to make a meal and discuss race relations in the city. She was given the 2011 Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award, RTDNA for her work on this series. She is also a Clarkson Laureate, having received the public service award from Massey College in 2015. Jody considers her highest honour an owl feather, received from the Anishnabek Nation as part of the 2013 Debwewin Citation for excellence in reporting on First Nations issues.

WHAT: Indigenous Issues and the Mainstream Media: can truth be reconciled?

DATE: September 16, 2015

TIME: Noon – 1 p.m.

WHERE: The Venn RCC-103, Rogers Communication Centre, 80 Gould Street, Toronto

View event poster here

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