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By ALLISON RIDGWAY
Staff reporter

July 20, 2018

Ryerson School of Journalism assistant professor Joyce Smith will be the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre’s new academic director starting August 2018.

Joyce Smith, a researcher and associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ), says she is excited to promote student and public engagement with journalism research as the new academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC). 

“We’re here to support the education of young journalists, but we’re also here to support the work done by journalists who are mid-career and further on. And, perhaps more importantly than ever given the state of journalism and fake news, [we’re here] to help the public understand the practice of journalism,” Smith said.

“The nature of journalism is public, so it is important that we act as that bridge between academics, practitioners, and the public.”

Smith will succeed founding director April Lindgren as of Aug. 1. Lindgren has led the RJRC since it was launched in 2011 in response to a 2005 report on Canadian News Media by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. The committee had recommended the establishment of a “permanent, full-time research centre devoted to the study of the Canadian news media.” Today, the RJRC supports 14 researchers in their study of journalism issues ranging from source diversity to press freedom and the challenges faced by local news outlets. Lindgren will become the RSJ’s Velma Rogers Research Chair effective Aug. 1.

“It’s a really exciting time for journalism research,” says Smith. “One of the best things about the RJRC is that we’re not just doing critique for critique’s sake or research for research’s sake – the research is almost always aimed at trying to improve the practice of journalism.”

Promoting this research will include continued collaboration with other centres at Ryerson, she says. This year, the RJRC partnered with Ryerson’s Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change to host a public panel on how fashion journalism can drive social change by critically examining issues such as body image and representation, diversity and gender expression.

Smith’s own research focus is the representation of religion in news media. Appearing in the RJRC’s recently published online journal, The Future of Local News, is her academic article on the historical and current connections between local journalism and religious and secular charities.

Smith says she is particularly interested in promoting research into and opportunities for journalism supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. She will present a paper on the reporting of Indigenous spirituality during Canadian reconciliation inquiries at the 2018 conference for the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture.

“It’s a real luxury to have the time to analyze the patterns and the ecosystems journalists work and live in, since people actually doing daily journalism have different demands on their time,” she says.

Smith joined the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2001 after serving as features editor and a founding member of the breaking news team for the globeandmail.com. Her academic background includes a PhD dissertation analyzing the reporting of religion during the 1994 South African elections, as well as a Rockefeller Fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion.

She was the original director of the RSJ’s online journalism program, the interim director (2008-2009) and director (2010-2013) of the School’s Master of Journalism program, and continues to serve on the Ryerson University Research Ethics Board. Smith has also been a member of the board of directors for the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture.

By ALLISON RIDGWAY
Staff reporter

July 19, 2018

The relationship between local charities and news, an app that tracks the diversity of local news sources, and the use of crowd-sourcing to track changes to local news organizations are among the ideas discussed in a new publication from Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC).

The groundbreaking online multimedia journal published in early June combines academic papers, videos and a podcast to explore the decline of local news.

“We wanted to create content that will draw in readers who may otherwise get turned off by seeing a long academic article that some people find boring or difficult to read,” says Jaigris Hodson, an assistant professor at Royal Roads University in British Columbia and co-editor of the publication.

The Future of Local News brings together nine peer-reviewed papers by academics who attended Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future, a conference the RJRC organized in Toronto in June 2017.

“The collection explores the most crucial parts of traditional news production and distribution models, while building on the best of what we are learning about technological disruption,” Hodson and co-editor Asmaa Malik, an assistant professor at Ryerson University, write in the publication’s “Letter From the Editors.”

“It considers the role of local news in Canada and around the world and asks what role policy, financing models and new technologies might play in forging a new path forward.”

The impact of digital technology on local news research and local news itself is a topic explored in a number of the papers, including a piece by Malik and Ryerson associate professor Gavin Adamson. Their article outlines how an algorithmic tool they are developing can be used to track the diversity of sources in local digital news stories.

Hodson says the editorial team also had the benefits of digitization in mind when deciding how to publish The Future of Local News.

“We talked about going the traditional route and publishing it in a major print journal, perhaps as a special issue,” she says. “That would have been the safe way to go, but we were passionate about making this research accessible to a broader audience…By publishing online, we thought that we could create a variety of voices and issues and get them out much more widely and accessibly in both their language and presentation.”

Hodson says that she hopes the journal will reach individuals in communities who “may not yet understand why they need to support their local news,” as well as entrepreneurs who can help find creative solutions to the problems presented. Above all, she says it’s her duty as an academic to making this research accessible to the public.

“Taxpayers support universities and support our research, so we should aim to make it as widely accessible as possible. People need information about what our researchers are doing. That kind of thing can change the world.”

You can read, watch and listen to The Future of Local News by clicking here. Within the multimedia journal, you’ll find the following articles, video and podcast:

Giving begins at (the) home(page): Local news and charities
Joyce Smith, Ryerson University
From food, clothing and Christmas toy drives to raising money to send children to summer camp, Joyce Smith’s paper examine some of the ways in which “the worlds of local journalism and local charities have connected.” The paper dives into a short history of the news outlet’s relationship to forms of generosity and the alliances between news outlets and both religious and secular charities. It also examines how these relationships may change along with rapidly changing local news ecosystems.

Disrupting the local: Sense of place in hyperlocal media
Carrie Buchanan, John Carroll University
As part of an ongoing research project, Carrie Buchanan analyzed the content of three competing hyperlocal and community news outlets in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to see how each “differ in the sense of place they project” about the same community. The three outlets examined were The Heights Observer, a citizen journalism publication run by community volunteers; The Sun Press, a community weekly newspaper staffed by professional journalists; and Patch.com, which is part of a national network of hyperlocal websites. Buchanan’s content analyses of these outlets found that The Heights Observer was the only outlet to name more local than non-local places, and that it was the only outlet where the five most-named places were actually located within the publication’s stated coverage area.

Southern voices telling Northern stories: The importance of local media in coverage of the Crystal Serenity cruise
Tyler Nagel, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
Alycia Mutual, University of Northern British Columbia
What’s the value of local media? This video explores what community journalism looks like in an area that isn’t well covered by mainstream media. It uses a case study of the 2016 visits by the Crystal Serenity cruise – the largest cruise ship to transit the Northwest Passage – to three small arctic Canadian communities. Researchers Tyler Nagel and Alycia Mutual analyzed the content of articles written about the cruise from local northern media sources, mainstream southern media sources and the CBC.

Assessing news media infrastructure: A state-level analysis
Philip M Napoli, Duke University
Ian Dunham, Rutgers University
This paper analyzes the number of local news-producing outlets and the number of affiliated news workers (i.e. the news media infrastructure) in each U.S. state. The comparative analysis reveals that two regions of the country (the Mountain West and a cluster of states in the Northeast) have significantly less robust news media infrastructures than would be expected, and therefore “may be where local journalism is most in need of support.”

Shattering the myth? Audiences’ relationship to local media and local news revisited
Lenka Waschkova Cisarova, Masaryk University
Jakub Macek, Masaryk University
Alena Mackova, Masaryk University
This paper explores the “myth of the local,” i.e. the presumption that audiences are highly interested in local news in their communities. This myth focuses on U.K. and U.S. audiences but may not be applicable to other countries, say researchers from Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. This paper uses a quantitative survey and interviews population to examine the Czech population’s interest in and relationship to local news.

Death by natural causes or premeditated murder? BC chains eliminate competition by buying, trading, and closing newspapers
Marc Edge, University of Malta/University of Canada West
Between 2010 and 2014 the British Columbia newspaper chains Black Press and Glacier Media exchanged 33 publications, of which 24 have since been closed or merged. Many of these outlets were closed after the companies swapped titles, which points to the possibility of a  “trade-and-close strategy” form of collusion meant to improve their bottom line. Marc Edge’s paper uses this case study to probe “Canada’s antitrust laws in dealing with newspaper mergers and takeovers.”

Is no election news good news? A case study and comparison of Nanaimo, B.C. Twitter feeds and The Nanaimo Daily News during the 2015 Canadian election
Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University
“What happens in Canadian communities that are underserved by national media outlets when local news outlets close down?” In this academic podcast, Jaigris Hodson examines how The Nanaimo Daily News’ failure to use social media to cover and engage with readers during the 2015 election may have foretold the publication’s closure in 2016. Using this case study and a study of how little local political issues in Nanaimo were discussed via Twitter during the election, Hodson counters the argument that social media can easily bridge the hole in local communities left by the loss of local news outlets.

Geospatial tools for the visualization and analysis of local news distribution
Claus Rinner, Ryerson University
April Lindgren, Ryerson University
Andrew Komaromy, Ryerson University
Just as computer mapping software has become a standard feature in today’s newsrooms, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be used to analyze and visualize the geographic distribution of news itself. Using sample data of geographic references from local news items published in the Toronto Star, this paper demonstrates how GIS can identify concentrations and gaps in local news coverage.

Towards an algorithmic journalism assessment tool: Accounting for source diversity in local digital news
Gavin Adamson, Ryerson University
“To whom do journalists speak? Who do they quote? From whose point of view are stories told, and whose voices get the most prominence?” These are some of the questions that led to the creation of JeRI (the Journalism Representation Index), software that can identify, quantify and categorize the sources quoted in news stories. In this paper, Gavin Adamson and Asmaa Malik detail the development of this algorithmic tool and how they tested whether JeRI can make same  the simple judgments about sourcing as humans.

The Local News Map: Transparency, credibility, and critical cartography
April Lindgren, Ryerson University
Jon Corbett, University of British Columbia
The Local News Map is a “crowd-sourced web-based mapping tool that invites the public to contribute information about local newsroom startups, closings, and service reductions/increases.” Researchers April Lindgren and Jon Corbett discuss how the  data collected acts as a “straightforward tracking device” of changes to local media. They also note, however, that maps are not neutral and go on to evaluate The Local News Map’s strengths, limitations and biases.

Nicole Brumley
Special to the RJRC

May 1, 2018

(Courtesy World Trends in Freedom of Expression, UNESCO via Creative Commons)

As a student journalist, I’ve been afforded the protection of speaking to a mostly liberal audience through campus newspapers. But, as a black female journalist, I know this protection will crumble when my work is showcased in larger publications. Having an opinion on social media while being visibly racialized opens the floodgates for abusive trolls. I know deep in my bones, however, that using my voice as a young black woman to talk about difficult issues and tell difficult stories is important.

A 2018 report by Amnesty International referred to Twitter as a “toxic” place for women. The study found that Twitter inadequately enforces policies when women report violence and abuse on their platform. Various journalists and writers reported receiving threats and targeted racism.

According to Amnesty International’s online poll, of the respondents who experienced abuse or harassment on social media, 29 per cent in the United States said they experienced threats of physical or sexual violence. Around half of the women who responded, 53 per cent in the U.S. and 47 per cent in the United Kingdom, said the abuse included sexist and misogynistic comments.

While the reality of online hate is a nagging concern, my commitment to highlighting controversial issues about race, culture and religion is unwavering. I have written about my own experiences with racism, black Somali women taking a stand again negative media representation, and Muslim women tackling social justice issues. I understand why racialized female journalists sometimes need to take a step back from social media when their personal safety and well-being is under attack online. But when it’s my turn – and I have every reason to think my turn will come – I hope I will be resilient in the face of pressure intended to silence my voice. A recent workshop organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre gave me some tools for doing this.

The April 3rd workshop, which organizers called “Entitled to Your Opinion, ” included a discussion of the effects of online abuse and a session that focused on ways to maintain your well-being when dealing with hate. Dr. Diana Brecher, a Ryerson adjunct faculty member and positive psychology expert, explained that coping training does not involve accepting harassment or giving up the fight to counter it. What it does offer is instruction on how to practice meditation and conscious positive thinking so that you can remain grounded and thrive, even when dealing with online hate.

Noor Javed, a Toronto Star reporter, talked about the backlash she experienced as a result of a story she wrote 10 years ago about polygamy in Toronto’s Muslim community. She reported about imams who officiated the marriages and also practiced polygamy, and the impact it had on women who were first and second wives.

Social media platforms weren’t as active at the time, Javed said, but there was considerable backlash from members of the Muslim community who criticized her on blogs and online forums, and even launched an email campaign against her. The story resurfaced recently, she said, because it is being shared online by right-wing Muslim groups.

And once again she is being “hated” because of it, only this time it’s on Facebook and Twitter where the story has been shared.

“It made me think ‘would I have written that story today?’” said Javed. “In today’s anti-Muslim political climate, I probably wouldn’t have.”

It was disheartening to hear first-hand how online hate and racism can influence the kinds of stories journalists report on. I realized how the intensity of online hate differs for various racialized women: Javed’s experience with online hate as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, will undoubtedly differ from mine as black woman. But it’s also important to remember who benefits when these stories are told. Javed’s experience was case in point: She said that when her story first appeared, it started a much needed conversation about polygamy in the Muslim community and many Muslim women were happy to have a place to discuss their views on the matter.

Javed told workshop participants she has dealt with hate by occasionally taking some time offline. She also finds solace in the support she receives from her colleagues who understand the toll that comes with being publicly hated, threatened and verbally abused.

We also see publications like the Toronto Star taking action by disabling its comment section online – a move some argued posed a limit to reader engagement. I think the Star did the right thing: newsrooms cannot stand idly by while their journalists face a barrage of online abuse. Space for informed public debate is diminished when ignorance and hate prevails. Javed said the paper has also been understanding about giving reporters time off when they are feeling overwhelmed by online hate and harassment.

During her presentation to the 25 or so students attending the workshop Javed recalled being told by another journalist that “if you want to stay in journalism as a brown Muslim woman who wears a hijab, you will need to have thick skin.” As a black, female journalist, I hope that I will not only develop a thick skin, but have the necessary support and personal resiliency to tell difficult stories, and voice opinions some people just don’t want to hear.

Nicole Brumley is in her final year of studies at Ryerson’s School of Journalism. She has worked as the Communities Editor at the Eyeopener Newspaper. Nicole is also a reporter for RUtv News and a photographer.

By AMANDA POPE
Staff Reporter

April 25, 2018

Christina Varga, an editor and journalist at The Globe and Mail, discusses how to pitch freelance work to newspapers. (Amanda Pope)

Tone-deaf pitches and failing to do adequate research on the publication are the biggest mistakes freelance journalists make when trying to sell editors on stories, experienced freelancers and editors said during a recent workshop at Ryerson’s School of Journalism.

The half-day workshop, Getting Started: Conversations About How to Freelance, explored what it takes to succeed as a freelance journalist in today’s competitive media landscape.

Takara Small, a Toronto-based freelance tech journalist, said reporters need to be well acquainted with the publication they are pitching to so that they understand its focus and whether its tone is formal or informal. This research should be used to shape the story pitch: “The biggest mistake I made…was I would write a pitch that I thought was good and hand it out to a publisher or an organization without taking into account that editors prefer pitches in [certain] formats or like to talk about different issues in a specific way,” said Small, a former contributing editor for Fortune magazine.

Yasmine Mathurin, a Toronto-based freelance multimedia journalist, said she learned this same lesson the hard way after having a radio documentary pitch rejected. In her final year of Ryerson’s master of journalism program, Mathurin produced the documentary for her major research project. She submitted it to the CBC Radio Doc Project– a program that airs radio documentaries, essays and first person stories – but was turned down. The program coordinator subsequently told her they liked her story idea but not her pitch: “When I pitched the project, I didn’t pitch it in the language that made sense for radio. It’s not that my story wasn’t good.”

Mathurin, who is now an associate producer for CBC’s Personal Best podcast, said that during her conversation with the coordinator, she pitched another idea she had for a web series and it was warmly received. Her written pitch for this new idea was eventually accepted.

Among other things, she said, the experience taught her to always have multiple story ideas in hand.

While the tone used for pitches matters, it is also important for stories. Christina Varga, who edits custom content for the Globe and Mail, said different sections of a newspaper approach stories differently. The more formal tone used in the business section, for instance, differs from the more light-hearted approach of the Globe’s Good News section, which offers up heartwarming stories or profiles of people who are making a difference or starting a company.

“If the editor hasn’t given you a sense of the less concrete stuff that they’re looking for, feel free to ask” for examples of stories written in the preferred tone or format, Varga said.

Allison Smith, the founder of Queen’s Park Today, a subscription-based daily news service covering Ontario provincial legislature, said if a freelance journalist is interested in a story, chances are the audience will be interested in it too. When the Real Housewives of Toronto debuted last year, she said, there were no written recaps about the show so Smith pitched the idea to Toronto Life magazine because she had a personal interest in reading recaps of reality television shows. Others did too, she said, noting she found out her idea has morphed into the magazine’s most popular column after she was accidently copied in an email between the magazine’s editors.

“In Canadian journalism, there is so much that isn’t written,” Smith said. “If you’re thinking about something and you think there should be a story about it, there probably should and someone else probably isn’t going to write it. So find the opportunity and throw yourself into it.”

By AMANDA POPE
Staff reporter

April 18, 2018

Ryerson School of Journalism associate professor and faculty teaching chair Ann Rauhala and National Post political reporter Marie-Danielle Smith discuss sexual harassment in the newsroom. (Amanda Pope)

Journalists who are sexually harassed by sources, on social media or in their newsrooms should document the incident, find a support network and be aware of how their union can help, panellists told an audience of young reporters at the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s spring conference.

The two-day event, #MediaToo: The #MeToo movement has hit Canada, what’s next?, explored how journalists should report on sexual violence in the media and also deal with their own experiences.

“When awkward things happen and someone crosses the line in a way that isn’t criminal or isn’t ‘serious,’ journalists just kind of brush it off and move on,” said Marie-Danielle Smith, a political journalist for the National Post. “They make you feel uncomfortable and I think those are the moments we don’t talk about enough and this culture stays alive because we don’t talk about it.”

Smith, who reports on Parliament Hill, gave an example of her own decision to remain quiet rather than confront harassment. She said she was alone with a senator while interviewing him in his office when he asked her to move from her chair to sit right next to him on a couch. “You don’t mind, do you?” he said, and made a joke about how he “wouldn’t bite,” Smith wrote in an article for the National Post three years after the fact.

Smith said she decided to go public with her experience because for many decades cases of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill have been silenced and offenders have been protected. It was time, she said, to start talking about these issues so the harassers would suffer the consequences.

Smith said that after she told her story in the newspaper and opened up about the misconduct she’d dealt with, she learned that her mother – a former staffer on Parliament Hill – had dealt with similar situations. Her mom, she said, remembers a man patting his lap in invitation for her to sit on him while they were alone in his office in the 1980s.

“Talk about it with your friends and family,” Smith told the nearly 40 student journalists in the audience at the Ryerson School of Journalism. “Don’t close yourself off. It’s really easy to internalize these things, you kind of get in your head. The way to avoid that is to share outwardly when you can. If you have someone you trust that you can speak to about it, that’s great.”

Ann Rauhala, an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson and the faculty teaching chair, advised journalists who are sexually harassed by their sources or in the newsroom to write down the details of the incident. This practice has the same calming and self-care effect as talking to a friend, she said. But it also ensures there is a record of what happened: “You’re all journalists, you know the power of controlling the narrative and having accurate and complete notes … It makes it clear, it makes it more real.”

This is exactly what radio host Katie Summers did when she was sexually harassed by Jacob Hoggard from the Canadian pop-rock group Hedley. Attending the panel via Skype, Summers, the co-host of AMP Mornings with Katie and Ed on Calgary’s 90.3 AMP radio station, described what happened when when Hedley appeared at the station seven years ago.

After she told Hoggard she was a longtime fan, Summer recounted, he said, “‘Oh cool, well, maybe if you’re lucky I’ll let you come out into the back alley with me and’ – I don’t want to say it because it’s graphic – but he basically said I could give him oral sex, if I was lucky.” After that, she said, Hoggard “gave my butt a quick little slap and out the door he went.”

When she decided to go public with her experience of sexual harassment, Summer said, her notes helped her to accurately recall the event and also reminded her of how awful the experience had been. Hoggard did not respond directly to Summers’ allegations, but he released a statement apologizing for how he has treated women over the past 13 years. Toronto police last month confirmed that the sex crimes unit has opened an investigation into the Hedley frontman. No charges have been laid and police did not reveal who filed the complaint.

Rauhala said incidents of sexual harassment can be less obvious than what Summers experienced, but they are still harassment.

“Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily the gross, shocking stuff that happens to some people,” she said. “It is so subtle, so fast-moving that many times people stop and say, ‘Did that just happen? Was that an accident that he brushed my breast as he handed me that piece of paper?’”

Inappropriate and sexual comments are also ‘weapons’ used to harass journalists in subtle ways, Rauhala said. By way of example, she recalled the period in her career when she was promoted to the position of foreign editor of the Globe and Mail – the first woman to hold that job. a gossip magazine subsequently characterized her as “the compliant Ann Rauhala,” implying she must have slept her way to the top.

Journalists, she said, should not allow those smaller experiences to go unaddressed amidst all of the horrific, overt cases of sexual misconduct: “Think about what a nasty little weapon that is,” she said. “The weapons are getting uglier now … but don’t let the big weapons distract you from the little ones that will affect you everyday. I do think that sharing them with other women and finding [support] is helpful.”