Currently viewing the tag: "Anne McNeilly"

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Ryerson professors Shauna Rempel, Jessica Thom and Anne McNeilly discussing what young people want from their news media at a panel that took place on Jan. 27, 2017. (Jasmine Bala)

While newsrooms benefit from online analytics that help journalists understand what audiences want and how to package stories, this data can’t be the only determinants of the news that gets served up, says the national managing editor for social media at Global News.

Shauna Rempel, who is also an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said she uses services such as NewsWhip Spike to see which Global News stories are trending on social media and CrowdTangle to determine engagement with these posts across all platforms.

“I’m using half a dozen every day and it’s helping determine not just what we’re posting, what we’re writing, talking about and covering, but also how we’re doing it,” she told a crowd of mostly Ryerson journalism students attending a panel discussion about what young people want from their news media.

Rempel noted, however, that if her newsroom only focused on stories that resonated on social media “it would be a very lopsided thing.”

“We would have a lot of animal videos and things like that, and we need to balance that out with political news and other news that people need to be aware of. But we need to also look at how we’re presenting it on social media and elsewhere in a way that will still get to the audience and will connect with the audience.”

To do this, Rempel said she takes topics that are complicated and makes them more accessible by adding graphics and animations to help her audience develop a clearer understanding of the story: “It’s not dumbed down, but it’s cutting through to how it matters to you as the audience member.”

While Rempel said her newsroom recognizes the need to include actual news in what it offers its audience, new research conducted by Anne McNeilly, an associate professor at Ryerson, and Aneurin Bosley, assistant professor at Carleton University, suggests many up-and-coming journalists have different priorities. They are interested in reporting on cultural, travel, lifestyle and entertainment stories.

“The sort of pillars of what we think of as news–politics, business, the economy–are way here at the bottom” in terms of what students want to cover, McNeilly said during the panel. “There’s not a lot of interest at this stage in reporting on politics and on the economy or business. This really surprises me because politics is an absolutely fascinating area and all you have to do is look at the news and see how Trump has taken over to see…how important an area it is.”

McNeilly and Bosley conducted a survey of about 600 journalism students from Carleton University and Ryerson University last year. The responses are part of a bigger international study being conducted by scholars in Chile and Australia that examines the similarities and differences in journalism education around the world. Journalism schools from more than 30 countries are participating in the study including the United States, Brazil, Spain and Indonesia. Comparative data from these other jurisdictions is not yet available.

The journalist’s role in deciding which stories are newsworthy and which have more prominence, McNeilly said, has changed with the shift to online journalism.

“As the digital transformation got underway, it changed from the journalist telling people what was news and how important it was to more of what’s called a conversation,” she said. “So, there is much more participation by readers and audiences. The gatekeeper function that journalists used to have is no longer nearly as dramatic as it used to be. [Now], the audience indicates what they’re interested in and what they want” from news outlets.

Readers and viewers, McNeilly added, are also “increasingly fragmented depending on what their interests are” and they read stories from news outlets that pertain to these interests.

Jessica Thom, who teaches in Ryerson’s School of Image Arts, found something similar in her research. The young people in her study, she said, largely only felt compelled to read the news if they were interested in the story

“Interest was a couple of different things,” Thom said. “Did they find the information interesting? Was it something that was about a hobby or a topic that they were kind of following? Or was this something that they thought was really important or relevant to someone in their life? … They also identified interest in stories that are important to the world in general.”

Thom conducted her research as part of her doctoral dissertation investigating how young people choose which news to consume and which news to believe. Her study involved focus groups, interviews and online diary-keeping. Participants were between the ages of 18-29.

Erica Lenti, the editor of This Magazine and a Ryerson graduate, said she has made moving her magazine online a priority in order to reach younger audiences and get feedback on what stories they connect with.

“We have a way bigger audience now because we used to just look at our subscribers and now we have people who aren’t subscribers who are engaging with our content. That’s been really eye-opening in terms of what they’re really enjoying and what they’re maybe not enjoying as much.”

Her readers, Lenti said in a follow-up email, enjoy analysis-driven narrative journalism in both print and online: “We’re moving past the age of the blog, and so we’re focusing less on quantity of content going up online and more on quality,” she wrote. “So, instead of assigning multiple blog posts, for instance, I’ll assign one longer online feature.”

This Magazine’s readers, she added, also value timely analysis on current events. One of their most successful online stories, for example, was an opinion piece calling on the University of Toronto not to let Jordan Peterson, a professor who refuses to use gender neutral pronouns, participate in a campus debate on legislation surrounding gender identity.

Reprinted with permission from the Centre for Free Expression

Journalism professor Anne McNeilly and students at Jinan University.

Teaching a news “ethics” course in the fledgling journalism program at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China, proved to be a challenge, given the restraints on freedom of expression now occurring under the regime of President Xi Jinping.

It was only April, but I could feel the sweat trickling down my neck in the oppressive heat in Guangzhou – a city of 12 million about two hours north of Hong Kong on the coastal mainland. But the temperature wasn’t why I was sweating.

My task was to teach media “ethics” for 10 weeks to 40 English-speaking first- and second-year students in Jinan University’s fledgling journalism program. The program, set in the university’s international school, attracts intelligent and motivated English-speaking native and foreign students from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao

Click here to continue reading this story on the Centre for Free Expression website.

Staff Reporter

Journalism professor Anne McNeilly and students at Jinan University.

Journalism professor Anne McNeilly and students at Jinan University. Photo: Anne McNeilly

Ryerson professor Anne McNeilly wasn’t sure what to expect when she travelled to China last spring to teach media ethics and news reporting to first and second-year journalism students. Teaching as a “foreign expert” for two and a half months at one of the oldest universities in the country – Jinan University in Guangzhou – she knew she would have to navigate a very different media environment than the one she was used to.

“There are so many ethical situations in media involving freedom of expression and speaking truth to power,” she said, “that it was a challenge knowing how to proceed in a country where it can be dangerous to speak out.”

One example: In late 2015, five Hong Kong booksellers went missing, all of them linked to a publisher and bookstore that sold books critical of the country’s Communist government. In late February, when McNeilly arrived, a TV report said that four of the five disappeared men had been arrested for selling “unauthorized” books and evading customs.

China is eighth on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list of “10 Most Censored Countries.” While China’s constitution affords citizens and the press freedom of speech, it also allows authorities to crack down on media that they claim exposes state secrets and endangers the country. And because the definitions of “state secrets” and what could “endanger the country” remain vague, censorship at the discretion of the government is not uncommon. More than a dozen government bodies review and enforce laws related to the flow of information.

Jinan University's library and courtyard. Photo: Anne McNeilly

Jinan University’s library and courtyard. Photo: Anne McNeilly

McNeilly saw the government’s ability to inhibit the flow of information first-hand when the Panama Papers story, an international investigative story about offshore tax havens, was published in early March. It implicated senior Chinese government officials, among others, in hiding wealth offshore. McNeilly said that within three hours of publication, the Chinese government had eradicated all mention of the story from Weibo, the social media tool used in China. Even the virtual private networks (VPNs) that she and many students used to access gmail, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google were unable to break through the country’s “great firewall.”

“That was really different and so contrary to what would happen here [in Canada],” she said. “I’ve never taken freedom of expression for granted, but we’re so fortunate to have it and we need to defend it, no matter what.”

Despite the difference in media climate, McNeilly shared her own experiences teaching and reporting in Canada with her Chinese students because the Jinan University journalism program, according to the school’s brochures, aims to prepare students to work internationally,

“I decided to talk about situations here [in Canada] and approaches that are familiar to Canadian journalists, and then we would talk about China and how those situations might be handled,” she said. “But I’d always emphasize the importance of ensuring that they remain safe.”

While Canada and China have different media landscapes politically, she found that journalists in both countries often face comparable human dilemmas.

“I gave [the students] situations to discuss that I give Canadian students since so many ethical situations are basically human situations,” McNeilly said. “People who are interested in journalism often have a sense of justice and are interested in what’s right or fair. I didn’t find that there were significant differences between my Chinese students and Canadian students in that respect.”

Anne McNeilly teaches a class at Jinan University in China.

McNeilly teaches a class at Jinan University in China. Photo: Anne McNeilly

In one exercise, McNeilly asked the students to interview a working journalist about a difficult ethical situation he or she had encountered while on the job. One reporter wrestled with whether to reveal the name of an AIDS patient while another reporter was celebrated for revealing a stock market scandal. “The most important thing when you work as a journalist is to have a nose for news and be hard-working,” the Chinese journalist told McNeilly’s student.

Another student detailed a local newspaper reporter’s undercover work. The reporter joined an agency that hired out individuals to families to sit China’s Grade 12 exam so students could get higher grades. This was unfair and illegal, as the exam is a prerequisite for entrance into all higher education institutions in the country. Once it was published, the story was widely celebrated for exposing cheating.

As part of her research on Canadian students’ English grammar skills, McNeilly also gave the Chinese students, who speak English as a second language, the same English grammar test that Ryerson journalism students must pass during their first year. Although the first language of most students was Cantonese, all spoke English and their journalism courses were in English. McNeilly said the most common request she received was to speak more slowly. “I kept forgetting,” she said.

While the Chinese students’ results are still being calculated, McNeilly said that, anecdotally, she did not have to spend as much time teaching English language mechanics to them as she does with her Canadian students.

She said strong English language skills will be an advantage for those who want to work abroad, but she added that some want to remain in China because they want to make a difference there. She cited, for example, a student who wrote a moving personal assignment about how an earthquake had struck his hometown. He’d been instrumental in volunteering after the disaster, but wanted to be able to do more.

“He realized that he wanted to help by getting information out,” McNeilly said. “He thought he could do a better job of communicating information…he wanted to help people by getting information [about what was happening] out.”