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Local journalism in many jurisdictions is under threat as news outlets scale back operations, consolidate or close altogether, and many online local news sites struggle to stay afloat. Policy makers, citizens and others are now joining journalists in sounding the alarm about these losses and the potential impact on communities.

Is no news bad news? Local journalism and its future is a two-day conference scheduled for June 3-4, 2017 and organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. The conference, which will be held on the Ryerson University campus in Toronto, Ont., Canada, will bring together journalists, citizens, policy makers, educators and Canadian and international scholars to share the latest research related to local journalism and to explore potential solutions to the problems faced by this sector.

The conference will feature public panels as well as scholarly presentations dealing with local news-related issues.

The deadline for the submission of panel ideas and abstracts for research papers is Jan. 5, 2017. Presenters will be notified about the decision by Feb. 1, 2017.

For more information, click here for our Call For Papers: cfp-local-journalism-english_french-version


Special to the RJRC

Photo reprinted courtesy of The City of Brampton

Photo reprinted courtesy of The City of Brampton

Efforts by the City of Brampton to reach newcomers through ethnic media will be an important test of how municipalities can better communicate with newcomers, particularly those who struggle with English, new research suggests.

The study, by Ryerson University journalism professor April Lindgren, examines the evolution of Brampton’s ethnic media strategy over the past decade.

“I knew that [Brampton] had a large number of media that served the Punjabi-speaking community,” Lindgren said. “A decade or so ago, a research study showed that the city’s policies in general weren’t all that welcoming to newcomers. But then in 2015 Brampton introduced a new ethnic media policy that is probably the most pro-active in the country. I wanted to investigate the reasons for this dramatic shift in attitude.”

Lindgren said local ethnic newspapers, websites and television programs play a key role in making local news and information accessible to immigrants, particularly those who are not fluent in English or French.

“Telling local stories is a really important role for ethnic media,” she said. “It helps newcomers to understand everything from the practical things, like what are the rules for clearing snow off the sidewalk, to intangible things such as what does this society value.”


Lindgren used Kristin R. Good’s book “Municipalities and Multiculturalism: The Politics of Immigration in Toronto and Vancouver” as the starting point for examining Brampton’s evolving communication policy. Good’s 2004 fieldwork showed that Brampton officials were generally unresponsive to the dramatic demographic changes happening in the city. The city’s population surged by more than 60 per cent between 2001 and 2011, mostly the result of immigration. More than 17 per cent (91,345 people) of city residents now identify Punjabi as their mother tongue, which Statistics Canada says makes it the second most frequently spoken language after English.

The number of ethnic media outlets also expanded rapidly so that today about 50 ethnic news organizations — including 40 that target South Asian groups — receive press releases from the city.

Brampton’s communications department tried to reach out to its newest residents in 2007 by expanding the distribution of English-language news releases to include ethnic media. But Lindgren’s research showed this didn’t have much effect.

Her content analysis of the Canadian Punjabi Post, one of the higher profile Punjabi-language publications in Brampton, identified 480 news items about the Greater Toronto Area published over a three-week period in 2011. While 157 of the news items were about Brampton, only three pertained to city hall matters.

“When we looked at the Canadian Punjabi Post we found that there was actually very little Brampton city news in the paper. So clearly the city’s message wasn’t getting through – it wasn’t enough to just send out those English-language press releases to ethnic media,” Lindgren said.

Significant changes

In 2013 the city hired a specialty media coordinator who speaks and reads Punjabi. And then, in 2015, Brampton councillors embraced an expanded ethnic media strategy, approving an additional $408,937 to hire a second specialty media coordinator and engage an ethnic media monitoring service. The money was also allocated to translate some key corporate communications materials and all press releases into French and the 10 most commonly spoken languages other than English.

Although the original plan was scaled back, the city council did commit to funding the translation of media releases into French, Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese for a trial period until the end of 2015.

In the paper, Lindgren attributes Brampton’s attempts to reach out to residents via ethic media to rapid demographic shifts that caused “friction between newcomers and other residents.” The tensions, she said, pointed to the need for a more proactive policies to foster better intercultural understanding.

Major changes to the local council as a result of the 2014 municipal also helps explains the shift in direction, Lindgren wrote, noting that Brampton’s new mayor, Linda Jeffrey, “championed the expansion of ethnic media services.”

Lindgren suggested the new policy is symbolically important for Brampton’s multicultural communities: “I don’t think you can underestimate the symbolic importance of what the city’s done in terms of saying ‘we recognize these media outlets as being part of the established media’ in a sense and as being legitimate and valuable way to get their message out,” she said in an interview.

She speculated that the changes may lead to more city hall coverage in the ethnic media because the “staffing and financial constraints that plague many small news organizations suggest that a ready supply of translated local news may be to some degree irresistible.”

In a recent news report, however, the publisher of the Canadian Punjabi Post argues that better access to city politicians would be more helpful than translated press releases.

“The city is spending a lot of money on translation, which is not worth it as I have to rewrite the releases. This does not make sense to me,” Jagdish Gewal told New Canadian Media.

“My reporters are capable of writing news in English and Punjabi.”

Meanwhile, the trial period for Bampton’s expanded ethnic media strategy has been extended and a report on its effect will be discussed by council in the next few months, a city official said.

Lindgren’s paper, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise,” was published in the 2015 fall Issue of the Global Media Journal — Canadian Edition, Multicultural Media and Immigrant Integration.




The impact of newsroom cutbacks, consolidations and closures will be the focus of a new study examining local news poverty in communities outside of Canada’s major media centres.

Residents of Canada’s largest cities can turn to multiple sources for local news, but people who live in smaller cities, suburban municipalities and rural areas typically have fewer options, and in recent years their choices have become even more limited, says research team member April Lindgren, principle investigator for the Local News Research Project at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism.

“Access to local news is important to the democratic vibrancy and health of a community because people who have access to news are then equipped to participate in decisions that affect them,” Lindgren said.“ This project will examine the extent to which local news poverty is an issue outside of major cities where often there are still multiple newspapers and many other local news sources.”

The local news poverty research team brings together scholars with expertise in journalism, social media research and participatory mapping. In addition to Lindgren, it includes Jaigris Hodson, an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Royal Roads University, and Jon Corbett, an associate professor in community, culture and global studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.

Mapping changes to the local news landscape
The first phase of the local news poverty study involves the launch of a crowd-sourced map that documents gains, losses, service increases, and service reductions at local online, radio, television and newspaper outlets across the country. Lindgren is responsible for the map’s actual content, while the map itself is based on the Geolive participatory mapping tool developed by Corbett’s SPICE Lab (Spatial Information for Community Mapping).

“This map was unlike any other map we’ve tried in the past primarily because of the complexity of the information that needed to be presented,” Corbett said, noting that users will be able to view changes over time in a variety of ways including by media type and media ownership. When the map is launched in early 2016 it will present data on news outlet launches, closures and consolidations dating back to 2008.

Once the map is open for business, members of the public will be able to add information about changes to the local news landscape in their community. Lindgren says outreach for the crowd-sourced map will be done in phases to encourage regular contributions of new information over time. News about the map’s availability will be shared, for instance, with the community associated with the Geothinkresearch project, which provided funding for the map’s creation. Organizations serving journalists and news media, media workers’ unions, and communications and journalism scholars will also be encouraged to contribute.

“I’m hoping that we can also get the news media interested in the map so the general public will find out about it and add information to it,” Lindgren said, noting that the crowd-sourced data will be vetted to ensure the map’s accuracy. The map will also include a link to a survey that asks citizens about the availability of local news in their communities and whether their information needs are being met.

Investigating local news coverage of the 2015 federal election
In its initial phase, the project will also examine the role of local news coverage and social media in the 2015 federal election.

“We want to see how much news coverage there was of local contests for MP – what could people find out from their local news media and did they get enough information to make an informed decision,” said Lindgren, who will supervise the content analysis of news produced by traditional news sites in eight Canadian communities. Data on local reporting on the election was gathered by scraping all local news media websites in each community.

“To the extent that local coverage of the election reflects the vibrancy and viability of local news media, it may well be a proxy for local coverage in general and an indicator of different levels of local news poverty in different communities,” Lindgren said.

Hodson, meanwhile, is the principle investigator for Election News, local information and community discourse: Is Twitter the new public sphere? a SSHRC-funded project that will investigate the role of social media in disseminating news and information about the local races in the same eight cities, towns and rural municipalities.

“The common assumption is that social media activity can more than make up for any decline in local media coverage on an issue or event, such as an election,” Hodson said. “However, we feel that we need more research to determine if this type of activity is in fact occurring. This project will help us find that out.“

Hodson will investigate the extent to which Twitter and Facebook were used to share news and information about the local races in the eight communities. They include Brandon, Manitoba, the British Columbia cities of Kamloops and Nanaimo, and the Ontario municipalities of Brampton, Oakville, Thunder Bay, City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough.

Lindgren, who is co-investigator on the SSHRC project, said the communities were selected based on their location, whether they were suburban or rural, and their proximity to a major media market. The list also includes municipalities that have experienced a major disruption in local news sources (such as the closure of a daily newspaper or television station) and others where the media landscape has been relatively undisturbed.

Survey: Did voters get the news they needed to cast an informed vote?
The outcomes of the website and social media content analyses will be examined in conjunction with the results of a survey conducted during the 2015 campaign. The survey asked voters questions about where they went for news about the local contest for MP, whether they used social media to comment on or share local election news, and whether their local media gave them enough information to cast informed votes in the 2015 federal election.

“Among other things, we’re hoping this survey data will help us investigate whether there is any correlation between the amount of coverage of the local races for Parliament and voter participation,” Lindgren said.

This story originally appeared on the Local News Research Project  website. 


Staff Reporter  

Toronto residents who are concerned about how their neighbourhoods are portrayed in the news can now test their perceptions of news coverage against the reality.

The Local News Research Project at the Ryerson University’s School of Journalism has launched online interactive maps that allow residents in different city wards to explore in detail how their communities are depicted in the news.

Users can click each point to find out about the news articles that referenced the location.

“[The maps] allow people to test what their perception of the news is and what the reality is and see if the two coincide,” said April Lindgren, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and the project’s principal researcher.  The maps give the public access to data the research project collected on local news reporting by the Toronto Star and the user-driven local news website

Residents can use the maps to get an overall sense of where news in the city is – and isn’t – covered; compare patterns of local news coverage by two different news organizations; examine the geographic patterns of reporting on crime, entertainment and other major news topics; and find out what kind of news is covered in each of the city’s wards.

“The patterns are interesting because they show a lot of coverage of the downtown neighbourhoods and central Toronto and as you go away from the centre of the city, you see less and less reporting overall in more far-flung neighbourhoods… This suggests there might be lots of opportunities to do stories in those other areas outside of the core,” Lindgren said.

The Toronto Star news coverage concentrated on the downtown core.

The maps are based on the Toronto Star’s local news coverage published on 21 days between January and August 2011, a sample that is large enough to be considered representative of a whole year.  The data for, which suspended publishing in 2012, was collected for every day between January and August 2011.

“While the maps capture only a snapshot of news coverage at a fixed point in time, they nonetheless demonstrate the importance of geospatial analysis in local news research,” Lindgren writes in an article on The Local News Research Project website.  

They are “a powerful data visualization tool that allows members of the public to independently explore media portrayals of neighbourhoods and the extent to which some parts of a city are represented in the news while others are largely ignored.”

Lindgren says she decided to investigate how different neighbourhoods are portrayed in the news because of concerns periodically raised by residents and local politicians about how certain parts of the city are covered. Residents in Scarborough were outraged after disparaging references to Scarborough as “Scarberia” in a Toronto Star column; in the Jane-Finch area, concerns about crime-centred coverage led long-time resident and neighbourhood advocate Paul Nguyen to establish, a local news website created to dispel negative stereotypes.

Users can click within a ward to access charts summarizing news coverage by topic.

Drawing upon the same data used to create the interactive maps, Lindgren also produced a research paper  that showed the city’s high-needs areas tend to appear infrequently in the news. Her research also demonstrated that the stories that are covered tend to be crime-related.  As a result, she says,  residents in the city’s disadvantaged communities worry “about how they’re portrayed and say that the media is negatively stereotyping their community.”

“There is research that suggests that the negative portrayals of neighbourhoods can affect how people perceive themselves and also how they are perceived by the outside.”

Studies have found, for instance, that job seekers from so-called ‘bad neighbourhoods’ are at a disadvantage when it comes to having their job applications considered, Lindgren said, citing a 2007 incident when a young, black university student from Toronto’s Malvern area was described as a “ghetto dude” in an email mistakenly sent to him by the Ontario government employee dealing with his job application.

“These potential effects of geographic stereotyping aren’t imagined,” Lindgren said.

The Toronto Star coverage of crime and policing news.

Other studies have suggested that negative media depictions of particular neighbourhoods can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because they shape outsiders’ perceptions of an area.  The stigmatization of a community can also be internalized by its residents, leading to further problems. Researchers have suggested, for example, that residents who believe they live in a troubled areas distance themselves from other residents, do not invest time and effort in improving their neighbourhoods, and instead focus on moving away. The resulting lack of cohesion and high turnover rate leave these communities even more vulnerable to crime and other problems.