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This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By SIERRA BEIN
Staff reporter

Journalists around the world make the mistake of assuming that their journalistic ethical approaches are the best – or only – standards. Especially with crime reporting, what might seem normal in North America is shocking to some cultures in Europe, say two researchers from Canada and the United States.

Naming victims and suspects in serious crimes is the default approach in North America, a practice meant to support the public’s right to know critical information about their community. But in some areas of Europe, not identifying people in news stories is meant to serve as a way to rehabilitate people and their reputations.

“I think the first thing we need to alert journalists everywhere to is that we need to stop assuming this culture of sameness,” said Romayne Smith Fullerton, an assistant professor of Information and Media Studies at Western University.

“That’s just not respectful. It’s very colonial.”

Fullerton and her research partner Maggie Jones Patterson, a journalism professor from Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, have been studying how culture and journalism ethics shape crime reporting since 2010. Fullerton presented some of their findings on a panel about police and local news at Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future, a conference hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism on June 3-4.

Naming someone in a serious crime story automatically involves family and friends’ reputations as well, which can be detrimental to criminals making efforts to rehabilitate, and can re-traumatize family members who have lost someone, says Fullerton

One of the biggest differences the researchers noticed is how identity is treated in North America compared to in certain countries in Europe, where different considerations are given to a person involved in crime—suspect or victim.

“There’s a real presumption of innocence until that person is convicted. They deserve every benefit of the doubt, and media coverage can be like punishment,” she said. “You’ve served your time, and paid your debt to society. You ought to be able to rejoin your community and have a life.”

“In the United States,” where there is more value placed on informing the public about everything, “that’s impossible,” said Fullerton.

“If you have a record, you’re not going to work. So it’s very difficult to rejoin [society] after you’ve been othered,” she said. “If you just say that person is a monster instead of a citizen, then you don’t need to take social responsibility for the fact that culture, economics, and education create criminals.”

In coverage of the Manchester bombings in the U.K., where 22 people were killed when a bomb went off at a music concert, for example, U.S. media published the name of one of the assailants while British media did not, instead providing in-depth descriptions and a nickname.

“The anger of the police and U.K government that they had lost control of intelligence material was accompanied by members of the public and other news organisations condemning the insensitive nature of the report,” reads a news story from The Guardian.

Fullerton described a culture clash that emerged when British-owned media began to take over certain news outlets in Ireland. As a result, British tabloid-style standards were imposed on Irish publications. Generally, the Irish did not identify individuals involved in crime to leave room for rehabilitation while the British were more focused on getting the entire story on front pages.

Members of the Irish press soon created a press council and a press ombudsperson to help regulate a Celtic ethic in their news. Now, Irish media have a formal way to enforce their ethical standard in their publications. Fullerton and Patterson say other countries could look to this case study, should they chose to evaluate their ethical standards.

Fullerton says that they may go on to study France and Quebec as well.

“I didn’t want to lump it in with English-speaking Canada, [with its] different laws, different cultural assumptions. I think it deserves it’s own space,” she said.

Fullerton says she and Patterson plan to continue their research and that they hope other researchers will also look beyond the scope of just Europe and North America.

This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By ALLISON RIDGWAY
Staff reporter

Collaborations between newsrooms and community members could be key to saving local news, says an expert in journalism and community engagement.

Growing sustainable journalism models in areas that are underserved by  local news organizations is more complicated than aiding individual outlets, says Josh Stearns, associate director of the U.S.-based Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program. Instead, he said, stakeholders must find innovative ways to bring newsrooms and community members together to maintain local news.

“The health of local media used to be easily measured by the health of a few institutions,” Stearns said at a recent conference on the future of local journalism. “Today, we have to understand not just the health of individual organizations, but also the networks and relationships between them. We have to understand both the newsrooms and the ecosystems they are a part of.”

Stearns’ luncheon address at the conference, which was hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, focused on finding a framework for creating healthy local news ecosystems.

“The future of local news,” he said, “will be built not as a series of disconnected institutions, but as a network of connected and collaborative ones that, together, create a diverse, vibrant public square.”

While working with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in 2014, Stearns and Molly de Aguiar created New Jersey’s Local News Lab to study interventions for struggling news ecosystems. They worked with six small New Jersey outlets – both online and print – to experiment with new strategies for community engagement, collaboration and financial sustainability.

After one year, all six participating newsrooms saw increases in web traffic and engagement and all developed at least one new revenue stream. Local journalists also ended up with better connections with citizens and fellow reporters thanks to the creation of collaboration hubs, the sharing of common training and support services among newsrooms, and new community engagement initiatives.

The Local News Lab, along with other organizations and universities, created new shared service programs including the Sales Academy, a program that offers newsrooms marketing and ad sales training, and an online list of legal questions and answers for New Jersey journalists.

“I think that a healthy news ecosystem is one that is cohesive, and a cohesive news ecosystem is one that balances the need for collaboration with the role of competition,” said Stearns.

Stearns found that shared services like legal networks and technology co-ops can help small newsrooms become more efficient and enable them to use each other’s strengths – from social media development to community event planning – to ensure that the entire news ecosystem thrives.

Collaboration also means working with community members who need local news to make informed decisions and have their voices heard, he added.

Free Press, for example – one of the Local News Lab’s newsroom participants – created the “News Voices New Jersey” to invite community members to meet with journalists and discuss local issues that mattered to them. Strategies included public forums, community advisory boards and events hosted by the newsroom.

Another Lab participant, the Media Mobilizing Project, created numerous community storytelling projects to give a voice to community members and issues often ignored by the media. One example of this was a video series about casino workers organizing and fighting against poor working standards.

“Right now the incentives to do community engagement work are up against the incentives for getting as many stories and bylines on a page as possible at any given time,” Stearns said in an interview before the conference. “But some news organizations are realizing that deep engagement with communities is fundamental to the sustainability of local news.”

While connecting with community members, many of the news organization participants found new ways to create readership incentives. For example, more than 500 people signed up to a loyalty card pilot program during Brick City Live’s first year with the Lab, and the Newark-based news blog used their initial revenue to create a sustainable app-based version of the program.

Most recently, the New Jersey legislature introduced a new bill that would allocate $100-million from the state budget to support public interest-media in the state. Free Press used the connections it had made with the community and other newsrooms to advocate  for this legislation.

Stearns, who joined Democracy Fund one year ago to take the experimental models into areas with compromised local news systems, said the project is  currently identifying three to five regions where its Ecosystem News Project will support local news innovation in ways similar to the approach used in  New Jersey.

The methods employed to address  New Jersey’s local news issues won’t work for every new region, he said, as all news ecosystems are different, but the framework created will help the organization collaborate and form a “deep partnership” with local stakeholders.

“We’re not going to be a national funder who swoops in and says, ‘Here’s how we fix the news,’” said Stearns. “We’re going to say, ‘Here’s what we’ve learned, here’s some resources – let’s work together.’”

This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By: GREGORY FURGALA
Staff Reporter

Small-scale community news outlets can have a meaningful impact and thrive “on a shoestring,” but decreases in funding have left the sector reeling, say community news researchers.

Non-profit community media in Canada, which has traditionally relied on a combination of government assistance and private investment, have seen those funds dry up in recent years. Unlike the United States, where nonprofit investigative news organizations like ProPublica and the Marshall Project thrive, Canada doesn’t have a strong tradition of “philanthro-journalism.”

“We don’t have the Rockefellers or the Gateses,” says Patricia Elliott, editor of J-Source and assistant professor of journalism at the University of Regina.

“So it’s hard for us to do that.”

Since 1990, Elliott says the number of magazines receiving federal distribution assistance has dropped from 8,000 to 800, and the number receiving operating grants has dropped from 418 in 2000, to 27 in 2015. More than 74 per cent of community access channels have been lost since 1982, while community radio receives no direct government assistance.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle facing community news producers. Elliott says they’re rarely invited into policy discussions about the future of media. For example, the Public Policy Forum’s recent report on Canadian media, “Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age” was primarily concerned with the future of private media conglomerates.

“It’s like [community media] doesn’t even exist,” she said.

Elliott was joined by McGill doctoral candidate Gretchen King and Sarah Stonbely, the research director for cooperative media at Montclair University on a panel discussion about crowdfunding and cooperative media. The panel was part of a recent conference on the future of local journalism hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

Despite the hurdles facing non-profit community media, Elliott says the sector has some advantages over its commercial cousins. “There are more revenue streams available, the ability to share resources with competitors,” she says, “and then there’s public trust and support, which are so important to survive.”

Without the pressure of pleasing advertisers, community media can tackle issues that commercial and state media can’t, and can afford to be less “editorially timid,” says Elliott. She pointed to the Saskatchewan alternative weekly Prairie Dog, which started as a non-profit in 1993 and later became a co-op It survived losing its Crown and city advertising after the Saskatchewan Party took provincial office in 2007.

King agreed, noting that outside of Quebec, existing efforts to fund community radio in Canada are woefully inadequate. She cited as an example the Community Radio Fund of Canada—a fund created in 2007 by a trio of campus radio associations: it caps funding for equipment at $500, which “can barely pay for a professional grade recorder.” Instead, the CRFC awards most of its funding on a per project basis. The net result is chronically underfunded non-profit community radio, and a host of ongoing problems.

“Personnel, funding, volunteers, the capacity of volunteers, the constant need for training, the constant issue of staff turnover, volunteer turnover––all of it affects the consistency of being able to run a regular show,” says King.

And those local losses, King says, have a national impact.

When broadcast nationally, King says, non-profit community-oriented news is a way for marginalized or otherwise unheard voices to come to the fore and offer different perspectives that commercial media can’t—or won’t— provide. Groundwire, an award-winning bi-monthly collaborative community news that King helped launch in 2008, helps make that insight an audible reality.

“You get views and opinions you might not get first hand, so Indigenous people representing themselves on Indigenous issues, immigrants representing themselves on immigration issues, homeless people representing themselves on issues of poverty.”

When funds run dry, Stonbely suggested community radio stations turn to another source for help: each other.

In the United States, “public and nonprofit are on the frontlines of collaboration,” Stonbely says, “because they also tend to receive the most funding and support to experiment with it.”

“They’re also the hungriest sometimes, so it forces them, in a way.”

Several experiments in collaboration have already proven sustainable. In 2014, five community radio stations in upstate New York won a $375,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—a federally funded non-profit with the mandate to support public broadcasting— to form Upstate Insight, a collaborative radio program delivering community news on a regional scale. In 2010, the CPB awarded a grant to five midwest public broadcasters to form Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration that focuses on agricultural issues, and that is now supported by partner stations and syndication. Last year, a successful collaboration between NPR member stations in Colorado and Maine focused on comparing each state’s politics with one another lead to the announcement of a 43-station, 34-state project to replicate the project nationwide.

“We can get beyond Kickstarter,” says Elliott. “But we have other support in the community that we need to draw on more often.”

“When they do get a little funding under them, they do great work.”

This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By ANGELA LONG
Staff reporter

If you want to learn about the Muslim community, don’t read the news, says the associate editor of The Islamic Monthly.

Steven Zhou, who converted to Islam six years ago, said writing about a community takes time and resources.

As a result, too many publications produce “surface-level” stories fulfilling their role as being part of the public record “because the truth needs to be told.” But as a freelancer for publications including CBC News Online, Zhou said he’s sympathetic.

“It’s easier to make money pounding out a thousand words in your underwear than it is to go on a bus and spend your money and cover something,” he said.

He was joined on the panel Know Thy Neighbour: Local News as a Tool for Overcoming Difference by Muslim Link coordinator Chelby Marie Daigle, BuzzFeed’s Ishmael Daro, and producer, writer and broadcaster Naheed Mustafa at a conference on the future of local news hosted by the Ryerson School of Journalism.

The Muslim community is not as homogenous as mainstream media portrays, they said.

“I can tell you, in almost a decade of interaction with people in the community, I’m probably more confused than when I started,” Zhou said. “How does one person cover a million people?”

The answer to such a question is more critical than ever, said panel moderator Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“I usually like to tell a lot of jokes but, again, we’re having another terrorist attack in London,” she said at the beginning of the discussion.

Elghawaby played a clip, recorded the night before by a Muslim friend while out for a walk with her 11-year-old son in in Kanata, Ontario. A male voice yelled hateful racial slurs.

“He went on to say they should all be killed,” Elghawaby said. “This is what we’re talking about, knowing thy neighbour, and it’s not just a cute title of a panel.”

Getting to know the Muslim community, a community subject to an increasing number of hate crimes, which Elghawaby charts on an online map, means building connections, said Mustafa, whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Walrus and numerous other publications.

Of workplaces such as CBC, where colleagues assumed certain communities trusted her with their stories because of her ethnicity, Mustafa said, ”I don’t actually have access to that community. I built access to that community.”

Building access could mean contacting at least a dozen people and attending events such as a women’s gathering in Thorncliffe Park in Toronto, as Mustafa did for a CBC documentary about what it meant to be Canadian. It could also mean being aware that journalists are in a position of power.

“If you have people in the community who are still relying on us to filter their stories,” she said, “are we really engaging in a meaningful way or are we basically forcing people to help us tell the story we’re interested in telling?”

At Muslim Link, Daigle is focused on telling the stories her community wants to tell, she said. Daigle, who says she has no background in journalism, “has learned that “people want to read about people they might actually know, or people who look like them, or people they might run into.”

“I think local news is so important for community building,” she said. “It’s how you get to know your neighbours.”

Muslim Link tells stories that explore the spectrum of a multi-dimensional community that isn’t often reflected in mainstream media, said Daigle, from Eritrean Canadians launching a charity to support refugees in Sudan to an Ottawa bus driver standing up to Islamophobia.

“The interesting thing about telling the stories of Muslims in Canada is that it’s as interesting for Muslims as it is for non-Muslims because our community is so diverse.”

Ishmael Daro, social news editor at BuzzFeed Canada who covers Islamophobia as a sub-beat, said he uses stories to help bust stereotypes. One method of doing this is to tell positive stories about the Muslim community in response to hate incidents, he said. For example, Daro countered a story about anti-Syrian-refugee graffiti at a Calgary light rail transit (LRT) station with one about a group of young Muslims armed with messages of love greeting commuters the next day.

Daro also wrote about a Palestinian donair shop owner who gave free food to the hungry. The business owner did so because it was part of his culture, Daro said, and this became a central aspect of his article.

These are the types of stories that can teach people about his culture from a Muslim perspective, he said.

Such feel-good stories aren’t going to make the front page of the Globe and Mail, he said, “but those are the stories that really connect with people. Those are the stories that I get mail for.”

This is one of a series of articles and videos on the June 2017 conference “Is no local news bad news? Local journalism and its future” hosted by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Watch the full conference panel below. To read more about the conference and local news, visit:  localnews.journalism.ryerson.ca.

By ANGELA LONG
Staff reporter

Local news is important, but it is far from perfect, says the lead researcher for the U.S. Media Deserts Project.

Speaking to a recent Ryerson University conference on the future of local journalism, Ohio University professor Michelle Ferrier said it’s time to focus the local news debate on people whose stories have traditionally been ignored or misinterpreted.

When Melanin Monroe –the sister of a Black man shot by a security guard in Ferguson, Missouri in March 2017– tweeted a photo of her brother, Ferrier took note. “This is our brother that was shot in Ferguson today,” Monroe wrote. “24-year-old, goes by the name Luh Jay Jay. Before the media puts out a photo of him.” Ferrier, who is her university’s associate dean of innovation, research/creative activity and graduate studies, used this example to show that not everyone feels “well represented” by the media, and cited it as evidence of the “damage that journalists themselves have done” to erode the trust of racialized communities in America.

“For some communities, it’s not going back to some golden age of journalism at the local level,” Ferrier said.

“For many rural communities and communities of colour, journalists are equivalent to the police, viewed with suspicion, where drive-by journalism is committed upon populations, where they’re considered zoo stories.”

Ferrier, the president of Journalism that Matters, is working on an ongoing project that aims to identify media deserts—geographic areas with no access to current local news and information. So far she has mapped newspaper circulation by ZIP code with a view to discovering gaps in coverage throughout the U.S. The next step will be to map hyperlocal coverage.

Ferrier said she wants to begin a new conversation about local news, one where journalists build authentic relationships and help the community see itself: “First and foremost we need to repair the trust that has been breached.”

Ferrier was part of the panel Understanding Local Journalism: An Overview, along with Damian Radcliffe from the University of Oregon, who suggested a local-news golden age never really existed, describing the nostalgia for one as a “fool’s errand.”

Radcliffe and Ferrier were joined by April Lindgren, associate professor at Ryerson School of Journalism, Colette Brin, director of the Centre for Media Studies at Université Laval, and moderator Jaigris Hodson, assistant professor and program head of interdisciplinary studies at Royal Roads University.

“Local news needs to reinvent and reinvigorate itself. It’s not going to be what it once was,” said Radcliffe, who is also a research fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

His data comparing local news ecosystems in the U.S. and the U.K. show huge reductions in newsroom staff, boots-on-the-ground reporting, and advertising revenues across the board. More than 20,000 journalism jobs have been lost in the U.S. alone, said Radcliffe, and most of those aren’t coming back.

But to reinvent local news means knowing what it means.

“The definition of local is a real challenge for us researchers and also for policy-makers because it’s highly personal,” Radcliffe said.

“Everyone in this room would define local in a very different way.”

For example, he pointed out, the state of Oregon—population four million—is geographically bigger than the whole of the U.K.: “I work with people who might think that Oregon news is local news where that would be national in the U.K.”

Despite research challenges, Radcliffe insisted there are “very valid reasons for optimism.” There’s a chance to repair the breach of trust Ferrier spoke of, he argued, through innovations in storytelling, and through recognizing that “we now have access to tools which allow us to be more engaged, closer to our audience, and measure impact in a way that we never previously could.”

Canadian researchers are also trying to understand the challenges faced by local news media and how to take action in cases where communities are underserved. April Lindgren, lead investigator for the Local News Research Project, said the local news landscape in Canada “isn’t a pretty sight.” She called the growing awareness of the troubled local news landscape an “awakening” that has “coincided with the realization that we actually don’t know a lot about what’s really happening on the ground.”

Lindgren is investigating local news poverty—a phenomenon where local news has failed to meet community needs—through research projects such as a study that measured local news reporting on local races for MPs in eight communities during the 2015 federal election. Working with Jon Corbett from the University of British Columbia she has also created a crowd-sourced map that tracks local news media closures, mergers, and openings across the country. The map has identified nearly 200 media outlet closures in 150 communities since 2008.

“Increasingly in Canada policymakers and others are raising concerns about what’s going on,” she said.

Citing non-existent, flawed or incomplete data sets that make it difficult for researchers to do their work, Brin said lack of data about the local news landscape is also an issue in Quebec.

“We talk about local news poverty, we could also be talking about local news research poverty,” she said.

To know what’s happening on the ground is key to understanding what, if anything, to do about it, said Lindgren. Her team is developing a diagnostic checklist of news poverty risk factors—what Lindgren called a “shortcut to determine if a place is at risk.” Factors such as income, population and education are among the variables that will be investigated for possible inclusion on the list.

Lindgren said the work of the Local News Research Project is an attempt to address a problem identified by Carleton University professor Dwayne Winseck during his testimony before the House of Commons Canadian Heritage Committee during its 2016 hearings about the state of local news.

”When it comes to changes in the Canadian media landscape,” she said, “there are, as he (Winseck) put it, a lot of opinions and little data to act upon.”