Currently viewing the tag: "Ryerson Journalism Reasearch Centre"

Staff Reporter

16X9's Laurie Few speaks to students at Ryerson University about investigative reporting.

16×9 executive producer Laurie Few speaks to students at Ryerson University about investigative reporting.

Before she picks up a hidden camera, 16×9 executive producer Laurie Few consults with a lawyer.

“[Don’t move] unless you have checked with someone up the food chain,” Few told students at the Ryerson School of Journalism during a recent presentation.

“Right now I have a $10-million lawsuit with my show and I’m like woohoo, bring it on, waste your time, because every ‘T’ here is crossed 10 times, every ‘I’ is dotted. There’s enough to worry about when you use a hidden camera without stepping on a landmine.”

Few, a former lawyer and veteran investigative journalist, leads the team at Global Television’s investigative news program, 16×9. Her presentation, organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, guided students through a variety of her investigations and the process of investigative TV journalism.

Few said journalists must first understand Canadian law and the journalistic policies of their organizations before they begin an investigation. Many agencies, for instance, only allow the use of hidden cameras if that is the only way to get the “highest attainable version of the truth for this story,” she noted.

In Canada, the law governing hidden cameras or recording devices allows for one-way consent, which means only one party in the conversation needs to consent to being recorded, Few reminded students in the audience. If journalists are part of the conversation, they are the consenting party.

Cameras and audio recording devices, Few added, can be placed within pens and bags, under the journalists’ clothes or on their glasses or hats, and around the room where the conversation or investigation will be taking place. Journalists should also be armed with several recording devices just in case one fails, she advised.

Few said going undercover is also easier said than done: “It’s a really tough thing, [blending into the character you’re supposed to be.] It’s not as easy as people think.”

With the dangerous and unpredictable situations they are sometimes faced with, investigative reporters must be both brave and street smart, she said. By way of example, she pointed to a 2013 investigation into illegal cross-border gun sales, where an undercover producer arranged to buy an assault rifle from an American seller. 16×9 producer Brennan Leffler set up a meeting with the sellers and was able to illustrate how simple it was to buy the gun. But then he had to extricate himself from the deal because it would have been illegal to make the purchase.

Leffler created enough chaos and confusion that they sellers backed out of the deal, Few said.

“Brennan is fearless; he’s really smart too… You have to be fearless, but you can’t be stupid and you have to know yourself. You have to know when I’m going to back away from this. I’ve seen it happen before where people have actually purchased the guns illegally, journalists. They just broke the law, so you have to be super careful.”

When it comes to business fraud or scam investigations, Few said she insists upon finding at least 20 victims before she takes on a story.

“I need to see a pattern. Business opportunity fraud is one of the hardest things to prove. I’m not there to prove fraud in court, but really I am,” she said, noting that she will only takes on stories she thinks could and should be the subject of successful court proceedings.

And that’s just the start of it. She said she must “test the market” to ensure that she experiences the same fraud in the course of her investigation. And she emphasized the need to give the “bad guys” a chance to respond before the story airs: “You are not doing journalism if you do not give the person an opportunity to respond to those allegations; that is always a must.”

While they may not want to give a statement, she says journalists must make several attempts to contact them and no response or an unclear answer is not enough: “I need the person saying no.”

Laurie Few gives students a demonstration on hidden camera techniques.

Laurie Few gives students a demonstration on hidden camera techniques.

Investigative work, Few insisted, is also about more than hidden cameras and undercover work. She said investigative journalists must also care deeply about the stories they tell and be optimistic about their ability to get the story. It was the empathy and patience of 16×9 host and producer Carolyn Jarvis, Few noted, that led to their successful investigation of the 2014 shooting deaths of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B.

“We were looking at the lack of training and the lack of equipment…Long story short, as one of the [officers interviewed] said: ‘We took a knife to a gunfight.’ Those officers are dead, almost without question, because they weren’t properly armed or trained,” she said.

The challenge with the investigation was that most RCMP officers were unwilling to talk.

“They sign an agreement when they are taken on by the force that they cannot speak out against the force; it’s written into their contract. So how the heck are we going to get these guys to talk to us? They are risking their careers, their lifetime commitment to the RCMP, their reputations.”

But as Few says: “Don’t walk into a situation thinking ‘Why would anyone talk to me?’”

Jarvis devised a way for members of the RCMP to anonymously share their stories and opinions with the country.

“Carolyn Jarvis got the word out, one member at a time. She flew to Moncton, found a crappy hotel, set up in a room… and let the word leak out that she was going to be sitting there. Just sitting there, no recording devices, nothing. And slowly, they came. She sat there for three, long, boring days and I think at the end of those days, she had five or six officers come in and talk to her.”

To this day, not even Few knows the identities of the officers who spoke. While their words were used, it was actors who read them on the show. “We didn’t even want to risk putting them in silhouette,” Few said.

“You have to believe it. Carolyn cared so deeply about this story [that people came.]”

Few’s presentation can be viewed here.

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.



Staff Reporter

March 8, 2016

Robert Osborne, veteran freelancer and Ryerson journalism instructor, said pitching to the right outlet is critical to success in freelancing.

Robert Osborne, veteran freelancer and Ryerson journalism instructor, said pitching to the right outlet is critical to success in freelancing. [Ilina Ghosh]

Freelance journalists must pitch strategically and confidently and be “the raccoon[s] of the journalism world,” veteran freelancer Robert Osborne told students at a recent workshop organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

Osborne’s workshop, which focused on selling stories and maximizing the return on work, took students through the freelance process, drawing on lessons he learned over his 14 years as a freelance journalist and producer.  Building a diverse set of skills and performing under a diverse set of conditions is critical to freelance success, he said.

“You’ve got to be the raccoon of the journalism world, where you can eat anything, go anywhere, do anything…to thrive.”  

Osborne, who is also an instructor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, emphasized the need to find a fitting client for a pitch. Be a “heat-seeking missile” when targeting news outlets, he said.

“You can have the best story idea in the world but if you take it to the wrong place, you are going to get a lot of no’s.”

Pitching to the correct outlet is all about research, Osborne said.

“You’d be surprised at how many people will pitch perfectly good ideas to the wrong venue…So the first thing you have to do is read the magazine, watch the darn show, research their webpage, really take some time to think what kind of product are they looking for.”

A good pitch also involves a story with a clear focus, Osborne told students: “If you can’t explain the story in one line, you may not know what the hell your story is about.”

The next step is to expand the one line into what Osborne calls a “one page.”

“[A one page] is going to hit all the major bullet points [without being] a mini version of the story. It’s taking all of the salient issues and facts that are going to be involved in your story and putting them together as a sales pitch.”

When pitching to a broadcaster, a “sizzle reel” or pitch video is also necessary, Osborne said, and means freelance journalists must develop rudimentary shooting and editing skills.

“You may be never be a gifted cinematographer, you may never be a gifted editor, but you have to got to know how to string together something for a minute and 30. As well as a one page, every broadcaster from VICE to CBC to Green Ant Productions is going to be looking for a sizzle reel.”

While freelancing does involve a certain amount of working for free, Osborne also focused on how to “maximize your sweat equity.” Freelancers need to pitch the same idea in a variety of mediums and to a variety of outlets, Osborne said. Once an idea is picked up by a news organization, however, he advised against selling the same piece to a direct competitor.

Nick Dunne, a second-year journalism student, said the advice on pitching to multiple organizations and different mediums was especially interesting.

“[At this stage in school,] we’ve done a lot of focus on print and writing, so it was really interesting to see where you can go with [your work,] the different mediums you can bring it to, the opportunities that lie beyond print and more conventional means.”

Osborne said persistence is also an important part of life as a freelancer because unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails are to be expected.

“You have to have a thick skin. You have to keep going at it… in a persistent and polite way. You have to keep reminding them you’re still out there, find out if there’s an update in a story, that’s a reason to send them [another email.]”

While freelancing involves a lot of rejection, Osborne urged students to “have confidence in your good idea.”

“If you have an idea that you really feel strongly about, don’t let it collapse because the first place you took it says ‘We’re not interested.’ If that’s going to shatter you… then you’re in the wrong business. You’ve got to keep pushing that idea; if one person doesn’t like it, push it to another… until you get a hit,” he said.

Osborne ended the presentation with what to do “when you do get a nibble.” Be professional and willing to word hard, he said.

“If you’re obnoxious, if you’re difficult to work with, you will not get a second chance at any of these places. It is critical that when you do get a hook in, even the smallest of jobs with somebody, that you really act like a professional. Whatever they need done, you get it done.”


Staff Reporter

Adrienne Arsenault recounts her time covering the Ebola epidemic in Monrovia, Liberia, at a presentation at the Ryerson School of Journalism Feb. 2. [Ilina Ghosh]

Adrienne Arsenault recounts her time covering the Ebola epidemic in Monrovia, Liberia, at a presentation at the Ryerson School of Journalism Feb. 2. [Ilina Ghosh]

After eight days of reporting in the Ebola–ravaged city of Monrovia, Liberia, CBC News senior correspondent Adrienne Arsenault says fear and suspicion haunted her team’s homecoming – even before they set foot back in Canada.

It was October 2014 and while the Ebola virus was rapidly coursing through western Africa, a different epidemic had taken hold in North America.

“[Fear-bola began] when we were there and we knew our return was not going to be pretty. I was getting tweets from people that are unconscionable – ‘How dare you go there and expose Canadians. I hope you get sick and die there.’”

Although uninfected, Arsenault and her team – producer Stephanie Jenzer and videographer Jean-François Bisson – underwent a voluntary quarantine for three weeks after their return.

“We knew we had not been exposed, in a sense that we know that we had not come in contact with infectious fluids. We knew. We knew that we were fine,” Arsenault said during a presentation organized by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

“But in the name of not causing complete mayhem because some people were still afraid of us, we didn’t go to the office for 21 days. We were in a condo across the street from CBC, still working, still filing.”

While they intellectually understood the need for the quarantine, the fear amongst the public and rejection by some closest to them was unexpected and difficult to handle, Arsenault said.

“We felt like it was a failure of our reporting that people were still afraid of us. We thought we had explained it properly and we were stunned by the degree to which people still had this sense that we had brought this horrible thing to Canada.

“This is what Ebola does; it’s fear factor is beyond comprehension.”

Arsenault said she got the call to go to Liberia in August of 2014, as the Ebola epidemic began ravaging the region. She and the other members of her team, Jenzer and Bisson, said ‘yes’ within seconds.

“I don’t think it’s in our DNA to say no. I don’t think we could have lived with ourselves. What a horrible thing that was happening to people and the world really wasn’t giving a damn. And I happen to think that’s where CBC steps up, in a way that makes me endlessly proud of it.”

The team and its news organization faced a number of deterrents, but understood the value of the story, she said.

“It’s expensive to go to Liberia [and] it’s probably not the sexiest television reporting… CBC’s insurers had informed them that there was no guarantee of a medical evacuation in the event that someone on the team got sick… And yet, CBC said, ‘If you’re game, we will do everything in our power to make sure you’re okay and it works and get you home.’”

The team would go on to win the 2015 International Emmy Award for their coverage of the Ebola crisis from its epicentre in Monrovia.

Between March 2014 and Jan. 31, 2016, there have been 28,639 cases of Ebola globally, according to the World Health Organization, and 11,316 people have died as a result.   

When reporting on disasters, journalists are typically en route within hours of the call, Arsenault noted.  “But with Ebola it was three to four weeks between getting the ‘you need to go’ and actually getting on a plane… it’s complicated to plan for.”

The CBC journalists trained extensively with the infectious disease control unit at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, focusing in particular on how the virus is transmitted.

“This was the most important thing for us, to really mentally process how it’s transmitted, through contact with the infectious fluids of symptomatic people.”

They were taught to prepare for every possibility of infection, learning to stop reflexive actions and exercise extreme caution in the field.

On the ground, the team bleached every surface they came in contact with, took their temperatures twice a day, ate only military rations to reduce chances of food contamination, and always wore gloves in the field.

The highly infectious nature of the disease made certain aspects of empathetic reporting difficult, she said.

“When we interview people, there’s an intimacy, especially people who are going through something like this… But when you’re covering Ebola, everything is about vomit distance. Everything that we did was a safe, unnatural distance away that was antithetical to [being] an empathic journalist.”

It was also antithetical to the Liberian way of life, Arsenault said.

“It is a country that has a culture with a very warm, gregarious embrace. But no one was touching anyone. When we interviewed the president, I couldn’t even shake her hand. I apologized for being so rude and she said, ‘No one shakes anyone’s hand. No one touches anyone.’”

The virus is particularly vicious because it goes for people who love each other, she added.

“It doesn’t go for strangers. So if someone is [infected] in a family, there’s a good chance that whoever it is who cares enough to wipe the sweat off someone’s brow or clean up someone’s vomit – that’s the person who’s going to get it.”

The CBC team arrived in Monrovia in October 2014 and stayed only eight days because it was expensive, but also because of the risk of infection.

“With no promise of medical evacuation if someone was ill, the only thing we could do was make sure that we were out of the country before the first symptoms showed up,” Arsenault said.

The first stories centred on the physical and emotional toll the disease was taking on the people of Liberia: “We were showing people the worst of it, really getting them to feel it,” Arsenault said.

“We did a story with a body retrieval unit. In Liberia, the death ritual is so important in order to guarantee that someone has a good afterlife… and yet these men would come around in these white jumpsuits and spray down the walls, kick down doors, throw the body in a body bag.”

That story was followed by coverage of the youngest victims of the crisis, their uncertain futures and the stigma they faced.

“There was a terrible problem with Ebola orphans… Not just kids who were sick and alone… but there were little kids with their hands in the air who had lost their families, dying for someone to pick them up and no one was touching them.”

Next, the team took viewers through the streets of Monrovia, then into its clinics.

While Ebola can be a deadly disease, Arsenault says it can be effectively treated in the early stages with Tylenol, fluids and access to indoor plumbing.  

Before coming back to Canada, Arsenault also interviewed  President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, focusing on accountability for the country’s shattered healthcare system.

Arsenault said leaving Monrovia wasn’t easy: “You feel like a horrible human [when you have to leave these places.]

“There’s a helplessness to being a reporter in a place like that. You want to pick up the kids. You want to bring them home. But you also have to remember that it’s not a cliché to say that you’re there to give people voice.”

Arsenault said it is human to respond to tragedies when covering a story.

“It is okay to be horrified and nauseous and devastated by what you seeWatching the [work we produced,] I’m hearing how angry I am… That is okay,” she said. “That is your job, to work all that out when you write.”

It was near the end of their trip that Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who contracted Ebola in Monrovia, fled to the United States and began what Arsenault calls, “Fear-bola.”

Within weeks, nearly two-thirds of Americans were concerned about a widespread Ebola epidemic in the United States, according to a Washington Post – ABC News poll. This was despite repeated assurances from public officials that the country’s health care and disease surveillance system would prevent any such outbreak.

Canadians, meanwhile, were not immune.

“Even the doctors who had returned from covering Ebola were struggling a little bit with their own colleagues,” Arsenault said. “Nurses and doctors at their own hospitals who knew intellectually that everything was okay were still wary of them, wouldn’t eat lunch with them, wouldn’t connect with them.”

Arsenault also said that despite the significance of the Ebola crisis, the story was underreported.

“For something as bad as that, it was a bit sad not to be bumping into other crews. I think in some ways, when that man got sick, Thomas Eric Duncan, it was like all the American journalistic lights [shifted immediately to the U.S.]. And poor Liberia was like ‘Hey, hey, hey, the crisis is still here.’”

The stories of Monrovia have stayed with her and her colleagues, Arsenault said. 

“We would go back in a heartbeat. For some reason this is one story that we’re okay talking about again and again. A lot of times when we’re done with these types of ugly stories, we don’t really want to talk about them. But there’s something so heartbreaking about Ebola,” she said.

“It’s one of those stories that doesn’t end.”


View Arsenault’s full presentation here.