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Staff Reporter


The amount of news available about local contests for member of Parliament during the 2015 federal election depended on where in Canada voters were living, a new study by Ryerson University’s Local News Research Project suggests.

The research, which compared local coverage of the race for MP in eight communities in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, was presented to the House of Commons Heritage Committee on Oct. 6.

“People who lived in a place like Kamloops enjoyed relative news affluence compared to, say, people who lived in a city like Brampton or a rural area like the City of Kawartha Lakes,” Ryerson School of Journalism associate professor April Lindgren told MPs on the committee.

Lindgren said that in the month prior to the election voters in the suburban community of Brampton, Ont., and the rural municipality of City of Kawartha Lakes, Ont. were among the least well-served in terms of access to news about candidates vying to represent them in Parliament.

The study examined local media coverage of the contest for MP in three of Brampton’s five ridings and identified a total of only 43 election-related stories, or two for every 10,000 registered voters. In the City of Kawartha Lakes, local news producers generated only 29 stories, or 4.7 per 10,000 registered voters.

Voters in Kamloops, B.C. and Thunder Bay, Ont., by comparison, were much better served. Local media in Kamloops produced 151 stories, or 20 per 10,000 registered voters, during the month leading up to the election. In Thunder Bay, there were 226 stories, or 25 per 10,000 registered voters.


The federal heritage committee has been conducting hearings since January as part of a special study examining media and local communities. MPs are investigating the access local communities have to Canadian news and content on all platforms, including digital, and the impact of media consolidation on how Canadians are informed. Witnesses have ranged from academics and newspaper publishers to broadcast executives and officials from unions representing media workers.

“People observe or consume media in a different way now…because of the Internet.  And there’s also an assumption – and this isn’t specific to any demographic – but we like it for free,” committee member and former journalist Seamus O’Regan said in an interview. “So we need money in order to pay for resources and in order to pay for strong journalistic talent. How do we square that circle? And within that environment, what’s the role of government? What [is] at our disposal to make sure that people do get the news that they rely on and that they care about?”

O’Regan, the Liberal MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, said local news coverage plays an important role in communities.

“If you don’t have strong local news, you [can’t get] right down to the real nitty gritty of matters in municipal councils,” he said.

During the committee meeting, O’Regan said the Ryerson presentation was “key” as it included “very recent and empirical data,” and will be added into the committee’s final report, which is due to be completed by Christmas.

In her presentation, Lindgren said that election coverage of local races for MP is a strong indicator of the robustness of local news coverage.

“(For the purposes of the study) we were interested in election coverage because the race to represent a community in the House of Commons is a major news event that would warrant news media attention … it’s an important part of how people find out about their choices and potentially view their choices. As such, we think that in some ways it can be thought of as a proxy for the overall performance of local news media in general,” said Lindgren, who conducted the study with assistant professor Jaigris Hodson from Royal Roads University.

Lindgren told the committee that the research results also pointed to significant differences in the number of news sources serving different communities: The researchers identified just three news outlets – or 0.14 news organizations per 10,000 registered voters – in the Brampton ridings they examined. In Kamloops, by comparison, there were nine news outlets operating at the time of the election, or 1.25 news outlets per 10,000 registered voters.


Overall, Lindgren said, the results suggest suburban and rural municipalities are relatively underserved in terms of access to local news. The data also point to significant differences among small and medium-sized cities.

While media coverage during federal elections tends to focus on the leaders, Lindgren said reporting by local news outlets could have an impact on individual races for MP. Research suggests, she says, that the local candidate matters to up to three per cent of voters.

“That might not sound like much, but the margin of victory in 44 ridings during the last election was three percentage points or less,” she said.

Lindgren told MPs that the local news situation in two of the communities examined during the study has actually deteriorated since the federal election. The Nanaimo Daily News, which published more election-related stories than any other media outlet in that B.C. community, closed earlier this year. And on Sept. 30, a local online site that provided some of that city’s most extensive election coverage, also ceased publication.

Lindgren said the next step in the research will be to create a local news poverty index that can be used to rank communities in terms of the relative health of their local news situation. This index will be used as the starting point to investigate why some communities are more poorly served in terms of access to local news than others, and to identify possible solutions.

In addition to the election research, the brief Lindgren presented to the MPs outlined data from the crowd-sourced Local News Map. The interactive digital map, launched on in June, allows users to add information markers that record changes to local news organizations including, for instance, the launch or closure of a news source and service increases and reductions.

Three months after its launch, the markers on the map show that newsroom closures are significantly outpacing the launch of new local news sources.

About 53 per cent, or 164 of the 307 markers, on the map as of Sept. 25 documented newsroom closures, while only about 21 per cent (63) highlighted the launch of new local news outlets. The map, which is also a Local News Research Project initiative, tracks changes going back to 2008.

“The map tells a pretty powerful and disturbing … visual story of newsroom closures that far exceed the number of new ventures being launched,” Lindgren said.

Lindgren, who created The Local News Map with associate professor Jon Corbett from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, said their goal is to generate up-to-date data and spark debate about the state of local journalism in Canada.

“There’s been a major disruption in the news industry and people who live in smaller cities, towns, suburban communities and rural areas have fewer options to begin with and in recent years their choice has become even more limited,” she said.

The map, Lindgren cautioned, is only as good as the information contributors add to it. She noted, however, that it is moderated to ensure the information on it is reliable and argued that the overall trends reflect reality. She is also asking users to complete a survey on local news in their community.

Lindgren said her interest in what she calls “local news poverty” originated from an observation about the unequal access to local news in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto residents, she noted, have access to four daily newspapers and many online television and broadcast outlets.

“[Meanwhile] a nearby city like Brampton, which is Canada’s ninth-largest city and has more than 500,000 people in it, relies pretty much exclusively on the Brampton Guardian, a Metroland Media-owned community newspaper,” she said. “There’s no local radio, no local television and no local daily newspaper that focuses exclusively on news from that community.”



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.