LJR No. 15
L A N G A R A JOURNALISM R E V I E W
A behind-the-lens look at photojournalist
Andy Clark Walking the beat with
What happens when
journalists are the news?
LJR No. 15
checking in with chek............10 Journalists took over Victoria’s CHEK-TV to save it from closing. How are they doing? ANNA KILLEN finds out.
LJR No. 15
L A N G A R A JOURNALISM R E V I E W
A behind-the-lens look at photojournalist
Andy Clark Walking the beat with
What happens when
journalists are the news?
Just another schmuck with a camera....................22 How does Andy Clark always get the shot no one else does?
At a Glance
Opening Governments .....................5 How Canada’s access-to-information laws are fueling online leaks.
tough to beat ......................................................14 Kim Bolan is B.C.’s ace crime reporter. She’s streetsmart and tough as nails. So don’t bully her.
An ethical point ...................................8 Kirk LaPointe’s fight for ethical journalism continues—as CBC’s new ombudsman.
Do health stories make you sick? ......18 Critics say the media’s health coverage could be a tough pill to swallow.
SELF-COVERAGE .........................................17 What happens when a newsroom becomes the news?
China’s long arms ............................................26 Does China’s control of news extend beyond its own borders? Chinese-Canadian journalists say yes—and they have proof.
The art of ANCHORing ....................21 More than just a pretty face? Cyberspace v. thE COURTS ...............29 Press freedoms versus the right to a fair trial: What’s the verdict? Forced to flee .......................................32 Mexican journalist Luis Horacio Nájera narrowly escapes with his life. The aboriginal angle.......................36 Mainstream media fail to provide the full story, First Nations leaders say.
The new era ...........................................................30 The Epoch Times covers 33 countries in 17 languages. Does it have an agenda? latin american echoes..................................33 It’s dangerous to be a jouralist in Latin America. Some escape to carve out a new life in Canada. A dollar a click...................................................38 As traditional media seek ways to increase revenues from online ads, the new kids on the block believe they have it figured out.
Langara Journalism Review 2011
Life’s a struggle if you can’t juggle
Langara Journalism Review 2011
AARON GEERAERT illustration
CLARK Continued from Page 25 His photos serve as emotional reminders that help the public understand and empathize, such as one photo he took of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer comforting a resident from the First Nations community as they kneel before an altar, praying for four Mounties who were killed in the line of duty. Or one of a resident of Florida City, Florida as he sits shirtless on a stool on his front porch amid the wreckage of Hurricane Andrew, his neighbour’s house turned sideways ANDY CLARK photo and leaning over on his Farmer against prairie sky. Photojournalist Andy Clark looks for the unusual. own. Or another that shows local residents And there are times where I’ve looked at sacrifice, of natural disaster, of war, of of Timisoara, Romania peering through the steel bars of a window something and thought, there’s no chance political experience, of human triumph and into a small room where the bloody, bruised I’m going to photograph that,” Clark says defeat. “These photos we take will be used and and charred naked body of a victim— philosophically. “But you can’t possibly viewed hundreds of years from now and conceptualize a situation like you can with tortured and killed by the Ceausescu if we don’t photograph and document our regime—has been left on Christmas Day the instant visualization of a photograph.” Essentially, Clark’s love of history has history as it happens then the public won’t during the uprising and revolution. “It is difficult at times, no question. inspired him to capture moments of great know or remember.”
TRANSPARENCY Continued from Page 5 “I’m not sure that WikiLeaks is necessarily a reaction to increasing government secrecy because there are a lot of governments that are way more secretive than the U.S. that [have] not been subject to that scale of leaking.” But Gogolek says if reforms are not made to the current system, the Canadian government could see more Bradley Manning-type leaks. Manning, a 23-year-old military information specialist who is accused by the U.S. of leaking top-secret documents to WikiLeaks, now spends 23 hours a day in a six- by twelve-foot cell in a Virginia prison according to David Leigh, investigations editor at the Guardian—a tall price to pay for exposing documents he hoped would spark “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” Among information leaked was video footage of American helicopter pilots gunning down unarmed civilians and two Reuters journalists in Baghdad, hundreds of thousands of classified documents pertaining to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about a quarter of a million American diplomatic dispatches— dubbed “Cablegate”—concerning nearly every country on the globe. Technology has been key in revolutionizing the way the public views its right to information, according to Joe Cutbirth, a media expert who teaches at the University of British Columbia. With
vast amounts of information available at the click of a mouse, he says people are less willing to remain beholden to the government or media for access to information that’s being “held captive.” “WikiLeaks is a great example of how the Internet has changed the playing field.” Since its creation, Assange’s site has inspired a number of competitor and copycat sites, among them OpenLeaks, pioneered by German programmer Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s former second-in-command. Some, like ThaiLeaks, repost WikiLeaks content, while others, like PinoyLeaks, post original material from their own sources. And this is something Gogolek says will continue if governments don’t readjust their attitudes towards transparency. “If the system breaks down, public servants are going to start looking at walking stuff out the door if they’re appalled by it... You’ll have a public servant who says, ‘I can’t really, in good conscience, sit here and wait for someone to put in an FOI request.’” He says the federal government needs to start taking access to information seriously, investing resources in current infrastructure and treating information as a public commodity rather than something to be hoarded. “We don’t have to develop whole new systems. We’ve got one.”
Langara Journalism Review 2011
they’ve paid for the writers and they’ve edited all the material,” she says. “But they’re not using it to earn a second time around.” She suggests that if newspapers and magazines were willing to put their content online, there could be revenue increases of “thousands, if not millions” of dollars without affecting the quality of reportage.
SHAY SINCLAIR photo
Richmond Review editor Bhreandáin Clugston: The iPad will give newspaper publishers the ability to recapture the market. newspaper in February 2011, charging readers one dollar for weekly subscriptions. Clugston says the iPad gives publishers the ability to “recapture the market,” by giving advertisers the ability to make interactive ads using video or links. “That’s what a lot of people are talking about right now,” Clugston says. “If they become successful, then other kinds of media are going to fall in step.” But having been in the online industry since the early 2000s, Gugeler tells a different story. She says an iPad or e-book newspaper just isn’t as accessible, it requires a steep entry level—the purchase of the iPad or e-book themselves. “If I’m doing my PhD on something and the only article in the world that I need is behind a pay wall, yeah, I’ll pay for it,” she says. “But that’s not the average reader … nobody’s going to bother to get out their credit card to read that article.” Gugeler has been trying to convince her contacts in the media to adopt AdSense, but she says the “fear factor” is what’s preventing them from exploiting the model. “Can the online presence of print magazines and newspapers generate money the way Orato and Suite101 does? The answer is yes,” she says, explaining that the only reason the media hasn’t already done so is because of fears that the online component will “cannibalize” the print version.
“They’re just intimidated,” she says, adding that newspapers and magazines should have shown more progress in monetizing their online content. “Nobody is sitting on more excellently
Can the online presence of print magazines and newspapers generate money the way Orato and Suite 101 does? The answer is yes – Joy Gugeler
edited content than newspapers and magazines,” Gugeler says. The information that newspapers put online only represents the “tip” of the metaphorical iceberg that are the archives of big media corporations. “They’ve already paid for the overhead,
he ultimate safeguard against bad journalism is good ethics, says Gugeler. She uses the example of the keyword “mesothelioma,” a cancer that results from exposure to a fibre used in the manufacture of carpets. Advertisements based on that word pay $10-per-click, due to its frequent use by litigation lawyers. “So does that mean that…suddenly there will be thousands of articles on mesothelioma?” Gugeler asks. “I would hope most journalists have more integrity than that.” She notes that it would be difficult for journalists to predict what types of ads will appear beside their articles, in any case. “The thing that people don’t understand about Google AdSense is that the journalist has no way of anticipating the value of those ads,” Gugeler says. Advertisement placements are influenced by keywords, but it’s the geographical location of the reader that determines what ad goes where. “The ads that appear in Nanaimo are different from those that appear in Vancouver,” she explains. “And the ads that appear there are different from those in Tokyo. “It’s not a one size fits all approach. You have to customize it to your content.” Even if reporters were to write articles dedicated to advertising, Gugeler says it wouldn’t get past the next line of defence— the editors, who, she believes, would not “park their ethics at the door” to take advantage of ad sales. “Editors who would be overseeing their reporters wouldn’t see their editorial programs hijacked this way,” feeling confident that reporters and editors would not let greed get ahead of professionalism. For now, she hopes that traditional media corporations will take a page from her book and get over the “fear factor.” “It’s a whole economy and online revenue stream that can offset losses in other parts of the industry.” The big mainstream media have an opportunity, and it’s up to them as to how they will use it. Journalistic ethics still must prevail. Credibility and the public trust should not be up for sale.
Langara Journalism Review 2011 LJR
writer produces a product people want. “You’re both trying to do the best possible work, to get found, to get read. And get rewarded,” she says. And this is why Suite101 is so successful. The company pays its writers up to 30 per cent of what it makes through what it calls “residual” deposits—online payments that writers receive from Suite101 based on their content revenue each month. Kedda says a large focus is put on teach-
Sometimes you wonder if these articles are aimed at readers or aimed at google robots – Bhreandáin Clugston
ing editors and writers how to effectively use search engine optimization. He explains that search engine optimization essentially uses keywords to make a piece of writing easier to find on the Internet. This means a writer must try to use the most popular— and thus best-paid—words or phrases in an article. Indeed, there are “sponsored” key words that advertisers pay to use in banner ads that are then linked to a story using the same word or words. This inadvertently reveals quite a bit about the literacy of North Americans. The phrase “wireless rooter” is sponsored to pay $5-per-click—despite being a misspelling of “wireless router,” which pays less than half that. It’s because in the next step, Google robots read the article and pick out keywords that are relevant to the story’s content. The more popular the keyword, whether gibberish or not, the better sponsored it will likely be. And it’s these words that determine the sort of advertisements that display on the webpage. But some journalists are highly critical of this system, saying that ad-based payments will drive reporters away from their ethics. The fear is that journalists will start seeing dollar signs instead of legitimate story ideas. “That’s my worry,” says Bhreandáin Clugston, editor of the Richmond Review. “Sometimes you wonder if these articles are aimed at readers or aimed at Google
robots,” he says. Clugston calls companies such as Suite101 and Orato “content farms,” with writing that is tailored to search-engine visibility, rather than how significant or interesting it is to readers. “Orato has been around for eight years… and the model doesn’t really seem to be taking off just yet.” Clugston believes the smaller papers such as the Review are able to adapt to online journalism much faster than the large dailies, simply because the larger an organization, the harder it is to make changes. “My paper has just four of us in the newsroom; if we want to change something we can change pretty quickly,” Clugston says. Daily newspapers bought by subsrciption or off newstands are more vulnerable to a decline in readership. “If you’re a daily newspaper [and] suddenly your subscription drops 30,000, and if you’re an advertiser you start to think—hmm, wait a minute. “Being free delivery…we don’t have subscribers and we can demonstrate to advertisers that people are reading us,” Clugston says. For that reason the paid circulation dailies may be more desperate to adopt new ways to reap online revenues. Still, he believes newspapers should refrain from rushing headlong into the AdSense concept, and take a “wait and see approach.” As a journalist, he is uncomfortable with the idea of having Google decide how much money he makes. He expects there would also be legal complications involved because the Richmond Review’s employees work solely for Black Press, and bringing Google into the picture would mean negotiating new contracts with the staff. “If I write something for Black Press, I was paid to write that article. There’s no agreement to get online royalties, nor do I expect to,” he says.
lugston sees traditional media heading towards new products such as iPads and e-book newspapers. And he might be on to something. More than 130 newspapers around the world currently offer monthly subscriptions on the Amazon Kindle, ranging from $2 a month for community papers to as much as $28 a month for publications such as the New York Times. The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun and Province are already taking advantage of the e-book reader. As for Apple’s tablet, News Corp launched the world’s first exclusive iPad Langara Journalism Review 2011
small Vancouver-based online magazine is rivaling the mainstream media giants who are scrambling to figure out a way to make money from their online presence. Suite101 has been in the online media scene since 1996. It’s a publication with no glossy pages, no print readership and no mailbox subscriptions. Instead, the company relies on Google, the search engine, to draw its readers. Following its mantra of “helping Google find the best search result possible,” Suite101 claims readership hits of nearly 29 million a month, nearly equal to the Vancouver Sun’s 30 million online viewers. The company makes almost all of its revenue from advertisements attached to its website’s content—a concept the big media corporations haven’t quite caught up to. Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Patricia Graham says the daily has more than tripled its number of readers through its website, but online advertising isn’t high enough to produce much of an increase in revenue. “The print revenue is higher, by far and away,” Graham says. She declined to provide an exact dollar value. “Online revenues are growing very fast, but from a smaller base.” Managers at the Sun aren’t convinced online advertising is the best way to increase revenue. Instead, they are more interested in social media, seeing it as a communication tool to grab the attention of its “gargantuan” online audience. They have decided on the strategy of communication, encouraging its journalists to use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to gather instant feedback from its readers. Social media doesn’t fatten up the bank-
account. It does, however, translate into more exposure, the equation being that more exposure leads to more ad sales. “It’s no secret that the industry’s been through some tough times,” Graham says, adding that it’s “unfathomable” how much her newsroom has changed in the last two years. In an industry recently plagued with budget cuts and layoffs, journalists are forced to “redeploy” their talents simply to survive.
It’s no secret that the industry’s been through some tough times – Patricia Graham
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. New revenue avenues have been overlooked by corporate media managers. Suite101 is proof that online advertising is paying the bills. “How have we come to the realization that we should do this?” asks Suite101 editor-in-chief Michael Kedda. He answers his own question. “It comes from listening and looking at what people are doing [online].”
he website initially started as a platform for writers to learn the ins and outs of online writing. It was an introductory guide to the online market. Since then, it has evolved into something much bigger—the company now has offices around the world, including Germany, Langara Journalism Review 2011
France, Canada and Spain. Touting itself as a “website about everything,” Suite101 typically publishes what Kedda calls “evergreen” content—timeless magazine-style material that people will always be looking for. “The inverted pyramid and the formulaic journalistic model works for certain things and less well for other things,” says Kedda, a journalism graduate from the University of Arizona. Suite101 currently employs over 12,000 writers around the world. The company pays its writers with revenue from Google’s AdSense program, an online advertisement generator that produces ads tailor-made to the content on individual web pages. Revenue is calculated by an algorithm called “cost per click.” Google pays the company anywhere from one cent to $10 every time a reader clicks on an ad. “Every article that a writer would write is allocated advertising that’s based on its content,” Kedda says. There’s no set amount of money a single writer can make through AdSense. Essentially, the more you write, the more you can make. He’s not alone in advocating the use of Google ads. “It’s a win-win situation,” says Joy Gugeler, publisher of Vancouver-based Orato.com, an online magazine that also employs AdSense. She compared the payment system to an author’s royalties. “If you wrote a book [that retails] for $20 and it gets sold in a book store, you get a 10 per cent royalty,” Gugeler says. “This happens the same kind of way except in real time, on the website.” She says AdSense-based revenue can “align” the motivations of writers and publishers. Like the relationship between book authors and publishers, the only way the publisher can make a decent profit is if the
Historical context could make a big difference in the media’s portrayal of First Nations
he media created quite a stir with reports that the Squamish Nation wanted to change the name of Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park to XwayXway, the traditional name of an aboriginal village once located in the area. The ensuing intense public debate led B.C.’s tourism minister, the Vancouver Park Board commissioner and the mayor of Vancouver to all voice their opinions on the possible name change. But it was the federal heritage minister who put an end to the argument—the current name for Stanley Park would stick. Headlines such as First Nations Pitch Historical Name For World-famous Park and Squamish Won’t Stop Fight For Stanley Park Name Change were centre stage in the news, even though the Squamish Nation never put out a formal statement requesting a new name. “One of our elders suggested Stanley Park be renamed and the media suddenly turned it into a position put forth by the Squamish Nation,” says Gibby Jacob, a Squamish Nation hereditary chief. “We have our own name for the area, and we don’t need recognition from anyone else. The media tried to sensationalize it because that’s what people like to read.” Aboriginal communities can be easy targets when the media is looking for stories that incite emotions of anger or sadness because of higher-than-average rates of addiction, crime and suicide on reserves. These conditions create an ideal backdrop for marketable stories, according to Robert Harding, a social work professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. “You bring in factors like drug and alcohol abuse, crime, murder and violence. These are ready-made story opportunities for journalists.” Harding says a major flaw with media coverage of First Nations’ issues is the lack
of historical background leading up to the issues aboriginal people face, causing readers to be uncertain about the whole picture. “What aboriginal people face today is a result of the past, and a lot of people just don’t know the history,” Harding says. “It’s as if colonization or the residential school system never happened.” Jacob agrees and suggests that newspapers provide links to aboriginal-run websites that provide overviews of aboriginal history, especially if there isn’t enough
What aboriginal people face today is a result of the past, and a lot of people just don’t know the history –Robert Harding
space for a reporter to provide a context. “People need to understand what has happened to the Squamish Nation people and other aboriginal people in the past or they won’t understand what’s going on today,” Jacob says. “The Squamish Nation website and other First Nation websites give an aboriginal point of view about our history.” The chief says aboriginal newspapers are usually better at explaining First Nations issues. “The stories are more balanced in general than outside papers,” he says. “They provide the First Nations side of the story. Langara Journalism Review 2011
We’re able to get our message across.” Non-aboriginal newspapers represent Canadians as inherently peaceful and multicultural people and often portray aboriginal people to be at fault for society’s problems, according to Rima Wilkes, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia. Wilkes says aboriginal people who make money off their land aren’t represented in the same way business people are. “Donald Trump can be called rich and greedy but the media doesn’t describe him that way.” But coverage has become more balanced in the last 20 years, according to Harding. “Journalists try to find aboriginal sources more, even though many journalists use a short list of contacts for their stories. You see the same several people quoted all the time.” Rod Link, publisher and editor of the Terrace (B.C.) Standard, says he makes an effort to run stories that interest both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. He says the paper will consult aboriginal people whenever possible. For example, his reporters recently talked with First Nations community members who were concerned about the adverse effects of a new power line cutting through their traditional territory. “It’s good to have the First Nations’ viewpoint, especially in stories that concern all kinds of people, whether you own a car dealership in Terrace or are a member of a First Nations community along the path where the power line will run,” Link says. “This way coverage of issues our community faces is more complete. “We research aboriginal issues just like any other issue and we try to provide background information as much as possible. We can’t write a story without knowing the history first.” LJR 37
stor y by MICHAELA GARSTIN illustration by L AU R E N B E N N & A A RO N G E E R A E RT
Langara Journalism Review 2011
programs show—but not all of them. “I will tell you how I see the community. I see it as a community with miserable thinking that is waiting for everything to be given [to it]... The aspiration is to clean windows and do construction work, when in reality we are made for big things.” But Latin American reporters who fled to Canada have had more than their share of obstacles when it comes to doing “big things.” Most have had to overcome language barriers and it’s often impossible to work as English-language journalists because they can’t compete with native-English speakers. Most support themselves with “survival jobs”—construction workers, janitors or couriers. According to Marin’s estimates, some 40 Colombian journalists came to Canada in 2002, including Garcia. Of those, 12 came to B.C. and only two are still involved in Jose Marin, director of the Spanish-language news program Columbia Britanica Noticias. journalism—he and Garcia. They’ve stuck with it because of a love and passion for their profession. But journalism is no La Revista prints between 5,000 and last year around the same time as Godoy longer how they make a living—Monday 10,000 copies and is distributed in Latin launched La Revista, when a knee injury through Friday, Marin heads to construc- businesses and along Commercial Drive. forced him to hire someone to help with his tion sites and Garcia works as a courier. But Godoy says he can’t distribute in big courier job. In his spare time he published “When you arrive here you come with stores like London Drugs because they are the first edition of Sin Fronteras News. He lots of energy and desire to do lots of things only interested in publications that run now prints 5,000 copies each month, but the but you are not playing local. You have to over 50,000 copies. paper is not profitable. Part of the expenses start from zero, which is not easy or quick,” Godoy came to Vancouver 20 years ago are covered by ad revenues, but he, too, is Marin says. from Guatemala for security reasons, al- forced to kick in his own money. But while he feels the existing Latin though he wasn’t a journalist at the time. It took him eight years to bring his media does not do the community justice, He became involved in radio some six years newspaper to life, and hopes one day to creothers say it is an accurate representation ago, and last year he decided to start the ate a Spanish-language radio station that of a fragmented community—the discord newspaper by the same name, thinking of would operate 24 hours a day. in the media mirroring the discord among it as an extension of his broadcasting work. Latin Americans. As is the case with his Spanish-language espite the Latin community’s ocolleagues, he makes a small amount of small size, its media has been swaldo Godoy is the owner of money from selling advertising but subsidimportant —certainly for those La Revista, a local Spanish izes the project with his own money. involved, but also because it is the only newspaper, and the director of “It costs a lot money to produce a news- reflection of the Latin American communa weekly program on Co-op Radio by the paper and it’s difficult because if you work ity and its issues, as diverse as they may same name. He believes the size and vital- for a company you know that every two be. Displaced journalists such as Marin ity of the community is what shapes its weeks you will receive a paycheque and and Garcia are persevering. Both say they media. you’ll have money for your bills and ex- would jump at the chance to work in main“Our community is so small we don’t penses. But when you are barely covering stream journalism if the the oppostunity produce a lot of news and at the same time your expenses and there is no remunera- came along. For now, they have resigned the community is not powerful enough to tion it’s very hard.” themselves to the knowledge that this support a lot of newspapers,” Godoy says Godoy says it’s a challenge to adhere to will most likely not happen any time soon. over a coffee at a Commercial Drive shop sound journalistic ethics when everyone Meanwhile, they continue their labour of that he uses as the postal address for his else is cutting corners. love—even if only part time—the memory newspaper mail. “I have also worked really hard to of their journalism glory days in South “The principal objective of the news- be honest, to recognize the intellectual America just an echo. paper and the radio is to denounce social property of the articles and to use official injustices in Latin America and here in our sources and most of them cost money.” Editor’s note: All quotes were translated community.” Garcia started his newspaper in April from Spanish to English by the author.
Langara Journalism Review 2011
support well-established newspapers, radio stations and television channels. There are about 10 Spanish-language radio programs on various stations but not all feature news or current events. Some focus on community or religious content sponsored by local churches. Simon Fraser University sponsors five of the programs in Spanish on Co-op Radio, while Fairchild Radio, a Chinese station, has another three programs. Radio Canada International broadcasts some programs in Spanish but it is not a community medium. RCI is part of the CBC and offers weekly and daily newscasts in seven different languages—primarily for listeners abroad. There are also three community newspapers and two television programs. One of the main characteristics of these community newspapers and radio stations is that most are produced on a voluntary basis. There is rarely an economic benefit, especially from a small community like the Latin one. Most of the Latin Americans who engage in the community media do it on a part-time basis, investing their own money and time. The lack of advertising, funding and the small size of the community contribute to low-quality publications and the articles do not match the level of local professional media. The community is simply not big enough to support its media. The first wave of South American immigrants came to Canada 20 years ago. They were Chileans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who now represent the majority of Latin Americans in B.C. Since then there have
We know who you are, we know you have kids and we don’t want to hurt you but we have been given the order
been several more waves of immigrants— Colombians first came about nine years ago and in the last two years Mexican immigration has increased due to gang violence. Victor Alvarado was part of the first wave of immigrants from El Salvador. He is the owner of Vancouver’s oldest established Spanish newspaper, El Contacto Directo. Like other journalists, he was forced to leave for security reasons. His country had been engaged in an ongoing civil war since the 1980s between the government and a leftist group called Farabundo Marti National Front (FMLN). His newspaper’s first edition was published in August 1992. Today it prints 10,000 copies each week. “It wasn’t easy or immediate but the reality is that a medium that is independent and objective with no political or religious inclinations is more powerful and success relies upon that,” Alvarado says.
Publisher-editor Omar Garcia: It’s not a living...it’s a love and passion for journalism. 34
Langara Journalism Review 2011
Jose Marin agrees. He is a veteran Colombian journalist who fled the city of Cali eight years ago after receiving threats to his life. He had been warned several times but never took them seriously until they came from two people he though were his friends. “The best is that you disappear,” they warned him. “We know who you are, we know you have kids and we don’t want to hurt you but we have been given the order.” So Marin left with the help of a Canadian CBC reporter who was in Colombia at the time. But his passion for the news stayed with him. Two years ago, he started a one-hour newscast —Columbia Britanica Noticias—that airs Sundays on Fairchild Radio. Marin considers his program the only news-oriented radio program in the province that covers stories that appear in the local mainstream media, and are without religious or political influences. He says 90 per cent of Latin media in Vancouver function to support leftist political interests pushing revolutionary ideas—the reason why, apart from El Contacto Directo, most of the Spanish radio programs and newspapers in B.C. haven’t made it. “The majority of Latin media that you find in Vancouver are the echo of revolutionary ideas that have existed or exist in Latin America.” Marin says most Spanish media outlets do not practise sound journalistic ethics and principles because those involved often do not have formal journalism training. As well, biases tend to reflect the rivalry rooted in national, religious and political differences. “There will never be unity among the mediums for political reasons,” Marin says. “Who are those who speak out for the unity of Latin American community? They are the same who profess their leftist ideals. But if someone says something different from their political stance, or if they are asked to let others talk, they don’t allow it—so I wonder what type of unity can exist when the doors are closed to tolerance.” But despite his dissatisfaction with the current state of Latin media on the West Coast, Marin says there is potential for improvement and change. “The image of Latin Americans is a complete blur because the media in Spanish that exist here hasn’t fulfilled its function. The true image of our community hasn’t been shown. It seems that when you talk about the Latin community you have to talk about the FARC, or the FMLN from El Salvador; you have to talk about Cuba or Nicaragua. And that is what [local] radio
atin American echoes
Forced to flee their countries, these journalists struggle to survive in Canada S t o r y a n d ph o t o s b y L i n a Z a r a t e
Garcia and his family spent two eon Agudelo was stabbed months in hiding at his sister’s in Boto death inside his home gota until another attack forced him, in the southern Colomhis wife and two daughters to flee Cobian city of Florencia, lombia the following day. In Lima, he on Nov. 30, 2000. He was a journalwas received by another foundation ist at Voz de la Jungla radio station, working for freedom of the press in a branch of one of the country’s most Peru. But his enemies kept looking powerful broadcasting companies. for him and he was attacked a year Thirteen days later the station’s dirand a half later. Garcia escaped yet ector Alfredo Abad Lopez was shot again, this time to Vancouver. by two gunmen on a motorcycle as Like Garcia, most of the journalhe was leaving his house. On Dec. ists who fled their homes and even29 of that same year, Diego Turbay, tually became involved in the Latin Voz de la Jungla’s owner, and head American media in B.C. are not here of Colombia’s peace commission, was by choice. Most of these men and dragged from his car along with his women were chased out of their mother and four bodyguards. They violent countries because they were were forced to lie down on the road speaking out for human rights, jusand shot in the back of their heads. tice and fairness. These are just a few of the lives But even in exile their enemies that have been claimed by the Revoaren’t successful in silencing them. lutionary Armed Forces of ColomSome continue to practise journalbia, FARC. The group has no qualms ism because they feel they have about silencing journalists who exsomething to say, and because they pose its wrongdoings and links with see a necessity for more Spanish corrupt politicians. media to better serve the Latin comFormed in the 1960s and inspired munity in B.C. by Marxist theories, the revolutionA relatively small ethnocultural ary group remains South Amergroup, there are just over 30,000 Latica’s largest and oldest insurgent LINA ZARATE photos in Americans scattered throughout organization. But the group’s meth- the province—a number similar to ods have shifted in recent years, the Omar Garcia distributes his newspaper, Sin Fronteras the African community. Compared FARC’s strong political views now fo- News, in East Vancouver. to predominant groups from Asia cused on the drug trade, kidnappings and the Middle East, which have a and other terrorist means. And bethe same attack the station’s news director cause of Florencia’s proximity to the jungle Omar Garcia was wounded. He left his job, population of more than 600,000, the Latin and distance from the capital, it’s an easy his house and fled the country shortly after. and African communities are not very target. Garcia recounts the story of his exo- powerful. Because there are so few Latin But it didn’t stop there. dus from Colombia to Canada in Spanish Americans, the community lacks identifiJosé Duviel Vasquez took over Voz de at a Starbucks in the Vancouver suburb of able neighbourhoods, places to gather, or la Jungla and was shot dead on his way Surrey. He remembers the story like any distinctive leaders, in contrast to the larger home after work six months later. During other—he is after all, a storyteller by trade. Chinese and Indian communities, which Langara Journalism Review 2011
to flee Crime in Mexico makes journalists an endangered species
A I R I K A OW E N
uis Horacio Nájera cleans trailers in North Delta. His wife works with him. They live with their three children in a rented house furnished with donations from their local church and furniture they have scavenged from the garbage and alleys. But Nájera didn’t always clean trailers. For 20 years, he worked as a journalist in Mexico. He was inspired by a reporter’s memoirs that he read as a boy and went on to study communications and journalism. He wanted to be a sports writer. Nájera initially covered sports for ABC in Monterrey, Mexico and then wrote for Basketball Superstars magazine before taking a job as a general reporter at a newspaper in Monterrey. In 2004 he moved with his family to the border city of Ciudad Juárez to write for Reforma newspaper—what Nájera calls “the most important newspaper in Mexico” because of its proximity and coverage of U.S. border-related issues. He covered everything from immigration and trade, to organized crime and smuggling during his four years at Reforma. His articles exposed many local criminals, illegal operations, gang affiliates and military human rights abuses. But neither the military nor the crime syndicates appreciated his work. In 2008 he began receiving death threats from both. “These guys are really powerful all over the world and many are based on the border,” says Nájera. “They have a lot of ways to threaten you. They call you, they send someone to tell you something, they email you.” At first the threats were subtle, simply suggesting he stop writing about certain 32
crimes or people. But then, it got to a point where he was in danger. He had a choice to make: stop covering the important issues, flee the area, or carry on and risk the fate of other journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 56 journalists have been killed
AIRIKA OWEN photo
Luis Horacio Nájera: left everything...
in Mexico since 1994 and many more are missing. Of the journalists killed, almost all were covering crime and corruption. When the threats began to include his family, Nájera knew he had to leave. “When you are working as a journalist, you get used to that type of thing. But when the violence spills into your family, that’s when you think about... leaving,” he says, casting his eyes to the floor. Nájera estimates at least 10 other journalists from the border area have fled and two were killed since he came to Canada. Armando Rodríguez Carrión, a crime reporter for another Cuidad Juárez paper, El Diario, was shot dead while he sat in a car in his driveway in 2008. His eight-yearLangara Journalism Review 2011
old daughter watched from the back seat. “Rodríguez had told CPJ that he had been receiving threats and that intimidation had become routine in the violent border city,” says CPJ’s website. “Days before he was murdered, Rodríguez had written an article accusing a local prosecutor’s nephew of having links to drug traffickers.” Later, the investigator working on the case was shot and killed, as was his replacement. In September 2010, Luis Carlos Santiago, a photographer for El Diario was also shot in Ciudad Juárez. “A day after Santiago’s death, the paper published an unusual, widely-covered editorial. Addressing the cartels directly, it said El Diario would willingly compromise its news coverage in order to preserve its reporters’ lives,” says CPJ. Nájera bought plane tickets for his family. They packed three suitcases with five sets of clothes each and on October 20, 2008 they landed in Canada. The next day they applied for refugee status. Yawning, Nájera sits hunched over in a plastic chair and says that he and his wife were cleaning until past 2 a.m. He then had to be at a studio a few hours later to participate on a panel for a co-op radio station— about press freedom. “When we came here, 19 out of 20 people said that I should forget my job as a journalist. That I would never be a journalist again. But here I am,” says Nájera proudly. He has since written for the Globe and Mail, contributed to a Toronto-based magazine, worked as a consultant and freelances when he is not cleaning. Still, Nájera is angry about being forced out of his home. “You have your life, family, friends, house, car, when you are forced to flee you have to leave everything behind.” LJR
ing the ruling Chinese government. Called The Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, the series purports to be “disintegrating the Chinese Communist Party and changing China.” An excerpt from the book is printed in each issue of the paper with a tally beside it of people who have announced their intentions to quit the CCP. A special website was created to track the numbers. According to ninecommentaries. com, as of April 2011 more than 90 million people submitted statements withdrawing from the CCP or its affiliated organizations. The Nine Commentaries won an online Asian-American issues award from the Asian-American Journalists Association in 2005. But despite the praise—and although the newspaper’s website clearly states it “strongly advocates for freedom of belief, and for all human rights, for all people,” and “speak[s] out for those who are oppressed, and cannot speak for themselves,” Loftus denies The Epoch Times practices advocacy journalism. Instead, he focuses on the paper’s broad appeal. “We’ve really grown into a general interest newspaper that provides coverage of news, entertainment and [lifestyles]. We do have a presence—globally—in a lot of countries and certainly we have an emphasis on world news and certainly China would be an important part of that. But in general, we want to provide original reporting on news that matters wherever it happens.” But just how much of the reporting is original or fair and balanced—according to North American ethical and professional journalism standards—is debatable. Robert Hackett, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University, says The Epoch Times editorial stance is “certainly connected to Falun Gong” and “uses Reuter’s news agency to create an impression of objectivity.” Hackett’s colleague, Yuezhi Zhao, an expert on media and democracy and the political economy of global communication, agrees with that assessment. Zhao notes in her book, Contesting Media Power: Alternative Media in a Networked World, that The Epoch Times “marked a significant development in Falun Gong-related media.” She adds, “Although [The Epoch Times] displays an indisputable ideological and organizational affinity with Falun Gong…[it] tries to present itself as a public interestoriented comprehensive medium” that is “independent of any political and business groups, free of any country government and regional interests, and objectively and fairly reports facts and truth.”
Zhao also says that “while mainstream newspapers typically treat web versions as an extension of the already-existing print version, The Epoch Times website serves as a wire service for its global print papers. All a local ‘franchise’ needs to do is choose content from the website and add local material.”
Global news for English editions largely comes out of New York, although Canada does have an Edmonton-based editor who tailors content for Canadian readers. And like the fast food outlets that line Kingsway, The Epoch Times is a globally “franchised” brand. “We have come up with a new brand— our global initiative to brand locally. It’s just not The Epoch Times…it’s the ‘Vancouver edition.’ With Seattle, it’s the ‘Seattle edition,’” says sales and marketing representative Brad Bussche. The Vancouver English-language version has a weekly distribution of 12,000 compared with the Chinese-language edition’s daily circulation of 56,000. Worldwide The Epoch Times claims a circulation of more than one million copies, according to a 2009 report by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Loftus could numbers of Canadian staff but estimates there are between 20 to 30 working for The Epoch Times in Canada. The majority of the Canadian Englishlanguage staff are spread out across the country and there is no strong “newsroom presence,” something Loftus says he’s looking to change. “It’s built in the virtual newsroom,” Loftus says. Langara Journalism Review 2011
Sitting in the newspaper’s cramped boardroom on Kingsway, Bussche says the brick and mortar offices occupied by The Epoch Times’ English-language editions are for sales and marketing staff only, not reporters. The newspapers are distributed from here and other locations like it in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal where they find their way to honour boxes among other free publications and entertainment weeklies. The broadsheet format contains frontpage colour photos and classic font styling that wouldn’t put it out of place alongside copies of the world’s major dailies. A typical issue includes sections for world and national news, opinion pieces, sports, entertainment, business, arts and culture, travel, health and automobiles. Subscription notices for potential readers depict a dark-suited professional man standing on a busy street corner smiling knowingly into the open pages of The Epoch Times. But who is actually reading the newspaper? Bussche says Epoch Times readers are highly educated, highly influential business professionals from all walks of life. But some, like a casually dressed woman in her late 40s at Metrotown, says she reads the paper “for the recipes.” Perusing the Vancouver edition of The Epoch Times, the advertising content is noticeably light, and far from the desired 60-40 ad-to-editorial ratio that daily newspapers strive for. Epoch Times officials maintain that ad revenues from the Chinese editions are much higher, and that they generally help finance operations for the English-language ones. Bussche points out the advertising in The Epoch Times is the same as any newspaper’s “big three” revenue generators: real estate, cars and classifieds. A recent real estate supplement in Vancouver’s English and Chinese editions contained listings in both languages, and recent full-page colour ads in the Englishlanguage version included those for Vancouver Fashion Week and Tourism India, with one-third page advertisements from Burrard Acura and the Amnesty International Film Fest. Bussche says that as a marketer “there is a lot of freedom” working for the Epoch Times but notes the suppression of freedoms for people living in China. “Their freedoms and rights have been trampled on throughout time, and really they haven’t had a voice either because their freedom of [speech] has been trampled on, as well.” LJR 31
The New Era photos by LAUREN BENN
The Epoch Times covers 33 countries in 17 languages. Does it have an agenda? by BRETT BONDERUD
assersby walking along a stretch of Kingsway Avenue in Burnaby— dotted with fast food restaurants, auto repair shops and mortgage brokerages—might never suspect a global media outlet operates out of a small secondfloor office. The space is occupied by The Epoch Times newspaper’s English-language Vancouver edition and it’s from here that more than 12,000 weekly copies are distributed free throughout the Lower Mainland. The paper has been in production in Metro Vancouver for the last six years but like its non-descript locale, unless someone went looking for it, they might not know it exists. Inside the office, you won’t see the hustle and bustle of a typical newsroom. There are no reporters rushing to meet deadlines or editors poring over copy. The only sound is the gurgling of a water feature. On a wall in the middle of the room, there’s a world map dotted with push pins indicating the paper’s various locations—Vancouver, San Francisco, Singapore, London, Hamburg, Hong Kong, and many more. Epoch means a new time or new era. Founded by Chinese-American Falun Gong and a dozen journalists in China, the paper aims to shed light on the persecution of Falun Gong members and act as an al-
ternative voice to Chinese state-controlled media. The paper began in New York in May 2000 as a Chinese-language hardcopy. A Chinese web version appeared a few months later and an online English version in 2003. The first English-language hardcopy was published in New York City the following August. Four months later it arrived in Vancouver. The privately owned news media company now publishes print editions in 10 languages—and on the Internet, in 17 languages—altogether covering 33 countries across five continents. It puts out national web editions for Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Besides English and Chinese, the Epoch Times has various web and hardcopy editions in French, Spanish, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Hebrew. Further editions exist for the Czech, Slovak, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Romanian language markets. Both the newspaper and the online versions have strong links to Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa), a spiritual movement based on meditative practices of the Taoist and Buddhist religions created in China by Li Hongzhi in 1992. Langara Journalism Review 2011
Initially, China allowed Falun Gong to practice its beliefs in peace. But in 1999, as more Chinese people became followers, the Chinese Communist Party declared Falun Gong an “evil cult” and conducted nationwide crackdowns. “The paper reports on the persecution going on in China of Falun Gong practitioners…something that in other media may not have been given enough weight, in our perspective,” says Jason Loftus, the paper’s Canadian national managing editor. Loftus began practicing Falun Gong in 1998, according to a Falun Gong-related website. In February of 2002, he was arrested and detained by Chinese officials for unfurling a banner that read “Falun Dafa is good” in Tiananmen Square. At a later press conference in Ottawa, he said he went to China to “let the deceived people know the truth and stop the killing of innocent people.” He called the persecution “a national tragedy and crisis.” The Epoch Times has been at the forefront of China-related issues, including alleged organ transplant abuses of Falun Gong members, SARS outbreaks, and Internet giant Google pulling out of China. In November 2004, the paper published in book form a series of editorials criticiz-
Are Canada’s publication bans getting in the way of an open court system?
earing potential jurors for the Dustin Paxton torture trial would be influenced by incendiary tweets and blog posts, Calgary Judge Brian Stevenson banned the public—bloggers and citizen journalists included—from the preliminary hearing. Only accredited journalists were allowed to cover this event involving the young man accused of torturing his roommate and assualting three other people. Take that new media. Victory for newspaper dinosaurs everywhere, right? Guess again. After the ruling came down, the dinosaurs weighed in, and they weren’t happy with the decision. “I think it is interesting that while new media seems to eagerly cheer for the downfall of traditional media, it is the major news organizations that criticized the judge in the Paxton case for putting such tight restrictions on bloggers and citizen journalists because we believe in the fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of the press,” says the Calgary Herald’s Robert Remington. This isn’t Remington’s first rodeo when it comes to controversial cases involving publication bans. He covered the trial of Canada’s youngest multiple murderer, a 12-year-old Medicine Hat girl who killed her parents and brother. Because the girl was a minor then—and still is today— Remington had to step lightly when penning his book about the murders, making sure not to identify her in any way. The book is called Runaway Devil, after the nickname the girl gave herself online. But not everyone respects publication bans. “There were dozens of instances of citizen journalists identifying her, and they do so to this day and get away with it. I re-
cently saw an anonymous blog post where someone identified her because they felt the law should not protect her identity,” Remington says. “Contempt of court is serious. It is a criminal offence. But the courts aren’t likely to prosecute some anonymous blogger because one of the factors they weigh is the size of the audience that sees what is written.” It’s true that most individual bloggers have less influence on the public than
LAUREN BENN photo
Beware—the courts can track you down.
traditional media outlets. But the blogosphere is growing. The influence it has on the amount of information the public gets is vast when it’s taken as a whole instead of many individual parts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Canada’s court system is supposedly free and open. More information coming in from more sources should make for a better-informed public. But are an accused person’s rights to a fair trial too great a price to pay for an open court system? Alex McCuaig, a court reporter for Medicine Hat News, doesn’t think the comLangara Journalism Review 2011
promise is necessary. “There are options there. You could have registered the members of the public who wanted to attend, request an ID... and then if something did come up there’s only going to be about 40 people there,” he says. “So you have 40 people to start looking into, and I understand there’s cost involved with that, but the alternative is the open court system paying the price.” The courts have ways of tracking down the source of online posts with the banned information. They can track IP addresses and use court orders to compel Internet providers to identify sources. “Anybody who breaks a publication ban, journalist or not, is really playing with fire,” says Vancouver media lawyer Dan Burnett. “It’s not that impossible to figure out who the poster was.” He says the Canadian court system is “littered with ways in which openness suffers,” and that issuing unnecessary bans compounds that problem. McCuaig agrees that the “open” part of Canada’s court system has been lacking for some time. “Punch in publication bans, media bans or whatever into Google, and all you come up with is ‘Canada.’ Other countries with good judicial systems don’t rely as heavily on publication bans, so why do we need them in such a broad context? My feeling is we don’t need them as much as they are used today.” He says the courts need to decide if they are willing to match bark with bite. If not, restricting who can attend trials or what can be reported are foolish steps to take. “It’s possible to track someone down, but... the issue here is they don’t want to do that because it takes time and it’s resource-intensive. That’s my problem with it. If you don’t want to enforce your own law, it doesn’t make sense to have it.” LJR 29
Dong says he believes NTDTV is a far cry from the one-sided news agencies of the Chinese government. He wants Canadianbased Chinese news agencies to realize they are outside of China’s jurisdiction and should report in a manner that reflects Canada’s journalistic principles.
he extent of China’s tight grip on its homeland media was demonstrated in March 2010 when Google stopped search engine services to the country due to Internet censorship grievances. When China’s State of Information Council released a list of rules for Chinese media coverage on the Google debate, the China Digital Times, an independent online media outlet, forwarded it to the Washington Post in hopes of bringing global media attention to the issue. The state-sanctioned rules banned the Chinese media from using any North American content pertaining to this issue. Journalists were not allowed to include expert opinion unless the sources were preapproved, nor were they allowed to create online discussion groups about the controversy. They were even told to “clean up” text and images that might support Google. And while reports by independent Western media outlets have often left China looking like the bad guy, one media expert says the Western free press should not be so quick to point the finger.
DAVID MURPHY photo
Sing Tao editor-in-chief Victor Ho: Not an arm of the Chinese government. 28
University of British Columbia sociology professor Christopher Schneider says it is easy to criticize the Chinese government because of its totalitarian ideologies. But he argues that while North American media is critical of China’s reluctance to publish self-condemning news, it is a somewhat hypocritical stance. Schneider says it’s understandable that China would not want secrets about organ harvesting and torture exposed to public scrutiny. Likewise, the U.S. government was quick to condemn WikiLeaks when the online publisher posted secrets about military slip-ups—information that made the U.S. look bad abroad. Meanwhile, UBC Asian affairs expert Paul Evans says banning propaganda in government-controlled media would violate the same freedom of the press principles Canadian journalists have fought to protect; China has the right to print what it wants in North America. “Unless people are publishing dangerLangara Journalism Review 2011
ous, libelous material, we have to have no restrictions on freedom of speech.” Evans says it’s ultimately up to the consumer to decide which version of the truth to believe.
n the end, Joe Wang says all he can hope for is to uncover what is really going on—behind the tightly closed doors in China, as well as on Canadian soil. “We expose the truth,” says Wang. “Eventually we enlarge the issue … We see who is on the good side and who is on the bad side.” He says he is proud of Tao Wang’s willingness to speak about China’s threats against him. He told his reporter to take some time off but he wanted to continue his work, despite the threats. “I’m touched by my courageous reporters. They keep on going. It’s so important to what they believe—for themselves and for the global Chinese community.” LJR
balanced news in Canada aren’t receiving it from China, they may not be receiving it from media outlets based in Canada either. Chinese-language newspapers in North America—Sing Tao Daily, Ming Pao Daily News and World Journal, among others— are said to have ties to the Chinese government. Journalists operating in China who defy the government’s censorship standards can
rights is one thing—but China’s use of agents to threaten Canadian journalists such as Tao Wang is a threat to Canada as a free and open society. There are up to a thousand Chinese agents in Canada, according to 2005 estimates, as reported by the CBC and the Epoch Times, a newspaper that focuses on China-related issues. So being confronted by an agent on Canadian soil may not be too much of a stretch. In fact, the Chinese tentacles reach into other democratic countries. A month after Tao was threatened in Vancouver, the Epoch Times office in Brisbane, Australia was the target of a shooting after the newspaper hosted the visit of Canadian human rights lawyer, David Matas, who was invited to take part in a forum on illegal organ harvesting.
end up facing jail time if they report what the Communist government deems to be scandalous news, or news deemed to be contrary to the interests of the state. When it comes to press freedoms, Chinese officials have no legal jurisdiction in this country but still find ways to influence coverage involving China. Persuading Canadian officials to take away constitutional
ews agencies such as NTDTV arose in response to the Chinese government’s attempts silence the media amidst the Falun Gong controversy in the mid-90s. The spiritual movement, also known as Falun Dafa, was outlawed in 1999 because of its free-thinking political ideologies, which conflicted with those of the government. So news organizations such as NTDTV and the Epoch Times—with strong links to the Falun Gong movement—have made it their mission to shed light on human rights violations and restraints on freedom of speech in China. They provide information that differs from what’s reported in China’s government-approved stories—information that otherwise might have been swept under China’s red rug. NTDTV, for example, was first to break stories on the SARS epidemic in China, three whole weeks before Chinese officials admitted they had a problem. The statecontrolled media initially reported the virus had killed only a few people and that it was not a major issue. But as the deaths increased, the world’s eyes turned to China and Chinese travellers infected with SARS. Eventually, China was forced to come clean about the scope of the epidemic. But while NTDTV takes shots at the Chinese government, China responds with rebuttals in its own state-controlled media while also seeking to expand its influence in the North American Chinese media market. China manipulates its media outlets— both at home and abroad—in several ways, according to a 2008 report by Washington research organization, the Jamestown Foundation. The primary methods focus on using established business connections, purchasing advertising in TV and print Langara Journalism Review 2011
publications and using outlet owners to influence news through misinformation and propaganda. And in a lot of cases, government-controlled news has been effective, essentially “removing all material deemed ‘unfavorable’ by the Chinese government,
We are not the official organ of any governments –Victor Ho
according to the report.” It further details the government’s attempts to buy up major Chinese-language media outlets, primarily through thirdparty merchants with vested interests in China’s economy. It outlines the 1995 purchase of the Ming Pao Daily News by a wealthy Malaysian timber merchant, Datuk Tiong Hiew King, who has strong economic ties to China. The report also chronicles the 2001 buyout of the Sing Tao Daily by Ho Tsu-Kwok, a former member of China’s National Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory board to Chinese government. The staff at both of these newspapers—as well as at other state-controlled news organizations—are told what they can or cannot write, according to the report. “Employees at Ming Pao’s New York office have told sources their ‘true boss’ is none other than the Chinese Consulate [in New York] and that they are obligated to do whatever the consulate asks.” But Sing Tao’s editor-in-chief says the allegations are completely false when it comes to his branch. “Here in Vancouver at the Sing Tao or Ming Pao is a private sector,” says Victor Ho. “We are not the official organ of any governments.” Ho says he takes pride in the fact that his newspaper is a separate entity from the Chinese government and upholds Canada’s journalistic ethics standards. Ho denies being influenced by higher-ranking officials. But despite Sing Tao’s reassurances of accuracy and balanced coverage, NTDTV’s Vancouver station manager, Patrick Dong, argues the need for alternative outlets. “[The] public need channels to hear different voices, in particular independent news outlets like NTDTV,” he says. 27
Arms Communist China wants to control the news. Even if it’s in the Canadian media
b y DAV I D M U R P H Y
hen Surrey, B.C. resident Tao Wang picked up his phone one day in mid-September last year, the male voice at the other end sounded ominous. “Your activity in Canada is a threat to China’s national security,” said the man. He identified himself as being from the Ministry of State Security and warned Wang to stop reporting on issues that reflect negatively on the Chinese government. Two weeks later, according to media reports at the time, the broadcast journalist with New Tang Dynasty Television in Vancouver received a second phone call. The voice was different, but this man also represented the Chinese government. “You actually think there is nothing we can do to you because you are in Canada?” the man told Wang. He warned him that he was “seeking death” if he continued producing reports critical of China. Wang believes the threats were in retaliation to stories he did about Chinese organ harvesting, and his coverage of comments from Canadian Security Intelligence Services director Richard Fadden about China’s influence with the Canadian government. It becomes an alarming issue for Can26
ada’s national security if the government of China did, in fact, give orders to threaten Wang in Canada. RCMP are investigating the threats but would not provide details about the ongoing case. This is not the only case of China attempting to call the shots involving media in Canada. Joe Wang, president of NTDTV Canada, is convinced the Chinese government was behind an anthrax scare in 2004 at its Toronto headquarters. “We checked into the office and someone sent letters with white powder in it,” says Joe Wang. “This was during the height of the anthrax threat too.” Though the powder turned out to be harmless, he says the incident has not been the last of intimidating tactics carried out by the Chinese government against Chinese-Canadian media organizations that don’t toe the Communist party line. “Any problems they [can] create for us, they do,” he says. In 2005, NTDTV reporters were gearing up to go on the road for then-Prime Minister Paul Martin’s nine-nation Asian tour. Before they were scheduled to leave, the Chinese embassy cancelled the reporLangara Journalism Review 2011
ters’ visas because of NTDTV’s “independent” media values, according to Joe Wang. The news station then had to fight the Chinese government as well as the Canadian government when Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visited Canada in 2005. The Chinese leader told the Prime Minister’s Office he would only come to Canada if NTDTV were barred from his public appearances. The PMO catered to his request by keeping NTDTV away from the president’s speeches—a situation that also occurred in 2009 when foreign minister Yang Jiechi hosted a business luncheon in Ottawa. NTDTV is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, like all other major media outlets in Canada, but the Communist government still persuaded Canada to take away NTDTV’s constitutional right to freedom of the press.
pproximately one million Chinesespeaking people live in Canada. Most obtain their news from one of the many local multi-cultural stations or from homeland outlets via satellite or cable subscriptions. But if those who want
photographer of a political figure or celebrity—it is an exit position that can make a return to mainstream news media difficult. Clark was taking a big chance in becoming Mulroney’s personal photographer, but he did not see it as such. “I have always felt, whether naively or not, that a prime minister’s photographer was a very important part of documenting the behind-the-scenes life of a prime minister for posterity.” Clark treated the position as somewhat of a sabbatical, always knowing that he would return to the news business. And like any sabbatical, it carried him to many different countries in the world and gave him many incredible opportunities to record history through his lens. He met world leaders, royal families and witnessed countless political roundtables and meetings. He was inside the Tokyo Imperial Palace and met Emperor Shōwa, as well as the British royal family inside Buckingham Palace—meeting and photographing Queen Elizabeth herself. He met George Bush Sr. when Bush was vicepresident and attended a meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mulroney in the White House’s Oval Office. He was inside Pope John Paul II’s private quarters in the Vatican and was handed a rosary as a personal gift as he shook the pontiff’s hand. Clark’s reputation in the journalism world as being reliable for those important photographic moments proved to outweigh any disapproval surrounding his shift to the political sector. After two and a half years, Reuters was again knocking on his door Les Bazso, a veteran photographer for the Vancouver-based Province newspaper, points out that it says a great deal about Clark’s fairness and professionalism that he didn’t have to sacrifice his career after becoming Mulroney’s personal photographer. “If an organization like Reuters felt he hadn’t compromised his journalism ethics and integrity, then it is obvious that Andy conducted himself in a highly profession-
al manner,” says Bazso. “Everyone who knows Andy knows that he is very proud of Canadian history. I’m sure this was a remarkable opportunity for him to witness it himself and to document it.”
o what makes Clark so necessary to the fabric of photojournalism that his colleagues and media professionals were able to overlook a temporary sellout? It probably has something to do with his thorough and tenacious work ethic, his willingness to take risks and his talent to capture the moment. “A lot of us are afraid to take the risks he does in case we miss the bread-and-butter shot,” says Bazso. “Andy just finds a position and the results are almost always that he hits it out of the park.” He says Clark always arrives at a media event or press conference well-informed and well-prepared. He seems to instinctively know where to take the photo and from what angle. Carroll agrees. “There’s only one Andy Clark. He has a gift, and if you’re lucky enough to have him on your staff, then you are set.” But Clark insists he’s just another schmuck with a camera who’s making a living off of it. “I don’t call it a gift. I can just take a good picture once in awhile,” Clark says, shrugging. He insists that any photographic talent he has is purely an act of being observant—something he considers the most important aspect of photojournalism and a trait he inherited from his naturally observant grandfather. Clark is the first to point out that he is far from perfect. He tells of moments when he shot with empty cameras, screwed up the film in developing, or went left when he should have gone right. He admits he gets upset when he misses shots. He also gets downright grumpy when other photographers try to emulate him, moving in to take the same shot from the same vantage point. “A lot of people say they get worried Langara Journalism Review 2011
when Andy disappears and sometimes it’s just because I’ve gone to the can,” jokes Clark. “But when people come looking for me when I’ve disappeared just to see what I’m shooting, then I get snarky. I mean, I can make mistakes like anyone. Follow me and you may just be following my mistakes.” Two-time Pulitzer-nominated photojournalist Nick Didlick argues that while his friend can be moody at times, the high calibre of his character overshadows the quirkiness. “All of us creative types have some unique personality traits. You just have to see past them to see the real people inside. I can say that Andy is probably the most loyal, most professional photographer I know.” That kind of professionalism does not go unrecognized. In the early 90s, Clark was hired as Chief Photographer for Reuters Canada. It was during this time that Clark found himself in the midst of the Gulf War. His intense interest in history—particularly military history—helped fuel a transition from photographing miniature soldiers in his backyard as a boy, to photographing genuine soldiers at war. Clark covered the Gulf War for Reuters and was placed with American ground forces. Embedded for three weeks in Iraq, he got to know the soldiers well. With no weapons to defend himself and only his camera equipment, he was comforted by the protectiveness of the soldiers. Still, Clark remembers being frightened often during that time. “There were moments of sheer terror, but also moments of light-hearted fun. We would joke around to relieve the stress of the situation or, of course, have a smoke.” Clark doesn’t feel that recording moments of loss, pain and human suffering is sensationalistic, despite what some members of the public believe. Simply put, that’s what he is here to do. See CLARK, page 41 25
Andy Clark started his career at the Canadian Press news agency in Toronto in 1970 as a 17-year-old copyboy. He knew his grandfather was proud to see him in the news industry but Clark never really felt that spark of interest in the business; that is, until he met Gem Mitchell. “Gem was an elderly darkroom technician at CP. He saw I was interested in photography and he took me under his wing to show me how it worked, how to process film, how to make prints, some rough ways to take pictures,” Clark remembers fondly. “That experience allowed me to be promoted to the darkroom. Then I bought my first camera, a 35 mm Nikon F.”
would die at the Spectator; he was far too good for that paper. The Spectator was a good newspaper, but not too many papers can display Andy Clark’s work like it should be displayed.” It was a warm summer night when Carroll sat across a table from Clark and his wife in a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. The young Clark was nervous about meeting this respected veteran photographer and his apprehension showed. Not one to beat around the bush, Carroll explained his intentions for UPC and before the menus were even presented, had offered Clark a job covering the West for the wire service
or the next four or five years, Clark would live, breathe and sleep photography. While most 20-year-olds were out drinking beer, tinkering on cars and pursuing women, Clark dove head-first into photography. Every spare minute away from the office was spent taking photo after photo, learning composition, experimenting with exposure, scrutinizing the effects light and investigating various techniques to process or “soup” his film in the makeshift darkroom of his apartment bathroom. People began to notice his hard work and more importantly, that this young kid could take interesting photographs. He was soon promoted to full-time Canadian Press photojournalist. Before long, Clark’s name was being tossed around at press gatherings. He won awards for his news photos, followed by an offer to join the Hamilton Spectator. It took him only a year at the Spectator to realize he didn’t like shooting for newspapers. “Newspapers are unlike the wire services in that they tend to pigeonhole their photographers, with one for sports, one for features and one for hard news. I just started to feel stifled.” Clark got the chance to return to the wires when photojournalist Bob Carroll returned to Canada after the Vietnam War. Carroll was scouting photographers in 1978 for a full-scale national news service called United Press Canada. He found himself at a news photographers’ conference one weekend and a certain photo display caught his eye. Carroll was told the photographer was Andy Clark, a rookie from the Hamilton Spectator who had just been awarded the title of Canada’s News Photographer of the Year. “I was so impressed by his photos. I thought, my God, this guy is really good,” Carroll says. “I remember thinking he 24
ANDY CLARK photo
Clark’s iconic shot of Edmonton Eskimos’ quarterback Tom Wilkinson carrying the Grey Cup ran in dailies across the country.
in Vancouver. Carroll had handpicked a group of rookies like a sandlot baseball team, most with little more than a year or two of experience. But he knew what he was looking for and could recognize talent. Through patience and the occasional swift reprimand, he was able to cultivate these fledgling photographers into skillful, polished professionals. Clark accepted the job and moved to Vancouver. His photos never disappointed Carroll, who continued to be amazed with Clark’s talent. Carroll often found himself at his desk, leaning back in a chair with one of Clark’s photos from a routine assignment in his hands, trying to figure out how Clark had again managed to capture a photo that set him apart from the rest of the photographLangara Journalism Review 2011
ers shooting the same scene. Carroll concluded that while most photographers were looking for the obvious, Clark was always searching for something unique. “They could use the same camera, put on the same lens and stand right beside Andy and they wouldn’t see the photo that he was going to kill them with tomorrow,” says Carroll. In 1981, one of Carroll’s Ottawa photographers left UPC. Needing someone to cover the political scene, Carroll called Clark to see if he would move back to Ottawa. Clark had missed political photography and the feeling of being a part of history in the making, so he agreed. Almost immediately the Ottawa bureau of UPC picked up speed. “Andy’s photos were making the paper every single day. Canadian Press and other agencies were racing and scrambling to keep up with Andy,” remembers Carroll with a chuckle. “And if they didn’t get the picture they would try to suggest our stuff be pooled because Andy was just killing them.” One photo in particular stands out for Carroll, taken on a cold day in November 1981 while Clark was covering the Grey Cup. The Edmonton Eskimos had just won their fourth straight trophy and Eskimos quarterback Tom Wilkinson had announced his retirement. Clark spotted Wilkinson strolling through the athletes’ tunnel on the way to the team bus after the game. He captured the darkened silhouette of Wilkinson from behind—equipment bag on one arm, the Grey Cup gripped loosely in the other—like it had been just another routine day at the office. “We ran it on the wire and every single newspaper used it,” says Carroll, smiling. “Only a guy like Andy Clark can see a moment like that.”
lark remained in Ottawa until 1985, when he was hired by Reuters News Pictures. Six months later he was offered a job in the Prime Minister’s Office as personal photographer to Brian Mulroney. Seeing it as an extension of his interest in politics and recording history, Clark jumped at the chance. He felt it was an opportunity to observe the political scene from the inside and it was an offer that would take him to back rooms and countries few people ever get to see. But at the same time, his decision had the potential to jeopardize a future in news photography. Often when a journalist moves from the public arena to private or corporate employment—such as being a personal
Photojournalist Andy Clark gets the shot no one else does. He says he’s...
Just another schmuck with a camera by LEASA HACHEY
e holds the screen door open with his hip as he squeezes through gingerly with his gear. Tucked under one arm is a military history book—a Christmas gift from his parents—and his other hand tightly grips a box filled with hand-painted miniature soldiers. His mom’s Brownie Hawkeye camera swings from his shoulder and he takes a quick and sudden step forward to avoid the metal door as it slams shut with the kind of bang that makes mothers yell and sends the neighbour’s dog into a fit. Crossing the deck and making his way into the backyard, he begins the tedious task of setting up the plastic miniatures to match the battle scenes depicted in the book. With each one in perfect position, he begins to photograph the scene from different angles—a young Andy Clark’s introduction to recording history through the lens of a camera. Some 40 years later, the five-dollar Brownie is long gone, replaced by a more expensive digital Nikon with a variety of lenses—and the plastic soldiers are more likely to be live ones. Clark has been a photojournalist for more than three decades now, mostly for Reuters News Pictures, shooting photos and capturing moments in history in various parts the world—from diplomatic tea parties in Ottawa to suicide bombings in the Middle East. Currently based in Vancouver, Clark’s beat is all of Western Canada, which means he’s often on the run. It’s frenetic, but he basks in the breakneck pace of a news photographer’s life—always on call and ready to go—his camera like an added appendage
on his lean, sinewy body. His face is drawn but his calm, laid-back persona belies the stress of his profession. He sits at a slanted metal table on the patio of a coffee shop on a bright, spring afternoon, slowing his pace just long enough to be interviewed. Having returned from an assignment only minutes before, he is unperturbed as he uploads and files photos while being interrogated. Clark is quite matter-of-fact in tone and expression at first, clearly uncomfortable in the spotlight and unaccustomed to having to talk about himself. But this changes when he delves into memories of the exotic places he has seen and the important moments he has witnessed. When storytelling, Clark leans back in his chair, his eyes stare off into the distance and his voice takes on a more animated tone of nostalgia, like the symbolic grandfather in a rocking chair telling stories of the good ole’ days.
nce known as a long-haired hippy, Clark now sports a grizzled beard and white moustache, stained yellow at the edges from the nicotine of his cigarette habit. He is never without his trademark ball cap that surely disguises the mournful loss of that hippy hair on top, but swaths of white hair still spill out the back. In fact, he’s so known for his baseball caps that friends have said they wouldn’t recognize him if he walked by without one perched atop his head. Clark is no front-page magazine model. His casual style perfectly captures his personality and nature; simple, modest and informal in faded denim, sneakers and Langara Journalism Review 2011
unassuming black fleece jacket. Clark’s demeanor makes you forget you’re in the presence of award-winning greatness. He comes across as an Average Joe, someone you’d strike up a conversation with over a beer at the local pub. Clark is aloof about his photographic talents, despite many award-winning photographs and the fact that friends and colleagues often refer to him as the best Canadian photographer of his time. He has no formal photography or journalism training but once you discover his genealogy it’s not hard to figure out where he comes by his journalism smarts and knack of photo storytelling. Discover is the appropriate term because that’s the only way you’ll find out. Clark does not volunteer information about his celebrity lineage, preferring to earn a reputation based on his own merits. Clark’s grandfather is one of Canada’s most widely read journalists in history— the late Gregory Clark—a veteran and war correspondent, as well as one of the initial Officers of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour. He crafted poignant and often haunting features on topics ranging from the horrors of war to everyday people living everyday lives. In his day, more Canadians would have recognized Greg Clark on the street than the prime minister. “I always kept it quiet about my grandfather because I wanted to make it on my own, not on his heels,” Clark explains. “I knew if anyone found out I was the grandson of Greg Clark it would change people’s decisions.” In keeping with the family tradition, 23
photos by JORGE POSADA & LINA ZARATE
Langara Journalism Review 2011
the art of
It takes more than just a pretty face to read the news on television
DAV I D M U R P H Y
lean Ron Burgundy strolls into the newsroom with a glass of scotch in his hand, a thick mustache and perfectly coiffed hair. Five minutes with a makeup artist and he’s ready to enter the living rooms of thousands of families. Judd Apatow’s satirical cult classic film Anchorman portrays Will Ferrell as a foulmouthed and crude 1970s news presenter who doesn’t know a thing about journalism. But this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth, according to CBC anchor and BCIT broadcasting instructor Rosa Marchitelli. She says you have to have it all to be an anchor—a confident personality, the ability to perform and a solid grounding in journalism. “I think a lot of people underestimate what it takes to be a good anchor,” says Marchitelli. “I have to be Rosa times ten.” Marchitelli is the news producer at CBC on weekends and fills in as an anchor when needed. She says her journalism experience saved her from public embarrassment last year during the Olympics. CBC Vancouver underwent location changes during the Games, which meant technical glitches were inevitable. One one occasion when Marchitelli sat down at a temporary street-level desk for a newscast—powdered nose and all—the prompter cut out. Her stomach turned to knots. Her palms were clammy with sweat. But from memory and paper alone, she kept a cool head and presented the news without a hitch. Preparation is key, says new CTV lead anchor Tamara Taggart. Gone are the days of strolling into the newsroom minutes beforehand. “I can tell you, no anchors at this station
can do that,” says Taggart. CTV’s ratings have held fairly steady since January, when Taggart and Mike Killeen replaced Pamela Martin and Bill Good. Station news director Margo Harper says she hired Taggart because of her experience. Fourteen years at CTV, a BCIT broad-
AIRIKA OWEN photo
Tamara Taggart: weather woman to anchor.
casting diploma and several years of radio work are some of the reasons Harper says Taggart was the obvious choice. But some viewers are not so sure she was the right choice. Several online comments following a Vancouver Sun story announcing CTV’s new evening anchors were less than enthusiastic; some downright scathing. “Mike Killeen is a good choice, but the weather girl? No thanks, I think I’ll be switching to Global and Chris Gailus, who is a credible journalist, unlike Tamara who Langara Journalism Review 2011
has always been a bit of fluff on the newscast and is just downright annoying,” wrote one commentator. Of the 60 comments, 22 were negative. Nineteen were removed because they were deemed by CTV to be inappropriate. “It will poison your brain,” says Taggart about the comments. Five years ago, when her first-born Beckett was diagnosed with Downs syndrome, Taggart says she made the mistake of looking online to see what others had to say about him. “What some people wrote about my son was disgusting,” says Taggart, who vowed to never look at online comments again. But when sexist comments are made to Taggart in person, she is quick to correct them, as she did while co-hosting the program Live with Regis and Kelly. Regis Philbin introduced Taggart as the “weather girl,” and Taggart quickly reminded him that she was a “weather woman.” Her good looks tend to draw the stereotypical comments, according to Harper. “Attractive women are put under the microscope. People make assumptions about what you are and what you’re not, based on your looks.” Joe Cutbirth, a media expert who teaches at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism, believes media in North American are playing a balancing game hiring attractive anchors, male or female. “They are trying to capture eyeballs,” Cutbirth says, to increase ratings and thus advertisers. He notes that sex sells but that news broadcasters still need to have a sense of credibility. Taggart, meanwhile, is confident she has the right stuff, and says she is aiming to be at the CTV news desk for the long term. LJR 21
ing number. Cassels says the headline was something like, “Fasomax reduces hip fractures by 50 per cent for women with a high risk of osteoporosis.” During tests 50 women took a placebo and another 50 women took the drug. Within four years, two out of 50 women who took the placebo had a fracture and one out of 50 women who took Fasomax had a fracture. So while it’s true that there is a 50 per cent difference between the numbers of women who had fractures there’s also a hidden truth. “Statistically they’re right when they say it’s a 50 per cent reduction but if they don’t tell you that your risk that you start with is two in 100, then it’s extremely misleading,” Cassels says. The “50 per cent difference” heralded in the Fasomax case refers to absolute numbers. While it’s not factually incorrect to report these numbers, relative numbers show the grand scheme: that only one out of 50
women who took the drug was injured. Cassels credits journalists with mostly providing the right statistics but says they sometimes fail to put them in context. Between 1996 and 2001 he and five other health researchers conducted a national study looking at 193 health articles that concentrated on five popular drugs. All the articles mention one benefit but 68 per cent failed to mention any possible side effects. Twenty-six per cent of articles presented only the relative numbers, which can be incomplete and misleading. The researchers also found there was a problem in the way media report the release of new drugs. Public relations firms, according to Cassels, usually package news of a breakthrough drug. Journalists will often write a story based on a press release without calling sources, such as independent medical researchers who aren’t linked to the drug. According to the study, 62 per cent of
Langara Journalism Review 2011
articles based on press releases have only one source. If there are addional sources, only three per cent point out that the original source of the information could be in a conflict of interest. This indicates that some health reporters are breaking a major tenet of journalism: Always get the other side. “It’s sort of fundamental, the Times Colonist’s MacKenzie says. “You don’t take one person’s view. A lot of studies are funded through pharmaceutical companies. That’s another reason to go to another independent source. You want to talk to people who would say ‘is this drug useful’... because the first person might have a vested interest.” Cassels recognizes that in today’s journalistic world lack of time may preclude thorough research. But nonetheless, when it comes to reporting on such serious matters as human health, he believes it’s more important to be accurate than to be first. LJR
ity of which look at how well the evidence is presented, if there are options for treatment, the harms and benefits of treatment and where sources are from. Reviewers also note if language used is sensational. The Media Doctor website provides a direct link to the original article when it is reviewed. Readers can also leave comments. Cassels says feedback from the publicatios or the journalists themselves is generally non-existent. “We don’t really attack the journalist or a media outlet. The Media Doctor is aimed at informing the public and journalists. I think if you can inform journalists about the quality of their reporting they can do a better job serving the public.”
It’s not like you’re reporting on the baseball game. you’re writing about life and death issues that affect people
– alan cassels
Cassels says Media Doctor is sometimes accused of holding journalists to unreasonably high standards. But that is necessary, he says, because of the nature of the information involved. “It’s not like you’re reporting on the baseball game. You’re writing about life and death issues that affect people.” Victoria Times Colonist features editor Bruce MacKenzie says in his experience newspapers treat medical coverage seriously. “We put [health reporting] on a higher priority because it affects people in a fundamental way.” MacKenzie says he is not aware of any instances where Media Doctor has critized health coverage in his newspaper, or created a link to a particular story. High journalistic standards should be maintained covering any area, but the realities of today’s newsrooms should be taken into consideration, according to Ann Rauhala, who teaches health and science journalism at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “As I look at [Media Doctor] I think this
is great but I have some apprehension that the people involved don’t really understand what the talents in journalism are,” Rauhala says. She believes many of the shortfalls in health reporting come from a lack of time because journalists’ workloads have quadrupled in the last 10 years. Reporters are expected to file multiple print stories and web files at a breakneck pace. “They’re lucky if they get the names right,” she jokes. “My observation is that strangely enough very few people understand, outside journalism, how it’s done... It’s hardly surprising that people who have both academic and medical training find their versions of stories somewhat wanting. “I would love to hold us all to the highest standard—that’s why I’m in the journalism field because I think journalism is very important. And I get angry when I see something that I know not to be true in a newspaper or [on] TV. Nobody gets angrier about a bad job than I do.” Rauhala has worked as a columnist and foreign reporter for the Globe and Mail, as well as a correspondent and senior producer for CBC. She has also written on health. She is well aware that other obstacles sometimes make it tough to do a good job. One is the language barrier. Medical and scientific jargon can be difficult to understand, and it has to be presented so it makes sense to the average person. She teaches her students to “dumb down” medical or scientific language, for example, by using analogies to more simply convey the message. The danger is that something gets lost in the translation. Rauhala says statistical information is another pitfall, akin to “walking in a minefield.” Numbers can be manipulated by the source to substantiate a desired outcome, or they can be misinterpreted by the reporter.
assels acknowledges that medical and scienctific terminology can be confusing, as can the numbers. For example, is it clear if the numbers refer to, say, confirmed cases of an illness or suspected cases. Or whether the numbers are relative or absolute. “If I told you to buy a dress that’s 50 per cent off, would you buy it?” he asks rhetorically. The important question here, he notes, is 50 per cent off what? Similarly, in 1996 a drug called Fasomax was released that reportedly reduced hip fractures related to osteoporosis by 50 per cent. It seemed like a pretty promisLangara Journalism Review 2011
by KYLA CORPUZ
healthy diet will help you live longer. But if you’re over 40 years old, don’t hesitate to pour yourself a few glasses of wine, even though alcohol can be more lethal than heroin. Oh, and before you chew on Kentucky Fried Chicken’s double-down—complete with processed cheese, bacon strips and sauce-y goodness, all pressed between two deep-fried chicken breasts—keep in mind that compared to an egg yolk, that double-down is like a salad because mama hen’s egg placentas can double the chances of coronary risk. So stay away from eggs. But wait, aren’t eggs good for you? In an effort to satisfy the public’s desire for stories on health, the media serve up stories containing the “facts”, based on various studies and reports that may or may not be accurate or complete—or without vested interest. Readers and audiences are asked to digest sometimes contradictory stories, and without the context of the bigger picture. A recent newspaper headline announced: “Alcohol more dangerous than 18
crack or heroin, U.K. study finds.” The story stated that researchers had tested numerous drugs—alcohol included—and the effects they had on individuals and society. The study concluded that alcohol was the most harmful drug to society while heroin, crack, cocaine and methamphetamine caused the most harm to the individual. However, what could be pertinent details, such as the personal circumstances the individuals were in at the time of intoxication, or what exactly is considered harmful, were not addressed. Two weeks later headlines declared: “Women who drink moderately outlive teetotallers, study finds.” According to the article, moderate drinkers had a “26 per cent increase in survival odds” compared to teetotallers. Good news for moderate drinkers. What this article left out were the other countless possible negative effects of alcohol, ranging from weight gain to cardiovascular disease or depression, never mind dependency on alcohol itself.
t is stories such as these that compel University of Victoria health researcher Alan Cassels to analyze the legitim-
Langara Journalism Review 2011
acy, and more importantly, the accuracy of health stories. When it comes to health, personal diet and new drug reports, the media is often the primary source of information to citizens. But while Cassels believes journalists have improved at writing about health issues, he says there are still many missing links. That’s where Media Doctor comes in. Cassels launched the mediadoctor.ca website in 2003, after he finished a report called Drugs in the News, an analysis of Canadian news coverage of new prescription drugs. He and some of his colleagues thought they should start a service, similar to an Australian website, that would try to improve medical and health reporting. Media Doctor monitors 12 major news and medical publications across Canada. Stories are rated based on the value and veracity of the information they carry. And because not all health articles aim to tell the same story, they are separated into different categories: access stories, diagnostic tests, harm stories, health scares, pharmaceutical stories, prevalence stories, surgical stories and others. These categories have separate grading criteria, the major-
The TABLES\ What happens when news organizations become the news? KYLA CORPUZ
t was a Monday afternoon that Global TV news director Ian Haysom would rather forget. He was downtown when he received a text message. Veteran reporter Ron Bencze hadn’t come to work. Finding this unusual, Haysom and the news team tried to find out what was going on. What they discovered became a major story on Global’s five o’clock news. “B.C. reporter charged with child sex crimes.” The story ran again at 6 p.m., followed by a more detailed version at 11 p.m. Bencze was charged with five counts of sexual assault involving a person under 16. The encounters allegedly took place throughout a 10-year period. He was released on bail and suspended from Global with pay. His newsroom colleagues were shocked and bewildered. They knew the story had to be reported—but how? When people in your own newsroom become the news, it is expected the same standards of unbiased journalism will be applied, says Haysom. “When you report on yourself you’re very careful to get all the facts right.” This is not Haysom’s first experience with his news organizatiobn being in the news. When he was city editor of the Vancouver Sun, one of his reporters did a story about media corporations making donations to political parties. Southam Inc., which then owned the Sun, was one of them. A senior editor questioned him as to why they were running the story. Haysom replied: “We’re not immune. We have to write about ourselves. “I was always happy about that and proud that we went and did it in a very open way,” he says.
During the interview for this story, Haysom noted that he could not provide details about the Bencze case because it was before the courts. He would only speak in generalities.
AIRIKA OWEN photo
Global TV news director Ian Haysom.
“It’s very difficult to report on yourself,” says Haysom, noting that it is important to be sensitive to newsroom staff. But, he adds, there’s more of an obligation to cover such news with accuracy and fairness, just like you would cover anyone else in a similar situation. Rob Germain, news director at Victoria’s CHEK-TV, says he knows all too well what it’s like to be in the limelight, although in his case the news was no so bad. When CHEK’s former owner, Canwest Global Communications Corp., announced two years ago it was going to close the station, the employees came together in an efLangara Journalism Review 2011
fort to buy it. “The whole process became very public...and we found ourselves reporting on the story. We just tried to be as unbiased as we possibly could,” Germain says. Although Germain preferred to not comment on the details of the Bencze case, he felt that based on what he had seen, Global treated the story like any other. “It’s always awkward to be the subject of the story…but you can only do your best in trying to be as up front, fair and balanced as you possibly can.” For Haysom, the Bencze story was not the only problem he had to grapple with that Monday. Information in an email exchange between Global reporter Catherine Urquhart and Barinder Sall, who was campaign manager for B.C. MLA and former solicitor general Kash Heed, invited questions about the reporter’s journalistic ethics. In an email to Urquhart, Sall, whom she had used as a source in some of her stories, wrote: “Your stories, coverage and timing gave Kash a lot of profile and built him a following from day one.” Urquhart’s email response was, “That’s really sweet of you…I’m truly glad it worked out!” Haysom says, “Suddenly we’re in the news of two pretty distinctive stories.” The next morning, newspapers across the Lower Mainland ran both stories. Haysom called a newsroom meeting to discuss the coverage, reminding staff that the station had to treat those items as they would any other, and to not let their personal involvement influence their news judgment. “There’s a huge trust from us in the community,” he says. “And the trust is also that we cover ourselves. “If you report without fear or favour, it’s pretty easy.” LJR 17
cized from all sides.” Not long after Jonathan, Jarrod and Jamie Bacon gained infamy for their gang associations and their illegal attempts to transform an SUV into a Batmobile-type getaway car, Bolan went to the family house in Abbotsford to interview neighbours. It was a large house on a quiet culde-sac overlooking a mountain in a toney part of the city. Bolan spotted the boys’ father, David, pulling into the driveway so she appraoched him to ask how he and his wife were coping with having two of their children behind bars. “It’s garbage,” he told her. “Jon will be acquitted.” When Bolan pushed further and noted there were 23 other charges, Bacon came at her. She says he grabbed her arm and started shouting. She stepped away and quickly got back in her car—unharmed, but flustered. She called the Sun’s newsroom. The only thing she managed to get out before her phone’s reception died was that Bacon had grabbed her. Her editor thought that she’d been kidnapped and was about to dispatch a helicopter to look for her. By the time her phone regained reception, she was informed that authorities had been alerted, so she needed to report to Abbotsford police to confirm that she was safe.
he Lower Mainland’s organized crime scene is an anomaly in North America. People who enter the gang lifestyle here aren’t always marginalized youth, victims of abusive homes or negligent parents who had to grow up in foster homes. Some were given every opportunity in life, had parents with influence, power and money. So the question Bolan asks her-
self every day is why? Why is this affluent demographic at such a high risk? She is pushing for more academic research to be done on the gang situation in the city. More importantly, she sees a need to offer solutions and exit strategies to those who feel trapped in the gang lifestyle and don’t know how to get out. “These are people and they have families and loved ones,” Munro says. “She’s always thinking about that and recently she’s been invited to speak at a number of seminars to those who are interested in these topics.... She goes because she doesn’t want to write about the problem. She wants to write about the solutions.” According to Munro, Bolan has an “encyclopaedic knowledge of all the characters that she comes across in the gang world.” And she’s not afraid to get close to the front lines. “She’s gone out with the uniform [gang] unit probably half a dozen times,” says Kirk. She still practices a lesson taught to her when she was studying journalism at the University of Western Ontario. “Always fight to go out and see something because when you go out to a scene or an event you find out more. I’m always fighting with my editor to go out there. You see the scene and you’ll always get something more than by sitting at a desk.” Tenacity isn’t a character trait she just developed in adulthood. Since high school, she knew she wanted to write and didn’t see any reason to wait. She would take news items from the local paper in Courtenay, where she grew up, add information, rewrite them, and send them off to the daily Times-Colonist in Victoria. Before moving to Vancouver, Bolan was
A crime scene in downtown Vancouver: You’ll get more than by just sitting at your desk.... 16
Langara Journalism Review 2011
sports editor at a weekly paper in Victoria and is still a big Canucks fan. It’s how she unwinds after a long day. “People don’t really know that about me except in my office,” Bolan says. She feels the sports reporting experience gave her the solid grounding required for her fast-paced life as a crime reporter, but would never go back because she’s on a higher mission. “I do believe that journalism is still an effective way to create change in a community. I do believe that. I couldn’t write
journalism is still an effective way to create change in a community -Kim Bolan
about things that were neutral topics. It’s just not who I am. If I did I’d be bored silly. I’m not an ‘on-one-hand-or-on-the-otherhand’ kind of journalist.”
arly on a Sunday morning, two weeks before Christmas, Vancouver residents living near Oak Street and 23rd Avenue are jolted awake by gunfire. In rapid-fire succession, 15 rounds ring out in this quiet residential neighbourhood, leaving a black pick-up truck riddled with holes and a woman bleeding in an alcove. Early reports reveal that 10 people have been sent to the hospital with injuries and that the emergency room is on lockdown with police officers posted at all the entrances. Kim Bolan is on the story a few hours later to report on the latest manifestation of a gang war in the city. She writes a blog post and responds to some 20 comments. She already knows the names of at least two people who have been hurt and has received information about who fired the shots. All that digging and searching for information, and then she files the story for the the Sun’s website and the next day’s paper. By 7 p.m. she’s ready to head for home, but her work is never done—the stories continue. “The beat coverage isn’t what it once was,” Bolan says, “and as a result of that a lot of stories fall through the cracks. I feel privileged to be able to stick with something but the flip side of that is that you do work all the time.” Just another day in the life of crime reporter Kim Bolan. LJR
The sites of two of Kim Bolan’s biggest stories. Left, the Bacon family home in Abbotsford. Right, the Surrey apartment where six people were murdered.
stayed with that story long after the investigations and police work were over—and in the process became emotionally attached to the people who had lost family members. “I do really struggle when I’m working on a big feature and I spend a lot of time with relatives and hear stories that I find to be heart-breaking. It kills me to hear a mother’s story [about losing a child],” says Bolan. She spent nearly three years covering the trials of three men accused of involvement in the Air India bombing, and countless other high-profile stories related to Sikh extremism, including the murder of Surrey newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer. She wrote a 375-page book about the bombing, Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder. For her, the story will never truly end because so many people got away with Canada’s largest mass murder in modern history.
worth more than a dollar at the newsstand. “I think it’s important enough. I have an objective to expose the problem and when the problem fades because it’s been appropriately dealt with, then maybe I’ll do something else.” Bolan has managed through her neverending work to stand out among other reporters in her field as someone who goes beyond what is expected. She’s tackled stories from the human perspective and is never quick to judge the criminals she encounters. Because of her ability to write not only from the incident’s perspective but from the perspective of the person involved in the crime, she has made some unlikely contacts—even friends—through her work. “[She and I] go beyond calling to talk about an incident,” says Sgt. Shinder
olan’s next major assignment would be covering terrorism of a different kind—one fought on the streets of B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Like the Air India story, this beat would consume much of her life. She’s not interested in just writing a series of unrelated crime stories; she aims to provide the larger picture. “What distinguishes Kim’s reporting is that it’s more contextual, and before anyone else she’ll be able to tell you who was killed and why they were killed,” Munro says. “There are many examples where a young man has been killed and the response from other media is to go to the family and friends and get things like ‘he was a nice boy’. Whereas Kim will be able to tie them to gang connections and the activities that they are involved in.” Ten years into covering organized crime, Bolan says she wouldn’t still be going to crime scenes at all hours of the day or night if she didn’t think her work was
Any beat reporter who is doing their job well is going to be criticized
- Harold Munro
Kirk, a member of the Lower Mainland’s Integrated Gang Task Force. “We have conversations and very often we don’t see eye-to-eye on things, of course, but we have a human, one-to-one dialogue that transcends our respective professions. “In essence, it’s an understatement to say that she has such a firm grasp on the problem. We also have to talk about her having passion. [She] has a true human perspective on the issue and I can’t think of one single word that would describe that. It’s beyond reporting. It’s actually understanding the human tragedies, as well.” The nature of Bolan’s work garners Langara Journalism Review 2011
her many fans but just as many foes. She remains steadfast in her goals, even when welcomed by Godfather-esque warnings like dead rats on her desk in the newsroom, a YouTube video featuring her face imposed on a pig’s body, Facebook pages accusing her of being a racist, and even a death threat, which came during her Air India coverage. This has necessitated her taking certain security measures—she doesn’t reveal details—but she’s not fazed by the intimidation factor. She can’t because there is always another story about to break. “[Gang members] think they can bully people that they disagree with,” Bolan says. “They intimidate their neighbours, their community, their enemies in gangland and sometimes their own families. We have to say, ‘Hey, this is unacceptable behaviour. You don’t bully people.’ It’s ultimately bigboy bullying.” The accusations of racism came from some members of the Indo-Canadian community. Zafar Zang Singh, in an opinion column on the World Sikh News website, wrote: “Hate mongering in the media must be made legal in the name of ‘investigative journalism’ and ‘creativity.’ Otherwise the Canadian authorities will have to unnecessarily contend with offering explanation to the string of hurtful, offensive and hate provoking articles appearing under Kim Bolan’s name in several Canadian publications.” Munro says, “Any beat reporter who is doing their job well is going to be criticized. What you hope is that you are being criti15
Covering the crime beat is a tough job
Kim Bolan is tougher photos by AIRIKA OWEN
by ASHLEY MACDONA L D
f you observe the way a person walks into a room, you can often get a sense of their character—what they’re like. Do they glide or saunter? Shuffle? Take long strides? Or short ones? Kim Bolan doesn’t walk. She spins like a top at full speed—a whirling dervish in a trance, seemingly unaware of her surroundings. And when she stops spinning and focuses, it’s a full stop every time. Bolan isn’t afraid of much in life. And if she is, then she’s a master illusionist who could give David Copperfield a run for his
money. Standing just over five feet tall, she doesn’t rely on her stature to intimidate people, but she’s intimidating nonetheless. “She’s very tough,” says Vancouver Sun editor Harold Munro about one of his most high-profile reporters—and that she is. But under the tough-as-nails exterior, there is a softness that becomes evident when you look closely at her writing. Her deep-brown eyes fix on you from behind her dark, tousled hair. She takes in everything around her—and there’s always so much going on. “I’m sorry I’m late. I haven’t even carved the pumpkins yet and I had homework to manage,” Bolan says as she rushes into the Main Street coffee shop and sits down at a Langara Journalism Review 2011
table in a small, dark corner on an afternoon in late fall. She juggles her reporting life with being a mother. Trying to pin her down for an interview is as easy as catching a bullet. She now has some time to spare, but not much, so fire away, the look on her face tells me. Bolan’s career as a journalist took off with a literal bang in June 1985 when Air India Flight 182 was turned into a 735,000-pound flying bomb that was detonated by terrorists over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland. The explosion killed 329 people. It was her first assignment for the Vancouver Sun, and an enormous learning curve for a young reporter. She
The stage for the nightly news, for example, was designed by the station’s graphic artist, Dave Lackmanec, and put together with the elbow grease of determined staff. Employees constructed the new set for a mere $7,500. The last one under the previous ownership was designed and built by a company in Los Angeles for a cost of $100,000 U.S. The next big step will be switching to a digital transmitter. In 2007, the CRTC announced that stations in “mandatory markets” of over 300,000 people would have to start broadcasting in digital by Aug. 31, 2011. Pollard says they are well on their way to meeting the CRTC’s deadline and after this last big purchase, the station’s finances should be steady. Recycling, penny pinching, scrimping, fixing stuff instead of buying stuff. These themes come up over and over again. “You have to watch expenses,” says Pollard, in his office that was once the coffee room— part of the two-floor consolidation that saved the company half-a-million dollars. “We know where every nickel and every dime is. We are very, very cautious when it
Could we use more people? Absolutely. Do we have the money to hire them? No.
– John Pollard
comes to spending money.” The station doesn’t buy a program until it is sure it can make money from it. “It’s not like we’ve reinvented the wheel but if you buy it for a dollar, you’d better be able to sell it for more than a dollar,” he says. When they put in the control room and on-air operation, they built efficiently so they could staff them with fewer people than they used to. “Could we use more people? Absolutely. Do we have the money to hire them? No. We have rules. Self-imposed rules. We don’t hire people until we can afford them. Which is crazy. “The British model’s broken, the American model’s broken, the European model’s broken. Nobody can make any money. They’re spending more money than they have coming in. That doesn’t work for very
long. CanWest knows that.” For CHEK, what works is only spending what it has. Pollard talks about the station’s finances matter-of-factly, like a single parent who closely monitors the family’s finances. There is no fallback position, no fund for a rainy day. “If you have a budget and you go over the budget, that has to come out of somebody else’s pocket.” CHEK has also taken to running paid programming late at night. Some might say it’s unsavoury, says Pollard, but the first part of paid programming is paid. “It wasn’t genius,” he concedes. “But it makes payroll.” And payroll is the company’s biggest expenditure. Pollard remembers the first few months, when he would stand over the mail and pray one of the envelopes contained a cheque they could deposit so employee paycheques wouldn’t bounce. He says the first quarter of ownership was horrible because they didn’t have any revenue on the books and the extra money required to re-equip the place took up most of the capital. But that was then. Now, longterm projections show that the station is a viable operation. “You know, I don’t think we’re ever going to be making tens of millions of dollars a year but we’ll be making a profit and then all the owners—the employee owners, the shareholders—will get a return on their investment.” Part of what makes the station work is that as owners, the employees are now more engaged in the day-to-day operations of the business. Everyone wants more say in how the station is run and decisions are often made by committee. “There is potential in community-based and media worker owned and operated media,” says Bob Hackett, founder of Media Democracy Day and communications professor at Simon Fraser University. But the bigger matter is where they get their revenue. The basic structure or programming of media can’t really change without other funding. Station management is reluctant to disclose the names of the 10 people who make up CHEK’s community investors. When asked about how involved these outside shareholders are—the people who help make up the board and aren’t employees— Pollard says they are strictly used as a business resource. “They don’t get involved in the day-to-day operations but they certainly help with direction.” With an emphatic no and a definitive shake of his head, Pollard insists they have no effect on the newsLangara Journalism Review 2011
room and they absolutely don’t influence the news. The station has benefited from a newssharing agreement with CBC that has CHEK using clips from CBC’s national and international newscast, which in turn increases CBC’s presence on the Island. In March 2010, veteran news anchor Tony Parsons came on board to host CHEK’s 10 p.m. newscast. He now splits his time between Vancouver and Victoria, hosting newscasts on both CHEK and CBC.
isiting the station, one notices a palpable air of excitement, denser than the normal buzz of a newsroom. Employees talk about controlling their own density. They pitch ideas that they’ve been thinking about for years and if they can show how to pay for them, they’re given a chance. Game On!—a sports show with a local focus—is one of the newest shows on CHEK’s line up that developed from a staff idea. They’d been pitching the show to CanWest for four years but were always turned down and told it wouldn’t make any money. In its first two weeks, Game On had already paid for the next 52 weeks of programming. And one success could open up the gates for another good idea. “As an employee,” explains Sampson, “if you come up with an idea and it’s used and implemented—as opposed to always having the door shut in your face when you bring something forward—the chances of you coming up with another idea and bringing it forward are much greater.” Sampson is a huge fan of the employeeownership model after watching it succeed and transform two companies, first Harmac and now CHEK. He believes it could work in other industries. “I think it’s a great idea for productivity at a workplace. I see it first-hand at both companies every day, just how engaged employees are. It’s a real family-like atmosphere.” In order to work at CHEK, you have to become a shareholder and buy in. But Pollard insists buying in will pay off. “The plan is that these investments are not just donations to keep a job. These are investments and they will make money—and you know, they will. We’re pretty optimistic.” Being involved in the CHEK experiment also means buying into a mentality that values local over corporate, team over individual, and thrift over flash. Says Pollard: “Our plans are small and our gains will be modest. But they will be gains. And that’s the big difference.” LJR 13
CHEK’s staff has grown from 30 to 70, all of them working in the station’s one-floor office. their support for the station and rallied behind CHEK’s cause by joining Facebook groups, phoning the CRTC, and sending letters to their MPs. But even with an outpouring of public support, a union on their side, a strategic plan that would see full-time employees buy in at $15,000 apiece and a board of local investors willing to provide more financing, by late summer it still looked like the station would close. But then in early September, following four days of intense negotiations, the group prevailed. They had raised $2.5 million—enough to get them through the transition period— and were able to meet CanWest’s “criteria.” (CanWest had rejected the group’s first bid fearing that the company would be on the hook for advertising and programming costs incurred during the handover.) They were now the proud owners of a television station, a station the CRTC—in its decision to extend CHEK’s broadcasting licence for another seven years—had noted that there had been little improvement in profitability in the last three years. The purchase price was two dollars. “You find out people actually care about what you do,” says Pollard. “The CRTC was certainly instrumental. They didn’t want this station to close.” Station operations changed drastically when the employees took over, says Pollard, partly because they had to start from scratch. They had no programming and no sales; in the past, those had been taken care of by CanWest. He says they showed up on Sept. 5 with virtually no revenue. And to 12
top it all off, they had to raise extra funds to build a new set and a new master control room. The set was essentially a green screen and a desk—images were projected onto the screen from the control room, run by CanWest and based in Toronto. So the future looked daunting. “The smart people said we’d make it ‘til Christmas,” he deadpans.
ast forward to November 2010, a little over a year since the takeover. A former CanWest employee, now working for Shaw Communcations—which took over CanWest’s broadcasting assets—is visiting CHEK at its 780 Kings Road location. Shaw still owned the building at the time (CHEK has since purchased the three-storey, 40,000-square-foot building for more than $5 million.) Pollard runs into his guest—his former boss—upstairs in what was once the station’s hub. CHEK has consolidated its operations on the first floor—one of many costsaving measures. The second floor is now empty, save for boxes and furniture that won’t fit, and piles of cables from the former control room. Pollard jokes he should start selling the cables for their copper. At one point, his former boss looks at him and says, “This is amazing, you guys are getting bigger and everyone else isn’t.” Since the change in ownership, despite the shrinking square-footage, the company has more than doubled its staff. CHEK now employs the equivalent of almost 70 fulltime people—when employees bought the station, there were 30. Langara Journalism Review 2011
Admittedly, part of this growth is because jobs that had been relocated to Toronto under CanWest—such as those in the master control room—needed to be filled locally. But the station also rehired some staff that had been laid off under CanWest. Michael Woloshen, CHEK’s director of creative services, was the first person hired back. He had been laid off for 10 months when the deal went through. Like all of the employees at CHEK, he is now an owner. He spends his days producing commercials—a task that he says has become more vibrant and exciting for him now that the station is involved in more local production. The station has made a concerted effort to focus on local news and locally produced programming. With this comes local advertising. Under CanWest, local advertising used to make up 10 to 15 per cent of the revenue, now it’s at 60 to 70 per cent, depending on the month. “We have a product that’s worth selling,” says Woloshen, perched on a counter in one of the station’s editing suites. “We’re making television affordable for local retailers again.” Local advertisers can’t afford to buy airtime on shows like Dancing with the Stars—big U.S. simulcast programming is expensive for stations to buy and so the ad spots are expensive for advertisers to buy from the station. The station doesn’t rely on simulcast; CHEK’s new model means local is where it’s at. At first, this was in part because of necessity—the station simply couldn’t afford to buy expensive programs—but as it turns out, the local focus seems to be working. “Our whole model is based on affordable television,” says Woloshen. “On what’s manageable for a small business to create or purchase. Our cost of production or giving airtime is more affordable to local advertisers.” CHEK provides this service to the community and it has a snowball effect; a business owner sees his neighbour with a 30-second television spot and realizes he can have an ad on TV too.
his shift from national to local isn’t just reflected in the sales department. The 100 per cent selffinanced station now operates as a small business, not as a branch of a corporation. For the employees who now have a stake in the bottom line, they have taken to cutting costs and pinching pennies wherever possible—whether that’s making sure to turn out the lights when they leave the office, working unpaid overtime, or pitching in to build a new set.
CHEKing in Employees at Victoria’s CHEK-TV bought out their CanWest bosses two years ago. How has the station fared? Very well, they say. by ANNA KILLEN
t’s March, 2010. One by one, suits and T-shirts pile into the grey-carpeted conference room at CHEK- TV in Victoria, one of two television stations serving Vancouver Island. The technicians, broadcasters, and producers who fill the room have survived a tumultuous six months since they—along with several angel investors—took over the station that was scheduled to be closed by its former CanWest owners. The employee takeover of a major media outlet—CHEK has broadcast out of Victoria since 1956—was an experiment that had never been tried in Canada. Many were skeptical it would work. John Pollard, president of the station’s parent company, CHEK Media Group, gets everyone’s attention and gives them the news. It’s good. All of the ideas, all of the hard work, all of the unpaid overtime hours, all of the enthusiasm had paid off. For the first time since becoming locally owned the station has made a profit. And not just any profit. The previous month, CHEK Media Group cleared a whopping 250 bucks. “They said it couldn’t be done,” Pollard says with bravado, his eyes twinkling. He is a man who likes to crack a joke. He uses terms like “whizzy bits” to describe technical equipment parts and starts his emails with an enthusiastic “Hi!” He has reason to be jovial. Since the takeover, he and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to turn CHEK from an American simulcast programming station to a respected local news station. “Of course, we spent it within about five minutes of having it,” he says of the $250, still chuckling. “But the year before,” he adds, his voice lowering and his tone more serious, “the owners from before, they
were losing a million a month.” The owners from before: CanWest, the now-defunct media giant that took a pretty rough—and public—tumble from the beanstalk. A giant that could have taken CHEK TV, British Columbia’s oldest privately owned station, down with it. When Pollard told his former bosses at CanWest of his company’s gains “they laughed at me,” he says. “They said ‘big deal’ and I said ‘well, how much did you make?’” It is a big deal, he presses. In an age when local television stations are struggling to make ends meet and many broadcasters are carrying millions of dollars in debt, modest profits are nothing to scoff at. If CanWest was losing a million a month the year before the employees took over, this means CHEK’s employee-owned operation had essentially made one million and 250 dollars more than CanWest did. So if CanWest couldn’t figure out how to make a profit from the station, how did a group of employees-turned-owners manage to do it?
HEK’s transformation began in early 2009, when CanWest announced that the station was no longer part of the company’s longterm plans and might be put up for sale. By July, the corporation, unable to find a buyer, announced the station would close at the end of August. But the employees had an idea. Since no one wanted to buy the station, why not buy it themselves? If they shut down, there would be only one newscast for the nearly 750,000 people living on Vancouver Island; they knew there was a place for community-driven news. Plus, for the past few months they’d been running stories Langara Journalism Review 2011
on Harmac Pacific, a Nanaimo-area pulp and paper mill that had recently become employee owned and was showing signs of success. Maybe the employee-owned model, where employees essentially become investors in their workplace, was something they could implement at CHEK. Why not give it a shot? That’s when news director Rob Germain contacted Levi Sampson, a local businessman who was heavily involved in Harmac’s operations. Sampson offered to come talk to the station. CHEK’s situation was similar to Harmac’s, says Sampson, who is now chairman of CHEK’s board of directors. After meeting with the employees, he decided to become a major investor in the dying station, a decision he’s still proud of. He says that in order for an employee-ownership model to work there has to be strong cooperation between management and the union. Luckily, CHEK’s union—B.C.’s Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union—and station management were willing to work together. According to Sampson, not only were there strong leaders on both sides but “the workforce was really fired up and enthusiastic. Not only about saving their jobs but about saving a station that had been around for 50 years in B.C.” Plus, he says, “You could see the groundswell from the public.” In order to make the employee-ownership model a reality, CHEK would have to convince CanWest it could afford to purchase and run the station. They drew up a three-year business model and the long, difficult negotiations began. Talks involved the federal government, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the employee union, and members of the community who voiced 11
photos by K.J. DAKIN CHEK-TV president John Pollard: “They said it couldn’t be done.” 10
Langara Journalism Review 2011
ness writing music reviews, LaPointe has held senior positions with Canadian Press, CTV news, the Southam News agency and the Hamilton Spectator. He helped found the National Post, advised the publisher to the Toronto Star, hosted programs for CBC and, most recently, completed a seven-year stretch as managing editor at the Vancou-
You can get off track pretty easily these days
– Kirk LaPointe
ver Sun. Alongside his new role as CBC’s ombudsman, he also teaches media ethics to students in UBC’s graduate journalism program. After living through the Internet’s public debut in the early 90s, LaPointe has been on the frontline of many technological advances in the newsroom. When social media swept though the industry like a gale-force wind in 2008, LaPointe was managing editor at the Vancouver Sun. Technology not only shaped new ways to produce and consume journalism, it changed the way journalists interact with their audience and sources. “Introducing the Internet was nothing compared to introducing social media to the newsroom,” LaPointe says. “It’s culturally the biggest shift.” As the doors to community participation flew open, new avenues for sourcing information flourished just as a dwindling Canadian economy and news giant CanWest’s plummeting stock value made staff cuts the norm. The Sun, like many newspapers, built the foundation of its digital newsroom at a fiscally tumultuous time. Journalism now faced challenges like speedy publishing and extra workloads. And this, mixed with a highly competitive market, created a buzz in the industry about the ultimate impact of sloppy, rushed copy—and the loss of public trust. “You can get off track pretty easily these days because digital journalism just compels you to do some very different things,” LaPointe says. But LaPointe’s time at the Sun has given him an optimistic perspective when it comes to online journalism. He says success is born of the realization that journalists now have more time and resources to connect with their communities. “The first reflex is to say, ‘I only have
half the time to do my research. But it’s about re-orienting days to serve a multitude of platforms, not just a newspaper.” He believes a working balance lies in rooting this brave new world in traditional media discipline and core principals: balance, accuracy and impartiality, among others. This, he says, is still the way to sustain credibility. And as someone who would rather uncover than simply cover up information, he hopes the investigative nature of the ombudsman job will deepen his understanding of how to do new journalism well. LaPointe noted that his job exists because CBC is sure of its ability to always abide by journalistic standards and practices. By evaluating the performance of a news organization that enforces these standards rigorously and comparing it to others, LaPointe looks to gain further insight into how the industry is handling such a major shift overall. “It’s an opportunity to really focus on standards at a time when our craft has never been more challenged to sustain them,” LaPointe says. And while he’s examined these challenges since 2008 via his blog themediamanager.com, he says the change will bring him
Langara Journalism Review 2011
fresh perspective. “I think I’ll have a greater understanding of some of the ethical dilemmas,” LaPointe says, noting that sleeping on a decision instead of making minute-to-minute judgments does wonders for his insight. Since starting his position, LaPointe has changed the focus of his blog to reflect the nature of his new work. It has shifted from technology’s relationship with journalism, to media standards and ethics and their relationship with the public. “Part of my role as ombudsman is not only representing the public to CBC,” LaPointe explains, “but representing the CBC to the public so that they too have a better understanding of journalism standards and ethics.” He believes a new level of public transparency and interaction will be achieved through sharing public complaints about journalism and his decisions online. He also believes that an expanded two-way conversation between the media and the public leads to better journalism. When asked if he would be retiring after his work is done at CBC, LaPointe laughed. “Every step is a step towards retirement. But no, I’m realistic enough that I’m likely going to be working into my seventies.” LJR
CBC’s point man In this brave new world of journalism, ombudsman Kirk LaPointe aims to keep the public broadcaster honest by LAUREN BENN
ournalists face unique ethical challenges in their work, as Kirk LaPointe knows well. In 1999 LaPointe, then editor-inchief of the Hamilton Spectator, knew the heinous criminal details of a young offender’s past. Barely an adult, and fresh out of jail, the young man violated his parole conditions and escaped the cops. His violent history caused concern for public safety. But since the Youth Criminal Justice Act has no clause for allowing journalists to publish details of exceptional cases, the Spectator could only report that he’d skipped out on bail and had three prior convictions—hardly cause for public concern without the added context. The day this man escaped, LaPointe decided he too would break the law. He instructed his team to illegally publish details
from the offender’s youth. He knew it could mean jail time, but felt it was in the public’s best interest to know the whole story. Some members of the public weren’t happy about LaPointe’s decision and complained to police. LaPointe was charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and absorbed the criminal burden from his reporters. He pled guilty. But on sentencing day, the judge remembered the time he showed lenience to a young boy—the same boy whose criminal history was illegally published by LaPointe in an effort to warn the public. The judge ordered the charge dropped, and the case formed a lasting impression on LaPointe. “That one really changed my mind about what journalism is and how it is different from any other role,” he says.
Journalistic ethics and Canadian law have always danced an unsightly tango. Although both regard public safety and trust as their holy grail, they step on each other’s toes and don’t always see eye to eye. Now, as CBC’s ombudsman, LaPointe takes this into consideration as he judges journalistic ethics from a different vantage point—investigating public complaints against CBC newsmakers. LaPointe is essentially a member of the public in his new role, but this position is the culmination of 30 years of industry experience. It all started in Grade 6. There were two things LaPointe wanted to do in school: wrestle his best friend, and start a school newspaper. As part of a self-guided curriculum, LaPointe spent his senior-elementary year doing both, unaware that this particular year would foreshadow his career. Since his post-Ryerson start in the busi-
LAUREN BENN photo
Settling in: After 30 years in various newsrooms, Kirk LaPointe is now the people’s advocate at Canada’s public broadcaster. 8
Langara Journalism Review 2011
Surangpimol that the university would correct the errors. Subsequently, changes were made, UBC associate professor and project co-ordinator Peter Klein noted. Part of an international reporting class project, students worked with professors and experienced journalists to create the documentary. It was posted on the Globe and Mail’s website as well as on the school’s website. Last year a UBC student investigation into the dumping of used computer parts in Ghana won an Emmy Award.
—Brett Bonderud Journalists to help open doors on wrongful convictions Rather than digging up dirt on politicians, three UBC journalism students put their investigative powers to good use by joining the international Innocence Project. Their goal is to investigate possible wrongful conviction cases and free innocents from prison. “It’s really messy and it demands all the ingenuity that you can bring to it because the reason these cases are still open is there are incredibly difficult problems to solve,” said Sam Eifling, one of the students involved. Born at the New York-based Yeshiva University in 1992, the Innocence Project now has dozens of branches around the world, typically based out of law schools. UBC’s own Innocence Project began in 2007 but the fall 2010 term marked a collaboration between journalists and lawyers for the first time on Canadian projects. Most cases take several years to be resolved once the investigation process begins. The UBC Innocence Project has yet to complete a case. Project director Tamara Levy says the reporter-lawyer collaboration will likely continue and expand in the future.
Community news site blends citizens and pros It’s a shiver-worthy hybrid to many in the news industry: the citizen-journalist. But a progressive news website is aggregating citizens, journalists and editors to create professional, close-to-thecommunity content. And get this: it pays $200 for an average of 500 words. Meet OpenFile.ca. The Toronto-founded, independent news source gathers story ideas from the community and assigns them to staff or freelance reporters to investigate, fact-check, and write. Vancouver’s site launched in the fall of 2010. “The citizen-journalist is a bit of a misnomer,” says Vancouver editor Karen Pinchin. “Known for unedited, stream-of-consciousness, ethically questionable copy.” But she says this kind of copy is a good place to source ideas, listen to perspectives and then “apply traditional journalism standards.” OpenFile’s ethics may be rooted in traditional journalism but the life cycle of each story—called a file—is anything but conventional. Anyone can open a file, which is first screened for news value, and add information, including photos and videos. A reporter is then assigned to verify and expand on the information, creating what is termed a “reported file,” which remains open to the public and can be updated as a story evolves.
—Lauren Benn The Daily offers iPad exclusive news “New times demand new journalism.” That’s the slogan on a website introducing Rupert Murdoch’s revolutionary Langara Journalism Review 2011
newspaper, created exclusively for the iPad. Cheaper than buying a daily paper but more expensive than reading news online, the Daily costs about a dollar a week. It appears every day on the iPad and the information is updated just like most news websites. Launched in February, the Daily features news, arts and life, opinion, gossip, games and sports, according to Murdoch’s company, News Corp. Articles can be saved for later and played aloud, while videos, interactive graphs, polls and 360-degree photographs add to the publication’s visual appeal. Over seven million iPads were sold in 2010. Sales are expected to double this year.
—Air ika Owen Reckless tweets could land you in court Citizen journalists, bloggers and tweeters beware— those callous comments have consequences. An Ontario court ruling ordered a blogger to pay $32,000 for “reckless indifference” to the truth for postings about a human rights commission lawyer. Ezra Levant’s blog repeatedly mocked Giacomo Vigna, calling him “a clown and a buffoon.” He also accused Vigna of “fibbing” to the tribunal. And while those in cyberspace may think they have complete freedom of speech, Vancouver media lawyer Dan Burnett explains there’s a defining line. “As long as you’re reporting accurately and fairly on what is going on then that will have a legal protection, even if the statements being made are libelous of somebody.” Burnett cited reporters’ tweeting in court cases, parliament and public inquiries as examples of stating accurately what was said and by whom.
—Brett Bonderud 7
in Brief Right-leaning SunTV News rises amidst controversy The dawn of Sun TV News has finally come for Canadians but not without a fight. Quebecor’s newest media venture is currently available in Southern Ontario and is expected to expand across the nation this month, according to Sun TV employee Jessica Buck. She says news channel subscriptions will be available in August. But a “Stop Fox News North” online petition from American-based advocacy group Avaaz.org claims it’s an attempt by the Conservatives to “push American-style hate media onto [Canadian] airwaves.” The petition gained about 83,000 signatures and was addressed to CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein, cited as the “one man” who could prevent the rightwing news station from getting a broadcast licence. The station was spearheaded by Kory Teneycke, Stephen Harper’s former communications director.
— Ky l a C o r p u z New funding has campus radio station humming A grant from the nonprofit Community Radio Fund of Canada will allow University of B.C. campus radio station CiTR to hire a broadcasting coordinator. CiTR manager Brenda Grunau says the station couldn’t have created the new position without the help of the agency, which provides funding to non-commercial radio stations. The $8,795 went towards hiring the broadcasting coordinator to develop a training manual for live broadcasts, aimed at staff and volunteers. “When we apply for grants [elsewhere], we are at the bottom of the pile because 6
we’re always trying to fit what we do into their programs,” Gruneau says. CiTR’s programming ranges from hard news and social issues to alternative music and comedy. The radio funding agency is dedicated to the growth and sustainability of campus and community radio stations. It offers funding under two programs—Radio Talent Development and Youth Internship, each with $80,000 available. CiTR 101.9 FM shared $160,000 from the CRFC with four other non-commercial station—Nanaimo’s CHLY 101.7 FM, Nakusp’s CJHQ 101.7 FM, Kamloops’ CFBX 92.5 FM and Victoria’s CFUV 101.9 FM.
— P h y l i c i a To r r e v i l l a s
Vancouver radio stations seek frequency swap Vancouver radio stations 100.5 The Peak and Co-op Radio 102.7 will swap frequencies to “enable [The Peak] to compete on a level playing field in the Vancouver commercial radio market.” The switch is part of a $1.4 million agreement between the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group and co-operatively owned, non-commercial community radio station CFRO. Pending CRTC approval, Co-op Radio will get technical, marketing and financial support from the Pattison Group for five years. Broadcasts will be bumped from mono to stereo and the station will receive a virtually new transmitter. Co-op Radio president Marc Lindy says the move makes sense for both stations because Co-op has the frequency beneficial to The Peak, and The Peak has the equipment and the expertise Co-op needs. Gerry Siemens, The Peak’s general manager and vice-president, says the new frequency will help his station “reach lowlying areas and penetrate some skyscrapers and buildings in Vancouver, which 100.5 has some challenges with right now.” Langara Journalism Review 2011
And while Lindy says it was hard to put a dollar value on the frequency’s worth because the station “doesn’t own it and can’t sell it,” The Peak’s $1.4 million reportedly paid for engineering reports, legal fees, and the CRTC application. Additional funds went towards transmitter tower space, billboard advertising, and a yearly $125,000 cash advance towards Co-op Radio’s operating expenses. The CRTC is expected to announce a decision on the swap in late spring.
—Brett Bonderud UBC journalism school documentary accused of bias The University of British Columbia’s graduate school of journalism was licking its wounds this spring after a student-produced documentary was deemed unbalanced by CBC’s former ombudsman. The High Environmental Cost of Global Shrimp focuses on the impact of North America’s demand for inexpensive farmed shrimp and is critical of Thailand’s shrimp industry. The film came under scrutiny after a food scientist and translator with the project, Sally Ananya Surangpimol, complained to UBC. She accused the piece of being “biased and unprofessional” and said it had “numerous problems brought about by inappropriate editing and omissions of facts.” She also said some translations had been taken out of context. The journalism school’s ethics committee conducted an inquiry, calling in former CBC ombudsman Vince Carlin for an independent opinion. Carlin found the video—which contains footage of shrimp farming processes, waste-water run-off, depleted mangrove forests and dead coral reefs—“did not have enough balance” but did mention new Thai regulations aimed at curbing the problems. Mary Lynn Young, then-director of the journalism school, promised in a letter to
Canada’s archaic freedom-of-information legislation could be encouraging more Wiki-style leaks REBEKAH FUNK
rown envelopes are every investigative reporter’s dream. When one arrives, hands tremble with anticipation as a letter opener is rammed under the flap to reveal documents that may contain evidence of government and corporate corruption, classified military information, or perceived threats to public safety and the environment—the kind of material deemed by some to be too important to stay locked in filing cabinets or computer databases. And while snail mail is no longer the preferred method for anonymous leaks, online whistleblowers like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—called a “media messiah” by some and a “cyber terrorist” by others— have government leaders wringing their hands in frustration. Officials argue their “single-minded view of transparency and openness” is a threat to national security. But some freedom of information experts say both foreign and domestic governments have only themselves to blame for the public’s increasing demand for transparency. “There’s a natural drift in government towards secrecy,” says Stanley Tromp, a Vancouver-based freelance journalist and author of Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context. “Information is a source of power and prestige and profit and whoever wanted to give those up? “In governments’ point of view, WikiLeaks is completely unpredictable and uncontrolled,” Tromp notes. “[But] that’s the very reason that governments should get their own house in order and improve their FOI laws and their practices—so as to compete with WikiLeaks for the public trust and make WikiLeaks seem somewhat less necessary.”
Tromp has filed hundreds of provincial freedom of information and federal access to information requests, some of which have taken up to three years to yield results. He describes what’s gone wrong with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1983 Access to Information Act, which recently
LINA ZARATE photo
Secrecy: The system needs to change...
ranked last in a British study comparing similar laws in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada. “[Canada] didn’t move forward as the rest of the world did. Over 70 countries have passed laws since then and the Eastern European laws are far advanced of Canada’s—even former communist countries.” Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the non-profit B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, agrees with Tromp’s assessment. He says the act was inadequate from its inception, mainly because it disallows public scrutiny of cabinet documents. Even the information commissioner, the “impartial intermediary” Langara Journalism Review 2011
who ensures fairness in the government’s response to requests, is unable to view cabinet agendas, minutes, briefings, communications between ministers or draft legislation. Gogolek says in some cases this has lead to abuse within the system—labelling information a ‘cabinet document’ for lack of a better reason to withhold it. While the Harper government promised sweeping changes to the act during its 2006 election campaign, both Tromp and Gogolek say only part of one of Harper’s eight promises has actually been carried out. The Conservative government added public bodies such as the CBC and the Canadian Wheat Board to the scope of coverage—bodies Gogolek says “they’ve had their differences with in the past.” But he notes preceding governments didn’t do much better. It seems even journalists are growing disillusioned with a system the Canadian Press describes as reaching “crisis proportions.” According to reports by the CBC’s David McKie, media information requests dropped 23 per cent in the last year. Journalists made up only about 10 per cent of those asking for access to documents. The majority were made by businesses and individual citizens. Of the 35,000 requests filed last year, only 16 per cent resulted in full disclosure—compared with 40 per cent a decade ago, according to Suzanne Legault, Canada’s information commissioner. But others don’t buy into the theory that government secrecy is to blame for spurring on sites such as WikiLeaks. “I don’t know if the U.S. had been less secretive about ‘x y z’ that it wouldn’t have happened anyways,” says Chad Skelton, a Vancouver Sun reporter who files about 200 to 300 information requests a year. See TRANSPARENCY, Page 41 5
LAngara Journalism class 2011
Michael Mui Managing Editor
Brett Bonderud News Editor
Ashley MacDonald Production Editor Web Editor
Maxwell Addington Art Director Page Editor
Ashley Owens Associate Art Director Page Editor
Lauren Benn Photo Editor
Airika Owen Chief Photographer Advertising Manager
Shay Sinclair Photographer Page Editor
Lina Zarate Photographer Copy Editor
Rebekah Funk Copy Chief
Phylicia Torrevillas Copy Editor Page Editor
David Murphy Page Editor
The Langara Journalism Review An annual review of journalism trends and issues in Western Canada produced by journalism students at Langara college, 100 West 49th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 2Z6 www.ljr.ca w firstname.lastname@example.org Lee Dorner Page Editor
Kyla Corpuz Page Editor
Publisher/instructor: Rob Dykstra Contributing photographers: Jorge Posada, K.J. Dakin Contributing artist: Aaron Geeraert Writers: Michael Mui, Brett Bonderud, Ashley MacDonald, Lauren Benn, Airika Owen, Lina Zarate, Rebekah Funk, Phylicia Torrevillas, David Murphy, Lee Dorner, Kyla Corpuz, Anna Killen, Leasa Hachey, Michaela Garstin
Why being extra good at one thing can make your career
o be a journalist is to be a jack of all trades. A Renaissance woman. A polymath. We have always thrived in our role as generalists. And frankly, it is this adaptability, this willingness to embrace and understand new skills and ideas that has helped us cope with the massive changes to our industry. Sure, we’ll live tweet that event. You need us to shoot video or photos to go with the story? Absolutely. A web file in half an hour? No problem. Right? 4
Obviously, immediacy is important these days but our craft is in trouble when being first is given more value than being accurate, or when we are unable to fully unpack important issues because we are stretched too thin. Finding the time to file that freedomof-information request, leaving the desk to go to the scene of the crime, questioning the validity of a press release—simply, or perhaps not so simply, taking care to delve deeper, to go beyond and provide quality analysis—this is our duty to the public. In this world of do everything or do nothing, it is important to remember that rising above our generalist tendencies can go a long way. Thankfully, there are people we can look to who have carved out a niche to become masters of their trade. In this issue, see Leasa Hachey’s cover story on photojournalist Andy Clark’s Langara Journalism Review 2011
creative genius, or Ashley MacDonald’s in-depth look at crime reporter Kim Bolan for two examples of journalists who have excelled by taking the specialist approach. Reading Lina Zarate’s story on Latin American journalists reminds me that in Spanish the equivalent of the expression “jack of all trades, master of none” is Un océano de conocimiento de una pulgada de profundidada—an ocean of knowledge an inch deep. It is often difficult to find time to dive deeper than that inch but as our industry evolves, let’s keep in mind that going beyond the surface is fundamental to producing good journalism. Welcome to the 15th edition of the Langara Journalism Review. We hope you enjoy it. Anna Killen Editor-in-chief
Langara Journalism Review - 2011