l a n g a r a
2014 EDITION | No. 18
drone reporting The propellers of a new age are tangled in red tape
duncan mccue Bridging the gap between journalists and native peoples
major league trading Community newspaper deals reduce competition
the new slaves The hard choice for young journalists: working for free or not working at all
Jeani Read was The Provinceâ€™s first full-time rock critic, former lifestyles columnist and lifestyles reporter. Jeaniâ€™s socially conscious columns were collected into a book called Endless Summers and Other Shared Hallucinations in 1985. Jeani passed away of cancer on December 21, 2007.
Arlen Redekop/Courtesy of The Province
The spirit of thoughtful, inquiring journalism lives on. ENDOWMENT CREATES JOURNALISM FELLOWSHIPS The Jeani Read-Michael Mercer Fellowship for Journalism Students was established to encourage students to continue their pursuit of journalistic excellence through mentorship. This endowed fund provides four fellowships annually of $5,000 each. The successful applicants will receive support for approximately two months while they produce a major work of journalism, such as an in-depth newspaper story, or series of stories suitable for publication in a newspaper, magazine, or on the web. Journalism students may apply for this award in their final term. Fellowships will be awarded in the Spring.
2014 FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS:
For more information visit www.langara.bc.ca/journalism.
deal with issues of sex and sexuality.
Nick Eagland: working on a CBC Radio On the Coast series about the widespread addiction to prescription drugs within the Lower Mainland. Gavin Fisher: working on a CBC Radio Early Edition series on the challenges LGBT individuals face within ethnic minorities. Tyler Hooper: working on a Vancouver Sun special project about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on the general public. Vanessa Szpurko: working on a Vancouver Sun special project about how people with disabilities
Index 2014 || Issue No. 18 The Great Pretender p5 ‘Native advertising’ is designed to look like editorial. Is it meant to deceive the reader?
Not a Bird, Not a Plane p6 Who’s minding the ethics of drone journalism?
The Twitter Effect p8 Reporting in a 140-character world
Can You Spare a Dime? p9 Are there strings attached to crowd-funded journalism? P h oto
i l l u s t r at i o n b y
The New Slaves p20 Working for free under the guise of gaining experience is nothing new, but the “internship” concept is being pushed to new lows.
Are Paywalls Paying? p14 Charging for news on the Web is producing new revenues, but it’s not for everyone
Read All About It—For Free p15 For Vancouver commuters, it’s free newspapers all around
Right on McCue
Retooling for Leaner Times p24 As newsrooms shrink, do unions still carry any clout?
CBC’s Duncan McCue aims to bridge the gap between journalists and Canada’s indigenous people
Mazed and Confused
Digital Dangers p28
Facing the challenges of anonymous online threats
Governments may not control the media, but they certainly control the information
Nasty Comments p32 Is reader feedback on the Web helpful or harmful?
Post newspapers find a niche catering to Vancouver’s ethnic communities
Writing Environmental Wrongs
Newspaper Monopoly p34 The Glacier-Black swap means fewer community papers
Freelance journalist Arno Kopecky believes the environment is in danger and he wants to tell you why
Roy’s Last Laugh p35 Saying goodbye to the late Roy Peterson
Goodbye Post Presses p35 The fallout of the Kennedy Heights printing press closure
Pamela’s Perfect Job p36 Former news anchor Pamela Martin doesn’t regret the leap from journalism to political PR
Staying in the Loop p38 Kamloops’ “Armchair Mayor” serves up the scoops after the closure of his city’s daily LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 3
Jesse Adamson Page Editor
Dana Bowen Page Editor
Brenna Brooks Ass’t. Managing Editor
Ben Bulmer News Editor
Deanna Cheng Artist
Patrick Colvin Copy Chief Artist
Marie-Andree Del Cid Art Director
Puneet Dhami Photo Editor
Garin Fahlman Copy Editor
Kristen Harpula Managing Editor
Angela Holubowich Ass’t. Publisher Photographer
Brian Horstead Artist
Kayla Isomura Photographer Page Editor
Warren Jané Copy Editor
Jacqueline Langen Chief Photographer
James McLaughlin Ass’t. Art Director Page Editor
Quinn Mell-Cobb Page Editor Copy Editor
Kelci Nicodemus Page Editor Copy Editor
Langara Journalism Review
Dennis Page Page Editor
Jeremy Sally Page Editor
Niall Shannon Editor-in-Chief
Carissa Thorpe Copy Editor
Editor’s Note We live in exciting times. An ever-unfolding frontier of digital reporting, shrinking or closing newsrooms, young journalists expected to work for free—and, most recently, the use of drones to capture news images. These topics and more are explored in the 2014 edition of the Langara Journalism Review. While challenges lie ahead, journalism’s core mission—the search for truth—should never be eclipsed. Two years ago, the majority of us met as strangers entering Langara College’s
journalism program. Sharing a common goal, and the stresses induced by a heavy workload and constant deadlines, we quickly formed bonds of friendship— bonds that will continue well past the school experience. We may have lost some of our idealism, but each of us is determined to make a mark in journalism. We are proud of what we have accomplished in this issue of the LJR. We hope you enjoy what we have to offer.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org www.ljr.ca Publisher/Instructor: Rob Dykstra Design/Web Consultant: Fiona Rough Cover illustration: Kayla Isomura Writers: Jesse Adamson, Ben Bulmer, Dana Bowen, Garin Fahlman, Kayla Isomura, Warren Jané, Jacqueline Langen, James McLaughlin, Kelci Nicodemus, Dennis Page, Jeremy Sally, Carissa Thorpe
—Niall Shannon, Editor-in-Chief LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 4
mends families, makes beds By James McLaughlin
ewsrooms across Canada are celebrating the launch of the long-awaited Truthood Services, a daily resource that offers subscribers in-depth coverage of tomorrow’s top stories. Unlike other wire services, Truthood news pieces are researched and written exclusively by its owners, a consortium of anonymous investors. “I have never seen such brave, investigative storytelling in all my years. Truthood has allowed me to spend less time at work and more time with my children, whose names I can now finally remember,” says severance-package-winner Burt Singleton, a veteran reporter at the Morning Telegraph and three-time recipient of the Harold-Jones Award for investigative short feature. A Truthood subscription offers customers 10 to 20 daily news articles of various lengths with hourly updates. Thruthood is primarily concerned with business and politics, but also offers lifestyle and entertainment coverage to subscribers. As newsrooms undergo further cutbacks, supporters are saying Truthood is a blessing because it provides honest, transparent content, unfiltered through the hands of increasingly redundant middlemen. According to a study released last month by the Franklin Institute, 85 per cent of Canadians believe national news coverage has overt bias. Out of those surveyed, 73 per cent said they would prefer to have unfiltered news administered directly to their cerebral-opinionage. During a media address released yesterday on YouTube, a Truthood spokesperson stated that his company is committed to the provision of balanced content, vowing to not waste subscribers’ money with conspiracies like anthropogenic climate change and radical fringe union movements. “We have instilled in ourselves the public’s trust and we will not let them down. Our news coverage will not be influenced by special-interest groups with radical agendas,” said the spokesperson, appearing shadowed, and unnamed for security reasons. “The public demands dependable news coverage of the stories that matter to them. They do not want to go on a fishing expedition every morning to get the facts,” he continued behind a rostrum. “The public and the media alike have had their prayers answered.” Truthood members are well-respected in their communities, and with more than 1,500 collective years of job-creation experience among them, they are sure to be trusted.
The great pretender ‘Native advertising’ is designed to look like editorial. Is it meant to deceive the reader?
B y K ay l a I s o m u r a
he advent of so-called native advertising is seen as a new revenue source for print and online publications, but readers may find it increasingly difficult to differentiate between editorial content and advertising.
Native advertising—also called sponsored content or content advertising—is paid material presented in the form of a news or feature story. The material is often identified discreetly as a “Special Report” or “Special Feature”, or sometimes even as a “joint project” between the advertiser and the publication. Type fonts are similar or the same as those of adjacent editorial content. Sometimes the ad is not identified at all, a fact that Kirk LaPointe, executive director of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, says makes them potentially confusing for readers. “You’ve got to have real clarity about what this content is,” he says. “You’ve got to tell the audience that it’s directly sponsored and it comes from the behest of a particular advertiser and not at the behest of the newsroom. “If organizations are not sufficiently clear ... that the material is a paid spot and not something that is generated by journalists or by the newsroom, then it has the potential to really erode the credibility of that organization’s news content, because it’ll appear as a way to mislead the consumer,” says LaPointe, a former managing editor of the Vancouver Sun. Advertising executives say the point is not to confuse or deceive readers. “The goal is not to have someone look at something that is really an ad and have
them think it’s content,” says Clayton Moore, director of advertising at the Pacific Newspaper Group (PNG). Moore explains that native advertising is just a a rebranding of advertorials, where ads are also made to resemble stories, and have been used by print publications for a number of years. Online native ads can be even more deceptive because they are integrated into regular content. Tucked into the editorials, ad headlines and copy blend seamlessly into what looks like news. With declining ad revenues from print, news organizations are seeking new ways to sell advertising online. LaPointe says native ads are gaining popularity because they are effective in connecting advertisers to readers. “Digitally, it’s becoming hard to really determine the business model that’s going to make you profit,” he says. Because this type of advertising online is so recent, there is little information available comparing its effectiveness to, for example, online banner ads. “It’s appearing to be pretty effective, and most of the places that study advertising online are really pointing towards sponsored content as being a significant trend that is bound to grow in the years to come,” says LaPointe. But he has concerns about who is assigning and writing native ads, and whether their creation is commingling with the editorial operations of the newsroom. According to Moore, advertisers are responsible for writing their own content, but if an advertiser needs help writing an ad, advertising staff can help. Should the trend continue to grow and expand, questions about diverting resources to produce the material are sure to become a contentious issue.
. . . it has the potential to really erode the credibility of that organization’s news content . . . ”
LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 5
N t a Bird Not a Plane P h oto s
J ac q u e l i n e L a n g e n
Drones are touted as the new surveillance tool for journalists. But who’s minding the ethics? B y J e r e m y S a l ly
bove a grassy field tipped with frost, a translucent object zips above a clutch of bystanders. Gliding through the wind with pinpoint precision, bearing four propellers and emitting a sound like a swarm of bees, it looks like it could be from outer space. Instead, it’s Paul Baur’s home-crafted Arduino drone. Small, light and equipped with cameras, drones like his may soon swarm our skies. But with regulations and ethics clouding the horizon, journalists with drone-dreams may find themselves grounded. As operations director of Vancouver-based North Guardian UAV(unmanned aerial vehicle) Services Canada, Baur has done business with law-enforcement agencies, search-and-rescue organizations and fire departments. A hodgepodge of wiring and coloured plastics, Baur’s drone is nothing like the sleek, professional models in his company’s arsenal. But as it playfully whizzes above, Baur touts the usefulness of drones, saying they’re capable of revealing dangers and saving lives. “If there’s an industrial fire, we will send out a drone to inspect for hazardous chemicals and read what chemicals are on the property. Fire crews can then determine how to respond, which saves lives,” says Baur. “They are truly useful tools, for a multitude of careers.” 6 || LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014
Except journalism, which is one realm that’s proven to be too hot for Baur’s company. “Journalism is high risk,” quips Baur. “Flying over a crowded place for the sake of a news story is not in our interest.” He worries that reporters covering riots or crowded events could pose safety liabilities, as well as legal ones. “All it takes is one well-thrown stone,” he cautions. Baur’s safety concerns are shared by Vancouver journalist Alexandra Gibb. A graduate of the University of British Columbia’s journalism program, Gibb wrote her master’s thesis on drone journalism, exploring the possibilities and ramifications of their use. She believes that reporters walk an ethical tightrope when using drones. “One of my biggest fears is that journalists will adopt drones in uninspired ways. I’m a firm believer that tools should never dictate the stories we tell,” says Gibb, citing aerial car accident coverage as one potentially tempting situation. “Reporters need to ask themselves, is using a drone in the public interest or just sheer entertainment?” Another fear of Gibb’s is that journalists risk losing a personal connection with the people in the images. Images taken from afar of people in distress could cause a loss of context for both the reporter and their audience. “Just as drones gamified war, there’s a risk drones could gamify journalism,” says Gibb. “It’s possible journalists could become so immersed in the technology and getting that extreme shot, that they forget why they’re flying the drone in the first place.”
Removing the crucial human element may also gamify audiences, desensitizing them to shots of carnage. “Instead of seeing a traditional, boots-on-the-ground journalist wading through mud, blood and tears, asking questions of people, they just see aerial shots of destruction.” Besides hobbyists, drones are already being used by the likes of farmers, surveyors and forestry workers. At least two journalism schools in Canada are training future reporters on how to use the tiny flying machines for news gathering. But legal issues may clip the wings of drone journalism. In an email, Transport Canada spokesman Sau Sau Liu cited the need for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) for drone users intending to sell their photos or video footage.
“It’s got that real creep factor. Drones conjure up Orwellian images of hovercrafts spying on us outside our windows.”
— Alexandra Gibb According to Gibb, acquiring that piece of paper is a “very time-consuming process.” “You’ve got to submit a flight plan, prove to them you operate a drone safely and acquire insurance. Then you can only fly the drone within the parameters given.” Baur says this process is why both he and Transport Canada believe that nearly 90 per cent of drone flights in Canada occur without proper certification. Reporters, hungry for timely scoops, may be tempted to skirt the rules. Although the regulations pertaining to drone use are still a bit murky, they generally apply only to commercial use, which, as
Gibb notes, would not affect reporters who post footage online for free or donate it to news organizations. As well, airborne vehicles not being used for commercial reasons and weighing under 35 kg are classified as model aircrafts and are not subject to SFOC restrictions. But if reporters manage to clear legal and ethical hurdles, they must still contend with other concerns, such as privacy. Gibb figures that news organizations may hesitate using drones due to negative public perception. “It’s got that real creep factor,” says Gibb. “Drones conjure up Orwellian images of hovercrafts spying on us outside our windows.” Controversial drone strikes in the Middle East have also torpedoed public reception of unmanned aerial vehicles. Baur himself is less concerned about privacy. “We’re under surveillance 100 per cent of the time,” shrugs Baur, eyes locked on his vehicle as it soars above. “If a news drone were above me in a public place, I wouldn’t take issue.” LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 7
The Twitter Effect Today’s reporting means getting the news out in 140-character snippets. Just make sure your facts are correct
By Kelci Nicodemus
ack in the 1980s, when Province reporter Frank Luba was an editor at the Winnipeg Free Press, he would walk into the newsroom at 10 p.m. and with his collegues spend the night putting the paper “to bed.”
can be downloaded as an app on an Android or iPhone, as “an early update system.” “I’ll tweet a photo or a few details and say there’s more to come on The Province website.” If she’s at a major event, such as an important news conference where she’s required to take copious notes, Twitter
“I would be leaving when people would come in to plan the next day’s paper.” The next night the process would be repeated, and so it went six times a week. With the advent of the Internet and social media, there is no such thing as just one deadline. “There was no immediacy and there was no competition from anything like the internet,” says Luba. Today, there is a 24-hour news cycle and deadlines are constant, spurred on primarily by Twitter. The social media tool is coming in handy in getting information out quickly. A reporter can post 140 characters of information to the public, indicating she and the news organization are on top of the story—and to watch for more to come. Twitter can be helpful in monitoring information. Besides “following” potential news sources—politicians or athletes, for example—journalists can find tidbits of information through social media accounts such as ScanBC, which tweets out information from police scanners. It can also be used to gauge public opinion, or gain insights on certain topics through searches and hashtags. But where do Twitter and old-fashioned leg-work and note-taking meet? Stephanie Ip, reporter and assistant city editor at The Province, says she uses Twitter as a note-taking mechanism. “A reporter can go to a crime scene and can take notes,” Ip says. “What’s changed is that I’m putting out those notes on Twitter.” Ip says she uses the platform, which
“here will alwaysfollowbealonga newinformthat ofcurrentmedia,because and as part of the mainstream media you that’s the way it is.”
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aration between personal and professional in the Twitterverse. Journalists have to be careful not to jump on bandwagons and to make sure information is accurate. She cites an incident in 2009 where it was rumoured on Twitter that a six-yearold boy had floated away in a helium balloon. The story was a hoax concocted by his parents, but it was reported by a
— Frank Luba
will fall by the wayside. “If things start to pick up, the first thing I drop usually is Twitter updates.” Gillian Shaw, digital writer for the Vancouver Sun and Postmedia News, agrees. “You don’t want to be too busy making posts that you’re not doing your job.” Ip has different Twitter accounts, separating her personal views from her daily reporting. She uses another app called TweetDeck to help her organize both accounts to maximize her information intake from Twitter. TweetDeck displays different columns chosen by the account user, allowing them to separate accounts into separate feeds. This way, Ip can monitor her personal and professional accounts at the same time. She admits there has to be a distinct difference between what’s tweeted on a professional account as opposed to a personal one. “You can’t just tweet whatever you want. People follow my account because they want to hear about news and events.” Shaw says there’s more than just sep-
number of media outlets. Despite these perils, most reporters still consider Twitter to be a great reporting tool. “It helps in all kinds of ways. It’s another channel of communication,” Shaw says, noting that it allows her to reach out to a much larger audience. There are an estimated 75 million Twitter users worldwide, with about 3.2 million of them tweeting in Canada. “I wouldn’t be on it if I didn’t think it wasn’t worthwhile to be on,” says Shaw. “When I’m at events for announcements it is really great to be able to share; it really gives your audience a bird’s eye view of what you’re doing.” Luba agrees Twitter has changed the news process, but he sees it as a fad that will soon be replaced by something else. “They could not revive MySpace and it was replaced by Facebook, and now I’m told the cool kids aren’t doing Facebook anymore—it’s Twitter and Snapchat. There will always be a new form of media, and as part of mainstream media you follow along in that current because that’s the way it is.”
Can you spare a dime?
Some news organizations are using crowdfunding to underwrite their journalism. They say there are no strings attached
By Carissa Thorpe
arnessing the power of the Internet, creative types of all sorts are raising money for their projects through innovative crowdfunding platforms. Through sites such as Kickstarter, people, organizations and charities can make an appeal to the general public to support their cause, or to help fund a specific project.
Alternatively, if donors were not interested in pitching ideas, they could opt to have a short article published on the vancouverobserver.com, profiling their business or a non-profit organization of their choosing. These stories and photo packages look identical to the website’s editorial material, but they are identified as “sponsored content.” Clicking on the disclaimer label takes the viewer to an entire section of stories labelled as such. The respected news website The Tyee has devloped its own inhouse crowdfunding model, which cuts out the middleman costs of using third party sites. Known as With advertising revenues on the “builder program,” it allows supthe decline, some news outlets have porters to vote on what broad areas turned to these new funding sources they would like to see covered—for to give life to stories that otherwise example energy and the environment, might not see the light of day. Early or government accountability—or they this year, the editor-in-chief of the can let The Tyee editors decide. Vancouver Observer, Linda Solomon In just over a month of campaignWood, did just that. With so much ing last fall, The Tyee raised more than concern over the Alberta tarsands $107,000, surpassing its annual goal by and the proposed Northern Gateway $7,000. pipeline, Solomon Wood created the Geoff D’Auria, The Tyee’s digital “tarsands reporting project” on kickeditor and web manager, who also starter.com. leads the outlet’s fundraising efforts, It was a tremendous success. maintains that donors, just like adverThe news outlet surpassed its initial tisers, do not have an undue influence $32,000 goal, raising $53,040, which on content. allowed it to fund another project, an “The way we set it up was we accompanying documentary. wanted to know what general areas “It was really an amazing experirequired coverage, so it was broad ence of connection, of acknowledgeenough that we didn’t feel pressure— ment, of feeling that people not only I l l u s t r at i o n B y J a m e s M c L a u g h l i n like if somebody gave us $5,000—that understood what we were trying to we’d be like, ‘Oh, we have to cover this specific part of this area,’” do, but deeply valued it,” says Solomon Wood. “It had an enorD’Auria says of The Tyee’s efforts to safeguard against any undue mously energizing effect, not only on me as the leader of the organization, but on my whole team. And it provided marketing that influence from backers. “I think journalism has a strong and long tradition of separaI had not considered at all…a lot of people saw the campaign.” tion between the newsroom and the financial support,” he says. As part of the campaign, the Vancouver Observer offered “re“The one nice thing about it is we’re getting direct feedback from wards” for supporters, ranging from a book or t-shirt to allowing the people that we’re serving about what they want covered, so contributors to offer story ideas or join the editorial team as a there’s a real one-to-one relationship there.” guest editor. Although this new form of funding journalism has its challenBut are there strings attached? Should news consumers be ges—not the least of which is the amount of time it takes—Soloconcerned about having people with their own vested interests mon Wood says that “there’s no better way, from my point of view, fund—and thereby possibly influence—journalistic content? to be funded than by your readers and by the people in the world “I think that it’s always great to have readers to give input, to that care about what you’re doing as journalists.” have other people who don’t have their heads buried in journal“Nothing’s pure—there’s no way to get money in a totally pure ism. way that I know of, but this just makes the most sense to me. “Does it mean we’re going to do exactly what they say? No, Particularly if you’re not going to have a paywall or you’re not at absolutely not. We’re not going to publish anything that isn’t that level or you don’t want to do that,” she adds. something that we as journalists would be proud of,” Solomon Wood insists. LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 9
CBC’s Duncan McCue is working to bridge the gap between journalists and Canada’s indigenous people
By Warren Jané
alking through the halls of Vancouver’s CBC building, Duncan McCue looks right at home, and understandably so—the CBC has been just that for the past 15 years of his journalism career. If you’ve ever watched The National on CBC, you’re probably familiar with McCue’s work. He’s won several awards over the years for his news features, many of them about Canada’s First Nations issues. His commitment to voicing their concerns doesn’t stop with his journalism. He recently established a course called Reporting in Indigenous Communities at the University of British Columbia, which gives journalism students there hands-on experience geared towards reporting on and working with First Nations communities. Journalism wasn’t always the game plan for McCue. He first pursued a career in law with the aim of advocating for aboriginal rights, but soon found that one of the best ways to help the cause was to showcase their stories to the public. “I grew up in small town Ontario,” says McCue. “Peterborough was a great place to grow up. We talked about tadpoles and chasing after frogs and stuff—I had that kind of childhood.” His father, Harvey McCue, noticed his son’s exceptional ability to communicate even as a young boy. “He was speaking in full sentences by the time he was three years old,” recalls the elder McCue. “He engaged in a lot of adultlike conversations at a very early age.” McCue spent many summers of his youth on the Georgina Island reserve on Lake Simcoe with his grandparents. During the school year, he was the only aboriginal student in his elementary school. “Being native was always just a part of who I was growing up. My mom is white and my dad is Ojibwe but it was always an important part of our household growing up,” McCue says. “My dad taught native studies for a living and so we always had First Nations students hanging around our house. My mother recognized that I was half white, but wanted to make sure that I had pride in
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M c C ue
Photo by Jacqueline Langen
my native heritage.” In the early 90s, when he was studying English in university, McCue—who was writing for the student newspaper at the time— began seeing changes in the way aboriginals were being treated in Canada. “There were some pretty formative political movements going on in this country. People were trying to lobby for constitutional change, with the Charlottetown Accord and things like that, wanting to see recognition of aboriginal rights in the Constitution, and I was involved in those things by writing stories about it.” He began to see people reading the paper debating and talking about stories he had written—it was then that he came to the realization that the media has a lot of power in shaping stories and encouraging conversation on important issues. However, his desire to help indigenous people steered him towards enrolling at UBC, where he studied law. “The law has been so instrumental in changing the lives of indigenous people in this country and I figured that maybe becoming a lawyer would be a way to fight back, to advocate,” says McCue. “So that’s how I ended up in law school.” But his love for journalism did not die—he freelanced all the way through law school up until graduation, and even worked
Legal Clinic, where he helped people who couldn’t afford legal representation. At that point he was at a crossroads in his career—practise law or become a full-time journalist. In the end, his passion for telling the stories that would otherwise go unheard prevailed and he took the job at CBC. “It felt good to be able to assist them and to listen to their story and to do the best to advocate for them in court, so I loved all of those aspects of the law. Was it difficult to choose? Yeah, it was. It took me a good couple of months,” says McCue. “I didn’t realize I wanted to be a journalist when I headed off to university, but I started writing for my student newspaper and just loved it. I loved the writing, the putting together of the newspaper, trying to figure out how to tell a story and trying to figure out how to lay it out, painting the pictures and staying up until three o’clock in the morning trying to do all that.” As enthusiastic as he was, McCue’s lack of television experience presented a challenge. “My training with a camera consisted of all of two weeks and then I was on my own and was kind of winging it for the most part in terms of TV production. It was a really steep learning curve and thankfully the CBC was there to support and train me through that period.”
Photo by Jacqueline Langen
a few television gigs, including one doing commentary for a weekly segment on YTV News. In late 1997, in the wake of the Delgamuukw decision that saw Canada’s Supreme Court refuse to establish a definitive ruling on aboriginal land rights, he was approached by CBC to do a two-minute “man on the street” rant about what the decision meant to him as an aboriginal law student. Afterward, a producer asked him if he had any interest in being a reporter, but McCue was almost finished law school and needed some time to think about it. “I hadn’t at that point thought about being a reporter, but that’s how it all started for me,” says McCue. After law school, he went on to work at UBC’s First Nations
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McCue’s father was quite proud to see him taking the next step in his journalism career. “By the time he got the CBC gig, we were pretty used to him being on television, but it was still pretty exciting,” says Harvey McCue. “Both his mom and I were quite proud of him that he had made the big leagues into major reporting.” At that time, the CBC had a very strong emphasis on current affairs, with a block of the supper-hour news program called Cover Story—which showcased lengthy current affairs features occupying anywhere from five to 15 minutes of the show every night. “I loved that. I loved being able to sink my teeth into a longer
feature as opposed to doing quick, daily turnaround news,” he says. “That’s the stuff that I enjoyed and I kind of gravitated towards very quickly.” While working as a daily news reporter, many of the stories McCue would pitch were about First Nations issues. “I wanted to see more aboriginal voices on our newscasts and in our newspapers. It was just natural for me to be pitching aboriginal news stories,” says McCue. “All news reporters, we find the stuff, the fodder for our daily pitches from our daily lives—it’s the things that we see around us, the people we hang out with. For me, a lot of my story ideas come from the aboriginal community.” Before long, his features began getting picked up nationally, and after a couple of years, he became a regular reporter for The National. Eventually, First Nations communities started asking McCue to come and tell them how to work with the media. Journalism schools began calling to ask for advice on how to teach their students to work with and get access to indigenous communities. He was then offered a job teaching in the indigenous independent digital filmmaking program at Capilano University, following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an educator. He says the move was sheer coincidence, but rather fitting. “I’ve been called Professor McCue on a couple occasions and I think ‘Oh, is my dad here?’” he says with a smile. “He’s probably amused that I ended up going that route, to a certain extent. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but education has always been an important part of our family, and so it’s probably pretty natural that I ended up doing the teaching thing.” McCue continued to move forward in his second career, teaching advanced TV and multi-platform journalism courses at UBC. In 2011, he launched the reporting in indigenous communities website (www. riic.ca), a guide to help journalists who couldn’t attend his workshops tell better news stories about indigenous people. “It was my hope to provide a resource that they could dip into if they just needed a little bit of advice,” he says. “It’s a way to bridge the gap, to try to combine indigenous culture and newsroom culture in a way that will ultimately result in stronger stories and more meaningful stories.” Shortly after, he realized that there could be enough material to make up an entire course. But some of his colleagues were worried that it would be too difficult for students because of the historic distrust and, in some instances, the anger encountered by journalists going into aboriginal communities.
It’s a way to bridge the gap, to try to combine indigenous culture and newsroom culture in a way that will ultimately result in stronger stories and more meaningful stories.”
“I always argued against that—my experience working with indigenous communities has been that they are more than welcoming most of the time,” explains McCue. “It’s only when people treat them disrespectfully and people don’t recognize the historic problems that existed that the relationship begins to break down.” McCue’s father even had his own doubts in the beginning as to whether moving into teaching would be the best way for his son to make a difference in the indigenous community.
“I’ve since come around,” he says. “The emphasis that he’s putting on helping aspiring journalists become more sensitive and aware of aboriginal issues—I think that’s important and represents a very useful contribution.” In spite of any skepticism, McCue was given the green light to design the course. So in partnership with the Stó:lõ Nation and the Stó:lõ Tribal Council, he launched it in January of 2012. One day per week for one term, 12 to 15 students get a hands-on experience in reporting on issues faced by aboriginal communities. Each year focuses on a different theme.
Photo by Kayla Isomura
“It’s very much about getting their hands dirty, about getting them out into the communities to learn from the people that will really teach them firsthand what it’s like to report in indigenous communities,” says McCue. “The reason we tackle a theme is just to give our audience a broader perspective on one particular aspect of indigenous life, whether it be health or water and this year it’s youth. I have been thrilled, honestly, with the way the course has unfolded. I wasn’t sure when we started if it would be too much for students to operate in environments that are very alien to some of them. We all know what it’s like to go into any ethnic community that you’re not familiar with. It can be a bit uncomfortable; it can be disarming. And so I wasn’t sure how the students would respond.” Students have come from as far as Africa and India to take the course. Some graduates have moved on to jobs in parts of the country with large indigenous populations; for example one reports for the Whitehorse Star and one is a VJ for CBC in Labrador. McCue has high hopes that more aboriginal voices will be heard and reported on in a proper context. “One by one by one, there are students out there who are keen about indigenous stories and pitching indigenous stories and reporting indigenous stories and that’s fantastic,” McCue says. “I’m so happy to see my students out there—we have a responsibility as journalists to be accurate. We have a responsibility to be unbiased, balanced—all of those things—and I take all of those responsibilities seriously on a daily basis.” McCue would also like to see more aboriginal journalists in the business—and so he is happy the course had its first aboriginal student enroll this year. But the story is far from over. “We’ve got a long way to go … there are some positive things happening that are encouraging, and I think we’re going to see more and more and more and more indigenous voices in the media.”
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Are paywalls paying off? Three years ago many newspapers started charging for Web content. Are readers buying?
By Dana Bowen
hen the venerable New York Times introduced the idea of paying for news on the Web in March of 2011, it was a radical idea for mainstream newspapers. Who would pay for news when you could get it free on any number of media sites? Three years later, paywalls of some sort have become commonplace, with a number of dailies across North America following suit. Inspired by the Times’ model, it seemed like an effective way for the ailing newspaper industry to regain some of the revenues lost to a decline in newspaper subscribers, and an even larger loss in advertising. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 20132017, states that print advertising has dropped by $1 billion during the last decade. The report, issued in June of last year, forecasts that Canada’s newspaper industry will see advertising and circulation revenues drop by nearly 20 per cent within the next four years. Soon after the Times’ bold move, a number of Canadian dailies followed suit. The Globe and Mail set up a partial paywall in October 2012 whereby full subscribers through the so-called Globe Unlimited have access everything for about $20 a month, whereas the non-paying reader can only access videos, weather, fashion and limited news. Postmedia introduced a metered system for four of the company’s 10 dailies—the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, The Province, the Ottawa Citizen—where digital users have access to a limited number of stories before they are asked to pay. “You can’t spend millions of dollars on content and just give it away,” Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey said when he announced the new paywall system two years ago. “Otherwise, you’re not going to stick around.” Gary Hutton, director of distribution services for both the Vancouver Sun and The Province, says paywalls are inevitable for making money in online journalism. When readers balk at paying
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for news, he likes to point out that news is a product, and, like any other product, costs money to produce. “It’s just like how a baker’s product is bread. Our product is content,” Hutton says. There are variations on the metered model but the most popular is known as a “freemium,” which allows the reader to access a number of articles for free and then requests payment on a monthly or annual basis. The Sun and The Province allow readers 10 free articles a month before they must pay. The first month is 99 cents, but the price rises to about $8 a month thereafter. And so the industry is banking not only that readers are moving online, but that they are actually willing to shell out money to access their content, despite competition from their free-news counterparts. Hutton feels that from a readership perspective, the system has so far been a success, and that going to the meter model hasn’t deterred any readers from using the papers’ websites. The four Postmedia dailies involved in the user-pay model have brought in a total of 137,000 paywall subscribers during the past two years, with 45,000 of those being digital-only, according to Hutton. But neither he, nor anyone else contacted at Postmedia I l l u s t r at i o n b y D e a n n a C h e n g would provide details on the revenues involved, or comment specifically on whether new online subscribers are making up for lost newspaper subscribers. Not everyone agrees this is the way to go. Community newspapers such as the Richmond News won’t be introducing paywalls anytime soon. “Paying for the news lessens the usage of a publication,” says Tom Siba, publisher of the Richmond News, which, like most suburban community papers, is distributed free to all households. “If something is free you’ll more likely use it.” Siba says that although user-pay system could be a possibility in the future, he doesn’t see the need for it now. He says his paper’s advertising revenue and readership have held up well over the years and he doesn’t see that changing. His readers, he notes, rely on their community newspaper for local news. “It hasn’t changed because we are hyper-local. People can’t go to the Globe and Mail or CTV to get information on what’s going on [locally], unless something really big happens.”
Read all about it – for free
As Vancouver’s paid-circulation dailies go up against the freebies, newspapers are there for the taking
errace Desnomie wakes up three days a week at 4:30 a.m. so he can hand out free copies of the Vancouver Sun and The Province to Vancouver commuters. By 6:30 he’s positioned at the Canada Line’s City Centre station station. On cold, rainy mornings like today, he’s lucky to be inside where it’s dry and warm.
His counterparts handing out 24 Hours and Metro newspapers stand outside, dodging umbrellas in the dark of the early day. Desnomie, sporting a Seattle Seahawks tuque and black rayon jacket bearing the names of his newspapers, waits for the next rush of commuters. There’s a large stack of papers by the wall, and another at his feet. Every three minutes, a throng of people pass by and he’s ready with a smile on his face and an extended arm, eager to pass off another copy of the 1,000 papers he has to hand out each day. The only difference between these and the ones delivered to newsstands and subscribers is the banner ad that runs along the top of the front page. On this day the paper is brought to you by Lotto 6/49. On other days, it may be a different sponsor. While the so-called freebie dailies— Metro and 24 Hours—are normally gratis, the city’s two largest dailies are usually not. Each will cost you $1.50, a little cheaper if you subscribe on a monthly basis. But these days, with falling circulations plaguing daily newspapers, you have to give something away to get something back. In other words, Vancouver’s dailies are trying to lure in new readers. Newspaper hawkers such as Desnomie pop up on given days at different locations in the city. “We change it up by moving to different [train] stations,” says Jim Lepper, director of reader sales and services for Pacific Newspaper Group, the parent
By Dana Bowen company that operates the Sun and The Province. “It’s about exposing different communities to the papers.” Giving away the free newspapers is just another tactic to keep “the number of eyeballs on the page,” says Lepper. The Vancouver Sun’s average daily circulation stands at about 170,000, and The Province’s at about 158,000. The free dailies are not far behind at nearly 161,000 for Metro and 133,100 for 24 Hours. The difference is that the Sun and The Province are paid circulation sold via newstand or home delivery sales, whereas Metro and 24 are not. Lepper estimates about 10,000 PNG newspapers are handed out through the “hawking program” which happens several days a month in the spring and fall, usually targeting high-traffic Canada Line and SkyTrain stations. PNG has contracted with a company called Brilliant Solutions, which oversees the logistics and staff for the program. Brilliant Solutions’ founder and manager Maria Marlow says there are about 12 people like Desnomie handing out papers at different locations, each working about six hours a week. By comparison, Metro has about 70. Desnomie, a student by day, has worked for the company for three years, after initially spending five months on a waitlist. Although he says that he has never quite gotten used to waking up so early, the job is perfect seasonal work for him. “I think this is a great fit with school right now. I’m done work at eight in the
morning. Most people are just going to work at this time.” From the roughly 10,000 people who pass him every morning, Desnomie says he gets to witness all walks of life. “There are some people who completely ignore you and look down upon you,” he says. “There are those people who say ‘Hi’ just [to be] nice and people
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who avoid eye contact. You actually learn a lot about people in two hours.” Desnomie is grateful that he can do his work inside the station, instead of outside, alongside the hawkers from Metro and 24. That’s thanks to a contract between PNG owners Postmedia and Vancouver transit authorities that allows him and his colleagues to be inside the stations. Postmedia’s regional vice-president of reader sales, Jason Ludwig, says that papers are handed out inside to combat Vancouver’s wet weather and “enhance the experience for customers getting the paper, as well as for the staff.” LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 15
MAZED AND CONFUSED
I l l u s t r at i o n
It’s tough to get the truth when governments use PR and marketing to get the message out
By Dennis Page
lmost on cue, while talking about the interplay of public relations and politics in a coffee bar beneath his downtown Vancouver condo, George Affleck gets a tweet from a local business owner complaining about picketers outside her store. Can he come and talk to these people? Affleck tweets back saying he will. As one of three opposition councillors at Vancouver City Hall, it’s important for him to be available to his constituents, he says. Besides, this could look good on the six o’clock news.
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Affleck is no stranger to the media process. He understands the power of a seven-second sound bite. He was trained as a journalist and freelanced for several community newspapers before moving to CBC Radio-Vancouver where he was a reporter, producer and host for various current events shows. He is president, CEO and part owner of a marketing and communications company, called—somewhat appropriately—Curve Communications. Curve’s clients include the provincial government, Bosa Development, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, and the B.C and Yukon
Community Newspapers Association. As a city councillor, Affleck—ironically, given his profession—has complained about city hall’s burgeoning communications staff. He accuses the dominant Vision Vancouver council members of manipulating public information so as to spin it in their favour. He says it’s become the city’s communications strategy to restrict reporters from gaining direct access to city staff, instead forcing them to deal with designated communications officers. “It’s not about communicating, it’s about branding, and everything has to fit within their strategic plan,” says Affleck. He cites the city’s 2014 budget (which he voted against) as lacking in detail, unclear as to how and where money will be spent, and generally confusing to taxpayers—countering Vision’s view that the 120-page document is comprehensive and clear. “A budget is a spread sheet,” says Affleck. “Departmental line items broken down. It’s detailed. These things are standard procedure. What we got is a spin document. I know a spin document when I see one.” Reporters seeking information used to be able to call up a senior manager in charge of a department or project to get information and comments without having to go through communications staff, which, Affleck says, totalled five before Vision took power nearly six eyears ago, and is now at 22. He says having too many communications people actually slows down the information-gathering process. He suggests this is an intentional obstacle to designed to keep the lid on material not sanctioned by Vision. In a political sense, Affleck says he will take advantage of the city’s restrictive communications strategy. He is seizing this as an opportunity to get media coverage, and thus his views out to the public. “I’ll get calls about issues when they can’t get a hold of someone, and, of course, I feel that ethically I should absolutely make myself available,” Affleck says. “But I’m always going to put my political spin on it because I’m a politician.” Vancouver Sun reporter Jeff Lee, who has covered municipal politics for 28 years, says that while the public is getting more information than ever before, the messaging is more controlled. “The public is getting lots of information—an enormous amount—probably more than they could ever want. But are they are getting it driven to them by the
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city, or are they getting it from reporters who are getting it from the city? That’s a little different.” Lee recalls that in the 1980s, there was no communications department at city hall. The mayor’s press secretary helped facilitate interviews with staff. Reporters worked out of a press room right at city hall, which meant they could walk down the hall to interview officials. “It used to be that I could call up anyone who was writing up a report, or whose name was on a report, but today . . . that isn’t possible.” Lee says it is now difficult for reporters to get access to someone who has written a report, or someone who knows the specifics about an issue, and have them speak on the record. What happens instead is that reporters are directed to someone who is officially authorized to speak on the matter. Controlling the message is nothing new for political parties, says Lee, but
there should be a separation between the communications department and the political party in power. Without naming names, he notes that the city has drawn on the expertise of political communications people who previously worked at the provincial level. “Vancouver has become a lot more corporate and very aware of its image,” Lee says. Lee says a recent re-organization has made communications more efficient for the city, but it has made it harder for the media to get information. In today’s world of journalism, Lee says, “We don’t have the time, we don’t have the space, staffing or money, and there are many stories I am not getting to.” Vision councillor Geoff Meggs sees the communications practice followed by the city as being routine in the public and private sector. He believes reporters get authoritative and timely information through a process that respects council LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 17
policy, freedom-of-information and privacy rules. “No major organization allows line staff to respond on the record to reporters,” says Meggs, but adds, “where it’s appropriate, senior staff do talk to reporters and our communication staff often arrange those interviews.” Meggs is also no stranger to media. He has a background in journalism and political messaging, having worked as communications director for former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell, as well as for former B.C. premier Glen Clark. He did similar work for the B.C. Hospital Employees’ Union. He is president of his own company, Tideline Communications. Meggs says Vancouver’s communications staff, in fact, numbered more than five for many years before Vision mayor Gregor Robertson was elected, but they were dispersed throughout the system. It was in the lead-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he says, that they were consolidated into a single office and integrated more into the senior management team.
Meggs says for a billion-dollar-a-year operation, the communications group at city hall is quite small to handle the constant stream of media queries, as well as produce a large volume of outgoing communication through online sources, media events and other announcements. Affleck says he will continue to push for easier access to city hall information—and not by political spin. He proposes to start with some of the basics, such as speeding up the process of freedom-of-information requests, easier access to information on bids for city projects, and re-empowering staff to be able to communicate directly with the media. “The staff know the issues better than anyone else,” says Affleck. “If you are just giving the facts then there is nothing to hide. If senior staff members know the issues, why aren’t we letting them talk?” Last year, Affleck presented a motion to council calling for an investigation into the city’s media policies, including access to department heads and response times. It was unanimously supported, and subse-
quently the city’s communications department developed a survey to compare Vancouver’s media policies, FOI statistics and response times with 20 other cities in North America. Only eight responded, but out of those half said they encouraged reporters to contact official spokespeople rather than dealing directly with staff. A subsequent report, prepared for council by city manager Penny Ballem, states that Vancouver’s policies follow the best practices of other large organizations in the public and private sector. It notes that Vancouver has more than 60 people in various departments trained to deal with the media, and that 95 per cent of all media calls are closed within the same business day. The study also sought comments from journalists who regularly cover city hall. “They are experiencing acute frustration with lack of access to technical experts as spokespersons,” the report states. It goes on to say that steps would be taken to provide reporters with better access to senior staff and experts.
When spinmeisters call the shots
In B.C., the provincial government has become adept at providing citizens with information. Trouble is, it’s from the government’s point of view By Dennis Page
s governments at all levels employ marketing and communication techniques to spin their messages, journalists and citizens are left to figure out what is true, and what is not so true. At the B.C. provincial government level, the corporate communications experts move back and forth easily from private to public sector. Spinmeisters are everywhere. “We are at the point where the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and communications people have more power than even top cabinet members,” says Bob Mackin, a Vancouver-based investigative journalist who writes frequently about provincial politics. He says the Internet and social media have facilitated this process, as officials can now convey their information directly to people, conveniently bypassing the media. “The Internet has been a blessing and a curse. It has allowed our governments to adopt a corporate communications structure and isolate themselves,” says Mackin. He believes any increase in government communication as a result of the Internet comes in the form of public relations messaging, thinly veiled pro-government advertising and perpetual campaigning.
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Mackin started his career in journalism with an internship at a marketing magazine—which he sees as a valuable asset to his current work because it gives him some insights into the ways marketing and PR professionals work. He says the practice of manipulating information became particularly evident to him when he was covering Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic bid for the Vancouver Courier. As questions about the benefits for the host city in the face of a crumbling world economy and rising Olympic costs went unanswered, he began to see first-hand how public officials and corporations can influence the media. As he was digging for details, he says he often got the bureaucratic run-around while politicians triumphantly embraced the Olympic spotlight. A look at B.C.’s provincial government communications staff provides some evidence of the revolving door connecting the private and public sectors. Premier Christy Clark’s former chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool, has a background that includes lobbying for such companies as Enbridge, the Calgary-based energy company aiming to build an oil pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast, and thus set to profit from pro-pipeline messaging from
the provincial government. Education Minister Peter Fassbender spent more than 25 years as a senior partner at Palmer Jarvis, which for decades handled much of the advertising for McDonald’s, and has a history of government advertising contracts. Mary Dila, who owned Gordon Group, a marketing and PR company, was recently appointed as executive director for government communications and public engagement. David Hume, appointed to the same agency, was employed by CoCreative, a strategic communications and marketing company. While Mackin acknowledges that governments have an obligation to inform the public of their policies and services, he says, “There is a permanent campaign, and the increasing influence of corporate communications to give governments the tools to hold information and put information out there, in the same fashion as corporations that are selling products.” In Mackin’s view, not only is it tougher to get unbiased information, but there is potential for conflict when lobbyists move between politics and the private sector. He says this looks to the public like corporate interests are being put before those of citizens. As an example, Mackin refers to a 2012 bid by logistics giant Exel, which had hoped to secure liquor distribution rights in B.C., without competition, by using its close relationship with the B.C. Liberals’ liquor minister Rich Coleman. Mackin says he “found it quite deplorable that the government did not want to show us the benefits of this measure. Where were the cost-benefit analysts? Why not tell the people? As a reporter, we need to be questioning government and calling them on that and asking who is this benefitting— the public or the politician?” While most of the public remains unaware of the behind-the-scenes dealings between the private sector and government officials, journalists’ attempts to shed light on these activities become harder as newsrooms shed staff and government public relations teams balloon in size. Veteran political observer Vaughn Palmer, a columnist with the Vancouver Sun who has been covering B.C. politics for nearly 30 years, says the biggest obstacle for the press to perform its duty as watchdog of democracy isn’t a lack of quality journalism but rather the lack of resources and reduction of coverage due to shrinking newsrooms and remaining reporters being saddled with greater workloads. This
opens up opportunties for governments to call the shots. Palmer says with deadlines always looming, it’s easier to report on the “low hanging fruit,” such as ready-to-use press releases, than it is to spend time digging up information that the government isn’t interested in releasing. Meanwhile, B.C.’s Government Communications and Public Engagement office, formerly known as the Public Affairs
were destroyed or deleted. Such was the case when Boessenkool was accused of inappropriate conduct involving a female staff member. An internal investigation into the matter, conducted before the incident became public, produced no documents. The entire investigation was handled “verbally”, according to the Premier’s office. With no paper trail, there can be no scrutiny or examination of the facts. Similarly with the case of Liberal
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Bureau, has more than 200 full-time staff and a nearly $30 million annual budget. In 2011, while the office underwent a name change, new top staff where hired, including John Paul Fraser and Marcia Smith, both former lobbyists with National Public Relations, which has done work on behalf of big oil companies. Smith helped develop the B.C. Liberals’ energy plan, including a major development of liquid natural gas facilities. Former political reporter Sean Holman, who up until recently covered the B.C. political scene on his blog The Public Eye, says governments are resorting to an even more insidious method of manipulating information—claiming there is none. Holman, who teaches journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary, points to the now-frequent use of oral communication between officials to avoid leaving a paper trail. He notes that freedom-of-information requests being returned with claims that there are no producible records are on the rise. In fact, B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association recently reported that one in five requests for information come back claiming there are no records, or that the records were of a transitory nature—thus deemed unimportant—and
MLA John Yap’s admission that his former communications director, Brian Booney, used his personal email accounts for correspondence to avoid having to produce documents for freedom-of-information requests while working on the Liberals’ “quick wins” ethnic outreach strategy. Holman says governments on all levels operate too much in secrecy, which he feels puts a wall between officials and the media whose job it is to monitor them. He blames this dearth of real information, and the overload of hype, for contributing to the public’s lack of interest during elections, indicated by low voter turnouts— about 50 per cent during recent provincial elections and a dismal 35 per cent at the municipal level. “The public are beginning to realize their [low] level of political influence,” says Holman. “Why are they going to pay attention to a system that doesn’t pay attention to them?” For the average citizen seeking clarity and simplicity in understanding political policy and legislation, truth may be hard to find. And today’s ultra-lean newsrooms, up against sophisticated government PR machinery, means journalism characterized by regurgitated press releases and often-uninformed opinions.
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Paying your dues
without getting paid Young journalists face a hard choiceâ€”working for free or not working at all
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By Garin Fahlman
n the summer of 2012, Claire Seaborn was sitting on a porch with a group of students from the University of Ottawa, taking a much-needed break from the grind of classes and homework, and relaxing with a beer. Seaborn and her friends were talking about their futures and, like many of today’s university students, that meant complaining about bleak job prospects and jokes about working at Starbucks. A few of them had worked at internships, including Seaborn, and after talking about their experiences, she noticed a disturbing trend. Why didn’t any of them get paid? Weren’t they supposed to get paid? Seaborn decided to investigate further, and what she learned would eventually lead her to launch an organization that is starting to change the landscape for young Canadians who are performing work but never see a dime.
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Set up by Seaborn and a few friends, the Canadian Intern Association began life as an idea on a porch, but took off later that year as an organization dedicated to informing young workers about unjust employment practices, advocating for better enforcement of internship laws, and highlighting companies who are the worst offenders. Though Seaborn and her team are located in Ottawa, the group works with interns in cities across Canada. “Overall, students are unaware of their rights and don’t think the work they do makes them employees,” Seaborn says. “I see students not even surprised that they’re not being paid because they’re under the assumption that as an intern they don’t deserve pay.” It is common for students not to complain for fear of jeopardizing future job prospects, says Seaborn. This cultural acceptance of “paying one’s dues” is what’s most harmful to changing the state of internships. Many young workers are familiar with having to deal with unsatisfactory work conditions while trying to break into their field, but this is compounded in journalism by a steadily shrinking pool of legitimate internship opportunities that provide any kind of remuneration. With traditional revenue streams drying up, newsrooms are downsizing, and even young journalists who can command a paid position are having to fight hard to keep it. In difficult times, most newsrooms are opting to slash opportunities LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 21
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for new interns to protect full-time employees. Most daily newspapers have drastically reduced the number of paid interns, tradionally hired for the summer months to fill in for staff on vacation. An exception is the Toronto Star, which for the last 14 years has run one of the most successful internship programs in the country, with no plans to cut back. Dan Smith of the Toronto Star’s union was instrumental in installing the paper’s year-round internship program back in 2000. “There was no such program in the country then, and I don’t know anybody else in the country who does year-round internships that are fully paid,” says Smith. “Tons of people get hired from that.” Despite its success in providing young journalists with experience and money, Smith says that both the paper and the union originally resisted his idea. “Unions don’t like intern programs because it takes away hiring pressure from employers for full-time, permanent, ongoing, higher dues-paying members. So we had to 22 || LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014
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convince both the union and the company that an annual infusion of youth blood and energy, social contacts, and wherewithal was an important part of what we should be doing. It wasn’t easy. It took a year and a half.” Since then, every year the paper has consistently hired between two and four journalists who went through the paper’s intern program. But it hasn’t been entirely immune to the problems affecting the industry. “We’ve got lots of layoffs, too,” says Smith. “The Star newsroom is half of what it used to be. We’re at about 250 and when I first came down here it was 485.” Industry-wide cuts mean some media organizations have been more often turning to the work of unpaid interns to fulfill crucial jobs. For example, the Toronto-based Women’s Post magazine last year began looking for full-time unpaid interns to write, produce, and edit content, as well as do sales work. Reader’s Digest Canada offered unpaid internships that required applicants to agree to working full-time and providing integral print and web design
work. Both publications openly acknowledged that working for free was an uncomfortable offer. Seaborn points out that in most of Canada it’s actualy illegal not to pay interns, unless the experience is a necessary part of a school program. She says the laws concerning internships in B.C. are very clear, and it is the most likely place to find companies that follow them. “B.C. has the Employment Standards Act that states all positions must be paid at least minimum wage, and there are few exceptions. These laws are not new.” For companies that break the rules, the CIA has set up a “wall of shame” on its website listing those that offer illegal unpaid internships, and encouraging the public to complain. The association also has a “wall of fame,” which highlights companies that abide by the rules and offer “positive value internships.” “We see about 50 per cent of the companies featured eventually comply with laws,” Seaborn says. One of the most high-profile companies to get featured on the wall of shame was social media content management service HootSuite, headquartered in Vancouver. “The HootSuite case started on our wall of shame and was cross-posted to Reddit where it gained a lot of attention,” Seaborn explains. Following the Reddit thread, there was a lot of media attention around HootSuite and it eventually brought them to change their practices. Seaborn is always happy to see companies change their ways, but she advises that in cases like this, companies are more often simply ignoring the law. “Big companies can’t say that they don’t know the laws. They have lawyers that are on top of this stuff, yet HootSuite had interns sign contracts that guaranteed they would be paid nothing,” she says. “HootSuite is a for-profit company so what they did was illegal. There’s no getting around it.” Seaborn believes that the employment laws do not necessarily discourage companies from taking on interns. Often, companies simply believe that their resources are better spent hiring full-time staff. The Star’s Smith says sometimes the best work a young journalist can hope for is to become a temporary contract worker to fill maternity and education leaves. “Essentially they’ve become temporary employees for full-time journalism absences.” When newspapers simply choose not to take on interns, there isn’t much the CIA can do. However, a national organization known as the Canadian Journalism Project, an initiative to promote research, information, and discussion about the Canadian journalism industry, is working to put a spotlight on the industry’s employment practices. The CJP operates www.j-source.ca, a collaboration between Ryerson University in Toronto, Université Laval in Québec City and Carleton University in Ottawa, and is staffed by professional journalists and researchers. One such researcher is Nicole Cohen, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and the work and labour editor for J-Source magazine. Cohen has dedicated much of her career to researching labour, and has published an award-winning paper with Greig de Peuter and Enda Brophy for Briarpatch Magazine called Interns Unite! (You Have Nothing To Lose—Literally). “I think there’s a long history of journalists being asked to work for free, and you can point this out in other industries like film, any arts, or culture, or creative media industry. It’s sort of naturalized and normalized that you can just hire interns,” says Cohen. While opportunities such as those at the Toronto Star do exist, she notes that the possibility of being taken advantage of is
much higher for special-interest writers, such as those who cover fashion. “Fashion magazines actually do seem to be the worst culprits of internships in media, because a lot of the big lawsuits in the U.S. were interns from fashion magazines. Fashion magazines don’t have a large staff. How do you get into an industry that’s heavily reliant on connections rather than credentials, other than doing unpaid internships?” Cohen calls this kind of labour “hope labour”—doing work for free now in the hope of getting recognized and paid later. “Among professionals, too, you see writers willing to write for free to boost their brand, make some connections. I think we just need to rethink how we provide young workers with the hands-on experience employers say they need, and the connections they need to get paid work. It increasingly seems like the internship is not the right vehicle for that.” She also points out that, legally, interns don’t even technically exist. According to B.C. and Ontario laws, there is no legal distinction made between an intern and a regular full-time employee.
“ I think there’s a long history of journalists being asked to work for free, and you can point
this out in other industries like film, any arts, or culture, or creative media industry. It’s sort of naturalized and normalized that you can just hire interns.” Nicole Cohen “More radical people are saying ‘end internships completely, there should be no unpaid labour.’” But Cohen does believe that internships can still provide young workers with invaluable experience. “I think we need much more creative ways of figuring out how to give young people these skills that they’re looking for in an internship. We’ve reached a crisis basically, and we have to figure out a way to address it.” Smith says he encouraged the Toronto Star’s internship program because he believes internships are not only important for the young journalists, but also for the companies hiring them. “Cutting internships doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because they’re a lot cheaper than paying people like me. I just find it odd, because you need bodies. Tech change and social change happens so blindingly fast. “All the interns we get here are still pretty amazing. Hungry and way more experienced than I was before I started at newspapers. Far more capable.” He believes there are more of these hungry young workers now than ever before—the industry just needs to figure out what to do with them. “We still don’t know what the model of employment or staffing is going to be. There isn’t any model yet that allows for the continued existence of newsrooms that we know of,” he says. “So until that happens, it’s going to be a bit messy.”
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Retooling for Leaner Times
As newsrooms shrink, do media unions still carry any clout? B y J e r e m y S a l ly
t’s a crisp Vancouver morning, and Mike Bocking pauses to glance outside the boardroom window. Leaning on a plastic card table, the president of British Columbia’s media union recounts his journalism beginnings in the late seventies.
Vancouver’s downtown. Local 2000’s vice-president, Gary Engler, has designs on how his union can embrace new mass-media industries. “From where we sit, we’re surrounded by a substantial amount of people in the digital arts,” says Engler. “These are animators, game designers, people who traditionally aren’t union members.
“My idea was to go to law school. But, the UBC student newspaper was having a free beer lunch and well, I never left.” Bocking’s wide grin hearkens back to his first summer job at the Vancouver Sun, when he was fresh out of school. “Those were the days,” Bocking recalls. “That’s when the Sun took 14, 15 junior reporters for the summer. All were salaried. That’s not the reality many young reporters expect today.” Over the course of Bocking’s career, the skies have become cloudy for the news industry. Facing declining advertising revenues and competition from new media, the president of the B.C. chapter of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada is realistic about the situation. No longer are unions able to command the rich contracts that were so prevalent in the 1970s. “We’re in a transition period,” says Bocking. “The industry model, it’s broken. Traditional outlets cannot sustain themselves anymore and we’re not sure where we’re all headed.” Media union Transition has long been on the minds of CEP Local 2000. In addition to industry realities, the CEP has had to deal with those facing labour unions. Just as traditional news readership has declined, so too has labour union membership, prompting a major union merger. In August 2013, the CEP merged with the Canadian Auto Workers union to create Unifor. This “super union” represents around 300,000 private sector employees, including forestry workers, fishers and manufacturers. Some members within the CEP worried that this union wouldn’t serve their interests effectively. “People were concerned that our voice would be drowned out. There were worries in our local, and from journalists that we’d be swallowed up, losing our independence,” says Bocking. But pointing to a number of historical union constitutions that adorn the office walls, Bocking is confident that the CEP, which traces its roots to one of the province’s oldest unions, will continue to retain its uniqueness. “Our union over the years has merged with many other publishing unions. We think of this as merely a continuation of our history.” Sitting in Local 2000’s boardroom, it’s evident that the union is looking to the future. The floors are strewn with boxes and cartons as the union has just moved to a new location in the heart of
About 20,000 of these people are in the province, many of whom are walking distance from this office.” Unifor intends to court these people by pioneering an initiative called community chapters. Engler says this initiative is, “a new way to join a union.” Describing it as a hiring hall, it would begin
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P h oto boss
Mike Bocking: “Those
K ay l a I s o m u r a
w e r e t h e d ays . . . .”
as a place where professionals can network and collectively purchase benefits at group rates. Dues would be collected monthly at $10 for those who are employed, $5 for those who aren’t. He likens it to the Canadian Freelance Union, Local 2040, a similar initiative that was also created by the CEP. “You could call this ‘union lite’,” chuckles Engler. “Some people are wary of unions. This creates an opportunity to get accustomed to many benefits of belonging to a union, before taking the last major steps of workplace certification and collective bargaining.” Engler hopes that as these chapters grow, they’ll become pools of specialized labour that can collectively negotiate rates with employers. Companies that require people with specific skill sets will be compelled to recruit from the chapter, leading to higher wages. Bocking says that despite industry uncertainties, he believes the union remains a major force in publishing and is still the best choice for representing workers in traditional outlets. “It’s not all doom and gloom. We still have good contracts. We still represent employees at the major dailies and at many community papers,” Bocking reassures. “We won’t see a strike that lasts nine months like the Southam one back in 1978—that’d kill a paper nowadays—but we do negotiate hard and our members are paid well.”
Cultural Coverage Post newspapers find a niche catering to Vancouverâ€™s ethnic communities By Jesse Adamson
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s executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post, South Asian Post and Filipino Post, newspapers catering to Metro Vancouver’s most prominent immigrant communities, Jagdeesh Mann understands his readers comprehend certain cultural issues that readers of mainstream newspapers might not.
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Jagdeesh Mann: “We
wa n t t o p r ov i d e
a n a lys i s o n i s s u e s t h at a r e r e l e va n t h e r e i n
C a n a d a .”
“ I am Chinese. My family is Chinese. So we want to hear about the things that affect us the most.”
— Anita Kwong
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“Let’s talk about honour killing,” says Mann. “In the South Asian community, this is a problem. The idea being that it is permissible to kill your daughter if she goes outside the family or falls in love with someone she shouldn’t, according to her family. This issue—it’s a salvation issue, it’s a cultural issue, but of course it’s also a Canadian issue. When that happens here, it has an impact on everybody, not only the people in the South Asian community. We would cover this story knowing that [South Asian Post] readers already have a level of knowledge when it comes to this.” The issues discussed in the Post aren’t always this extreme, but cultural differences still exist. “We try to include different layers and voices involved in issues that are still closely tied to immigrant communities,” Mann says. “They still haven’t—I don’t want to say fully integrated—but they still have a very unique cultural background, which is different than the rest of us, so these issues should be discussed.” Representing 41 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s visible minority population, the Chinese community is the largest ethnic group in the area with 381,000 people. The second and third most prominent immigrant communities are South Asians, with 250,000 people, and Filipinos, with 80,000. It is no coincidence that the three newspapers cater to those three ethnic groups. Each newspaper plays a major role in its respective community. The Asian Pacific Post is the only English-language publication in B.C. catering to people of Chinese origin. Its sister papers, the South Asian Post and the Filipino Post are the largest publications in their markets, the Indo-Canadian community and the Filipino community. The papers aim to serve a readership that isn’t served by the city’s English-language dailies or local community papers. Surrey resident Anita Kwong, an avid reader of the Asian Pacific Post, says that other newspapers do not pay the same kind of attention to the stories that impact her community. “I enjoy reading [the Asian Pacific Post] because they focus on the stories that affect our community the most,” says Kwong. “I am Chinese. My family is Chinese. So we want to hear about the things that affect us the most.” Mann says he embraces the responsibility of being the go-to news source for many people in these ethnic groups. “First and foremost, I think [the newspapers] play a role of being informative as well as being empowering. We want to provide analysis on issues that are relevant here in Canada and also to provide information in such a way that it also empowers readers to improve their lives.” Although many of his papers’ stories assume a cultural understanding on the part of the reader, Mann notes that sometimes stories have to explain a Canadian or North American perspective on an issue. “There has to be some context for some of our readers. Maybe they don’t know all the information or understand the import-
tance of trees in Stanley Park, for example, and why those trees shouldn’t be cut down. Maybe some of our readers don’t have that mindset because they come from countries where parks and nature isn’t so revered. [The environment] is a very prominent issue in this area and we do cover it but our coverage would probably be from a different perspective than what you would see from the mainstream [news].” Because they are catering to a specific audience, Mann doesn’t see his newspapers as being in competition with the city’s two largest dailies, the Vancouver Sun and The Province. “It’s more complementary than competitive,” he says. “We don’t see it as an adversarial relationship with the mainstream media. They have their own readership; they have their own perspective on issues, but they don’t often do a great job of paying attention to the issues that are relevant to these larger immigrant communities, so we don’t see it as a competition. More often than not, we work in partnership with The Province or the Sun, whether we’re trading stories or putting together special editorial features.” Kwong confirms that she also gets her news from other publications. “I read the Asian Pacific [Post] the most, but I do sometimes read the major newspapers just to get a different view,” she says. The three papers are distributed free to their respective communities, and are also available online. Mann says the Asian Pacific Post has an estimated 160,000 weekly readers and the South Asian Post is close behind with 150,000. The smaller Filipino Post has about 85,000 readers. Although each paper is distinct in its focus, some stories are duplicated in all three. For example, a recent story on the South Asian Post website about gangs in India turning out fake degrees is found on all of the sites. Other stories are targetted, such as a story in the Filipino Post about the tensions between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The print versions operate in the same manner, with some stories duplicated while others— particularly stories on the front pages—targeted to the relevant readership. Although some stories deal with politically or culturally sensitive matters, Mann says the papers do not often get embroiled in these issues. Instances of negative reactions from readers are minor, he notes, and usually nothing beyond letters and phone calls. He attributes this in part to his commitment to fair journalism. “If there was any sort of a feeling of alienation, it was quelled because the publication first of all is in English, so it’s accessible to everybody. And secondly, it is not possessing a viewpoint which is pro-Chinese or pro-anything. It is just presenting news that is relevant in Canada to these immigrant communities.” While being relevant to readers is always paramount, Mann explains that readers consume news in different ways. “It comes down to an active or a passive relationship with how you get your news. If you are actively seeking out news week after week, then you are willing to walk that extra 25 metres from the SkyTrain station to pick it up, grab a coffee and take it with you and hold on to it to read it at lunch. Or, you could have a passive relationship where if it comes across your path, if you stumble
across it at the desk where you’re having a coffee, you might pick it up. Most readers will be open to anything that comes across their path.” In recent years, it’s been harder and harder for newspapers to capture and maintain their readers, and consquently advertisers and the revenue they bring in. Mann is well aware of these problems, but he is convinced the specialized papers have an advantage. “There is a lot of change going on in this industry. Obviously, with the rise of media on the Internet you are seeing a movement of advertising dollars away from print and toward digital. It is having an impact. It’s hitting the mainstream papers. It’s hitting the larger dailies. It’s hitting the community newspapers. A lot of the money that was once dedicated to print is now being scaled back and moved elsewhere. “For a publication like [ours, that] serves a niche audience who closely identifies with that niche, we are still viable,” says Mann. “The mainstream, which tends to cover larger areas of interest, has a different sort of challenge of maintaining their relevancy. At this moment, it’s kind of hard to say what is going to happen to them 10 years from now or 20 years from now. It’s kind of a big question mark. Basically, it’s a possibility that Vancouver doesn’t have a daily newspaper in 15 or 20 years.”
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Even though the media landscape is changing, Mann believes print will remain. “I think print is always going to have a place, but it’s just a medium, no different than radio or television or the Internet. It’s not going to have that place where something would happen and we would have to wait until tomorrow morning to pick up our newspaper and read about it. It’s not going to be a source for instantaneous news, but it can be a source for analysis and also as record, a way of keeping community records and providing profiles of different individuals within a community.” Plans for the Post group to expand into other ethnic communities in Metro Vancouver are not currently in the works, according to Mann. “If anything, we would look to expand to a different market, in a different city,” he says. “But for the moment we are pretty satisfied with where we are.”
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Digital Dangers Anonymous threats are easy to make on the Internet, but some reporters say they’re not really worried
By Warren Jané
nline journalism and social media—tools that once seemed so new and exciting—have become familiar parts of our everyday lives. For journalists plying their trade since the last millennium, the game has definitely changed—but not always for the better.
let them know the seriousness of her complaint against them. “I’m not looking to see people charged or put in prison if there’s no need to do that. If people understand that it’s inappropriate to threaten someone and that there will be consequences, I’m okay with them getting a warning and leaving it at that.”
The Internet age has created a new breed of news consumers. Blogs and comment sections have attracted younger readers and the ability to instantly share feedback on a story has replaced the classic letter to the editor. While many use these platforms as a means to promote community discussion, there are some who feel that online anonymity gives them the freedom to threaten the safety of others, including those who report the news. Journalists have been subjected to safety concerns for as long as stories have been reported. While the Internet certainly opens up the lines of communication and makes journalists more accessible, it can also make threats easier to track. As long as the proper course of action is taken in serious cases, most journalists need not fear for their safety. Kim Bolan, who works the Vancouver Sun’s crime and gang beat, has experienced a few threats and nasty comments. Her blog, The Real Scoop, allows readers—who run the gamut from average citizens to gang members—to post under aliases. “I do cover a rather contentious beat, being gangs and organized crime. Generally, reporters that have this kind of a beat do get the occasional threat,” says Bolan. “The flipside of that is, if someone is feeling that hostile towards me, I’d rather know it. Because someone could be thinking or saying or plotting things about a journalist or anyone else in our community and if you don’t know what’s going on, you have no way to safeguard against it. So personally…I’d rather know that so that I can take appropriate measures to deal with it.” Bolan says her first step in assessing a threat she deems serious is to discuss it with one of her editors. The next step is to take the issue to the police, submitting the message’s content, the commenter’s IP address and a statement outlining the circumstances surrounding the threat so that the offender can be unmasked. Once the police get a production order to investigate the IP address in question, they can zero in on the geographical location of the computer it originated from. Bolan says she’s had a couple of cases that involved people in other parts of Canada where law enforcement followed up and
I don’t think that there is any increased concern about safety. I just think that people are more vocal and they’re more willing to respond to stories ... Anybody with access to email or any form of social media can easily respond to stuff.”
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—Keith Fraser Keith Fraser is in a similar position covering the court beat for The Province, but doesn’t feel that online threats carry much weight. “Anytime you get an email where somebody’s angry at you, you just sort of have to assess it on the basis of what somebody says to you and go from there,” Fraser says. “Just use your common sense as to whether there’s any validity behind it. “I don’t think that there is any increased concern about safety. I just think that people are more vocal and they’re more willing to respond to stories. Anybody with access to email or any form of social media can easily respond to stuff. You have to take the good with the bad. Whereas before the Internet age, the only real avenue was a phone call . . . now everything is instantaneous. People can fire stuff off at you. In some cases, it’s ill-considered and in the heat of the moment, but I don’t think there’s an increased threat out there because of social media.” Bolan, who, despite having received death threats because of her work, insists there is a lot of unnecessary hype around her interactions. “I pay attention to the things around me, but I don’t live in a constant state of paranoia.” Bolan credits the contacts she’s made since she started her blog with much of her success. She feels that the open lines of communication have allowed for more efficiency and accuracy in gathering information, and that the advantages of online journalism and social media far outweigh the negatives.
Protecting the planet one story at a time
Freelance journalist Arno Kopecky believes the environment is in danger and he wants to tell you why
S t o ry
and photos by
ccording to author and global traveller Arno Kopecky, journalists need to tell stories that create a sense of urgency, especially when it comes to something as important as the environment. By putting scientific and environmental evidence into a perspective the average reader can understand, journalists can create a sense of immediacy.
“It’s about capturing public imagination and getting this sense of urgency now,” says Kopecky, who freelances from his home base in Squamish, B.C. But he knows it’s not always an easy quest. “How do we translate what is still sort of an abstract idea into something urgent?” Kopecky has a quiet passion about exposing what he feels are environmental wrongs. He has written two books on the subject, as well as magazine articles dealing with the impact of resource development on the ecology and on local communities.
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“I see the environmental status of the world as the story of our times, especially because we here in Canada are not at war and our lives are not threatened,” Kopecky says. “We have the luxury to think about these further-down-the-road problems.”
felt like they were being reported inaccurately. I felt like there were power structures in place that were unjust.” Despite his mistrust of mainstream media, Kopecky does offer that there are a number of good journalists producing
“These stories are important, but not narratively compelling because they don’t have people in them .” As we sit in a coffee shop on Vancouver’s busy West Broadway strip, Kopecky admits he never really wanted to be a journalist. “I had a lot of scorn for mainstream media, and still have a lot of healthy skepticism.” He believes that most media have a tendency to deliver what he calls “pseudo-news,” and that they miss important aspects of the story. “Most newspaper stories, I felt, missed the point, or oversimplified,” he says. “Keen to the injustices of the world, I
informative subject matter. “There are a lot of amazing journalists who are so hyper-aware and are shouting it out in the mass media as well; that’s the part I would like to become a part of.” Kopecky graduated from the University of Victoria in 2002 with a degree in creative writing and environmental studies. He was intent on writing about the environment, but his instincts steered him away from pursuing the life of an everyday reporter. Instead, he sought to develop a niche in long-form journalism, and to that end he interned with several high-profile magazines, including The Walrus and Harper’s, followed by two fellowships that took him to Africa and South America. Since then he has contributed to other publications, including the Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest and Foreign Policy. Kopecky, who is 37, says his parents were pleased to see him interested in journalism, but they were skeptical of the economic rewards, calling it a “financially dubious decision.” “My dad has actually undergone a left-wing revolution in his late 70s … all the values that I hold high he really holds high, as well. I think maybe I was a part of that.” Writing stories involving scientific information is a challenge, Kopecky says. Science generally lacks a human element, and the goal is to tell compelling stories that relate to an audience. “These stories are important, but not narratively compelling because they don’t have people in them . . . and that’s what we’re hardwired by evolution to be interested in,” he says. “It’s becoming easier now because climate change is having a human impact.” Kopecky feels he has found a “confluence” for his writing with a focus on the environment, international issues and the
rights of indigenous people. Kopecky grew up in the urban landscape of Edmonton, where nature is not always abundant. But he identified with the city’s surrounding countryside at a young age. When he was seven he wrote a poem about drought affecting farmers’ crops, a sign that he already had some sort of environmental awareness. Today, he feels society is generally more aware of environmental issues, partly due to an increase in scientific research and partly through the spread of information by means of stories such as his. “The idea of environmentalism is new, and it’s a really big sign of success that it’s taking root. The next step is to translate that in much more serious fashion,” he says. Last year, Kopecky turned that step into a stride when he published The Oil Man and the Sea, his second book, which depicts the story of an investigative voyage he and photographer Ilja Herb took along the coast of British Columbia en route to the Great Bear Rainforest. The underlying issue in this book is the environmental and social consequences of the proposed Northern Gateway project, involving the construction of a pipeline that would carry Alberta’s heavy crude to the West Coast. His first book, The Devil’s Curve, describes the environmental damage caused by resource extraction in the Amazon Basin. “With all of the parallels, it really leapt out at me that [The Oil Man and the Sea] seemed like a Canadian sequel to The Devil’s Curve.” Kopecky and Herb set out in June of 2012 and sailed for three months on Herb’s 41-foot cutter, “Foxy.” Kopecky decided at the start that he would write about complex subjects such as resource extraction, oil pipelines and climate change in a way that would appeal to the average person. So he focused on the people involved in the issues, such as those living along the pristine coast—especially First Nations— as well as the scientists involved in various research projects. Kopecky admits at times he and Herb felt like interlopers when they visited First Nations communities. “We were a little bit nervous about being two white guys going into these reserves with cameras and wanting to hear people’s stories. They’ve been so invaded already.” In reality, the duo was consecutively welcomed with “wide-open arms.” “If you just show up and meet people, it’s like everybody’s friends and we have so much in common. To realize at a human
level, that the relationship is easy to nurture says something about what we can do at a political level.” The abundance of wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest exceeded Kopecky’s expectations. Upon encountering the forest’s salmon, bears, eagles and owls, he was amazed at how the world was on display. “Getting up to speed and paying attention to these issues is the critical first step, and as you get interested and feel strongly about something, you will find ways to get involved that are good for you.” Although the book has yet to be the catalyst of any major environmental movement, Kopecky says some readers have been “remarkably receptive” of his ability to communicate the environmental and human issues. “Whether your writing ever has any impact on the real world is a question that’s very difficult to answer, Kopecky says. “I’ve heard from a few people that it made them hopeful, which, to me, hope is a weapon.”
When asked what he wants readers to take away from The Oil Man and the Sea, Kopecky answers: “The whole point of writing a book is to come away with a slightly enriched or different perspective of the bigger picture. Start thinking not just about Northern Gateway but start looking at cumulative effects.” Kopecky’s advice to young journalists is to look beyond the surface. “Pay attention to what you don’t see … think about what’s hiding behind the curtains and what’s influencing people.” He believes the responsibilities of journalism are not to be taken on casually. “Citizen journalism is a nice idea and all, but anyone who actually understands what journalists do—seeking out the information—that takes time and energy to get to, which you can only do if that’s your job. It’s not like you can just do it after work, or over a coffee.” Ultimately, Kopecky remains optimistic about the planet. “We’re so adaptable as humans, we just absorb it and move on.”
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he age of new media means people are no longer content to have a passive relationship with their information sources, be they an old-fashioned newspaper, the six oâ€™clock news, orâ€”more likely these days, the palm-sized smart phone streaming news in high-def video. The digital age has changed the culture of how people relate to the news. News is now interactive, more
democratic, meaning anyone can offer an opinion as quickly as he or she can send a text or tweet. This phenomenon is a powerful global unifier, but it can also be an ugly, immature, and offensively unfiltered platform for vitriol and alienation. Gillian Burnett, digital editor at the Vancouver Sun, says the relationship between news consumers and news providers has definitely changed, and it is her
job to manage that relationship. Burnett finds it fascinating to experiment with tools that allow new ways to present stories and facilitate audience engagement, although she agrees that it’s not always a positive experience. “I had to monitor comments in my first web role working at The Province newspaper and for many reasons that was not a very gratifying job. Monitoring anonymous comments is not a lot of fun, and not a very healthy place to hang out. I really don’t cherish the idea of making anyone do that job.” Both the Vancouver Sun and The Province’s websites contain comments sections after the stories, where readers can instantly
people feel less responsible for their actions. Postmedia, the company that owns the Sun and The Province, uses a Facebook plugin for its comments section in an attempt to address this issue. “Changing to Facebook dramatically changed the way that people respond to stories and the level of discourse that happens,” says Burnett. “There is less volume of reader interaction, but the interaction that happens is a much higher quality.” Rolfsen agrees that forcing users to attach a name to their comments has lowered the amount of “drive-by” racism, homophobia, and general “wackiness”. The potential for committing libel online is another concern. Because legal precedents are still evolving and legislation has not yet caught up, the area can be a bit of a minefield. “I believe Facebook had been sued by various people for allowing certain highly libellous comments to be made on their platform,” says Burnett, who, for that reason, still has staff at the Sun moderate comments as a precaution. The Province, however, has done away with comment moderation. As Rolfsen states, “Our legal advice has always been, if you are not moderating comments and you’re just allowing readers to publish them unfettered, then technically you’re not publishing them. It’s the reader that hits the ‘send’ button that’s publishing it.” The fact that two newsapers owned by the same company can have different policies shows just how much the law in this area is still in its infancy. There are also many positives coming from reader feedback, as Rolfsen points out. “Comments will occasionally tip us off. Every so often you get the online equivalent of the brown paper envelope, where somebody’s read the story, they know something, and then they’ll chime in on the comments. I’ve seen evidence that people get quite a thrill out of being able to go back and forth with the people who write the stories and the people who have access to the high-profile personalities. It’s good for the readers but it’s also good for the journalists. If you’re willing to spend time in the comments section I think you’re a lot more likely to get stuff coming to you from them.” Burnett agrees. “I think this style of communicating with readers is absolutely the way to go. If you can have a conversation in real time with other people who are interested in the same subject you are, then that’s fantastic. I think it’s transformed the nature of people’s interactions.” “It’s the only way to do it now,” Rolfsen adds. “The audience is certainly talking to each other more than they ever have, and I think it’s important for journalists to be aware of what’s being said. Just like it was a big part of our job in the past to watch the newscast and read all the papers, all that stuff is happening on social media and in comments sections now.” Both say they are confident that, in time, these systems will mature. Journalism’s transition to the Internet has been awkward and entirely unlike anything encountered in a traditional newsroom, but Rolfsen says there’s at least one thing about comments sections that has remained the same. “What’s surprising is the amount of people who take one look at the headline, maybe glance at the first paragraph and boom, out comes the opinion. But they’ll clarify things for each other if they have to, sometimes politely—sometimes not so politely.”
Negativity The interactivity of the Web means everyone has an opinion. Some get downright ugly By Garin Fahlman P h oto
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publish their thoughts, visible to all. And because of the low barrier to entry, these comments can sometimes raise more eyebrows than the stories themselves. Erik Rolfsen, Burnett’s counterpart at The Province, has had a similar experience with the Internet. “You kind of shake your head and wonder about the future of humanity at times,” he says. “It was an eye-opener for me in the beginning just how much racial stuff there was out there in the Lower Mainland. We always pride ourselves around here about being a pretty tolerant society, like ‘Oh, we’re not racist and that kind of thing doesn’t go on here,’ but it’s clear just from reading the comments section of our paper there’s way more out there than anyone thinks.” The aggressive atmosphere of online communication has led to the creation of several groups whose goal it is to educate people about online safety and behaviour. One such group is MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit that focuses on promoting online literacy in young people. “As with any environment, online or offline, the dominant culture is definitely the biggest influence,” says Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts. “An environment that is more tolerant of rudeness or aggression, or even rewards them, is going to lead to more of that kind of behaviour.” Johnson believes that part of what can breed that environment online is that the typically anonymous comments sections make
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Newspaper Monopoly A game involving two corporate players who swap community papers thereby decreasing competition
I l l u s t r at i o n
By Dana Bowen
fter 15 years of working for the Chilliwack Times, editor Ken Goudswaard has seen the newspaper industry change drastically. While newspapers changing hands is nothing new to him, the latest deal by Black Press and Glacier Media involving six community papers, including his, left him shocked.
“I would have thought we would be sold to someone else,” Goudswaard says. “I never would have thought the competition across the road would have picked us up.” The Chilliwack Times, formerly a Glacier title, was dealt to Black Press, which already owns the Chilliwack Progress, leaving Black with both papers. This swap game by Western Canada’s two largest owners of community newspapers also involved Glacier’s Abbotsford-Mission Times, which Black picked up to join its existing paper, the Abbotsford News. In turn, Black Press sold papers to Glacier, namely the Westender (WE), the North Shore Outlook, the South Delta Leader and the Bowen Island Undercurrent. Glacier already owns the Vancouver Courier, the North Shore News, and the Delta Optimist, meaning single ownership of two papers in those communities. Glacier, which started as a bottled water company in 1988, 34 || LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014
owns seven daily newspapers in B.C. and some 60 community papers and other publications throughout Western Canada. Black Press owns more than 100 community papers in B.C. and Alberta, as well as community papers and dailies in the U.S. While the wheeling and dealing in newspapers might make financial sense to these companies, the obvious concerns centre on reduced competition and less news-gathering in the communities affected. Despite the fact that Canada has had two royal commissions and a government committee investigating concentration of ownership, the federal Competition Act has few rules limiting newspaper ownership. The rules mainly try to ensure that there is a choice for advertisers, and there always is if other media are taken into account. It didn’t take long for the collateral damage to occur from the Glacier-Black agreement. The deal was announced in October last year, and shortly thereafter Black Press closed the Abbotsford-Mission Times. Company CEO Rick O’Connor told the Vancouver Sun that the newspaper had been a money-losing operation for quite some time and there were no prospects of it regaining a profit. Cale Cowan, who was editor of the Abbotsford-Mission Times in 2005, says he was sad to hear about the closing. “I made no prediction the paper would close, but in today’s newspaper market, I am not surprised,” Cowan says. On Vancouver’s North Shore, the Outlook remains as a
Roy’s last laugh By Ben Bulmer
Roy Peterson had a 47-year career as an editorial cartoonist at the Vancouver
Sun, but neither his longevity with the newspaper nor his position as an Officer in the Order of Canada were enough to persuade the paper to print his last cartoon. The veteran cartoonist died Sept. 30, 2013, at the age of 77, following a lifetime of awards and recognition for his work. Winning the National Newspaper Award more than any other journalist, the seven-time winner penned cartoons for Allan Fotheringham’s popular Maclean’s magazine column and saw his cartoons syndicated all over North America and beyond. “Roy was a consummate craftsman,” says Globe and Mail cartoonist Brian Gable. “[He] consistently produced a high level of work, day in and out for over 40 years.” Peterson was laid off by The Sun in 2009 following cutbacks throughout the paper. In his final cartoon, he depicted himself carrying a newspaper with the headline, “Newspaper terminates editorial cartoonist” as he’s about to step into an open manhole wearing a sandwich board which reads, “The end is nigh.” This last jab at the establishment that had profited from Peterson’s wit for almost half a century was pulled from publication in a sad show of disloyalty. The cartoon went on to win a Golden Spike award, from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, for the best cartoon spiked by an editor. Peterson said he appreciated this honour more than any of his National Newspaper Awards. “[This] speaks volumes about Roy’s sense of honour and awareness, and the lack of it in some corners of corporate culture,” says Gable.
newspaper title but has been absorbed into the North Shore News operation. The newspaper version is now nearly all advertising, while the Web version contains news stories written mostly by North Shore News staff. At the Chilliwack Times, Goudswaard says the swap meant he has already had to let go two of his employees--one from editorial and one from advertising—from a staff of about 15. Publication frequency was also reduced from twice a week to once, and stories will focus less on spot news and more on softer features. “We changed the way we gather our news, and the way it is in the paper,” says Goudswaard. “We have to look at something that’s going to be different.” More feature content means the Chilliwack Times no longer has to fight over breaking news with the Progress as they once did. But despite this Goudswaard says Black Press is still urging the paper to
compete against its counterpart. “They want us to compete just like we did in the old days. We have to try and find different news angles, just like we used to.” WE editor Martha Perkins says she isn’t feeling any pressure to compete with Glacier’s other urban papers. “Rather than competing with each other, we are complementing each other,” she says. Under Black, she notes, there was no ability for her downtown paper to share stories because the other papers were in the suburbs, and their stories were not relevant. Now, she is able to share relevant to WE stories with other publications, namely the Vancouver Courier and Business in Vancouver. “Since becoming a part of Glacier, what’s exciting for us is that we have sister publications who are in Vancouver, but that are so different from us that we can share stories without too much of an overlap.”
Goodbye Post presses
By Ben Bulmer The onset of the digital age and the decline of the printed newspaper are brazenly spelled out in the closing of the printing plant that produces Vancouver’s two major dailies. In September 2013, Paul Godfrey, CEO of Postmedia, announced the closure of the Kennedy Heights plant. The Surrey facility, which prints the Vancouver Sun and The Province, was built in the late 90s, just as the internet was starting to invade our living rooms. “The entire Kennedy Heights group will be laid off,” says Mike Bocking, president of the Media Union of B.C. With a current collective agreement set to expire Nov. 30, 2014, the approximately 250 workers at the plant have guaranteed employment until then. Bocking says what happens after will be a topic for the bargaining table, adding, “We’re not into the hot and heavy part of it yet.” Postmedia says the company will contract out the printing to Transcontinental, which it projects will take place in February 2015. There was an option to build a new plant if it could run for 75 per cent less than the current cost, but the Media Union of B.C. rejected the offer because of employment conditions laid out by Postmedia, which stated the company would have control of who would be laid off and who would keep their jobs. The land value of the Kennedy Heights site is estimated to be between $25 million and $30 million. Postmedia recorded a pre-tax loss of $112 million in the final quarter of 2013. The front cover of the company’s annual report shows 11 photographs of people reading on smartphones and tablets, and only one photo of someone reading a newspaper.
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Pamela’s Perfect Job Former news anchor Pamela Martin does not regret the leap from journalism to political PR
B y J a m e s M c L aug h l i n
riendly, sincere countenance can invoke trust and be instrumental in shaping a stranger’s impression. Pamela Martin, having been broadcast into the living rooms of British Columbians for nearly a decade as co-anchor of CTV BC’s evening news at six, garnered the trust of viewers looking for the facts in the stories of the day. Martin’s comforting visage, encased with her near-signature golden bob, had a neutral demeanor and a certain maternal air. Together with Bill Good, she gained a respectable level of public loyalty, quadrupling the station’s ratings while at her position—and then quit.
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Martin, whose pursuit of journalism was inspired by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s success at bringing down U.S. President Richard Nixon, was leaving the profession after 35 years, including 24 years at BCTV with co-anchor Tony Parsons. It was almost 2011 and she had grown weary of the daily news grind. She was looking for something different. “I’ve always had the dual interest in both politics and journalism,” says Martin, now the director of outreach for the B.C. Liberal Party. “I was thinking about it over a number of months: ‘What is the one thing that I always wanted to do, that I couldn’t do, because I was working as a journalist?’ And the only thing that came to my mind, very clearly, was work in politics.” Martin joined Christy Clark on her campaign for B.C. Liberal leadership one week after pushing in her news anchor chair for the last time. As head of Clark’s membership drive, Martin was a familiar, friendly faced liaison between the public and a potential government. Following Clark’s success in March of that year, Martin was hired as director of outreach for her office. In September 2013 Martin resigned from the premier’s office and moved into her current role with the Liberals.
“It is, in many ways, the perfect job for me,” says Martin. “It uses all the skills that I developed in the media, as well as social skills that I developed being involved in the community and charitable organizations. I never dreamed that I would work in the capacity I am working in now.” Transitioning from journalism into political public relations took mental reprioritizing. “I don’t think that I even voted,” says Martin. “Just to make sure that I was not in any way showing, or allowing myself to feel, bias. I have trained myself so much over the years to never have, display or talk publicly about a partisan issue. Because I was a journalist for my entire life, I find it challenging talking about my partisan feelings.” It is understandable that Martin, like any self-respecting journalist, would not have entered into partisan hooraying while toiling in the field. However, opportunities arise, and choosing to step through that one-way door should not be regarded with disdain, says Martin. “The issue is one of trust. Every once in a while I’ll see someone on Twitter mention that it is wrong that I work for a political party because I was a journalist that built up a trust with the public. But,
as long as you’re open and honest about it, and you’re never pretending that you’re still a journalist, then I think it’s fair. You can’t say that someone can only stay in one career their whole life.” To Martin, it was a logical career transition considering the social clout she garnered as a journalist. “I know that there is a trend of this happening, people going from journalism into politics. But really, the reason that it happens is that people who are in news, in general, are people who are following the issues and the events of the day, and they are immersed in what’s going on. “In many ways it is a natural progression. The people who work in the news business tend to be the best-informed people.” For current journalists, staying true to the profession is problematic. It is often treated as a stepping-stone towards other, more lucrative careers. The skill of uncovering and communicating an interesting story is valuable for any party interested in its public image. The celebrity status that some broadcast journalists wield can easily be capitalized on. And the contact lists that many journalists form over the years could fill volumes. Before Martin left CTV, she witnessed
Where Journalism and PR Meet The ratio of public relations professionals to journalists has climbed from 0.75-to-1 in 1960 to 4-to-1 in 2011, according to Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols in their book The Death and Life of American Journalism. That’s a startling tilt of the scales. Considering the well-documented decline of both American and Canadian newspaper sales over the past decade, it makes sense to ask why anyone would want to remain on (and especially board) such a leaky ship. The goal of public relations is to persuade the public, which bears a surprising resemblance to how the earliest Canadian newspapers operated. The primary function of early newspapers, or what’s often referred to as the partisan press, was to disseminate political messages to the lower echelons of colonial society. “The partisan newspaper environment was exemplified by individual editors publishing a sort of political pamphlet and sending it directly to subscribers. Copies of partisan newspapers circulated widely throughout the colony through the work of networks of agents who also advised editors and
her newsroom liquidate years of experience for younger, lesser paid, journalists. The results can be seen in the product, she says. Which raises the final question: How can journalistic integrity, as our society has come to know it, compete against the lure of the monolithic PR industry?
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collected payments. These were the first widespread mediated political communication networks in Canada,” said Duncan Koerber in his 2011 essay The Role of the Agent in Partisan Communication Networks of Upper Canadian Newspapers, published in the Journal of Canadian Studies. Robert Hackett, media critic and professor of communications at Simon Fraser University, has observed the growing trend of journalists entering public relations. “It’s more lucrative and financially rewarding to go into PR once you have the skills and the credibility of being a journalist behind you. And that’s to the detriment of public discourse and democracy because PR is on behalf of self-interested, particular parties.” Objectivity as a value to be upheld did not fully take root in mainstream Canadian journalism culture until after the First World War. Members of the press decided then that a distinction between propaganda and empirical truth should be made on a professional level. But as western democracies evolved, so did the role of journalists, says Donald Gutstein, Hackett’s colleague and co-director of NewsWatch Canada, a media-monitoring project at SFU. “It started in the Mulroney age. [Candidates] need PR people to help them get elected. But once they are, they keep those PR people on as staff to guide every move; you don’t do anything without seeing how you can persuade the public,” Gutstein says. “We’re talking now about a publicity state, whether it’s British Columbia or Canada, where PR guides the political process.”
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Staying in the Loop
Kamloops’ ‘Armchair Mayor’ serves up scoops after the closure of his city’s daily
he closure of the Kamloops Daily News in January of this year shocked readers and devasted employees. Since then, Kamloopians have mourned the loss of their venerable newspaper, which had served the B.C. interior city of 85,000 people for more than 80 years. Enter the Armchair Mayor. Mel Rothenburger, a former mayor of Kamloops, worked at the Kamloops Daily News for 40 years as reporter, columnist, blogger and editor, a position he retired from a year and a half ago. He continued to contribute a weekly column on local politics to the Daily News up until the time the paper closed. The Armchair Mayor was the name of Rothenburger’s personal blog, but after the paper’s demise it quickly became much more. With cries for a new provider of news being heard throughout the Thompson River Valley, Rothenburger answered the call. “When the Daily News closed I’d had the Armchair Mayor News going for a while,” says Rothenburger. “But it had just been a place for me to offer some additional commentary to what my editorials and columns were about in the paper. There was a real need from people to understand the closure of the Daily News and what went into it. “I started offering my perspective as to what was going on with staff and a little bit about the news business in general. I didn’t have any particular insight into what directly led to the decision but as the editor of the paper for many years, I could write about what it felt like from the inside. “So I started doing that and I graduated from that into doing some news coverage. I have no idea where it’s going from here. It’s a little bit of news, a little bit of opinion and people are responding to it very positively. But I quite honestly don’t have any particular plans for it.” According to former Daily News columnist Daniela Ginta, Rothenburger’s website has become a go-to source for news in the
By Jesse Adamson community. “He basically started doing this incredibly awesome reporting job,” says Ginta. “He’s putting up a lot of news and a lot of events that are happening in the community, which is awesome. He’s pretty much running an online Kamloops newspaper.” Although the Armchair Mayor has
the sustainability of small newspapers. “I think this is an individual circumstance which was affected by a variety of factors,” he explains. “I think there are elements of it that other daily newspapers in similar-sized markets have to pay attention to. But I’m hoping that because the Daily News died, it doesn’t mean that other
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helped ease the pain of losing the Daily News, for many Kamloops residents it is going to take a while to heal the wound. “After the initial shock, I think that people are still missing the paper,” says Rothenburger. “In fact, I literally hear about it every day. Whenever I run into someone on the street or talk to someone on the phone, the first thing they say is ‘I sure miss that paper’ and ‘It sure is too bad.’ I think people feel it’s part of the esteem of the community, in that Kamloops is a good-sized city that really should have a daily newspaper. “People miss having that paper in the tube every morning when you get up and look outside your front door. It’s a remarkably dramatic change in lifestyle that I don’t think people could have anticipated because the city, it seems like, has always had a daily newspaper.” Having been involved with one newspaper for the better part of a half-century, and having watched this same beloved publication be forced to cease operations has not made Rothenburger cynical about
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papers in other cities are at risk.” When owner Glacier Media announced the closure in January, the company indicated the paper’s 12,000 daily circulation wasn’t enough to sustain the operation. Ginta believes small daily papers can exist, but only under the right circumstances. “It depends on the community,” she says. “It depends on the media company that owned it and how well they understand the community, because the need is definitely there. Especially in places like the interior of B.C. because people are still relying on newspapers a lot. If the company is just money-driven, then it probably won’t work in a small community.” Rothenburger’s passion for and knowledge of his city has allowed him to continue the connection with the community the Daily News had established. “The daily newspaper in the community really had a special role,” Rothenburger notes. “There’s not really any medium that can cover a community the way a daily newspaper can.” The Armchair Mayor is doing his best. LANGARA JOURNALISM REVIEW 2014 || 38
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