LJR Langara Journalism Review
The Georgia Straight’s main man Mysterious Dan McLeod doesn’t tell all
News wars in Nelson This B.C. town once had three newspapers. Now it has one
The perils of science journalism Making sure the facts don’t turn into fiction
CITIZEN JOURNALISTS UNITE
Does the new breed of reporters need protection from big media?
Jeani Read was The Province’s first full-time rock critic, former lifestyles columnist and lifestyles reporter. Jeani’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 SCHOLARSHIPS The Jeani Read-Michael Mercer Scholarship for Journalism Students was established to encourage students to continue their pursuit of journalistic excellence through mentorship. This endowed scholarship fund provides two scholarships annually for $10,000 each. The successful applicants will receive support for approximately three months while they produce a major work of journalism, such as an indepth 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. Scholarships will be awarded in the Spring. For more information visit www.langara.bc.ca/journalism.
2012 SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS: Derek Bedry – Project: a radio documentary exploring untold stories about Vancouver’s affordable housing shortage. Mentor: Yvonne Eamor, CBC producer. Carly Wignes – Project: a journalistic story focusing on how territorial disputes and treaty settlements affect First Nations communities. Mentor: Charles Campbell, writer for The Tyee, and former editor of the Georgia Straight.
LJR INDEX Issue Number 16
Features Straight Man
Dog Days It’s been tough sledding for reporter Brett Mineer since breaking his Whistler dog cul story. 17
Georgia Straight publisher Dan McLeod makes decent dough but still has his Sixties values, man. 12
Glacier Media snaps up more newspapers and gets hot about digital. 20
Much More Media Shaw is set to launch a 24-7 all-news channel in B.C. Who needs more of the same, a critic asks. 29
News on Nagata After publically dissing his television news job—and tv news itself— Kai Nagata searches for new media models. 35
If mainstream media want their work, citizen journalists want their just rewards. Some are talking union. 18
Science Fiction When journalists cover science, the facts sometimes get lost in translation. 24
News Wars The small B.C. city of Nelson used to have three newspapers. Now it has one. 32
At a glance Licence to Quill Should professional journalists be regulated and licensed to separate them from the amateurs? 5 All work, No Pay Interns and young journalists are being asked to do it all. But don’t mention money. 6 iPhoto, uPhoto Smartphones may be killing the professional photog. 8 In Media We Trust What do you do when the cops demand your pics and video? 9 Savage Love Bares All Sex columnist Dan Savage talks about...what else?... love and sex. 16 Privacy In the online world the line between privacy and the public interest keeps moving. 22 Whither Community TV? The promise of television for the people by the people has faded to black. 23
Photo by Jesse Winter /Cover photo-illustration by Jesse Winter
Plotting the revolution? See page 36.
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Global Spring Adbuster’s Kale Lasn once had an idea. It was called Occupy Wall Street. 36
LANGARA JOURNALISM CLASS 2012
News Editor Page Editor
Production Editor Copy Editor
Photo Editor Photographer Page Editor
Photographer Web Editor Page Editor
Copy Chief Page Editor
Copy Editor Page Editor
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EDITOR’S NOTE When we started J-school at Langara College we were a bunch of aspiring journalists eager to learn the tricks of the trade. Now, two years—and a lot of hard work—later, we’re ready for the ‘real world’. Equipped with the basic know-how, we’re aiming for our dream jobs—the jobs of those journalists we grew up admiring. We are confident that our knowledge and skills will allow us to adapt and survive in today’s frenetic media world. We, as journalists, will face many new challenges but for the most part we will turn these challenges into benefits. It’s no longer longer a matter of just getting the story out for tonight’s six o’clock news or tomorrow’s newspaper. To4
day, deadlines are all the time. We are also faced with new competition from the streets—the so-called citizen journalist. Now anyone can pull out a smartphone and supply material to any media outlet, or file directly to the Web. The debate over professional journmalism versus citizen journalism rages on, but we all know that gone are the days when we would just be writers or photographers. Instead, we are like Swiss Army knives—we do everything. We hope this magazine is proof of that. And we hope you enjoy the read. You can also check us out on the Web at ljr.ca. —Natalie Cameron Editor-in-chief Langara Journalism Review 2012
An annual review of journalism trends and issues in Western Canada produced by journalism students at Langara College. 100 West 49th Avenue Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 2Z6 www.ljr.ca • email@example.com Publisher/instructor: Rob Dykstra Contributing artist: Quinn Lincoln Writers: Anne Watson, Carlisle Richards, Celina Albany, Derek Bedry, Grace Escudero, Jared Gnam, Khethiwe Rudd, Jen St. Denis, Jesse Winter, Kyla Jonas, Patrick Johnston
Licence to Quill Should trained journalists be regulated and licensed to separate them from the amateurs? CARLISLE RICHARDS
ith the growth of citizen journalism, the debate to licence journalists has become a hot topic on the new media landscape. Last summer, a report by Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre suggested legislation to create a new, professional status for journalists, separating the trained scribe from the eyewitness or the angry, untrained blogger. “Readers must be able to judge the basis for the content they are receiving,” St-Pierre said in the report. “It is thus important to distinguish professional journalists, who are obligated to work in the public interest, from amateur newsgatherers and bloggers.” However, the consensus from media experts is the same: licensing a reporter is a slide down the slippery slope of government control. “It’s too big of a possibility of conflict of interest,” says Gary Engler, vice-president of Local 2000 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of British Columbia, which represents many journalists in the province. “It’s kind of like my personal take on capital punishment. I think that there are some criminals in society better off not alive but I don’t trust the government to make those decisions.” St-Pierre isn’t the first politician to suggest regulating journalists in the age of new media. In April 2011, the Federation of Professional Journalists in Quebec was 86 per cent in favour of separating “professional” from amateur. In the aftermath of the July 2011 News of the World phone hacking scandal, British Labour Party politician Ivan Lewis called for a new system of “independent regulation” to curtail the media’s unethical practices. The FPJQ changed its mind after
“further consideration.” Richard Dunston, a creative writing and journalism instructor at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, believes B.C. journalists would have a similar reaction. “I think the response from media would be much the same,” he says. “I know governments have encouraged self-regulation or formation of the B.C. Press Council and in other jurisdictions, but they remain pretty toothless. That’s probably about as far as you can go, and they are run by the media instead of the government.” The B.C. Press
Council, with six directors representing the public and five from the industry, does not now determine who is a professional journalist and who is not. It focuses on resolving public complaints against newspapers, and, in fact, has no legal teeth if it finds a citizen has been wronged. Ultimately, Dunston believes it would be difficult to have a self-governing body to issue or remove journalism licences without any interference from the government. “If you’re a dentist there is a body that will certify you as a dentist, and if you screw up enough they’ll throw you out and you’re not a dentist anymore,” Dunston says. “But those are governmental bodies, maybe somewhat at arms length...and are backed up at least by the government Langara Journalism Review 2012
because you can get dinged pretty badly for practicing dentistry if you’re not duly certified. “You do that with the press, you have the government deciding who counts as journalists,” he notes. “And that’s the last people who should be assigning that because it’s part of our job to watch out for government and what they’re up to.” The growth of blogs and social media as ‘news’ outlets has sparked most of the debate, giving anyone the ability to practice journalism without being chained to ethical standards. But Engler makes the point that history shows good journalism doesn’t only come from established papers. “I.F. Stone in the United States during the Vietnam War era broke many of the stories that embarrassed the American government about their conduct and the war itself. He published the equivalent of a blog from the 1950s through the 1990s. “He was a great journalist,” Engler adds, even though he was never formally trained as one. Shauna Snow-Capparelli, who is on the ethics advisory committee of the Canadian Association of Journalists, says a licence doesn’t guarantee high ethical standards. “There are still unethical lawyers,” she notes. “So if journalists were to be licensed there would be no guarantee that those journalists would be good journalists, who always adhered to ethical practice and put the public interest first.” The solution, she says, is still education, teaching those willing to learn how to deliver balanced news. “We try to teach key ethical values and the importance of critical thinking. Not that journalists can’t develop without formal journalism education—in fact, many journalists have successfully learned on the job—but at least when someone goes through a good J-school they will get a grounding in these important elements.” LJR 5
All work, no pay Shrinking newsroom budgets mean young journalists are being asked to do it all. KYLA JONAS
he age of new media should be the holy grail of journalism. It gives journalists the ability to do it all. But maybe that’s the problem. Staff cutbacks and dwindling resources in recent years means remaining employees are asked to pick up the slack. “I write and edit all the stories. I layout the whole paper. I take all the photos. I upload everything to the web. I also have to use Facebook and Twitter,” says Michaela Garstin, reporter and editor at the Similkameen Spotlight in Princeton, a small town in the interior of B.C. Her position used to be two jobs, but just before she arrived the editor and reporter positions were merged into one. She was never told why but believes that “they just wanted to save money.” Previously, Garstin worked for a paper that had two reporters, an editor and an associate publisher. “I left because it wasn’t challenging enough,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t have enough work to do, which now seems silly.” Young and relatively inexperienced journalists wanting to stay in the city often find they get a foot in the door only by accepting an internship, mostly unpaid. This means waiting on tables, or another such job to pay for living expenses. For Garstin this was never an option. “If I was to take an internship in Vancouver,
how would I afford rent? How would I afford to live?” Phylicia Torrevillas secured a position with Vancouver Metro by starting out as an intern last spring, then staying on into the summer, which eventually landed her a paid job. She maintains that she is one of the lucky ones. “If I didn’t get the job, I was open to working in another internship,” Torrevillas says. She believes that short of getting a job, doing an internship is the only way to develop skills and gain connections, even though in ther end that still doesn’t guarantee a paid job. “Sometimes media outlets will just take a new intern if you aren’t willing to work for free,” Torrevillas says. Chelsea Altice appreciates being able to intern at CTV News and understands she’s there because many media outlets don’t have the funds to hire permanent employees. “[CTV is] always needing interns just to pick up that slack when it’s really busy,” Altice says. “You don’t get paid; you work pretty hard as well. And depending on the internship—I’ve had a lot of lucky experiences—I know a lot of people don’t get treated well.” But interns shouldn’t be used to replace employees, according to the British Columbia Employment Services Act. Their task
“I write and edit all the stories. I lay out the whole paper. I take all the photos. I upload everything to the Web.”
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should be to fill in the gaps, gaining skills from the experience. Interns can fall under the definition of “employee” if a workplace allows them to—directly or indirectly—perform work normally done by an employee. In that case they should be making at least minimum wage. Suzanne Wilton, editor-in-chief at 24 Hours in Vancouver, agrees that intern-
Photo illustration by Jesse Winter
ships should be used to enhance young journalists’ skills, not for free labour. “What we offer students is tied to their programs. All post-graduates we hire work as freelancers,” Wilton says. She acknowledges the criticisms concerning the use of interns, but says it’s not
in her paper’s interest to exploit new journalists. She maintains internships are valuable to those starting careers and should be seen as a way to receive “constructive feedback and to increase networks.” For some, stepping out of an internship and finding a paid position can be challenLangara Journalism Review 2012
ging. After four months of working as an unpaid intern for CTV, Altice has decided to start looking for paid work. “There comes a point where you need to push yourself and really get out there,” she says. “But its really scary because you’re still considered inexperienced.” LJR 7
A smartphone in hand doesn’t make you a photojournalist
Photos by Jesse Winter
hotojournalism is dead. Anyone who has ever considered carrying a camera as a career has heard that refrain, but is it really true? Can the art of photojournalism really be six feet under, done in, as it’s often alleged, by the ubiquitous smartphone? A.P. Hovasse doesn’t think so. He’s no stranger to the news photo game. He was the chief photographer in Moscow for Agence France-Presse in the early 1990s and has worked for Reuters in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and London. More recently, he was the national photo editor for Sun Media until getting the axe, along with other employees last year when the company eliminated 400 positions. He now works as a photography consultant in Vancouver and says that while Steve Jobs’ creations haven’t killed the profession, they have left an indelible mark. “I think the future of photojournalism is safe, but as for what it’s going to look like, that’s another matter.” He knows things are tough, but says it’s just a matter of finding the curve and getting ahead of it. “Where the profession is going is difficult to say but it’s certainly in the throes of difficult challenges right now. The fact 8
of the matter is it seems to change every six months. Two or three years ago the big thing was slide shows. Then people started getting more and more into video. Everyone’s sort of hunting and pecking, but I don’t think there’s any way of knowing where it’s going just yet,” Hovasse says. One of the biggest blows Hovasse sees to photojournalism is that it’s been overtaken by the ability of citizens to make and move pictures faster than the pros. “I think there’s still a lot of room for photojournalism in the sense that there are more photos being taken now than ever before and they’re moving faster than ever before. “They’re moving so fast actually that they’ve out-paced the professional side. The guy with an iPhone can tweet a photo faster than a guy from a news agency who’s been doing it for 20 years.” For editors, the need to compete with social media can mean sacrificing quality for speed, but for the photographers themselves, producing quality photos under pressure is still the key to getting work. “It puts enormous pressure on photographers to come up with great shots despite the challenges, and there are some photographers that are thriving in that. There are also lots who aren’t. It’s separating the wheat from the chaff,” Hovasse says. Freelancer Rich Lam is one photographer who’s excelling under the mounting pressure. Langara Journalism Review 2012
Lam’s now-famous Riot Kiss photo from last year’s Vancouver Stanley Cup hockey riot went around the world and it was shot under some of the most difficult conditions he has ever worked in. “There’s still a place for professionals when you need someone to get you an image in a short amount of time and in tough situations if that’s what the newspaper wants; to have their name overtop the best photo of the game.” But for Lam, a big part of being professional is acting professional, which means demanding to be paid for quality work. Hobbyists have the luxury of a second career to pay the bills, Lam says, but by giving their work away for free they are destroying the profession just to satisfy their egos and see their names in print. “They’re killing everyone else. It’d be like me showing up and advertising I’m a plumber just because I know how to connect a faucet, and doing it for free.” Lam and Hovasse agree the news photography business model is in serious need of an overhaul. While Hovasse is looking for answers in new technology, such as the ability to broadcast images directly from the camera, Lam takes a more philosophical approach. “Social and multimedia won’t save photojournalism,” says Lam. “Good pictures will save photojournalism. If guys keep producing good, strong pictures, that will keep it going.” LJR
In Media we Trust
When the police want your photographs, should you comply? Photos by Jared Gnam
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ven before the puck dropped for the decisive Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in Vancouver last spring, I had my camera and recorder ready to go just in case it got ugly in the downtown core that night. Sure enough, after the home team lost, I recall hearing over Twitter that some fans had flipped a pickup truck on Georgia Street and set it ablaze, marking the beginnings of a fullblown riot. I made my way into the heart of the madness and took shots of some incredible scenes of people losing their minds burning police cars, smashing windows and looting stores, causing millions in damage. It was a memorable experience for me as a journalism student. I had never covered any serious conflicts and this was 10
a great test of my nerves. Could I stay focused as an impartial observer while anarchy unfolded right in front of me? Several months later I was presented with an ethical dilemma as I was set to begin my second year of journalism school. A Vancouver police detective called me and requested my entire lot of riot photos— some 400 images. At first, I felt a moral obligation to hand them over and I agreed with the detective that I would put them on a disc and drop them off at the station with the hope that my work would help prosecute some of the criminals I documented that night. But then I had second thoughts. Was I obliged as a member of the press to aid the police’s investigation? This question gained widespread attention after half a dozen media outlets received the same request. They said no and Langara Journalism Review 2012
prepared themselves to fight what ended up as a four-month battle over a court order requested by Vancouver police to hand over the hundreds of hours of video footage and thousands of photos taken during the riots. Media lawyers were firm in their resistance. “Journalists are not a part of the police force and they shouldn’t be thought of that way,” says Dan Burnett, who represented all six media outlets. “It can affect their neutrality, the perception of the public, and there are safety issues.” Burnett notes, for example, that at certain points of the riot the crowds turned on two cameramen and a still photographer who work for one of the six media outlets. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this is because some people in the crowd clued in and thought, ‘Holy, this might get used against me.’” The original court order was shot down by the B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 16 due to technical reasons as the outlets— The Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC, Global Television, the Vancouver Sun and The Province—were not properly named, and neither was a clear geographical area defined. When the VPD filed a new application a week later, judge David Harris ordered the media to hand over the material. He rejected the argument that the order would turn journalists into agents of the police, thus interfering with their neutrality and safety. Instead, he concluded the footage would provide investigators with valuable evidence that would not be available from other sources. Burnett says the media should only be used as a last resort for gathering evidence in a criminal investigation. He notes the VPD deployed only one officer to gather evidence with a video camera during the riot, and therefore they were clearly relying on footage from the public and the media. “One of the VPD officers said to one or more of the journalists, ‘Make sure you get good shots of this; we’ll need this stuff’ and that’s just the wrong attitude.” Burnett argues the 5,000 hours of video and more than one million photos gathered from citizens and store surveillance of the four-hour riot should be sufficient for police. But Sgt. Howard Chow, spokesman for the Integrated Riot Investigation Team, says much of the evidence supplied by the public was poor quality, off cell phones, point-and-shoot cameras and surveillance cameras. These images, Chow says, are
inferior compared to the high-quality material gathered by journalists. “We’ve got reporters that we know were out there on the ground at the time of the riot with HD-quality cameras, that are professionally trained,” Chow says. “[They] are capturing crimes that are taking place … in a manner that’s not shaky and in a manner that’s going to give you a product that’s not grainy and potentially going to be evidence.” Despite the VPD going forward with the court order, Chow says the police respect the media’s wishes not to be seen as voluntarily turning over the material. He says that’s why the courts are there to make the call.
“It’s a very bad thing for democracy and for the public’s trust of the media...”
“If there’s any suggestion that the media is an arm of the police or is collecting evidence for the police—well, absolutely not,” Chow says. “It’s the courts that have decided that they should turn it over.” After the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the six media outlets to hand over the footage, the Vancouver Sun and The Province decided to post their entire inventory of 5,481 photos taken by staff photographers on their websites to make the point that they serve the public first. “I think that was a smart thing to do,” says Beverley Sinclair, media ethics instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. “They remained in control of those images. They handled them first; they made them public first.” The newspapers stated they posted the photos so innocent people could see whether their images were there. They called on the VPD to return or destroy the images after the investigation in order to respect the civil liberties of thousands of people who did not engage in criminal activity that night. Chow says the footage will only be used to catch those who were obviously involved in illegal activity.
“We’re not talking about let’s find out who had a bottle of booze in their hand or who was hamming it up … for the cameras,” Chow says. “We’re talking about people who are looting, who are breaking windows, who are assaulting people—those are the people we are after.” But Sinclair maintains that the media should be free from influence of police or the state, pointing out that this is one of the main tenets of journalism. “It’s a very bad thing for democracy and for the public’s trust of the media to have any sense that the police have any involvement in what the media is able to publish.” Despite my initial agreement to co-operate with police and hand over my photographs, my instincts made me hang on to them. I’m now glad I did. When I was in the midst of that frenzied crowd shooting those pictures, some of the rioters lunged out for my camera. They saw me as a threat. If it becomes routine for journalists to hand over their material to assist police in their investigations, then this mentality will only grow. Journalists will be condemned to wear bullseyes on their backs when covering such conflicts. LJR
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Quinn Lincoln illustration 12
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Let’s get it Straight The once-radical founder of Vancouver’s ‘hippie rag’, Georgia Straight publisher Dan McLeod says his values haven’t changed DEREK BEDRY
eorgia Straight owner and publisher Dan McLeod, 68, sits in front of a new Mac computer at a vintage roll-top desk cluttered with lifetime achievement awards, family pictures, paper and other bric-abrac. The king of his own alternative media castle—the Straight’s offices at Broadway and Pine—McLeod holds court from a fourth-floor office the size of a comfortable bachelor apartment. His desk is crammed in a small corner alcove that juts off the otherwise square room. Across from a huge picture window looking out across downtown Vancouver is what appears to be a dining hutch piled two feet high with copies of the tabloid-sized newspaper McLeod has ruled for over four decades. The room’s only other furnishing is the small, square conference table in the centre that seats no more than four. The arrangement might be a holdover from McLeod’s days working in tight quarters and living in communal housing during the late 1960s, when he and a clutch of his hippie friends laboured over the first editions of the Straight, replete with naughty words, psychedelic artwork and iconoclastic articles slagging the capitalist status quo. Like his furniture, neither does McLeod’s personality take up much room. His employees describe him as solitary by nature. Longtime Straight senior editor Martin Dunphy says you could work there for five years and never see him, so reclusive is he.
McLeod’s voice is like car tires on gravel. His breathing rattles. He hardly ever makes eye contact and conveys little emotion. When he does laugh, it is wryly, with a grimace instead of a smile. He likes to talk about the good old days—when the government of then-Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell was in stark opposition to the liberal sentiments of the day’s youth, held more with rhythmic sways than leanings—before his rise to eminence at the head of a profitable press fiefdom. Now more benign figurehead than radical local leader of the global protest movement of bygone days, McLeod has never directly answered accusations by some of his former comrades-in-arms that he sold out his
“It was a really idealistic time to me in those days, an artistic community banding together.”
values—accusations that have dogged him since incorporating the Straight in its first publishing year.
It was 1966, and the unpopular Vietnam War was chasing American draft dodgers into Canada where they would seek asylum. Prohibition of marijuana and
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an oppositional, hippie-hating mainstream press made grounds for activism fertile, and literary scions of discontent like California’s The Berkely Barb and Detroit’s Fifth Estate began cropping up, inspiring imitators across North America. McLeod was a teaching assistant in the math department at University of British Columbia. He recalls having a discussion with a colleague about the prospect of a new job in Calgary with the evil, polluting conglomerate Shell Oil. McLeod says that helped him decide to drop out. “I thought, [Shell] is one of the companies that’s contributing to the war effort. Is that what it’s all about, working for IBM to design missile systems? Or even if I’d just retired in the ivory tower and taught people math, they would be designing the missile systems. I just didn’t want to participate in that; I wanted to oppose it in some way.” He travelled the United States for a year on a stressed credit card. He says he returned to Vancouver invigorated by artist and poet co-op media workshops and housing he’d seen in Detroit. “It was a really idealistic time to me in those days, an artistic community banding together.” Sometime thereafter, McLeod and a collective of malcontent Vancouver artists and writers, including Pierre Coupey, Milton Acorn, Rick McGrath, Peter Hlookoff, and Rick Kitaeff came together to found and produce the Georgia Straight. The first issue appeared on May 5, 1967. A week later, McLeod was carted away in a paddy wagon for vagrancy and publishing obscenities. He was held for only a few hours, but the city government under Campbell would re-
peatedly slap the paper with fines and conduct raids on the offices. How the “hippie rag” came under McLeod’s sovereign control is a story that varies significantly, depending on whom you ask. In short, McLeod, unbeknownst to his collaborators, opened a bank account in the magazine’s name and created Georgia Straight Publishing Limited. Accounts of the fairly well-documented saga by cofounders Coupey and McGrath say no one was ever supposed to work on the magazine his whole life, so they didn’t mind when McLeod seemed to be assuming the most responsibility. They had other preoccupations. Conflict broke in November 1967 after the Straight’s sixth issue hit the streets, when McLeod altered the masthead—previously reading “subject to change without notice”—to list himself as chief editor. The move prompted the main contributors to force a meeting where, on the advice of his lawyer, McLeod declared his full legal rights to the paper and its assets, and offered Coupey and Kitaeff 25 per cent each. They declined. Going corporate was a betrayal of their values, they said, and they were incensed by McLeod’s secrecy, and what they called his theft of their hard work. McLeod says he incorporated so that he could pin legal fees on the company and declare bankruptcy to protect the Straight’s contributors if need be. “And as far as the idea of everybody being equal,” McLeod says, “you can structure the company any way you want; it’s very flexible. You can make it behave like a coop just by the share structure. But Milton [Acorn] wasn’t going to go for it,” he chuckles. “They were all in my office at 619 West Pender and my office had glass all around it. When Milton walked out, he slammed the door so hard the glass shattered all over the place.” To avoid expensive court battles, McLeod published only entertainment content throughout the 70s and issued a supplementary flyer filled exclusively with sex ads to bolster revenue. By the late 80s, McLeod says profit finally started to trickle in, and in the 90s the Straight began tentatively to fill the space between ads and listings with political content, albeit which little resembled its firebranding origins. Thus the paper is derided by neo-socialists for being little more than a pamphlet. How, they ask, can McLeod line his pockets with revenue from car, cigarette and condo 14
advertisements and still insist the paper stands as a symbol of vital libertarian public service journalism? “That’s a common facile criticism of people who seem to carry grudges that somehow the Straight has sold out because we carry ads from the man, the establishment,” Dunphy says. “Do you want the paper to be free or not? Advertising is a component of that. That’s how we employ people and put the paper out, and that’s how we’re successful at it.” It’s a sentiment his boss has espoused from the beginning. In a 1972 statement to angry former Straight staff who occupied the offices to protest his assumption of sole proprietorship, McLeod wrote: “[T]he paper, and the community it serves are more important than the staff, and if that paper folds, it is the community which will suffer most … I’ve always felt very strongly that the Straight, or a paper like it, MUST survive.” McLeod insists the Straight still represents political dissent. In 2003 the provincial Liberal government, target of many editorial barbs, levelled a $1-million tax bill against the paper on the grounds that it contained less than 25 per cent editorial content, and therefore was ineligible for
Photo by Richard Montagna
Pierre Coupey helped launch the Georgia Straight in 1967. “It has become part of the status quo.”
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exemption from provincial sales tax on its printing costs. McLeod says he felt complimented. “We’re still a thorn in their side. We’re the last one they haven’t co-opted in some way.” McLeod won that battle; Gordon Campbell’s government backed down from the charge that entertainment listings constituted advertisements.
Georgia Straight co-founder Pierre Coupey, now 70, a semi-retired English teacher at Capilano University and a successful artist, does not believe an anti-establishment agenda and consumer content can coexist between the Straight’s covers. “In aggregate I don’t see the Straight having made any contributions to journalism,” he says over a decaffeinated latte. “It has become part of the status quo.” Speaking on Black Friday—a consumer discount holiday appropriated from the U.S.—in a West Vancouver chain coffee shop across the street from a gallery where his paintings are for sale, he acknowledges the irony with a jovial laugh. He’s as energetic and quick to smile as McLeod is cautious. Coupey says that besides having a great capacity to frustrate and disengage some of the Straight’s target audience, the amount of advertising in the Straight is an example of how commercialism and entertainment culture is entirely at odds with McLeod’s evangelism of social consciousness. The medium, he says, echoing communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, is the message—and so the message is ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ Worse, Coupey believes bombardment with entertainment and material distraction perpetuates a vicious social cycle of apathy. “We’re fragmented by popular culture, by entertainment. People are entertained so that they don’t get together,” he says. “The will isn’t there these days. Accumulation of systemic failures makes people retreat into these private worlds, where they can insulate themselves against the news they don’t want to see and filter it to their liking using all these escape valves that now exist. The social contract itself seems to be thinning, shredding, distorting to the point where people aren’t part of any social good.” Coupey has published literary magazine The Capilano Review since 1972, shortly after his departure from the Straight. He says it carries the provocative and dissident material he’d wanted to see in the Straight. It has a circulation of 800 copies
“I think in terms of the expression of politics it [the Straight] seems to be on the more liberal-to-social democratic spectrum, while [McLeod is] also recognizing the only way he can run a profitable paper is to run the types of ads he does. I don’t feel horrified as I would have in 1975.” Persky, who lives in Berlin now, admits Robert Hackett has a long histhat he does not read the Straight often, tory of criticizing corporate media. In his and wouldn’t pick it up to stay apprised of essay “Taking Back the Media: Notes on world events. “Nobody would pretend it’s the Potential for a Communicative Demsome wild, torch-bearing institution. But ocracy,” Hackett wrote that “commercial, it defends the values of civil libertarians advertising dependent media privilege conand people who are in sumerism over other that spectrum in kind of social values, the a mild way. If Andy Warminority of affluent hol had had an interest consumers over the in politics, this is what it less well-heeled, and would look like.” increasingly, depolitiMcLeod’s tired decized infotainment meanour may be the over public affairs inresult of a wide range formation.” In short, of things, not the least he said, this practice of which is simple age; causes “significant after all, he’s pushing 70. obstacles to progresHis pathos, his constant sive social change” underdogging, is at odds and degrades the pubwith his prosperity. He’s lic service journalism made a long living, and a ethos. good one, of his passions. But Hackett, who But it soon becomes clear is a professor of comthat all the years of permunications at Simon secution have left the Fraser University, man perpetually expectsays the Straight’s ant of personal attack. dependency on ad McLeod joined the revenue doesn’t Photo (left) courtesy of Vancouver Library Archives, Photo (right) by Jesse Winter others in founding the preclude it from Georgia Straight on the performing some useful political roles the daily press does much, but believed in free speech and had principles of “free exchange of opinion, not. He believes the Straight’s ability to kind of an anarchist philosophical perspec- radical or otherwise,” and still trumpets reach a general audience and commitment tive.” Persky left the Straight to form the his own commitment to fostering open diato building sustained, socially conscious ar- Georgia Grape with McLeod’s newly mint- logue. But when he learned Persky and guments are unmitigated by its proportion ed opponents in ‘67, but says the split was nothing more to him than an ideological Coupey had been approached for comment of marketing. “We live in a consumer culture,” he says, growing apart of his and McLeod’s visions for this story, he wrote me an email stating: “but I don’t want to accept this argument for the underground media, not a hostile “I find it disappointing that you are giving that all opposition has been absorbed.” ouster. He acknowledges, without applaud- any weight at all to statements by Pierre Hackett says youth protest has simply ing, the Straight’s position in Vancouver Coupey and Stan Persky, who have had nothing to do with this paper for more than changed, not vanished since the time of the media as a critic of the status quo. “Everything is hypocritical in capitalist 40 years, and who contributed virtually unwilling war conscripts of the 70s. These days, several upstart leftist e- society,” he says, laughing. He suggests nothing during the time they were with the magazines are nobly attempting to fill the the battle for experimentation in media, paper. I have endured their potshots all this perceived gap in Vancouver’s media land- drugs, living and loving was lost when the time without ever firing back, but if you scape—The Tyee, OpenFile, Vancouver Is corporate conservatism of Ronald Rea- really are going to take them seriously in Awesome, The Dependent—all with man- gan and Margaret Thatcher ruled the free your piece, maybe I should say something. dates to improve media democracy and world. “We ought to work for a politics that Or not. Their hindsight is perfect vision, I provide a counterweight to the sensation- doesn’t depend on this kind of consump- guess.” He went with “not.” He did not answer alized, conservative mainstream media. tion. We ought to have governments that While some have won acclaim and awards argue against the depravity of capitalist requests for a follow-up interview and was from the intellectual community and fellow society, but the thing is, it would be odd to reported by his staff to be travelling somewhere in South America. LJR media makers, none of them can boast any- blame the Straight for all of that. per issue, paltry when compared with the Straight’s roughly 120,000 copies and a readership estimated by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia at more than 800,000.
where near the profits, name recognition or readership that the Straight can. It’s an idealistic loop of logic that begs the question: If you publish an important article and no one is around to read it, does it make a difference? And not all McLeod’s former collaborators believe he is a sellout. Stan Persky, who was one of the Straight’s earliest writers and has a long history as a fixture on Vancouver’s activism and intellectual landscape, remembers McLeod as “a pale shy guy, an Andy Warhol type” who “never said
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Up close and personal with
Mr. Savage Love
Sex columnist Dan Savage pushes the envelope while pushing for equality Anyone who doesn’t think the outcry was responsible for the quick reversal—the lightening quick reversal—is fatally naive. I don’t know if the Harper government intentionally kicked the hornet’s nest, but they kicked it, and they had no idea how many hornets were inside. I think Harper wants to stay away from this issue. It might interfere with his plot to pollute the world with dirty, sandy oil.
an Savage works as editorial director for alternative newspaper The Stranger in Seattle, Wash. where he lives with his son D.J. and husband Terry Miller, whom he married in Vancouver. Savage founded the It Gets Better Project, a series of antibullying YouTube videos to help combat the prevalence of LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning] youth suicides. He also publishes his syndicated weekly column Savage Love in several dozen alternative papers including Vancouver’s Georgia Straight. The unapologetic pundit has become a kind of iconoclastic celebrity, a household name, his acerbic commentary sought across popular media on all manner of civil rights issues, especially what he calls the eternal battle of same-sex social equality. You recently made the arduous trek from Seattle up to Vancouver. Did you notice anything different about a postriot, post-Occupy Vancouver? Nope. Things seemed to have returned to normal—Granville is still Granville. My mom had a framed “God Bless This Mess” needlepoint hanging on the wall in her (neat-as-a-pin) kitchen. I always think of that needlepoint when I’m walking down Granville.
Why is U.S. political discourse shrinking back into such obsessive sexual conservatism?
Quinn Lincoln illustration
What is your view on the current climate of Stephen Harper’s Canada?
ends and Harper is shown the exit, along with his conservative cronies. In the meantime, everyone in Canada should react to any attempt by the Harper government to roll back civil rights or reproductive freedoms the same way folks reacted to the sudden invalidation of samesex marriages performed in Canada for foreigners: like a bunch of angry … hornets.
Well, I just spent a week in Canada, visiting some of my favourite places. (The Summit Hut at Panorama, the fire place in the hotel at Sunshine Village.) And it seems fine, very normal, still Canada. I hope that one day Canada’s long national nightmare
Remember that one day where everybody thought gay marriages performed in Canada were dissolved? It blew over, but do you still believe Prime Minister Harper wants to undermine the validity of Canadian same-sex marriages?
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Because it’s all they’ve got. The economy is improving, which erases Romney’s reason for being/running, and they’ve reverted to form: attacking people for the crime of having recreational sex. Their opposition to abortion, contraception, and gay rights—it all comes down to an obsession with recreational sex and a desire to punish people who have sex for the “wrong” reasons. It’s pathological. I like to say, ‘Canada got the French, Australia got the convicts, America got the Puritans.’ It’s why these issues, down here, will never, ever be resolved. Do you think it’s easier for teens today to be gay than when you were a teen? It depends. If a kid lives in a relatively tolerant place, goes to a school with a GSA [Gay Student Alliance] and anti-bullying policies that are actually enforced, and has the love and support of his family, there’s never been a better time to be a gay kid than right now. Really. But if a kid lives in some backwards shithole, goes to a school without a GSA or anti-bullying policies (or, God forbid, a private Christian school), and he has homophobic parents who are bullying him—there’s never been a worse time to be a gay kid.
What specific factors in the current cultural discourse are impacting that? The 30-year anti-gay hate campaign that has been waged down here by the religious right. They have injected poison into our culture, and kids are paying the price. Adults who fall for the hatred and lies—gay marriage is an attack on your family, gay people want to destroy the family, being gay is sick and sinful and will lead to the downfall of our civilization— can only attack gay people with their checkbooks and their votes. But their children—children who are exposed to the same hatred and lies—go to school on Monday morning and there’s the gay kid. They’ve listened to their pastor rant and rave about how God hates fags so much, and they’ve been told that gay people, by simply existing, represent an existential threat to their families. Mom and dad attack gay people at the ballot box. Their straight kids attack gay kids they encounter in the hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms, and lunchrooms.
Do you believe in the Werther Effect, copycat suicide? How much does the rate of gay teen suicide stem from adulation or martyrdom of victims?
ple you have sex with .... Straight people need to have more sex than they do, gay people need to have less sex than we can. There’s a balance that has to be struck.
I’m not a shrink. If the science is there, it’s there. We don’t make heroes or martyrs out of the victims of suicide for fear of inspiring copycat suicides. The IGBP is an attempt to reach and speak to kids who haven’t killed themselves.
Is there a piece of advice that has stuck with you and you’ve been particularly proud of?
You said the worst advice you ever gave was when you told a young Jake Shears to come out to his family. What other advice to you regret giving? Oh, that. The advice I gave to Jake wound up being the right advice—it was a short-term disaster, a long-term success. Advice I regret? Early on I toed the AIDS org line and repeated the it-doesn’tmatter-how-many-people-you-have-sexwith-it-matters-how-you-have-sex lie a few times. It actually does matter how many peo-
GGG [being good, giving and game for your sex partners]. Price of admission. Monogamish. ‘What are you into?’ If straight people embraced those Savage Love concepts—all of them have their own Wikis—it would do so much to improve their sex lives, the little dears. To what do you attribute your popularity? My rock-hard abs. What’s your strategy for when the zombie apocalypse strikes? You mean it hasn’t?
Journalism: sometimes a wild ride ANNE WATSON
rett Mineer’s life as a journalist has been nothing short of a ride on a roller-coaster. Mineer was the CKNW radio reporter who in January 2011 broke the heart-wrenching story of the slaughter of a hundred sled dogs in Whistler, which hosted the world with the Winter Olympics just a year before. It later became known that the dog owner, a local entrepreneur, who operated dogsled tours, considered them redundant. A few hours after filing the story to NW, Mineer himself became somewhat of a celebrity as media outlets from across the country called him for interviews, and for more information for their own follow-up stories. The story quickly spread world-wide. But Mineer’s glory was shortlived. Eight months later he would lose his job at CKNW. He’s not quite sure why. He had worked for the station for six years. Then two months after he was down, he was up again. He was awarded a Webster Award for best radio news reporting of the year. Some justice, after all. But that’s not the end of the story. Mineer, meanwhile, had moved to Victoria to work for CTV Vancouver Island. As he was being interviewed over the telephone for this story, he revealed another bit of news: He had just been fired. “When I arrived this morning the human resources woman was standing by the door.” He was shown into a boardroom and joined by Hudson Mack, anchorman and the face of CTV Vancouver Island. Mineer says Mack told him: “I’ve got some bad news for you. We’ve decided this just isn’t working out and that you’re not the
right fit for us, and your employment is terminated effective immediately.” Mineer was stunned. He had been employed at CTV for only four weeks. His picture was on their website promoting his arrival and he had done voice-over work, which was set to run during some of the station’s popular daytime shows. “There’s going to be a cloud of suspicion around me now,” he feared. Mineer never anticipated that reporting the news could be such a wild ride when landing his first broadcast job in the Okanagan after graduating from BCIT in 2004. He says CKNW gave him almost the same reason for his termination, but believes it was more for financial reasons. “That’s sort of my best guess as to what happened,” he says. “It’s a race to the bottom on wages.” He suspects more people will be shown the door as newsrooms continue to scale back. “It’s going to keep happening until the public demands better.” As well, some are leaving for their own reasons. “A lot of radio jobs, especially, tend to have a shelf life for reporters of two to three years, and then they move on. “The result is that you have people who are very inexperienced and just when they’re starting to really get a handle on their craft, they’re either laid off or they leave of their own accord because they’ve had enough.” Mineer apparently hasn’t had quite had enough. His plan was to look for another reporting job. That Webster award must seem like a long way off. LJR
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Photo by Jesse Winter
Langara Journalism Review 2012
Citizen Journalism Worth paying for KHETHIWE RUDD
ostly equipment and a post-secondary education in journalism are no longer requirements in order to spread the news. Citizen journalism has changed how news is packaged and consumed by viewers in recent years. With easy-touse, toy-sized technology, suddenly many of the pictures and videos of crime scenes and plane crashes on the six o’clock news come from eyewitnesses. “Once upon a time, it was solely the preserve of a journalist who worked for a media institution,” says Alfred Hermida, co-author of a book called Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers. “That media institution owned the means of production; they owned a printing press; they owned a TV station. Now a lot of us will have that printing press in our pocket,” he says. Citizen journalism has grown so powerful, it played a key role in toppling corrupt governments around the world. Oppressed for years by tyrannical leaders in Middle East countries, citizen journalists took photos and wrote stories about their experiences and soon the movement spread, turning into a political and social emancipation known as the Arab Spring. On this side of the Atlantic North Americans who felt oppressed by the capitalist system organized protests of occupation in major cities. Again, the protestors were able to document their own experiences and share them with the world, without having to confirm to the storyline of the established, corporate media. Citizen journalism “weakens that traditional gatekeeping role of [mainstream media] deciding what it is that you need to know,” says Hermida, associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s
there a point at which citizen journalists need protection from mainstream media? Veteran journalist Shannon Rupp thinks so. Rupp says big media are exploiting citizen journalists by profiting from their work and offering no compensation in return. She expressed these views in an article she wrote recently for the online magazine The Tyee entitled “Occupiers, Big Media Wants Your Help!” She scolded the Vancouver Sun for tweeting “Going to #occupyvancouver? Help us cover it. Send updates, photos, videos to...” Self-proclaimed “citizen-editor” Photo courtesy Alfred Hermida Brian Stokes shares Rupp’s belief that citizen journalists are being taken advantage of by the mainstream media—so much so that he began the grassroots Citizen Media Guild, a global and currently informal union that aims to protect citizen journalists’ rights for recognition and ensure payment for use of their work. The website, based in Australia where Stokes lives, says citizen journalists “are finding their work going to air on mainstream commercial news broadcasts, without attribution or compensation,” and at the same time those mainstream media outlets call the citizen journalists’ work “illegitimate.” Stokes says one citizen journalist’s live stream of the Occupy L.A. encampment Graduate School of Journalism. was essentially hijacked by the local Fox With footage easily broadcast on web- News channel. sites such as YouTube and Facebook, some “While the Fox News anchors were disjournalists are beginning to wonder how sing this citizen journalist and saying his the work of these citizen journalists is af- coverage was somewhat invalid, they were fecting the media’s reputation, and their airing his video,” he says. own job security. If a network can just take Hermida notes, though, that there have footage off the Internet and re-broadcast it, been few instances of news publications why hire a journalist to cover the scene. taking advantage of free labour. Following But David Godsall, editor of the citizen- the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left 500,000 sourced news site OpenFile Vancouver, people living in camps, CNN, The Guardsays there’s another question fomenting ian and BBC covered the devastating act of beneath the surface of this discussion: Is nature strictly through citizen-generated
“[Journalists] are finding their work going to air...without attribution or compensation.”
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material throughout the disaster’s first hours because only two foreign journalists were on the ground at the time. A day later when the media dispatched journalists to the country, only four per cent of the material broadcast to the world was then provided by citizens, says Hermida. The motivation behind using a citizen journalist’s work determines whether it’s ethically right or wrong to broadcast, according to Hermida. Does the content bring to the publication a broader range of perspectives? Or is it simply filling a gap because there are too few reporters to cover everything adequately? He says most outlets use citizens’ footage until they can scrape together the resources to use their own staff. He notes, for example, that during the 2010 G-20 summit in Toronto the CBC found a good balance between covering the event and the related protests with its own reporters, as well as collaborating with citizens. The CBC established a blog whereby ordinary people wrote about their experiences alongside professional reporters’ work. “That to me is one example where you are seeing the balance in journalism as a collaborative space,” Hermida says. Stokes extols such collaboration and sharing of media space, but he wants to ensure that it’s done fairly. He knows both sides of the coin; he once worked as a reporter for a radio station, monitoring the police transmitter and chasing down stories. Now retired, he wants to officially or-
ganize those who provide material to the mainstream media into the Citizen Media Guild. There may eventually be a set of journalistic standards for members of the guild, though he admits it might be hard to get everyone to agree. Funding for the union remains to be determined; he is considering imposing membership fees and accepting donations. He hopes that along with the formation of an official citizen journalism union, websites that aggregate their content, such as Ustream and Livestream, will commercialize and sell ads for their postings to create revenue and provide compensation based on traffic their work generates. The only issue he can foresee with that business model is the websites may want to use professional editors for the content, leaving citizen journalists in the same situation they are now. What truly defines a citizen journalist? Many people working in media have conflicting views. Though he uses the term citizen journalist, Hermida thinks it is a terrible description. “It makes me think of the term ‘horseless carriage,’ that when cars first came along we called them horseless carriages because we didn’t have a way of conceiving them.” He says there must be a new term to describe what looks and sometimes acts like a journalist but isn’t actually one. Godsall calls the term citizen journalist an outright oxymoron. “Since you’re a journalist, you cease to
be a citizen,” he says, because reporters should not voice personal opinions in a public arena. Citizens have the right to free speech—as do reporters, of course— but reporters’ credibility stems from their allegienace to the concept of objectivity. OpenFile paved the way for a new business model for media. The online publication relies on story ideas from ordinary people, but Godsall doesn’t call them “citizen journalists” because paid, professional journalists are then assigned to further research and write each story. Godsall says there’s still a need for journalists to factcheck, contextualize and accurately report the news. “That’s why we go to school and some of us intern for pitiful pay. That’s why we apprentice ourselves to the grizzled old greybeards who know what Freedom of Information requests to file.” Liz Heron, an online editor of The New York Times, argues that there should be no distinction between between citizen and professional journalists. “We’re all in the media, we’re all journalists, just different kinds of journalists,” Heron said at a panel discussion entitled How Social Media are Changing Journalism, held last November at UBC Robson Square. She added that citizen journalists and their work are as important as her trained staff at The New York Times. Karen Pinchin, founding editor of OpenFile Vancouver and also part of the panel, told participants that a piece of her dies
Glacier warms up to digital CELINA ALBANY
ow does a tiny Vancouver-based bottled water company become one of Canada’s major multi-media hubs in just over a decade? Diversification, according the financial manager at Glacier Media Inc. “Our business and professional investments include mining, oil, gas, along with accountant and environmental manuals,” says Orest Smysnuik, Glacier Media’s chief financial officer since 2004. “[Glacier is] where we got our name, the first company we bought—bottled water. It was a shell company and one of our assets.” The company moved into the media biz in the early 2000s by investing in agricultural and business publications, and then in community newspapers in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. It made a bigger commitment in 2006 when it forked out $117 million to acquire 100 per cent of the Canadian interest in Hollinger International Inc., formerly run by Conrad Black and David Radler. “It was a big step because we then doubled our size,” says Smys20
nuik. Glacier continued heavy purchasing of community newspapers through 2007 across the Western provinces. The company rang in 2012 by acquiring Postmedia Network Inc.’s 20 community newspapers in B.C., plus the daily Victoria Times Colonist. The Dec. 1, 2011 purchase came with a price tag of $86.5 million and a total of 750 employees, according to Smysnuik. He says the ongoing focus is on producing quality news but with an eye to the Web. “We’re not going to bury our heads in the sand. This is a digital world. We’ve made complementary platforms,” says Smysnuik, noting that every Glacier newspaper has its own website with mobile and iPad applications. The cost of ensuring every paper goes digital is steep, but bringing rural areas into the digital world will be worth the investment in the long run, according to Smysnuik. “People think newsprint is dying out.” But, he adds, the face of journalism is merely switching platforms into a digital world, so companies like Glacier need to take a different approach to media.
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every time someone refers to a reporter as a citizen journalist because it implies that person automatically has less credibility. She noted some of her best writers on OpenFile have never had any professional journalism training, and, in fact, advises most people not to go to journalism school as she believes there are many other ways to break into the business. Stokes says training doesn’t define who a citizen journalist is; it’s the medium by which the information is broadcast. Using solely a blog, Facebook, Twitter or a live stream to inform the public constitutes the citizen journalist, he says. “It’s fully possible for someone with a proper, formal journalistic education to be a citizen journalist,” Stokes says. Such a
But despite the quibbles over the definition of the citizen journalist, Stokes believes the mainstream media must accept that it no longer owns the news and must adapt to a new model. The future of journalism will bring about a wide spectrum of the types of news available to the public. “Rather than looking at everybody who carries a newsroom in their pocket as a threat, look at it as an opportunity, look to it as a way of enhancing new journalism. “Tensions come in journalism because it’s a closed system to the outside. Journalists used to come up with the news,” Stokes says. He notes that these days professionally trained journalists are perhaps more important and relevant than ever simply to
OpenFile Vancouver editor David Godsall: “The public is quite media savvy.” person would be independent, and not employed by a mainstream media corporation. But Stokes points out that there are other considerations—whether the citizen journalist is in an activist role, or in the more traditional “objective” or hard news role. The first has a stake or a vested interest in the event; the other does not. Coverage of the Occupy movement provides a good example, he notes, as some of the coverage came from those who were involved in or sympathized with the cause, and some from those who provided material from a more neutral standpoint.
sort through all the content available. And regardless of the right all citizens have to broadcast any content they choose, Stokes says impartiality is the best way to gain credibility and reach a mass audience. An Occupy Denver citizen journalist was live-streaming himself berating the police, so officers tackled him onto the ground and threw his camera into the police car which disabled the live-stream. “This is the sort of reckless journalism that I think could absolutely kill citizen journalism,” Stokes says. Unbiased reporting will do better in the long run beLangara Journalism Review 2012
cause activist journalists may anger their audience if their political agenda isn’t a popular one. “If you’re going to be carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you’re not going to make it with anyone, anyhow,” Stokes says, referring to a statement once made by Beatle John Lennon. Ultimately, readers and audiences will measure the success of the citizen journalist. Hermida says people need to look at news and decide whether it’s valuable information or not. It must be of value, “regardless of whether it was somebody who went to journalism school who ended up writing or whether it’s somebody who never even thought of themselves as a journalist.” Godsall believes the public is quite
Photo by Jesse Winter
media savvy and that people judge news severely. “I’m having a hell of a time getting our readers convinced that we are a credible news source,” he laments. In any case, Stokes plans to continue his work aimed at establishing some sort of citizen media guild, even though the idea is “a little too fresh to tell you what’s going to happen next.” He says he has some 100 people already interested, but acknowledges that it would operate to serve a small, niche market. “It’s never gonna be huge, but then again maybe it shouldn’t be.” LJR 21
We’re Watching You Looking for precedents: Online privacy vs. the public interest GRACE ESCUDERO
ith more people’s banking records, shopping habits and personal emails vulnerable to a determined hacker or snooper, Canadian courts are giving victims the legal avenue to sue those who invade their online privacy. “Our lives can potentially be linked to a social network; anything from work experience to where we ate for lunch, to our complicated relationships and even our sentiments towards an issue,” says Sepy Bazzazi, a marketing manager and social media expert.
“As a result of this, our actual privacy has become increasingly more important recently, and more susceptible to being breached.” Earlier this year an Ontario court provided a legal avenue to those whose personal information has been acquired without permission—they can sue. While this was a milestone for Ontario courts, it’s anything but new to British Columbia, says a Vancouver media lawyer. “It’s a big deal for people in provinces where they haven’t had this,” says Dan Burnett. “They’ve had a lot of cases in Ontario and elsewhere that have paid lip service to the existence to that potential kind of claim.”
Photo by Jared Gnam Langara Journalism Review 2012
But with these decisions as precedents, does this place journalists in danger of being legally pursued while reporting? Burnett suggests not. “One of the important things for journalists here in B.C. is that if you’re in a situation where you’re arguably starting to invade somebody’s privacy, there is quite a powerful defence of public interest there,” he says. The term “public interest” is generally defined as the people’s general welfare and well-being; something in which the populace as a whole has a stake. “What does ‘the good of the public’ entail?” asks Bazzazi. “Can we ‘breach’ a criminal’s privacy to get them arrested, and dodge the lawsuit because it’s for the ‘good of the public?’” So if a story is deemed to be not in the public interest, journalists may be sued if they breach online privacy in the process. But determining what is actually an invasion of privacy can be difficult because every individual has a different comfort level with privacy online, Burnett notes. “People have different standards of what is too much of an invasion and even if they can all agree that there has been some degree of invasion then they’ll have very different standards of what it’s worth.” In some cases, protecting oneself from such invasions is not as complicated as it may seem. For example, social media platforms have easy-to-use privacy settings. People must also use common sense, says Bazzazi. “The onus of ensuring that your profile is secure and private is very much upon yourself,” he says. “If you’ve got a secret to hide, but you don’t hide it, you can’t blame anybody but yourself when the secret comes out.” The sharing of information online has made it easier than ever for journalists to research their stories. The line determining exactly where where the public interest meets an individual’s right to privacy is yet to be drawn. LJR 22
Photo by Grace Escudero
What ever happened to community television? PAT R I C K J O H N S TO N
efore the reality of 500-channel cable television, before the global reach and infinite content of Youtube, there was the sentiment that a community should have its own broadcast voice—for the people, by the people. But the idea of community TV whereby an ordinary, untrained citizen could produce a public affairs-oriented program is now all but a thing of the past, fading like other communitarian ideals of the 60s and 70s, eclipsed by the tyranny of corporate broadcasting ownership. In those days, local community groups successfully pressured the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to make funding of community-produced programming a requirement for cable broadcast companies. During the 70s and 80s, the federal government provided funding for communitydeveloped television, but today little of that
money remains. Enthusiasm for public access to cable waned. Reluctant to open their production facilities to the public, cable companies stopped advertising their community access components to potential subscribers. “We, to some degree, abandoned cable because we never had any access to decisions about programming,” says longtime community TV advocate Peter Anderson. Anderson says he saw a much broader global network on the horizon. “We could see this wired-world concept coming down the road in the 70s.” The argument for community TV may be lost—but the same spirit now lives online. “We’ve removed that hard structure,” says Anderson. “People can create their own [media].” Yet the Internet also has its own power structure. As the way people interact has changed with the dominance of social networks, threats to its openness and freedom will surely emerge, says Anderson. The torch of community access is now borne by new online advocacy groups such Langara Journalism Review 2012
as OpenMedia.ca, a Vancouver-based nonprofit that aims to represent public opposition to attempts to regulate and restrict Internet freedoms. It’s greedy cable companies who want the CRTC to clamp down, says OpenMedia spokesperson Lindsay Pinto. “Cable companies are asking the CRTC to regulate online broadcasting in much the same way as they do television,” she says. Pinto insists it’s vital to promote opinions and ideas developed by everyday viewers, instead of forced by corporations. The public-forum philosophy of user-generated Internet content is closely aligned with the old ideals of community TV, even if the idea of community has expanded to any number of commonalities. Anderson and Pinto agree that if online broadcasting is to avoid the same fate as TV, the public must vigilantly oppose attempts to govern it that threaten its innate function as a place to promote diversity of thought. “Going forward, we need to keep the Internet open,” Anderson says. “Some of these control ideas are dangerous.” LJR 23
Langara Journalism Review 2012
physics of science writing The
Reporting on science means making complex information understandable to everyone— without losing anything in the translation ANNE WATSON
ess H. Brewer looks a little like Indiana Jones. A large felt fedora rests on his head, damp from the heavy rain outside. His Gortex jacket hangs off his tall, lean frame. He walks into the cafeteria at TRIUMF, a subatomic physics laboratory at the University of British Columbia. It’s a small, unassuming building tucked behind tall trees at the end of campus. He orders a coffee. The barista knows him by name. As he sits at the small table, his knees almost hit the underside and people pass by to say hello. He takes off his hat, revealing thin, greying hair and rests it on the table beside him. He adjusts his glasses and takes a sip of his coffee. Brewer pulls a stack of papers out of his bag and slides them across the table. He
Physicist Jess H. Brewer: “How can you know enough about the subject to be able to explain it in a way that’s both true and accessible?” Photo by Jesse Winter Langara Journalism Review 2012
taps them with his index finger. The papers are photocopied articles he says are “good examples of good reporting.” One of the articles is on the link between vitamin E supplements and prostate cancer. He notes that at first he wasn’t keen on reading it, figuring the reporter hadn’t done his homework. But when he did read it he quickly changed his mind. “It was a very well-done study. They did it very carefully and they gave the statistics in great detail, and actually this is an example of an extremely good reporting job.” Brewer has a lot to say about science journalism. “The problem is that I’m so accustomed to reading stupid, superficial, mis-descriptions of what was bad research in the first place, I tend to see that everywhere I look,” says Brewer, a self-proclaimed ranter. Brewer is a retired physics professor and now spends much of his time at TRIUMF working on experiments with graduate students. “The problem,” he says, “is that how can you know enough about the subject to be able to explain it in a way that’s both true
Photo by Jesse Winter
Science journalist Margaret Munro in her home office in Vancouver. She has a background in biology, and says: “I tend to stay away from physics.” and accessible.” Science journalism means translating specialized and often esoteric language describing a scientific discovery or research into everyday language, and in an interersting way. Accuracy is sometimes lost in the translation, frustrating the scientists involved and shortchanging the reader. Science journalists must also be diligent in doing their homework—for example, background research on a topic so when they do interviews they have some basic understanding of the subject they’re writing about. 26
Sitting in her office overlooking trees sprinkled with autumn colours, Nicola Jones recalls the day some 14 years ago when she realized she wanted to be a science journalist. A hint of an English accent curls her every word and she grows animated as she starts to tell the story. As a student, she was on a boat trip with a couple of scientists for her undergraduate thesis project. They were researching methane clathrates, which Jones describes as “very, very cool. It’s frozen ice on the sea floor that contains natural gas.” A German journalist was on board Langara Journalism Review 2012
with them, documenting the journey with a video camera. “I had this sort of ‘aha!’ moment when I realized that after the two weeks of excitement I was going to go back to a lab and hit a button on the gas chromatograph over and over and over again, which was not going to be very exciting,” says Jones. “And he’s presumably going to go back, edit his tape into a story and then go on some other trip with some other scientists on the best two weeks of their year.” Jones realized she wanted the same experience. She enrolled in the journalism masters program at UBC and did internships at New Scientist magazine and the science journal Nature. She then worked at Nature as both a reporter and editor, and still writes freelance articles for them. She’s also teaches at UBC’s School of Journalism. Jones agrees that the role of the science journalists is to place material in context. “I think you always have to start knowing what the news is. You can’t just start with a piece of research and hope to turn it into news somehow.” Because it deals with such specialized material, science journalism is prone to inaccuracies and sometimes it can be something as simple as the headline. “There was a paper that said that it was ranking the harm of different illicit drugs and it said that although crack cocaine and heroin were the most dangerous drugs to an individual, at the societal level alcohol was the most dangerous drug.” She says put into that social context it sounded “quite sensible” but a lot of newspapers twisted the information, making it sound like alcohol was the worst drug period. “It was totally misinterpreted and spun by everyone because there was this possibility that it could have a really quirky, interesting headline. They call it a story that’s too good to check,” Jones says. Science journalism covers every subject, from the discovery of black holes to the unravelling of the human genome. Some science journalists have a background in such areas, others do not. Though Canada only has a handful of science-oriented magazines, most major daily newspapers provide some sort of regular science coverage. Margaret Munro is a science writer for Postmedia and a board member of the Canadian Science Writers Association, which aims “to promote and reward balanced and accurate science reporting” and encourages communication between scientists
and journalists. Munro has covered everything from grand events such as the launch of the space shuttles to political issues such as the Harper government attempting to muzzle federally funded scientists. “It’s making the information come alive to people who may not know a thing about it, and that can be a bit of a challenge,” says Munro. For example, having just arrived back from Toronto to cover the unveiling of new solar panel technology, she’s having a hard time wrapping her head around the nanotechnology involved—“the quantum dot mechanics. “I tend to stay away from physics,” she says, laughing. Munro studied biology in university and worked in research labs after graduation. She decided to go into journalism because she enjoys “the theoretical concepts of science more than the actual doing of the science,” and because the science journalism she read was full of misinformation. She cites as examples the public controversies over the spraying of DDT, a commonly used but now illegal pesticide, and the use of biodegradable detergents. “There was a lot of misinformation that was being spun around in the media.” Products were being labelled as biodegradable, she says, misleading people into thinking they were okay for the environment and “that was part of the problem. “I got really interested in trying to set the record straight.” She started working for the Ottawa Citizen after auditing journalism classes at Carleton University and has worked her way up to be one of the top science journalists in Canada. “There’s value in good information,” she says. Munro says aspiring science journalists don’t necessarily need a background in science, but having the basics helps. The experience gained through years of writing and researching becomes an asset. “You develop a pretty good sixth sense about all this stuff as to whether it’s important.” Fellow CSWA board member Hannah Hoag is a Toronto-based freelance journalist who has worked for a variety of media outlets, including CBC Radio and Nature. She says she was a scientist first before she was a writer and that gave her an edge. “I think you either need to have a really good grasp of the basics of science or not be afraid to ask the questions and make sure you understand it when you are interviewing someone on a science story.” She was in her “quarter-life crisis” when
she decided to pursue science journalism. She enjoyed talking about science with people, “communicating it to them, telling them how science was done and how we discovered certain things but also why it was important.” She loved reading science and going to science museums and realized “somebody has to write these things, and why couldn’t this be me?” “You always hear in journalism there are no dumb questions but in science journalism there really are no dumb questions because it often is more complex or layered. And you have to make sure you understand maybe not all those layers but some of them.” Hoag says it’s important to read other
ence writing would do just that. He feels in some ways his not having a science background has been an advantage because he knows he has to be able to understand the material before his readers will. “What I did have and what probably still informs my writing is a deep interest in history and the history of ideas. My science writing generally reads, for good or for ill, with that as an underpinning.” As is the case with others, Strauss finds the biggest challenge is trying to convey information in a way an audience with no science background can appreciate it. “You end up having to translate from one language to another and the language
“I’m not sure how it is that one is a science journalist anymore because there’s so much information out there.”
science journalism, as well as the science journals, and to understand a particular field of science, as well as what makes a good story. She says understanding the components of what you are reading when you find a story is extremely important. “Often there will be a key part that’s missing that explains why this particular approach for, say, a diagnostic or a treatment is different or important—or [explains] why we are even talking about this in the newspaper.” Comprehending why something is of value in the context of the scientific world, and what effect it my have on society, is crucial. For those who don’t have a science background, the challenge becomes understanding the matter enough to be able to translate it to readers. Stephen Strauss has more than 30 years of experience in science journalism but he does not have a science background, other than a physics course in high school and some chemistry in university. He was working at The Globe and Mail doing “soft feature kind of writing” and wanted something that would challenge him and keep him interested in his career. He figured sciLangara Journalism Review 2012
is not so much science in quotation marks.” He says the amount of information to wade through before even finding a story can be overwhelming. The Internet alone offers an unending amount of on-the-spot information. Presentations, conferences and science journals can also be rich sources for stories, but finding ideas that are fresh and new to both the science community and general public is sometimes a tough task. “The problem is that it’s become really significantly more difficult to be a science journalist because there’s significantly more information that gets out from all sorts of venues,” says Strauss. “I’m not sure how it is that one is a science journalist anymore because there’s so much information out there.” Samia Madwar makes a point of calling herself a science writer, rather than a science journalist. Many of her projects are based on one study and she simply synthesizes the information and presents it in layman’s terms, rather than placing the information in a larger context. The Ottawa-based writer who has worked for Canadian Geographic maga27
Photo by Jesse Winter
Physicist Jess H. Brewer and part of a particle accelerator. He says complex projects aren’t properly explained in the news. zine, says science writing should encourage a conversation. “Anything to me that gets me to discuss something with other people, that’s a good story.” When I’m trying to find a story it’s finding something that would be interesting to scientists and non-scientists alike because there are a lot of things to a lot of non-scientists [that] might seem like it’s news. But to scientists it’s just common knowledge and...would not be considered news.” Madwar says for her the biggest challenge is to make a connection between the information and the reader. Sometimes she finds it hard to place the information in a context that makes it relevant to the general public. “The actual scientific development is the interesting part and to me it’s just cool because it’s science—and it just is.” Though scientific research and new developments may attract a variety of readers, they are not the only aspects of what makes a good story. “Lots of things make great stories,” says 28
“It’s just a matter of asking really basic questions... and getting the scientists to speak to you in a way that you can understand.” Jones. “Great characters, people who have personal reasons for the science they are doing, people who are adventurous or unafraid of controversy, even courting controversy. Something that will be surprising or relevant to the everyday person who reads it or the something that will change the dirLangara Journalism Review 2012
ection in a field.” Jones says she works hard to get the most out of her interviews. “It’s just a matter of asking really basic questions, not being afraid to ask stupid questions and getting the scientists to speak to you in a way that you can understand what’s going on. Once you are at that point then it’s easy to write it down.” Jones agrees that having a science background isn’t a necessity, even though it comes in handy when conducting research and interviews. But she does believe it takes a certain type of person to be a good science journalist. “You need to be the kind of person who is capable of and enjoys thinking, who has the capacity to learn quickly and on the spot, and is able to keep their wits about them to ask the right sorts of questions.” Physicist Jess H. Brewer would agree. “Science is a really fun thing to write about because there’s something to actually say. It’s not just a matter of opinion.” But, he might add: Make sure you get it LJR right.
24-7 news bid a yawner to some S
haw Media is poised to launch a 24-hour local news network in B.C., but one observer of the media scene doesn’t believe Canada needs another such channel. “It’s such a crowded news landscape,” says Donald Gutstein, communications professor at Simon Fraser University. “When I heard about the channel I thought, ‘yawn, so what.’” Shaw Media announced its application to the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission early this year, stating it plans to expand its top-rated Global BC brand into an all-news specialty channel by summer. Gutstein questions whether a regional 24-7 news network can avoid redundancies. “[Twenty-four-hour news networks] go on and on, focusing on the same story,” he says. “If I watch CTV News it’s the same news items again and again.” Ian Haysom, Global BC’s regional director of news, maintains there is more than enough news and resources in B.C. to create an informative, successful channel. He notes Toronto has two successful regional news networks, Bell Media’s CablePulse 24 and CityNews from Rogers Media. “The research we’ve done and the history that we’ve seen else-
where shows that it won’t hurt our product. It would actually enhance it,” Haysom says. “I’d like to bring in more interesting community news stories from around B.C., whether it be Kelowna, Prince George or Kamloops. I think people will be interested in what those stories are.” Gutstein says Shaw Media’s motive behind the channel could be to help parent company Shaw Communications Inc. increase television and internet subscribers. Shaw, which purchased Global from Canwest Global Communications Corp. in 2010, plans to include online, tablet and smartphone services with its 24-hour product. “Shaw is losing subscribers in droves to Telus, who is rolling out Wi-Fi networks everywhere,” Gutstein says. “So they’ve got this great asset. Might as well use it.” The yet-to-be-named news network will operate out of Global’s Burnaby studio. Along with regional news it will simulcast Global BC shows such as News Hour, Morning News, as well as Global National. Haysom says the new channel will add new content like a primetime talk show hosted by Global BC anchor Jill Krop. LJR
Langara Journalism Review 2012
Sponsored by... Media sponsorships earn money and raise brand profile. Do they compromise the news? ANNE WATSON
even-course meals, summer festivals, economic summits, marathons—cruises to Alaska. It’s not new for media companies to sponsor events and celebrations, but these days it seems they are becoming a common and important part of doing business. “It is a huge growing field and there’s been a sea change in industry, and there’s many more sponsorships now than there ever was in the past,” says Janet Smith, arts editor for the Georgia Straight. “Media outlets compete for those sponsorships in a huge way among themselves.” In broadcasting the story is similar. Steve Scarrow, director of promotions for Citytv and OMNI, says television is an expensive business and it’s becoming harder and harder to break even at the end of the day. He says promotions and sponsorships are an important part of keeping television afloat. “It’s well beyond selling ads anymore to generate revenue.” Smith agrees. “Its all about packaging things because there’s so many different formats now with the website and blogs,” she says. “Its all about give and take now, which is kind of how sponsorships have become this huge force, especially in the arts and entertainment end of the media.” Sponsorships and promotions are in favour not only because they increase brand exposure but also because they provide another source of revenue. “I feel like sponsorship should kind of have two key attributes,” Scarrow says. “One, that it aligns well with the local brand and how it’s going to grow viewers or interact with existing viewers and two, some of our sponsorships are also tied to revenue generation.” But because of the nature of the media 30
business, can sponsorships and promotions create a possible conflict-of-interest? Will an event get news coverage only because the media outlet is sponsoring it? And can any coverage be free of a promotional bias? Not according to some media experts. “They have a vested interest in what it is that event is going to be about,” says Don Krug, a digital media professor in the department of education at the University of British Columbia. “What you’re going to do is provide a slanted view in terms of what occurred, why it’s important, all that kind of stuff.” Smith says editors at the Georgia Straight have no direct input in determin-
ing who the sponsors are. “In my case—I’m speaking from the arts end—we’re sort of talking in terms of previews and reviews,” she says. “If it’s reviews and they’re covering a show it’s generally done by freelancers who, I’m quite sure, have little or no idea that it’s a sponsorship at all.” Smith says she generally does know who the sponsors are when assigning stories and will provide page space accordingly. “So it comes into play in the kind of assigning stage but as far as I can see it, not in the writing stage or the reporting stage, from the arts end.” Scarrow maintains he places no pres-
Photo by Jared Gnam
Georgia Straight arts editor Janet Smith: Media sponsorship is a huge growing field. Langara Journalism Review 2012
The Scoop on Radler ANNE WATSON
Photo by Jesse Winter Chris Gailus, anchor for Global B.C.’s News Hour, speaking at a Cities Summit conference in Vancouver earlier this year. Shaw Media, Global’s owner, was a sponsor of the summit. sure on newsrooms to provide coverage of a sponsored event. “The line we try to draw and we tell in our partnerships is we will pass on the information to our news people and the news managers when we’re involved in an event. But we don’t make that part of our agreements.” Scarrow notes that Citytv and OMNI sponsorships are generally in line with the interests of their audiences. “Because of the fact they often match with the brands that those shows are, and what they represent, it meets their needs to do editorial pieces on them,” says Scarrow. “The primary viewers that we have to those shows actually care about that information.” Sponsorships do not necessarily have to be commercial. They can be can involve community outreach programs, according to Scarrow. One project that Citytv created was Be There For Schools, which provides support to elementary schools. “Be There For Schools was created at a time when we could see funding for schools
was being reduced,” Scarrow says. “This was an opportunity to engage with them and speak to our viewers. It was a major concern for young families and people with kids.” In this case, Scarrow suggests, news coverage of some sort could be warranted because of the positive community aspect, and without any commercial interest. While sponsorships may be a hot ticket these days, Scarrow believes some outlets view them only as a measurement of how well they are doing. “I believe that there’s an over-perceived value in sponsorship that doesn’t entirely exist,” he says. “A lot of people use the metrics of sponsorship, how often their logo is seen or included, as their reasons for success.” In any case, Krug says full disclosure from news outlets involved in this practice is very important. “I just think it’s a matter of making sure people are aware of what the associations are,” the UBC professor says. “I think that has to be made apparent.” LJR Langara Journalism Review 2012
hat ever happened to David Radler, former friend and business associate of Conrad Black, and second in command of the once mighty Hollinger International Inc. newspaper empire? The story of how Radler fell from grace—pleading guilty to mail fraud, and then testifying against his former partner and other Hollinger executives—is well documented. But since serving 10 months of his 29-month prison sentence he has mostly been out of the corporate limelight. Has he given up on the newspaper game? Not by a long shot. The extent of his holdings is unclear and a search of records indicates the makings of an intricate media web. Radler is a principal in Vancouverbased Alta Newspaper Group, previously known as the Alberta Newspaper Group, once part of Horizon Publications Inc., a company he ran with Black. Alta owns two dailies in Alberta, the Lethbridge Herald and the Medicine Hat News, along with smaller community papers. Alta also owns the Sherbrooke (Quebec) Record, which is where the Radler-Black duo started in the biz more than 40 years ago. About half of Alta was bought by Glacier Media, which also picked up a number of other small papers that had previously been part of Hollinger’s holdings. Radler is listed as CEO of Horizon, which still owns almost 30 newspapers in the U.S., and three small dailies in Canada. Horizon’s chief financial officer is Roland McBride, who served as CFO of American Publishing Co., a subsidiary of Hollinger. McBride is also vice-president and treasurer of Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, a company whose CEO is Melanie Radler, David Radler’s daughter. Whether Radler aspires to past glories remains to be seen. When contacted for an interview, he said he would provide information to the media only when he was ready to do so. LJR 31
Langara Journalism Review 2012
And then there was The B.C. interior town of Nelson once had three newspapers. After a corporate shuffle two were gone, including the 109-year-old Nelson Daily News JEN ST. DENIS
or more than a hundred years, the Nelson Daily News operated out of a Victorian-era brick building on Baker Street, Nelson’s main drag. The distinctive vertical sign with “Nelson Daily News” in large red gothic letters was one of the first things you’d notice entering the town from the highway. Today, the iconic sign is gone and the building no longer houses a newspaper. It was renovated and is rented out to other businesses, including a law office, which leases the upper floor. The boom years of the early 2000s saw skyrocketing real estate values in many picturesque B.C. communities. Nelson, a town of 9,200 perched on the side of a mountain overlooking Kootenay Lake, was one of them. It is blessed with stunning scenery, a
Nelson Becker, former publisher of the Kootenay Express newspaper: The competition for advertisers quickly got ugly. Photo by Jesse Winter
post-industrial economy, and a quirky vibe born of its history as a landing pad for the counter-culture and American draft dodgers in the 70s and 80s. Until mid-2000, the town didn’t have much experience with high-density condo buildings. The quintessential Nelson house
“The newspaper I love, the publication that has provided me with my life in Nelson is done.”
was a detached heritage Victorian, lovingly renovated with blood, sweat and tears, and the help of a few friends. But with a need for more housing and few new places to build in the mountainside community, developers looked to the town’s waterfront, which had been home to a large sawmill, maintenance and rail yards. Starting in the late 1990s, several condo projects were proposed for some of these now-desirable waterfront areas. One ignited a firestorm of controversy. From 2005 to 2007, concerned residents Langara Journalism Review 2012
packed meetings to speak against the sixstory height of the proposed Kutenai Landing development, the public consultation process, and its environmental impact. The Nelson Daily News was there to cover it all. The paper wrote dozens of stories as the proposal wound its way through public hearings, council votes and lawsuits over a three-year period. “The more we stay on an issue, the more people talk about it,” says former Nelson Daily News editor Bob Hall, who identified the Kutenai Landing controversy as a story of which he is particularly proud. “The more we reported on it, the more the opposition grew.” Nelson’s city council approved the controversial development in 2007. But in the tumultuous years after the 2008 market crash, the developer went bust. And so did the Nelson Daily News. Hall broke the news of the end of the 109-year-old daily paper to his readers in an editorial on July 6, 2010: “Over the last 15 years I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words in the Nelson Daily News. These ones are the most difficult to see on the screen before me. The newspaper I love, the publication that has provided me with my life in Nelson is done.” Hall had been with the paper since 1995, when he moved to Nelson from Calgary. He started as a freelancer, was hired on as a full-time reporter, and then became the 33
paper’s editor in 2004. Although his first love is sports reporting, he says he got more interested in covering politics when he realized that “it’s a game as well.” Hall recalls the news of the paper’s closure came from a Black Press manager just days after the company had announced its purchase of the paper and 10 other community newspapers from competitor Glacier Media. Four of the papers—the Nelson Daily News, the Prince Rupert Daily News, the Quesnel Adviser, the 100-Mile House Adviser—were shut down the same day. All four papers had been in competition with other existing Black Press papers. Hall was initially excited and hopeful when he first heard of the ownership change. “I thought they were going to buy it and fix it. But then they looked at the books. “It was unfortunate,” he says. “It was an old newspaper but its time had come.” The end of the Nelson Daily News shocked the community, but in retrospect, Hall says, no one should have been surprised. “That newspaper lost money every year. It couldn’t even cover the operational costs.” Chuck Bennett, the Kootenay-area publisher for Black Press, concedes that people do have an emotional connection with small-town papers. “My dad had subscribed to the Nelson Daily News for 35 years. I used to deliver the [paper] when I was a kid. So it was hard on the community to lose that daily focus.” But he says saving the paper was not an option as it was losing $500,000 a year and circulation had fallen to a point of no return. “It just didn’t have any momentum to really say how would you possibly bring it back.” Subscriptions had dropped rapidly in the years leading up to the closure. By 2010, subscriptions had dropped to below 2000, Bennett says. By comparison, in nearby Trail (population 7,200), the Trail Daily News has 5,000 paid subscribers. Hall says the Nelson Daily News staff were trying different things to make the paper profitable, such as improving its web site. But in a town where small businesses make up most of the town’s economy, there was increasing competition for ad revenue from other media such as the free weekly Kootenay Express, as well as local radio stations. A new weekly called the Nelson Star, also owned by Black Press, had also arrived in town. “The pie was getting smaller,” Hall says. 34
And so six months after the Nelson Daily News shut down, the publisher of the Kootenay Express announced that his paper would be closing its doors after 22 years of operation. “It was my intention to publish a newspaper that went into every door and was a voice for the community to speak to itself,” wrote Nelson Becker in the Jan. 19, 2011 issue, the paper’s last.
Nelson Star editor Bob Hall Becker is unabashedly attached to the town that bears his given name. He sometimes greets strangers with an enthusiastic, “Hi, I’m Nelson from Nelson.” The voluble New Yorker had first visited his adopted community in 1980. He helped organize a peace festival and fell in love with the place. He spent the next eight years scheming to find a way to return and live there, and in 1988 he moved to Nelson for good. He started a monthly arts events calendar, which evolved into the free weekly Kootenay Express. The paper never made a profit, says Becker, but it did break even. He says trouble started for both the Express and the Nelson Daily News when Black Press started up a rival weekly, the Western Star, in 2004 (later renamed the Nelson Star). “[Black Press] actually … called me on the phone and said, listen, ‘We’re starting a newspaper, but we’re not interested in hurting you in any way.’” He says he was on good terms with Black Press staff, whom he knew through his involvement with the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association. But despite the friendly phone call, Becker says the competition for advertisers Langara Journalism Review 2012
quickly got ugly. “They competed heavily with both us and the Daily News,” Becker says. “I know from personal experience one of my advertisers, who was spending $200 a week with me for their ad, the Star approached them and said, ‘Hey, we’ll give you that same ad for $50.’” The competition for advertisers and the loss of a contract with the City of Nelson hit the weekly paper hard, Becker says. By December 2010, the writing was on the wall. Becker decided to close the Express. But he remains proud of the independent community paper, and he contrasts his approach to corporate-owned media. “The goal of the corporation is to have stories that are controversial, that are bad news,” Becker says. “Because that gets everybody excited and that’s the way they sell newspapers.” Hall doesn’t see it that way. “Black Press have a very good philosophy of concentrating on community news,” Hall says. “And if you do that, the community will reciprocate.” A few weeks after closing the Daily News, Black Press announced the Star would be published twice a week instead of once, and the company hired Hall to be the paper’s editor. Hall says coverage in the Star is about the same as the Daily News, pointing out that the Star puts out two papers a week consisting of 28 to 40 pages, compared to the 12-page daily. The paper has similar staffing numbers—Hall and two reporters, minus the sports reporter he had at the Daily News. In the years leading up to Black Press’ purchase of the Nelson Daily News, Bennett says Black Press was going “head-tohead” with Glacier Media to compete for flyer advertising throughout B.C. Since Glacier owned the Nelson Daily News, says Bennett, Black Press had to start a paper to compete for the same flyer clients. “There’s been that argument that we undercut all of our competitors and I don’t think that’s true,” Bennett says. He adds that he doesn’t know what prices the other newspapers were offering to advertisers. “We think we’ve got the right editorial mix, the right presence in the community, the right distribution pattern,” Bennett says. “We certainly haven’t had any complaints from our flyer clients.” Meanwhile, Becker is making another attempt at producing a homegrown community news product. A few months after closing the Kootenay Express, he launched a digital form of the paper. He has a website
and mails a PDF version to about 5,500 email addresses every week. He says he’s operating out of the good graces of his pocket, and has plans to launch a new expansion of the paper but he won’t say how. “I don’t want to reveal secrets to my competitors,” he says. Becker will not be alone in Nelson’s online journalism scene. The Star has its website, and a newcomer with a familiar name is also getting in on the local news game. Thenelsondaily.com is an independently owned news site operating under Lone Sheep Publishing, which has four other affiliated news sites. According to Lone Sheep’s website, the company “aims to provide the necessary tools for journalistentrepreneurs to establish an online news presence in their community.” Thenelsondaily.com provides a forum for three former Nelson Daily News reporters, including editor Bruce Fuhr, who was the sports reporter for the Daily News for more than 20 years. Fuhr says the website aims to give people “that daily fix of news.” But it’s still something he can only do in his spare time—he has a day job as a first-
Photo by Jesse Winter
Nelson’s Nelson Becker has re-launched his Kootenay Express on the Web.
aid attendant for a natural gas company. Fuhr refuses to compare the content between the thenelsondaily.com and the Nelson Star, because he’s still rancorous towards the Star for putting the Nelson Daily News out of business. “I guess you could say I still have a bone of contention,” he says. Adrian Barnes, publisher of thenelsondaily.com and two other news websites that serve nearby Castlegar and Rossland, says Black Press papers tend to be too soft on authority and don’t “question those in power.” “I wouldn’t call that a newspaper,” Barnes says. He shares that the sites are slowly becoming profitable, but insists they are not solely about making money. He also has a second job, teaching English at Selkirk College in Castlegar. Hall says the local online sites still aren’t real competition for print newspapers such as the Nelson Star. “Their content isn’t even close,” he says. “They don’t have the resources and they haven’t found a formula where they can be financially successful.” LJR
News on Nagata CELINA ALBANY
ormer CTV bureau chief Kai Nagata found himself in the spotlight after resigning with a 3,000-word diatribe on why he chose to leave television news. Nearly a year later Nagata is still fiercely taking his own approach to media and pushing for new forms of journalism. Nagata was praised worldwide for airing out the media’s dirty laundry in his essay and has been seen as a quixotic whistle-blower of sorts. He criticized television news for—surprise, surprise—being shallow, among other journalistic shortcomings. Since his departure from CTV last summer, Nagata has created a self-sufficient movement in search of new models of journalism. He is frequently involved in panels and public talks on various topics. Nagata has joined Vancouver-based online news site The Tyee, starting off with a succession of essays and documentaries.
“Having Kai here has been great. It’s a natural fit,” says David Beers, founding editor of The Tyee. “He has stepped away from orders and constraints. Here Kai is allowed to stretch out and make an impact and be creative.” Beers credits Nagata for aiming high with quality work while he is mastering the art of documentary. Nagata is currently working on some nine separate projects, among them his national campaign entitled “Reimagine CBC,” focused on switching media to the web. He was planning to start a citizen journalism experiment beginning this spring. He is also looking at forms of “sustainable journalism in a post-growth economy.” He says it is important to study alternatives in media if the economy takes another dive. “The models being used are a hundred years old. They’re getting a little bit creaky,” Nagata says. “Trying to make the same thing work Langara Journalism Review 2012
over and over is a recipe for frustration. This way I have time to try different ways to do my thing. “Newsrooms rely on the same models that the system follows,” Nagata says. “I have time now. It’s a wonderful window to play with different models.” Nagata will be doing a series of workshops and teaching video this summer at Templeton Secondary in East Vancouver, where he graduated. Entitled Tyee Master Classes, he will be training staff and offering courses to the general public on independent, self-sufficient media. He hopes to pass on his skills and help people understand the internet as an outlet for moving into more multi-media journalism. Journalists are responsible to give the public freedom and power, Nagata maintains. “I hope people utilize this time of opportunity.” LJR 35
Gonna start a
From the basement offices of Adbusters in Vancouver, Kalle Lasn’s idea would spread across North America
t ended in the rain; one last sodden parade through the streets from the Art Gallery to the steps of the provincial courthouse a block away. It was a cheeky act of defiance before Occupy Vancouver protesters retreated indoors for the winter amid frustrations and promises to return in the spring. The Occupy movement captured the imagination of dissatisfied youth around the world, fanning out from the original #OccupyWallStreet in New York’s Zuccotti Park in September. By mid-October it had grown to more than 1,000 occupations around the globe. It was spurred on by Internet memes and viral videos of kettled protesters and pepper spray, captured and broadcast by thousands of cameras wielded by more protesters than reporters. It was a perplexing time for the mainstream media. No one knew who these people were, what they wanted, or how to report on an organization with no leaders or spokespeople. In many ways, #Occupy reflected a new pattern for media production, one that shows its members aren’t interested in waiting for the established media to get the message. It ended in the rain, but it was started by an enigmatic veteran rebel in a small studio office hidden behind a hedge and an unassuming glass sign on Vancouver’s Seventh Avenue. Editor-publisher Kalle Lasn and the Adbusters team dreamed up an image and an idea of which we likely haven’t heard the end. Where did the ideas come from for the bull-and-ballerina poster and for the movement in general?
We have brainstorming sessions here all the time. It was an idea that slowly started percolating and taking form early last year after the incredible happenings in Greece, and then of course when Tunisia and Egypt happened, that was one of the greatest revolutionary moments in the 20-plusyear history of Adbusters. I hadn’t felt so ebullient since the Chicago riots of ’68. We said to ourselves ‘Well, there are all kinds of regime changes happening in Tunisia and Egypt, and we need a kind of regime change here in America.’ And maybe it wasn’t going to be a hard
Photo courtesy of Adbusters
Kalle Lasn: A regime change was necessary. regime change like with overthrowing Mubarak … but many of us felt a sort of soft regime change was necessary here. And the situation was ripe for it. So we said ‘Hey, let’s try to catalyze a kind of Tahrir Square moment here.’ Did anyone at Adbusters predict it would grow so quickly? Well, yes and no. We knew as soon as we put out the hash tag #OccupyWallStreet,
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Photo by Jesse Winter
people on the ground started contacting us; people in New York started talking about organizing and meetings. We knew there was something sort of sexy about occupying the centre of global capitalism and taking it over; sort of We The People taking over the iconic centre of global capitalism. We knew it was going to be a big bang in New York, but when it started spreading to other cities and towns, when it came across the boarder to Canada in October, when there were over 1,000 occupations around the world, that exceeded our wildest expectations. How do you think the rest of Canada viewed the movement, those not directly involved, watching it on TV in their living rooms? I think for a lot of people it sort of started off with a lot of reluctance in Zuccotti Park, and everyone thinking it would just be this little bang that would go away very quickly, just a bunch of loony lefties shouting this stuff, and we’ve seen this before and we’re not interested and let’s have another latte. The commercial, mainstream media doesn’t like this sort of thing. They tried as
best they could to ignore it, and it was only when the shit hit the fan and 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge that they started taking it seriously. But nobody really captured it; nobody caught the magic. I think it’s an indictment not only of our global capitalist system but also of our global media system. At all the big press events during Occupy Vancouver, the mainstream media’s cameras were far outnumbered by DSLRwielding citizens and occupiers, many of whom started calling themselves ‘independent media.’ Is there a distinction between protester and reporter? Well, the way I see it, when something happens in a society…imagine yourself back a long time ago somewhere where you’re part of a small town or a small city and something happens. How do people hear about what happens? People spread the word, or they come up with a piece of paper and write something, or if they have a camera they’ll take a picture, but the original model of media is exactly that: people basically broadcasting what they saw to spread the word. And this idea that we have a sort of commercial TV station that runs ads every five minutes and then tells us that somebody died yesterday in some tent from an overdose or something, to me, that model is dead. The Internet makes it possible for us to spread our own message, to be citizen journalists. To me, that is the model of the
By the end of November, the atmosphere at the Vancouver Art Gallery had shifted and become quite negative and confrontational. What do you think went wrong with the occupation in Vancouver? To me, the big deal was that there weren’t enough inspired people to keep the right mood going. In Zuccotti Park they were able to keep this idealistic, magical, mysterious, beautiful, inspired solidarity and camaraderie going for weeks and weeks and weeks, whereas here in Vancouver we sort of lost it in a very short time. One of the big mistakes that happened early on that got people so jaded in Vancouver is that, you know, these reporters have to do the thing in 10 minutes, and if they don’t like it that much they’ll go find a guy with dreadlocks who looks like a bit of a loony lefty and they’ll interview him. And he’ll be incoherent, and he’s going to babble something that’s going to be on the evening news and it’s not going to do anybody any good. We could have played a huge part in the municipal elections if we’d been able to infuse our idealism into the election instead of allowing the election to be a way for them to target us for being bad. Instead of us controlling their narrative, they controlled ours. I think that what happened wrong in Vancouver and many other occupations is that we weren’t able to control our own occupation. Instead of talking about these high ideals of what we want the future to look like, these ideals that we’re fighting for, we ended up going on the defensive and having to justify why people were dying in our tents. That was the beginning of the end for many occupations, not just Vancouver.
It’s been said that revolutions aren’t revolutions until they succeed. Until then they are just revolts. Was Occupy the first of revolts to come? What’s coming next? Photo by Jared Gnam
future. It’s like these general assemblies, and the mic check and all the magic of a small group of people acting democratically and listening to each other, that was sort of going back to the origins of democracy, and the old model of how information is supposed to propagate through a society. It was a sort of ‘back to the future’ moment for me.
I think that it’s driven by the fact that capitalism has finally reached some sort of end game where one-third of all the workers in the world can’t find a job, and human beings are becoming almost irrelevant to capitalism itself. I think global revolution is inevitable. And here it’s going to be preceded by occupations, and uprisings in Spain, and wild, crazy riots in London that nobody can make any sense of. I do believe the reason the Occupy movement magically spread Langara Journalism Review 2012
around the world in the space of six weeks is that it’s a harbinger of things to come. I think we’re in a planetary end game.
Photo by Jared Gnam
Will this coming revolution need professional journalists to tell its story? Will we still have professional journalists? I think that this word ‘professional’ is a word that will slowly lose some of its meaning. There will still be a place for responsible journalists and videographers and photojournalists and creative people of all kinds who create meaning and cover events and so on, but this idea of a high-level professional working for a corporation that is then running a newspaper and a TV station and running ads every five minutes and having the first 10 pages of the magazine full of ads, this whole commercially driven media machine that we have now, this is eroding away now. If I was a journalist at journalism school right now, I would be preparing for that future right now instead of trying to turn myself into this super-professional that Rupert Murdoch would want to hire. I would become a human being who lives life without dead time, and gives people epiphanies with your photographs and your writing and your blogs and whatever. You can be a journalist that saves the world rather than be professional. There’s a new kind of journalism being born and a new kind of journalist being born, and fuck commercial professionalism is what I say. LJR 37
Photo by Jared Gnam
We’re not gonna take it any more It’s been one of those years. First it was the Arab Spring where citizens of several Middle Eastern countries rose up to turf out harsh authoritarian rulers. Then there was the Occupy Movement where people in cities all around the world took over public spaces to rail against the rich and powerful, the “One per cent.” This spring postsecondary students in Quebec took to the streets to protest their 38
provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees. The mood is all reminiscent of actor Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell” cri de coeur in the iconic 1976 film Network. We feel this photo, shot by Jared Gnam during one of Occupy Vancouver’s protest marches, captures the spirit of this phenomenon that some say has yet to see an end.
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