The inside story on
and the writing of Seven Fallen Feathers, the book that shook up Canada
Louder Than Thunder SPECIAL WOMEN’S ISSUE: Online Threats • Wartime PTSD • Sexual Harassment | Covering Hate and Terrorism A Critical Look at Jesse Brown’s Canadaland $12.99 Display until Spring 2019 The Athletic Reinvents Sports Journalism Rolling Out the Weed Beat | Going Undercover
SPRING 2018 | VOLUME 35, NUMBER 1
ILLUSTRATION: NICK CRAINE
FEATURES 12 Man in the Mirror The two sides of Jesse Brown and whether journalists should take him as seriously as he takes himself
66 Collective Actions Photographers are banding together in order to uphold quality photojournalism BY ZOE MELNYK
BY AMY VAN DEN BERG
20 What’s Black and White and Green All Over? It’s the weed beat—and it’s growing fast BY BEN WALDMAN 28 Covering the New Hate When journalists report on the farright, how close should they get? BY DAGMAWIT DEJENE
36 Louder Than Thunder The inside story on Tanya Talaga and the writing of Seven Fallen Feathers, the book that shook up Canada BY RHIANNON JOHNSON
70 Don’t Mess with De Niro And other do’s and don’ts of interviewing celebrities BY ALEXIS KUSKEVICS
ILLUSTRATION: FRANZISKA BARCZYK
74 102 The Pioneering Kit Coleman The life and times of one of Canada’s most popular columnists in the late19th and early-20th centuries—a dossier BY LAUREN DER 104 From Homeroom to Newsroom Peeking inside Toronto’s high school newspapers BY LAURA HOWELLS
74 No Escape The neverending online threats to female journalists BY JACOB DUBÉ
108 Storied Careers Two of Canada’s oldest journalists look back on their decades in the business
80 Making a Terrorist How journalists become the state’s megaphone when national security is under threat BY MARIA IQBAL
BY JACOB DUBÉ AND DANIEL CALABRETTA
88 Hide and Seek The ethics of going undercover
110 A Spiritual Journey Religion still matters to millions of Canadians, so why is there so little coverage of faith and personal belief? BY JACOB MCNAIR
BY EMMA BEDBROOK
44 Warning Signs Inside Canadian fake news and the ongoing efforts to minimize its pernicious influence BY DANIEL CALABRETTA
52 War Torn For female conflict correspondents the trauma doesn’t leave, even after they have BY KAROUN CHAHINIAN 60 Game Changer How a start-up called The Athletic is reshaping sports journalism
94 A True Pro A tribute to the late Randy Starkman—husband, father, son, friend and Canada’s premier amateur sports journalist BY MATT OUELLET
ON THE COVER 36 Louder Than Thunder 74 Online Threats 52 Wartime PTSD 96 Sexual Harassment
96 Our Stories Six women on their experiences of sexual harassment in and out of the newsroom BY ANNIE ARNONE
28 Covering Hate 80 Terrorism 12 A Critical Look at Jesse Brown’s Canadaland 60 The Athletic Reinvents Sports Journalism 20 Rolling Out the Weed Beat 88 Going Undercover
BY DAN LEBARON
COVER PHOTO: IAN WILLMS
SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 1
7 Freelance Side Hustle Matchmaking, dog grooming, arctic touring, what freelance journalists are doing to get by BY LAUREN DER
8 Cold Calling Canada The RRJ turned to the old phone book to find out what Canadians think of journalism BY KENNY SHARPE
9 Regert the Error Hears’ wat a deck wood luke like with out a copyeditor BY LUKE ELISIO
9 Mind your Language When covering diverse communities, look beyond the newsroom stylebook
119 To Read or Not to Read Comment sections can give journalists informed commentary or a whole lot of grief
BY SUNDAY AKEN
BY DAINA GOLDFINGER
10 Pulling the Thread How the Twitter thread has changed the way journalists talk online BY ANNIE ARNONE
120 Up Next How these young journalists are preparing to enter a changing industry BY KENNY SHARPE
PHOTO: COURTESY KHALED AL-HAMMADI
11 Turning heds Sometimes the headlines are even better than the stories BY JACOB DUBÉ AND DAGMAWIT DEJENE
122 The Fixer Khaled al-Hammadi is an award-winning journalist in his own right. He’s also spent decades helping western reporters do their job BY EMMA MCINTOSH 124 From Coast to Coast to Coast Reporters from every province and territory highlight the stories they think every Canadian should know BY KENNY SHARPE 126 Journalist, Human Just because the news never rests doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t BY MARIA IQBAL 127 Risky Business It took Tavia Grant 10 months to tell one story. Here’s how she did it BY EMMA BEDBROOK
Ryerson Review of Journalism is a member of The National NewsMedia Council. If you have a complaint about news stories, opinion columns or photos see NNC information at mediacouncil.ca or call 1-844-877-1163.
128 A Dying Artform With print publications shrinking, what’s the future of the traditional obituary writer? BY DAN LEBARON
2 RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM | SPRING 2018
6 From Snooze to News Canadian journalists reveal what they need to do before they start their day BY ROSS VERNON DIAS
ILLUSTRATION: ALYSHA DAWN
When Journalism Fails
I felt “the media” misunderstood me. Here’s why
AST FALL, MY MOM, SISTER, AND I popped into our neighbourhood LA Fitness for our regular workout. Mom and I had niqabs on our heads, my sister a hijab, and the three of us had burqas flowing down to our feet. We were on our way upstairs to the women’s-only exercise room. A man was working out by the foot of the stairs. His gaze rested on us for more than a fleeting moment. Then, he raised his arms to the sky and said, “Don’t shoot.” “I might,” my mom joked back. But, caught off-guard, my sister and I weren’t amused. The episode reinforced my reason for joining the Ryerson Review of Journalism, the annual publication you now hold in your hands, which critically examines the practice of journalism. I felt “the media” misunderstood me, and the impact of that treatment trickled down to everyday interactions with people. What could have influenced the fitness-conscious stranger to feel comfortable approaching us like that? When images of women dressed like we do are splashed across front pages, painting us either as victims of terror-loving, dark-skinned, and bearded men, or as perpetrators of violence, how could Joe Blow at LA Fitness be expected to think any differently? At the RRJ, I set out to investigate how Canadian journalism covers Muslims and, more specifically, how newsrooms decide when to call someone a “terrorist.” I pitched the story because I knew it fit well with our mandate as a “watchdog on the watchdogs.” Months of research and interviews followed and, in the process, I came across a terrorism case that took place in Toronto—18 men and youths were arrested in June 2006 and charged in a bomb plot that made national headlines. The case had been highlighted as a major national security threat, and yet, I hadn’t heard about it before. I dug into the archives. How had the case been covered? What happened between the news breaking and the eventual verdicts being delivered? Had Canadian newsrooms drawn any lessons for reporting on future terrorism cases? I explored these questions in “Making a Terrorist.” My colleagues also brought a bit of themselves into their stories. One of the best examples is perhaps our cover story, which tracks the trajectory of Toronto Star reporter Tanya Talaga’s career leading to the publication of her book, Seven Fallen Feathers. The writer, Rhiannon Johnson, is herself an Ojibway journalist who says she feels Talaga has helped carve out a space for emerging Indigenous reporters. As journalists, we believe our profession is vital for informing the public. But we fail in that mission if those we claim to serve don’t feel represented in our stories. The RRJ’s job is to point out those gaps for both journalists and the public—in print, online, in our podcast, and through our conferences. I hope the stories you read will jumpstart conversations about our practice. And I hope those conversations continue long after we leave. —MARIA IQBAL
SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 3
RRJ.ca Spring 2018
Volume 35, Number 1
Editor Maria Iqbal
Business & Audience– Engagement Team
Managing Editor Dan LeBaron
Managing Editor Ben Waldman Production Editor Karoun Chahinian Senior Editor & Chief Copy Editor Kenny Sharpe Senior Editors Amanda Short Amy van den Berg Ross Vernon Dias Digital Team Managing Editor Emma McIntosh Production Editor Jacob Dubé Senior Editor & Chief Copy Editor Daina Goldfinger Senior Editors Annie Arnone Daniel Calabretta Rhiannon Johnson Chief Podcast Producer Laura Howells Associate Podcast Producers Jacob McNair Emily Pardo Creative Services & Quality-Control Team Copy Editors Lauren Der Lubna Kapadia Chiefs of Research Sunday Aken Zoe Melnyk Researchers Matt Ouellet Micaela Tesi
Social Media Editors Dagmawit Dejene Sonny Sachdeva Conference Editors Luke Elisio Alexis Kuskevics Instructors Sonya Fatah Stephen Trumper Art Director Dave Donald Research Consultant Veronica Maddocks Story Editors Haley Cullingham, Lynn Cunningham, Charles Davies, Tim Falconer, Wendy Glauser, Susan Grimbly, Erica Lenti Lawyers Ryder Gilliland Special Thanks Angela Glover, Sally Goldberg Powell, Gary Gould, Anne McNeilly, Jaclyn Mika, Lesley Salvadori, Lindsay Hanna Publisher Janice Neil Business Manager Aseel Kafil Advertising Sales Trevor Battye, Steve Goetz Founding Editor Don Obe Founding Art Director Jim Ireland Printer Maracle Inc.
Visual Editors Emma Bedbrook Sherry Li Published annually by Ryerson University’s School of Journalism. To subscribe or donate, visit rrj.ca. Cover price: $12.99 (one year), $32.99 (three years), $57.99 (five years). Ryerson Review of Journalism, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2K3. Ryerson Review of Journalism is a member of Magazines Canada. ISSN 0838-0651 Canadian Publication Mail Product Sales Agreement Number 40065112
4 RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM | SPRING 2018
From Snooze to News
Canadian journalists reveal what they need to do before they start their day B Y ROS S VERNON DIAS IT CAN BE HARD to get a journalist’s blood
pumping early in the morning. Most are barely getting by, with shallow wallets, fake news pundits, and layoffs—it’s enough to drive them crazy if they let it. The news business is all taking and no giving, so pour yourself a cup of ambition, and wait for the day when the tide’s gonna turn and your ship will come in. Relax, it’s all going to roll your way. (Yes, that was 92.5 percent paraphrased Dolly Parton lyrics.)
shower is my answer here. I would Leave time for a real conversation over “sayI think “breakfast. yoga, which I’m new to (like some sort A moment of calm before the of coma victim who just woke up after 30 deluge. ” Newman, News Anchor, CTV years). But I don’t do that every morning. I —Kevin do shower. ” Sports Columnist, —Bruce Arthur, Spend a little quality time with my dog, “Rufus. the Toronto Star Watching him get totally stoked on
I have a weird tendency to sit on the bathroom floor, warming myself with the hairdryer, while scrolling through social media. I’ll look at Instagram (for memes), Twitter (for news), and Facebook (to see if I’ve forgotten a friend’s birthday), and then I start again from the top. It’s like a less guiltinducing but incredibly more psychotic snooze button.
—Nick Haramis, Editor-in-Chief, Interview
the outdoors playing with other dogs gives me perspective to not take life too seriously. A few days a week, Rufus and I will go for a run together. It’s my favourite form of multitasking: Exercise for me, exercise for him. Boom! Two things done at once!
—Sarah Boesveld, Senior Writer, Chatelaine
Lie around in bed stressing about some“thing inconsequential while my coffee gets cold, because I’m not very smart. ” —Denise Balkissoon, Opinion Columnist, The Globe and Mail
my kids to school. The news biz is “ Drive unpredictable so this might be the only
I often work from home and fre“quently leap from bed to work sans
part of the day that my teenagers and I will get to connect for a few minutes.
pants. I apply pants later during a mid-morning break. I’m not proud of this.
—David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News
I like to read the paper old“school style! And then I read The
—Tristin Hopper, Reporter, National Post
Business of Fashion online. I also try to do a 15-min session with my Headspace app. Key word here is “try.”
Mornings don’t begin until I hear Matt Galloway’s voice in my kitchen. Still groggy, I stumble downstairs, flip the switch on the coffee maker, and another on the radio tuned to CBC’s Metro Morning. It’s a Pavlovian response. I don’t really wake up until Matt’s words cut through my morning brain fog to bring on a new day. Thank you, Matt.
—Noreen Flanagan, Editor-inChief, Fashion
I start my day I listen “toBefore the The Daily podcast from The New York Times because it is a smart, civilized entrée into news of the day. Michael Barbaro doesn’t yell at me or even raise his
—Kathy English, Public Editor, the Toronto Star
I need to check Twitter to see if anyone has liked any of my attempts at humour. And if they haven’t, then I am despondent for the rest of the day.
—Mathew Ingram, Chief Digital Writer, Columbia Journalism Review
Drink coffee. black
—Josh Visser, Managing Editor, Vice Canada
6 RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM | SPRING 2018
—Lisa LaFlamme, Chief News Anchor, CTV
Eat food. A hungry Duncan is not a “happy Duncan. ” Host, CBC —Duncan McCue, ILLUSTRATION: ISTOCK
Freelancer Side Hustle Matchmaking, dog grooming, arctic touring: what freelance journalists are doing to get by B Y L AUREN DER
She was miserable at her desk job, so she became a professional matchmaker, starting her business, Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, in 2013. The prices of her annual plans range anywhere from $799 to $19,799—with more expensive plans including personal date coaching, style consultation, and headshots. Papamarko is not sure how many matches she has made in total, but says that about 40 are still together, many engaged or married. Matchmaking offered Papamarko the chance to do what she loved most about freelancing: talking, asking questions, being her own boss, and doing something that felt meaningful. But Papamarko isn’t the only freelancer who’s had to add a side gig just to get by. The Ryerson Review of Journalism asked others in the business about how they manage to pay the bills.
AT A RECENT WEDDING at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, Sofi Papamarko
was called to stand for photos and found herself in the corner next to a cute, middleaged woman with a sweet-looking face. Papamarko, a freelance journalist, was at the wedding as a guest of honour, of sorts. For several years, she’s moonlighted as a professional matchmaker, and the bride and groom were her latest success story. The two women—complete strangers— began chatting, and realized neither knew any other guests. Papamarko asked, as wedding guests often do, how her conversation partner knew the newlyweds. As it turned out, the woman was the caseworker who’d found the bride her adoptive family when she was a child. Papamarko burst into tears—she’d brought the bride her husband, and the sweet-faced lady had brought the bride to her family. “Maybe, she put us both together because we had essentially found her two families,” says Papamarko. For a while, Papamarko lived the life of a freelancer, but after the recession of 2008, she says, work dried up and per-article pay nosedived. It became clear to her that freelancing couldn’t cover the bills. “Believe me, I’ve tried,” she says. “I’ve had bylines in just about every major Canadian publication and still had a hard time making rent in downtown Toronto.” ILLUSTRATIONS: ALYSHA DAWN
Science journalist Alanna Mitchell turned her book Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, a look at current problems faced by the world’s oceans, into a one-woman play that she has performed across Canada as well as in India and Europe. She has written other non-fiction books and adds to her income by giving speeches on them. “It’s all based on my journalism,” she says. Mitchell’s environmental and science stories have been published in Canadian Geographic, National Geographic, the United Church Observer, and the Guardian.
Allison Lawlor is a returning officer—man-
aging the elections process and updating the voters list—for Elections Nova Scotia. This income allows her to write non-fiction
books, most recently a children’s book about the Halifax Explosion. “It’s cool because I have a daughter in Grade 4 who is learning about the explosion this year,” she says. Lawlor writes features for Nova Scotia daily The Chronicle Herald and The Globe and Mail, freelancing part-time from home. “It was a choice my husband and I made for our family,” says the mother of two. “We don’t rely on my income to pay our bills.”
James “Jimmy” Thomson was an Arctic
and Antarctic expedition guide until recently, giving him a “stable income, with the fringe benefit of getting free travel.” He took advantage of the travel to do research and make contacts for his stories about the Arctic. He now works part-time for DeSmog Canada, editing, writing, and making videos, in addition to freelancing. Focusing on issues in the Arctic, Thomson has contributed to CBC, Hakai magazine, and The Globe and Mail.
Mirjam Guesgen left her job at a boutique
dog store a few months ago. “The team was small, the products were high-quality, I got to know the customers, and I got to cuddle dogs every shift,” she says. But it only paid minimum wage. Originally from New Zealand, Guesgen has a doctorate in zoology and now ghost writes papers for scientists, which are published in academic journals. She primarily writes features and blog posts about scientific discoveries and issues related to animals. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, The New Zealand Herald, Quartz, The Conversation Canada, and VetScript magazine. She also has a YouTube channel, Science Wrap NZ.
SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 7
Calling Canada The RRJ turned to the old phonebook to find out what Canadians think of journalism B Y KENNY SHARPE DO CANADIANS TRUST JOURNALISM?
Harold McGiverin, 91 Kamloops, B.C.
Lewis Voisey, 44 Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
A 2017 Ipsos poll on behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association found that 69 percent of Canadians trust traditional news media “a fair amount” or “a great deal.” The Ryerson Review of Journalism called people across the country asking how much they trust journalism today.
I get the news on TV and radio, and read Nunavut newspapers. I trust most of it, but Canadian news seems to cover Trump and negative news more than positive things happening in Canada.
These answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Canadians have relatively high standards, so I have a fairly high level of trust in Canadian journalism. I get most of my news from CBC and BBC international news. I get almost nothing online, because I don’t spend much time on the web.
Irene Brake, 66 Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador
I get my news mostly from the TV where I usually watch CBC over my morning coffee and after supper. When it comes to trust, you can’t believe everything you hear. I find with CBC they usually do have their facts. Aidan Richardson, 16 Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
I get all my local news from CBC Radio. In Canada, the opinions are more diverse than in America, which makes me feel like it’s less biased. Journalists here talk a lot about American politics, but it would be nice to hear a lot more about Parliament or local authorities and officials. Indigenous affairs need more coverage too especially here in the North.
Dorothea Talsma, 62 Whitehorse, Yukon
Janet Drewes, 55 Oro-Medonte, Ontario
Torstar’s subsidiary, Metroland Media Group, shut down our local papers, the Barrie Examiner and the Orillia Packet & Times, so I don’t know when the township meetings are, what roads are under construction, or what is playing at the Orillia Opera House, unless I check online. Even when I watch CBC’s The National, we are not getting local news. I broke down and bought the Toronto Star a few times even though I am trying to boycott them. And The Globe and Mail doesn’t reflect my interests, but I’ve read it a few times.
8 RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM | SPRING 2018
Journalism today seems to be short stories that just try to get your attention. There is a paper here called The Connector which I value because they have stories for older people. I used to read the Financial Times and different magazines and papers, but I can’t now unless I use a magnifying glass. Rita Penney, 64 Fort McMurray, Alberta
I don’t have a problem with journalism in Canada today. I figure they are honest. If they don’t get the facts right, they’ll probably fix it later. I am not into this fake news stuff in America. Everything they don’t like is fake. Lucy Michelle, 39 Riverview, New Brunswick
I get the news from Facebook. Most of the time, I’ll Google it to make sure the information is accurate. I wish the news would be more about happy things and what people are doing in their communities instead of scandals and Trump. Revital Avshalom, 46 Summerside, P.E.I.
I am a newcomer from Israel. My husband and I get most of our news from Facebook and Google. Back in Israel I had been trying not to look at the news because I wanted peace and quiet. Now, the thing we see the most on TV is the weather. PHOTO: ISTOCK
Regert the Error
Mind Your Language
Hears’ why wi kneed a copyeditor B Y LUKE ELISIO COPY EDITORS WORK TIRELESSLY so only the best copy goes to
print. But sometimes they’re the ones making mistakes. Check out these errors that were caught at the last minute, and others that slipped through the cracks.
When covering diverse communities, look beyond the newsroom stylebook B Y SUNDAY AKEN A STYLE GUIDE is a newsroom’s bible. Most journalists pick
The Other London At the Ottawa Citizen, I wrote about a local baseball team returning after winning a tournament in London, Ontario. I didn’t put “Ont.” after London, because that was the style when I worked in Kitchener. The copy editor assumed it was England and rewrote the lede without checking. “The city was rolling out the red carpet for the team that was coming back from London, England.” I was horrified. I told him we had to run an embarrassing correction. He came into work that day wearing a bag over his head with two eye-holes cut out. This is why you never run something without showing your reporter first. —Anne McNeilly, former copy chief at The Globe and Mail
A (21st Century) World War I once mistyped “1914” as “2014” in a feature about the First World War, and it was in big type. To my eternal shame, it got published. When mistakes are accidentally published, you never really forget it. I once forgot to put the Sudoku into a section and there was so much reader outrage that I never forgot it again. —Anthony Collins, copy editor at the Toronto Star
What’s a Millennial Falcon? The errors I find funniest are ones that could be mistaken for actual usage. Some are food-related, like “sadwiches.” I felt like that’s how you’d describe a gas station sandwich. Another one was about Star Wars, and somebody put the name of the ship as the “Millennial Falcon.” You could imagine what that might be—a 20-something who can’t afford to buy a house. Another one should’ve been, “a pool of liquid assets,” but the ‘t’ was missing in “assets.” That was a source of amusement for everyone. —Heidi Ebert, copy editor at Toronto Life
Too Late At the Toronto Star, I edited a columnist whose work was generally regarded as sacrosanct. I thought he used a word incorrectly and called him politely, but he got shirty with me. I said, “Okay, if you insist. You’re a columnist for a reason.” He called the next day, apologized, and said he realized I was right. Unfortunately, this was after it had gone to print. Being an editor ends up being more about interpersonal skills and exercising judgment than it does about semicolons.
up The Canadian Press Stylebook early on, but the further they venture, the clearer it becomes that style guides are more than just variations on spelling and usage—they’re informed by the communities journalists cover. As a journalism student at Ryerson University, an instructor advised Eternity Martis to change her use of the word “community” to “communities” to more closely reflect the nuances of identities within a larger group. “You would write ‘Black communities’ instead of ‘Black community’ because there isn’t only one Black community,” says the Xtra associate editor. Even with in-house stylebooks, journalists can use other resources to ensure their language fits recommended guidelines. Here’s a list of common words that might mean more than what you think: Indigenous: An umbrella term for the first people to live on the land now known as Canada, says the Journalists for Human Rights’ “Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous People.” It advises journalists to be specific when identifying people, and to ask their preference. Refugee: Someone who lives outside of their home country “because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” says the “Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide” compiled by New Canadian Media, an outlet which produces content from an immigrant perspective. Hispanic: Anyone from a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America or anyone who identifies with the ethnicity. Some prefer “Latino/Latina”, so the “Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide” recommends asking for a person’s preference. Trans/transgender: Describes people who don’t identify with normative ideas of what it means to be a girl/woman or boy/man, according to a “Media Reference Guide” by The 519, a Toronto agency which promotes LGBTQ+ interests. Ebonics: A colloquial form of speech used by some people in Black communities, according to a style guide published by the National Association of Black Journalists (a U.S. organization). The style guide discourages using this form of slang.
—Ann Rauhala, former copy editor at the Globe and the Star PHOTO: ISTOCK
SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 9
BULLETINS 5/20 “I’m grateful for @Chatelaine for this thorough jumping-off point into a necessary conversation about masculinity. We gotta use it though. A thread:” 6/20 He used statistics to back up his tweets, referencing polls from the article.
Pulling the Thread How the Twitter thread has changed the way journalists talk online B Y ANNIE ARNONE
1/20 A stream of consciousness linked by a vertical catalogue system, numbered from first to last point—this is a Twitter thread, the modern-day vessel for sharing thoughts in the form of a story. 2/20 In the past politically charged year, threads have grown in popularity and are being used by politicians, academics, celebrities, and pretty much anyone who wants to rant about Donald Trump. Journalists, a special breed of Twitter user, are known for formulating arguments within the 280-character boundary and linking one thought to another in a series of tweets. 3/20 It’s easy. You announce to the Twittersphere that you’re about to lay down some crazy insights. You label it “THREAD.” Then, it begins. 4/20 Elamin Abdelmahmoud, a BuzzFeed Canada news editor, discussed male identity and masculinity in a thread in February. The thread responded to a Chatelaine story and survey titled “What’s it like to be a man in 2018?”
7/20 “No wonder so many men feel lonely,” he wrote. “46% of dudes said they suspected other people of having more sex than them. Y’all, no one is having more sex than you. Except for that guy Brad.” 8/20 “But Brad has work-life balance and contributes to his RRSP. Also Brad is a figment of your imagination.” 9/20 Like any form of writing there’s anger and hatred from opposing voices in thread replies. 10/20 Abdelmahmoud said since his thread went live, he received tweets telling him “it’s unmanly to talk about mental health,” that “masculinity is fine, just ruined by feminism,” and he also received a “DM instructing [him] to cut off [his] dick.” Despite the hatred he received, he completed his thread, ending it with “Okay, fin.” 11/20 Washington Post reporter David Nakamura voiced his frustration about covering the Trump White House on Twitter. 12/20 The five-part thread began with the facts. In a time when news travels at lightning speed, it’s impossible to cover it all with proper attention. 13/20 “I started the week intent on doing a follow-up piece related to the [White House] sacking of its presumptive nominee for ambassador to South Korea,” he wrote, although he ended up pitching other stories as new events unfolded that week.
10 RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM | SPRING 2018
14/20 “And then the Florida shooting happened,” he continued. “The very next day the WH torpedoed the bipartisan DACA bill. Today I followed up on that with a lengthy enterprise story—but it was bumped out of print by Russia indictments.” 15/20 Are all threads solid and accurate forms of journalism? Likely not. Like any other social media site, they can be used to push political agendas. 16/20 Daniella Zalcman, a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grantee, wants Twitter threads to be used for good. She gained national attention for her 16-tweet thread about the gender divide in the workplace. 17/20 “We’re in a complicated, tense time right now for our industry,” she wrote. “We’re going to have to have a lot of very uncomfortable conversations if we want to move forward.” Her thread was sparked by the storm of allegations of sexual assault in the media after #MeToo. 18/20 She called out men saying, “We need you to be on our side.” Zalcman explained that not only is it wrong to “touch your colleagues’ breasts, butts, genitalia, upper thighs, waists, etc.,” but about a bigger conversation on power imbalances in newsrooms and how consent doesn’t immediately justify the act. The thread received hundreds of retweets, likes, and comments. 19/20 It was called “The thread of all threads” by one commenter. “The thread that shouldn’t even have to be a thread, but here we are, teaching men in the journalism industry with inflated egos how to be decent human beings.” 20/20 Though threads aren’t perfect, they’re emerging as powerful tools that give journalists a chance to share their views, inform audiences, and directly engage readers. Okay, fin. ILLUSTRATION: DAVE DONALD
Turning heds TITLES
Sometimes the headlines are even better than the stories
B Y JACOB DUBÉ AND DAGMAWIT DEJENE FR ANCO -FUNNIEST:
Quebec lawmakers call on businesses to simply say, ‘Bonjour’ —CBC Quebec politicians passed a motion requiring business owners to say “Bonjour” to customers, instead of the common “Bonjour/Hi,” which is meant to signal that customers are free to speak in either French or English. The decision came soon after census numbers showed a slight drop in French as the main language in the workplace in parts of Quebec. FRIENDLIEST:
Winnipeg woman gives eggnog and gingersnaps to burglar —CBC The moral of this story is that if you try to rob a Canadian, they might just give you delicious treats. Try at your own risk. (Don’t try this, please). SAUCIEST:
Man with red sauce on face charged with meatball theft —Associated Press Boy, was this guy’s face ever red when he was immortalized with this headline. Legalize marinara! MOST CANADIAN:
Canada set to remove drunk canoeing as an impaired driving offence —National Post This will also greatly reduce the budget for Mounties patrolling on canoe. Can you imagine the chases? STR ANGEST:
Updates to Canada’s criminal law will legalize duels and permit pretending to practise witchcraft —Vice News Dibs on Gryffindor.
The day after Jagmeet Singh won the NDP leadership and became the first person of colour to lead a major federal political party, CBC Radio host Susan Bonner mistook Canada’s Minister for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains for Singh, probably because they are both Sikh men. When she was called out, Bonner claimed she meant Bains was talking about Singh. So Vice made a helpful list of people in politics and the media who are also not Jagmeet Singh. CR AZY CREATURES:
Squirrels stealing chocolate bars driving Toronto store owner nuts —Toronto Star “Give me a break,” the owner shouted as the pest ran off with a Kit Kat bar. SERIOUSLY?:
Pacific Mall ‘deeply disturbed’ to learn it is ‘notorious market’ for counterfeit goods —CP24 Pacific Mall, known for years across the Greater Toronto Area as the place to buy as many counterfeit goods as you can carry, said it was “disturbed” to learn it is famous for selling counterfeit goods. MOST PATRIOTIC:
‘I’m a little embarrassed’: Justin Trudeau forgets Alberta in Canada Day speech
Officers have been authorized to shoot to kale.
To be fair, the Oilers suck this year.
Hamilton police ask public to ‘romaine calm’ after $45K lettuce heist —Toronto Star
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Man in the Mirror The two sides of Jesse Brown and whether journalists should take him as seriously as he takes himself B Y AMY VAN DEN BERG ILLUSTRATION BY NICK CRAINE
ESSE BROWN SITS IN FRONT of a microphone in a stuffy, low-ceilinged studio. Six people can squeeze into the room— which Brown calls a cross between a confession booth and interrogation chamber—but it’s still cramped with two. While Brown likes the cosiness and that it isn’t like CBC’s high tech “space pods,” his Canadaland team may be outgrowing the soundproof room with so many shows vying for recording time these days. Although Brown’s media criticism remains the core of the podcast brand, Canadaland now has a second weekly episode called Short Cuts, a comment on media coverage in chat format; two politics pod-
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casts called Commons and OPPO; and The Imposter, about Canadian arts and culture. The office is in a refurbished red brick building in downtown Toronto that leases subsidized space to artists and start-ups. Despite the air-conditioning unit wedged between the wood frames of the hundred-year-old windows, the room bakes in the July heat, and the studio off the main area is worse. “So we know some stuff. Stuff about the Canadian media that we have not told you about,” Brown says on the episode, “Summer Dump,”and continues, “We’ve been sitting on this stuff, it is in our files, unreported, and it bugs me. Because like, what are we even doing here if we’re not telling you this stuff?” Canadaland has built its audience by breaking stories, and pressure is high to churn out more. After announcing he’ll dump this “stuff” without any on-the-record sources or documentation, Brown introduces Jonathan Goldsbie, news editor since January 2017. Goldsbie is humble, candid, and perpetually jolly, with a more careful approach to publishing. “We have to aim to be better than the places we call out,” he says, “and better than the places we criticize.” He runs the website, which draws over 160,000 page views per month, while Brown, the bigger personality, hosts the media criticism podcasts. Canadaland’s goal is to break the stories others are afraid to break, and it thrives on publishing “stuff” first. The podcast has largely been tethered to Brown’s opinions and observations, keeping the powerful in check—or at least looking over their shoulder—but finding the balance between gossip and news has been bumpy. Brown has received flak for getting carried away, and not always getting “stuff” right. And that’s held him back from really rattling the industry he loves to hate.
DURING HIGH SCHOOL in the mid-1990s, Brown’s underground magazine, Punch, ran a student poll that rated teachers. After the principal banned the magazine and threatened to expel Brown, they appeared separately on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning to argue their sides. Years later, Brown staged pranks for a humour column in the now-defunct Saturday Night magazine. Under the alias of Stuart Neihardt, he launched a fictional publication called Stu, a “regular
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guy magazine for the adequate man.” The hoax fooled many journalists, including the National Post’s Colby Cosh, who wrote a piece called, “Who’s afraid of lad mags?” Brown told Antonia Zerbisias, then the Toronto Star’s media columnist, “I hope to keep you people (in the media) on your toes.” While working on Search Engine, a CBC radio show that ran between 2007 and 2008 that looked at the internet’s effect on everyday life, Brown clashed with CBC culture and was a bit of a misfit. “We didn’t try and fit in at that point,” says Geoff Siskind, who produced the show. “We were kind of on our own island making this weird thing.” At one point, Brown asked him what would be the most “punk rock” thing to do at CBC, which prompted Brown to begin wearing a well-tailored shirt and tie to the office, throwing the executives off guard. Siskind says that’s just who Brown is, loudmouth and all: “He does things based on logic rather than tradition.” Years before CBC and Canadaland, the two became friends on a train from Montreal to Toronto. Brown sat next to Siskind since they knew of each other from high school: “My first thought was, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sakes, I have five hours with Jesse Brown.’” By the end of the journey, they were good friends. “He’s totally arrogant, but that’s his charm, and he works it well,” Siskind says with a laugh. In 2013, at the age of 35, Brown launched Canadaland, working as a producer, host, and editor while he worked out the kinks of a project that cost more than it brought in. From the start, Brown deliberately avoided any Canadian niceness. “I’ve had an abrasive and irritating personality my whole life,” he told the Star. “It’s only just starting to work for me now.” Brown had pitched a media criticism platform to CBC, Maclean’s, and others, but interest was low so he did it himself. In a 2014 Walrus article, he described Canadian media as “more of a club than an industry,” and blamed the timidity of journalists to speak out about each other on the closed atmosphere and centralization in Toronto, which he has previously called “chummy and incestuous.” Both national newspapers are based there, as well as nearly 20 major magazines and the domestic offices of American sites such as BuzzFeed and Vice. “Once you’re inside the bubble you can’t really critique the bubble,” says Maija Saari, associate dean of the film, television and journalism department at Sheridan College in Toronto. “I think his
“Brown’s heart is in the right place: He wants to be a journalist, he wants to be a critic of the media and those are really great things,” says Donovan, “but he’s a bit of a bull in a china shop” success is just speaking to the testament that we needed this, we needed a place where people could go and be critical of the media.” While programs such as NPR’s On the Media in the United States, BBC’s Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe and The Media Show in the United Kingdom, and Media Watch in Australia hold journalism to account, Brown has previously declared in J-Source that he is the only person in Canada doing media criticism in a notable way, and that he would welcome more. Although there is a shortage in the country, Canadaland isn’t alone. The Ryerson Review of Journalism, “Canada’s watchdog on the watchdogs,” has been analyzing the industry since 1984, and several magazines, including Toronto Life, The Walrus, and Maclean’s, occasionally do stories about journalism. At The Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt and Susan Krashinsky Robertson sometimes write on media, but most newspaper coverage has been reduced or cut altogether. There are also bloggers such as the Montreal Gazette’s Steve Faguy. “I think it’s like every other beat that is covered by journalists,” says Faguy. “It has suffered over the past 10 to 15 years as media has contracted and interest for specialized beats has disappeared.” But it’s also a stressful topic—the Star’s Zerbisias felt so burnt out by the backlash that she left media criticism and switched to the culture and social justice beat. “When I was doing it, I was under constant attack,” she wrote in an email. Canadaland’s first episode was little more than Brown and his old CBC boss and mentor Michael Enright drinking bourbon and discussing Canadian media. “Essentially just two old mates talking shit,” says former Canadaland freelancer Sean Craig. “With that first podcast, Jesse wanted there to be conversations out in public more like the ones those of us in the media have in bars, where we’re more cutting and honest and willing to be snide.” Craig first met Brown at a Canadaland social in 2014: “I was immediately taken by the tongue-in-cheek combativeness that Jesse playfully articulated in those days, a philosophy of wanting to be a kind of tabloid insider-cum-pariah of the industry in the same way you imagined Nick Denton in the early Gawker days.” Created by Denton in 2002, Gawker was a New York-based blog about celebrity gossip and media news with a tabloid mentality and clickbait headlines. Although the Star had the Rob Ford crack video, Gawker released it first. “Honesty is our only virtue,” was one of its
slogans, along with “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.” But it pushed privacy boundaries and violated copyright, ultimately leading to its 2016 demise when Hulk Hogan successfully sued Gawker over a leaked sex tape, and was awarded $115 million (U.S.). Canadaland models itself on Gawker in some ways but not others. Brown struggled with outing people and crossing privacy lines, but found its self-critical, transparent style refreshing. He particularly admired the way the site valued the reader’s right to know, and he has strived for a similar level of transparency, saying, “You may not like us for telling you these things, okay hate us, but the information is good.” And Brown has attracted his share of supporters. “Let’s face it, he’s a guy with a big personality and I think the people who like him like him a lot and the thing with him is you know exactly what you’re getting,” says Terra Tailleur, an online news and media specialist and instructor at the University of King’s College, in Halifax. Brown has spoken to her class and Tailleur says many of her students would rather support Canadaland than subscribe to the Globe: “We need Jesse and independents like him.”
CANADALAND BROKE ITS FIRST big story in February 2014, when it reported that Peter Mansbridge had accepted $28,000 to speak at an oil sands lobby group, despite covering the industry on The National. Mansbridge responded in a CBC blog post, saying, “I follow the rules and the policies the CBC has instituted,” and upon investigation ombudsman Esther Enkin found no formal issue with the event, yet CBC eventually changed its policies surrounding speaking engagements. Eight months later, Brown and Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan broke the story of sexual assault allegations against popular CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Coincidentally, Brown had just started a crowdfunding campaign. The website has yet to eclipse the buzz reached at the height of the Ghomeshi trial, but Canadaland soon reported that Amanda Lang, then CBC’s senior business correspondent, had allegedly given Manulife and Sun Life Financial favourable coverage while failing to disclose that they had paid her between $10,000 to $15,000 per speaking engagement. One month later, Canadaland released two SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 15
more stories on Lang, producing evidence that she had interfered with the broadcaster’s coverage of the Royal Bank of Canada during its temporary workers program scandal, while having done paid speaking engagements for the bank and not disclosing she was in a relationship with a member of the board at the time. CBC News editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire defended her in a memo to staff, saying the allegations were “categorically untrue,” and in an article published in the Globe, Lang stated that she never violated CBC policy and supported the company’s new decision to ban paid speaking engagements for on-air staff. The day after publishing the first Lang story, Craig walked into the Canadaland office after she had tweeted, “The haters hate,” and he says it felt like victory. Neither he nor Brown said a word; they just shook hands. “Getting someone mad on the internet was cause for momentary joy,” says Craig. “That sense of priorities speaks to the early-days Gawker DNA that we had in us.” But the Ghomeshi story exposed the limitations of being an outsider. Brown needed a legal team to defend a likely libel suit. Fortunately, the Star needed his sources. But Brown and Donovan butted heads on how to do the story, and soon the relationship grew increasingly volatile. In Secret Life, Donovan’s book about the investigation, he remembers getting to know Brown as they talked about their kids in the car ride to their first joint interview. But the Star reporter soon grew frustrated. “He was not as objective as I would have liked him to be,” says Donovan. “He thought that the journalist should be in partnership with the victim and that’s just not right.” Donovan put it down to a lack of experience and was concerned about Brown’s desire to get a big story out even as the Star and Donovan were unwilling to publish without more women and some confirmation of the events: “No journalist should ever want to risk being wrong by moving too quickly.” Late one night at the Star office, while Donovan and Brown worked on the second Ghomeshi story, Brown tweeted a picture of the back of Donovan’s chair, saying the two were burning the midnight oil. Donovan was not happy. He worried that Brown had jeopardized a serious and confidential investigation. “Brown’s heart is in the right place: He wants to be a journalist, he wants to be a critic of media and those are really great things,” says Donovan, “but he’s a bit of a bull in a china shop.”
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Brown’s outsized personality, growing ego, and eagerness to share information makes him a big target for critics. In a searing 2015 piece, the Globe’s Simon Houpt challenged the emerging Jesse Brown fan club. Writing Canadaland was “playing fast and loose with facts,” Houpt dug into a list of missteps, including the exposé on Lang, arguing that there was no evidence that Lang had corrupted the story and Brown had left out important information. Houpt hit a nerve when he accused Brown of cutting ethical corners in 2006 while working on the pilot episode of CBC Radio’s Contrarians, a program that debated controversial social questions. By the next Thursday, Houpt and Brown found themselves in the Canadaland studio, recording one of the most uncomfortable episodes yet. “It’s interesting that we’re discussing [laughs] what we publish and what we don’t publish in the name of ethics,” scoffed Houpt. “I’m sorry you were not aware of these guidelines that obviously, I guess, the mainstream media operates under.” The Short Cuts episode was titled “Two Annoying Jerks.” Six months later, Brown received heavy blowback over a story headlined: “Women editors are fleeing The Globe and Mail.” He reported that a large number of female editors had quit within a three-year time period, suggesting a larger gender problem within the newsroom. The article claimed the last four women to leave the paper hadn’t replied to requests for comment, but Brown admitted he didn’t try hard enough to contact them. And rather than fleeing, many had left for better jobs. Scaachi Koul, an author and BuzzFeed journalist, reprimanded Brown in a characteristically aggressive and public way—she often writes in capital letters and has 27,000 followers on Twitter. When Brown invited Koul on his show, she didn’t hold back: “That is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done for Canadaland,” she said as she scolded him for the flimsy headline, the photograph—a Globe clipping of a figure skater with her leg in the air—the reporting and the execution. “It was bad, Jesse. It was extremely destructive.” “So tell me why,” Brown said. Mistakes in coverage of sensitive topics like race, gender, and politics have more weight. Men did dominate the top of the Globe’s masthead, but Brown made himself the story instead. The next time somebody reports a problem in a newsroom, Koul argued, nobody
Jesse Brown In His Own Words 10 memorable quotes from Canadaland’s controversial creator had an abrasive and irritating personality my whole life. “I’ve It’s only just starting to work for me now ” any given topic—anything that I’m talking about—somebody in “On the audience is much smarter than me ” did sound like a pompous, smug dick. It’s an adolescent mask for “Ifrustration and fear. Fifteen years into my career, with a mortgage and two
kids, I’ve stopped looking for work in the old system. I’ve rolled the dice on a new way of doing journalism, and I have no idea if it will work out
“We will break the stories that those guys are afraid to break” reserve the right to change my mind. It’s a really important thing “Ibecause otherwise it’s just predictable and you’re always going to hear the same thing ” whole point about people paying me to do this is that I should not “The hold back ” alienate some people, you piss off some people; they are probably “You people you don’t want to work with anyhow ” are always being exposed for not being who they appear to be. “People I am very aware of all of my deficiencies ” you see your peers losing their jobs and moving to other industries “When entirely, it helps you find the bravery to talk about things I probably would not have spoken about if I was in a more secure position in the field ” duty is to inquire, provoke, and irritate without reverence. “Our When we stop applying that principle to ourselves, rot sets in ” —AMY VAN DEN BERG
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will believe it because Canadaland got it wrong the first time. “That’s why it’s a problem.” In 2016, Huffington Post Canada’s Jesse Ferreras called Brown “a mistake-prone media critic who is perilously short on self-reflection,” and said that “someone who considers himself the conscience of Canadian media needs to do better if he wants to be taken seriously.”
Brown admits to having a “bootstrap” mentality: “Everyone here is going to have to work really hard but everyone will be included in the success.” Katie Jensen produced 139 Canadaland episodes and co-created The Imposter. “It was a stressful, hard place to work,” she says. But Brown says he understands the pressure, and acknowledges that people do better work if they can go home and disconnect. He has made moves to retain staff, including increasing benefits, introducing stocks, and raising pay.
EIGHT WHITE IKEA DESKS are squashed together along the length of the office like a long dinner table. Books, coffee mugs, notepads, and Apple computer chargers are scattered about. Large blue and yellow CANADALAND letters sit in a disjointed stack by the windows—leftovers from a 2013-14 YouTube interview series. Going from a one-man show to a team of eight people has been an adjustment. Brown has stepped back and given his staff more autonomy and Canadaland is slowly moving away from being The Jesse Brown Show. Commons began as a podcast for politically engaged young people. It was to be inclusive, honest, and nothing at all like CBC but, after a few months, hosts Desmond Cole and Andray Domise left for other jobs. Their replacement, Supriya Dwivedi, focused on the inner workings of Canadian politics while the current hosts, Hadiya Roderique and Ryan McMahon, are more interested in how politics affect people’s daily lives. Meanwhile, McMahon is working on a new S-Town-style series investigating the suspicious events surrounding deaths of Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Launched in 2016, The Imposter has evolved at a slower pace. Host Aliya Pabani focuses more on the process and culture behind the art world rather than the work itself (although that’s covered, too). These days the show also covers bigger stories and ideas to do with music, movies, comedy, and other “weird art.” Finding a rhythm has taken a toll on staff. In just over a week in October 2016, Brown lost almost half of his team. First, Dwivedi took another job, then web editor Jane Lytvynenko and Commons co-host Vicky Mochama departed. At the beginning of the annual crowdfunding push, Brown recorded an episode called, “Guys, we’re having some problems.” His voice wavering, he said, “I have to tell you, I did not see any of this coming, and my head is spinning.”
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at Mascot Brewery lowers to a hush as Brown raises his arms to the crowd. A gaggle of strangers and fans are slowly getting tipsy on a beer called Canadaland Sour. With a half-empty schooner in his right hand, Brown talks with his left: “Welcome to our sour beer launch and the end of our crowdfunding months.” The limited edition beer’s logo is a lemon being squeezed into an ear, an insinuation that Canadaland tells the truth even if you don’t want to hear it. Brown describes it as refreshing—the kind of thing that you didn’t even realize you needed until it’s inside your head, and then you can’t get enough of it. In October 2014, four months after his Walrus article, Brown announced that Canadaland was at “a crossroads,” and needed patron support to continue. He launched his crowdfunding campaign, promising that if 10,000 listeners contributed $1, the podcast and website could become larger, better, and sustainably independent. “I wanted a revenue model,” he says. “I wanted to run a business, and I wanted to be able to have some predictability to when I can make a mortgage payment or when I can hire people and address this larger question of how are we going to pay for journalism.” He reached his financial goal within six months and went to work hiring staff, including an editor to oversee news coverage. On May 5, 2015, Canadaland launched Commons and promised new additions for each financial milestone, including increases to pay and benefits for each member of his staff (excluding himself). A year later, after hitting $12,500 a month, it added The Imposter, and today Canadaland has 18 sponsors, and monthly Patreon contributions are just under $22,000 (U.S.). Crowdfunding has increased almost 80 percent in
When Brown invited Scaachi Koul on his show, she didn’t hold back: “That is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done for Canadaland”
two years, and the sour beer is the latest way to draw more supporters. Patrons receive paraphernalia such as a copy of the network’s own satirical book, The Canadaland Guide to Canada, a bottle opener, socks, a T-shirt or, for $2 (U.S.), the Canadaland colouring book. This has allowed Brown to keep the content free. “I’ve had some patrons say if you ever put any Canadaland shows behind a paywall I will stop giving you money,” he says. The average monthly donation is $4.92 (U.S.). “I’ve come to regard it as a really evolved form of capitalism,” he says. ”I no longer feel like I’m out there with my hat in my hand.” Brown is a co-founder of cartooning app Bitstrips, makers of Bitmoji. Snapchat bought the app for $64.2 million (U.S.) in 2016, though Brown says he hasn’t invested any of the funds into his company. “I was adamant that Canadaland would not be my vanity project,” he says. “We’re doing this for real and we want to be here for a long time.” Staying around will require more big stories to keep people listening. “Back in the day, two years ago, sure we were always listening to him during the time after Ghomeshi because he would often bring up the Star,” says Donovan. “I have not heard anybody say to me in the past year, ‘Hey, did you hear Jesse Brown’s podcast?’” This is not uncommon. Many media critics and academics refused to comment for this feature, some saying they haven’t been keeping up with Canadaland’s podcasts or didn’t listen to them on a regular basis. Faguy compares some episodes to an investigative TV program that plays ominous music while a voice recites facts that aren’t all that controversial. He sees Canadaland as a tipster, digging up the dirt for others to scrutinize. Following the controversy over the women at the Globe story, and Lytvynenko’s departure (she is now a reporter at BuzzFeed), Brown needed someone to help him refocus the original mandate. In December 2016, Goldsbie had a beer with Brown. He’d spent four years as a staff news writer at Now, a Toronto alt-weekly, and was looking for a job with more room for growth, and Brown was looking for someone who was detail-oriented and cautious. “It was definitely the beginning of a new phase of the company,” Goldsbie says in an interview in October. “It doesn’t feel like it’s about to fall apart right now. I can imagine at this time last year it probably did feel that way.” One thing that came out of that beer was a mutual agreement on boundaries. “Our arrangement is that I will never force him to
publish,” Brown says. “If he’s not comfortable publishing it, he’s not going to publish it.” They both describe the clear tension between them as complementary.
DURING THE RECORDING of the “Summer Dump” episode, Brown announces: “the responsibility for the following content rests on my shoulders, not Jonathan Goldsbie’s.” The first story is about Toronto’s so-called “Lactate-Gate” scandal. Globe columnist Leah McLaren wrote about her attempt to breastfeed MP Michael Chong’s baby at a party many years earlier, even though she wasn’t lactating. The piece was later said to have been accidentally published, and was taken down hours after surfacing, while McLaren was suspended from the Globe for a week. Brown explains that the Globe editorial staff received the blame for the column, which he says sparked so much internal frustration that 72 newsroom staffers signed a letter of complaint to management. Brown also says McLaren barely touched the baby before being caught, despite her writing that she had picked him up. “I cannot reveal how I know this information but that is actually what happened.” Next, he exposes what people are saying about previously unknown political pressures that forced former Ottawa Citizen editor-in-chief Andrew Potter to step down from his new position at McGill after a controversial column in Maclean’s that offended many Québécois. In the piece, Potter used the events of a snow storm as a case study to talk about “social malaise” in Quebec, describing the province as a “pathologically alienated and low-trust society.” Potter later apologized in a Facebook post. Brown says evidence suggests that the fallout from the article may have caused him to be pushed out of his position by his superiors at the school, although he remained on contract as a professor. “We do not know whether this pressure did or did not exist but we can confidently say, ‘This is why people think it did.’” While not as shocking as promised, this “stuff” is off his chest and, for the moment, his job is done. As Brown says, “I hate sitting on a story when I know it’s true.” That cavalier attitude is a hangover from Canadaland’s dishing-over-drinks beginnings, but it’s something he’ll have to leave behind if he seriously wants to shake up Canadian journalism. SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 19
What’s Black and White and Green All Over? It’s the weed beat—and it’s growing fast B Y BEN WALDMAN
hen Solomon Israel took a seat at his desk in the Winnipeg Free Press newsroom on a balmy morning in the summer of 2017, he probably felt everyone staring. “That must be the weed guy,” I whispered to a fellow reporting intern. In the Free Press newsroom, journalists often leave, but rarely, until recently, does fresh blood arrive. In 2010, the paper had about 100 editorial staff on any given newsday. Then staff started to dwindle as print media declined. Some veteran journalists retired, others left for new opportunities, and a couple quit the profession
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COLLAGE: DAVE DONALD / ORIGINAL PHOTO: ISTOCK
altogether. By 2017, the once-robust Free Press editorial staff had been reduced by a third. So when “the weed guy” arrived, those still hanging around couldn’t help but gawk. If someone had suggested any major Canadian paper—let alone the 145-year-old Freep—would establish a dedicated cannabis beat a few years ago, they might have been accused of being high themselves. Everything changed on April 13, 2017, when the Trudeau government unveiled legislation to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis, nationwide, by the following July. This would make Canada the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to federally regulate recreational weed. The announcement caused widespread anxiety and confusion: What about the children? Will people be driving high on the Trans-Canada Highway? Will my co-workers be going outside for a new kind of smoke break? While the prospect of legalization had some Canadians seeing red, many others were seeing nothing but green. Canada’s agriculture, biotechnology, and healthcare industries were positioning themselves for legalization long before Trudeau’s announcement, hoping to cash in on the impending cannabis boom. Now, Canada’s struggling journalism industry is too, and publications are hoping not to be left in the dust. At one point, marijuana only seemed to grace Canadian news pages when stoners gathered to smoke on 4/20, but as provinces began rolling out distribution plans, and as the number of licensed producers increased, cannabis stories slowly moved from pot busts to business boons. In October 2016, the National Post ran a national series called “O Cannabis,” an in-depth special section. When The Globe and Mail launched its redesigned paper in December 2017, an investigation about personal grow operations appeared above the fold on the front page, and on the next page was a report about the cannabis bill. In a matter of months, cannabis had gone from a faint whisper to an unavoidable conversation. Just over a month after Trudeau’s government introduced the Cannabis Act, Paul Samyn, the 53-year-old editor of the Free Press, announced his intention to start a growing operation of his own. “We’re looking to hire a reporter to lead our cannabis coverage as Canada moves to legalize pot,” he tweeted, along with a link to a job announcement. “Send us your resume.” Samyn said he needed to hire someone with “a sophisticated palate” and expertise in the Canadian cannabis industry. It’s fair to say it was the first time the paper ever hired someone based on their familiarity with an illegal substance. Still, Samyn wasn’t looking for a stoner. Dozens of responses to Samyn’s tweet made light of the idea of a cannabis reporter in Winnipeg, but he didn’t mind—more than 40 resumes flew into his mailbox. It was clear to Samyn, who’s been working at the Free Press since 1988, that he’d tapped a market that journalists were eager to cover. “We are now in a situation where the narrative [about cannabis] that has been part and parcel of newspapers and media everywhere in Canada is changing,” Samyn said in his office in October. “And it’s changing very fast.” While traditional publications have mostly covered marijuana from a political or business perspective, Samyn has a savvy vision of a Free Press vertical becoming a national, and even international, hub
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for cannabis journalism, featuring coverage ranging from legislation breakdowns to consumer reporting. The Free Press’s only local competitors are television and radio stations, the Winnipeg Sun, and the provincial Canadian Press correspondent. To cover marijuana, they’re going up against online mainstays like Vice and BuzzFeed; established weed publications like Cannabis Culture and High Times; and dozens of digital start-ups like Lift, Leafly, and the Business of Cannabis (B of C). B of C is a site launched in 2017 by Reva Seth, a respected Toronto lawyer who served as a policy advisor on the 2015 Trudeau campaign, and Jay Rosenthal, who hopes to produce original analysis and news, as well as ready-made sponsored content to run in major publications in Canada. “The mainstream media hasn’t been getting a full glimpse of the industry,” Rosenthal says. “That’s what we’re trying to give.” The Free Press has its work cut out for it if it hopes to cut through the haze and earn the national audience Samyn seeks. “This wasn’t a job opportunity that meant someone was going to sit in the back of the office with a bong every day,” Samyn explains. “And if that’s what people thought this was about, they are sorely mistaken.”
Nobody’s quite sure why marijuana was even made illegal in Canada in 1923. In her 2006 book, Jailed for Possession: Illegal Drug Use, Regulation and Power in Canada, 1920-1961, University of Guelph professor Catherine Carstairs writes that few Canadians of the era used cannabis, whose psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, interacts with neural receptors to elicit chemical responses ranging from euphoria to paranoia. Some historians and activists point to Emily Murphy, a Canadian judge and suffragette (with distinctly racist views), as the bell-ringer for criminalization. Cannabis was hardly an issue at the time, yet “reefer madness” set in, and the national press covered marijuana hysterically. A 1937 Globe and Mail report noted that while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) didn’t consider cannabis (“the narcotic evil”) to be a national issue, the Mounties were gravely concerned about the green menace. “[Marijuana] has been known to turn quiet, respectable youths into raving murderers, seeking victims to satisfy their delusions,” the Globe report concluded. In 2017, former RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar, ex-Toronto fire chief William Stewart, and Julian Fantino, the former commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, all joined forces on the executive board of Aleafia, a medical cannabis therapy network. Two years earlier, Fantino had tweeted, “I am completely opposed to the legalization of marijuana.” Now, he’s the executive chairman of a cannabis company. What a difference 80 years makes. The Arcview Group, a U.S.-based cannabis market research firm, reported that in 2016, North American marijuana sales totalled $6.7 billion; a January 2018 Statistics Canada report estimated that about 4.9 million Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 spent $5.7 billion on cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes in 2017; and a 2016 Deloitte report posited that the Canadian cannabis industry could stimulate as much as $23 billion in economic activity each year—roughly equal to the Canadian forestry industry’s economic injection in 2016.
Although those projections are lofty, Canadian Press business editor Sunny Freeman, 35, says they could be much higher, or way lower.“Nobody knows exactly how big it is because nobody knows how many people out there already consume it,” adds Freeman, who started covering marijuana in 2013 while at The Huffington Post. In 2016, she joined the Financial Post as its resources reporter. Cannabis came up there so often that Freeman and her editor decided it would be appropriate to expand her beat description to mining and marijuana. “It was an avalanche of coverage.” Freeman reported on the business of cannabis, its implications to health and public safety, and policy implications as they arose. “It touches every single beat,” she says. “It was exciting then, and it’s even more exciting now.” The medical industry is racing to legitimize cannabis as a healthcare option, as seen in the evolution of public and institutional opinion on the subject, while entrepreneurs are developing ancillary businesses as public intrigue rises. “Canada really does have a chance to be a global first mover in the marijuana industry,” Freeman adds. In the United States, The Denver Post hired its first marijuana editor and launched The Cannabist, a weed website with news, reviews,
“I’m open about it. I tell people I’m a cannabis user, and being open helps me get a better grasp on what I’m reporting on,” Amanda Siebert says. “I eat, sleep and breathe cannabis” and features in December 2013, just a month before Colorado became the first state to legalize weed. The San Francisco Chronicle hired a cannabis editor and launched Green State, a weed website. The Boston Globe began offering a weekly marijuana newsletter, succinctly titled “This Week in Weed,” offering the chance to “witness the birth of the marijuana industry in Massachusetts.” In January 2018, The Guardian in the United Kingdom launched “High Time,” a “cannabis column for grownups,” and three weeks later, the Associated Press created a 10-person national beat group to cover legalization and regulation. Twenty-nine other states have since followed Colorado’s lead, although cannabis is still illegal at the federal level in the United States. In January 2018, shortly after California legalized, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era policies, suggesting a move toward federal intervention in state legalization efforts. Sessions’s decision created a furor in the cannabis community, and flew in the face of American opinion: 64 percent of Americans favour legalization, according to an October 2017 Gallup poll.
Predictably, Canadian marijuana stocks took a dip, but many Canadian insiders saw the American regression as an opportunity for growth. “I get calls every week from Americans who want to invest in the company,” Gary Symons, the director of communications for Winnipeg’s Delta 9 Biotech Inc., told The Tyee. “Investors are going to look for a safe haven where they can invest in the fastestgrowing business in the world.”
On November 21,
at exactly 4:20 p.m., The Leaf—the Free Press weed vertical—unfurled. The site’s logo—a white Cannabis sativa leaf superimposed on a red maple leaf—is equal parts patriotic and hydroponic. While the Free Press is paywalled, The Leaf is free, which Samyn hopes will attract “eyeballs” from around the world. The site runs wire copy in its “World News” section, but for the most part, The Leaf is Solomon Israel’s journalistic playground. Israel tried to establish a similar beat in spring 2017 while working as a web business writer at CBC in Toronto, but says the public broadcaster wouldn’t commit to a dedicated weed reporter. In June 2016, he built a bed into his 2005 Honda Element and drove to Colorado to report on how legalization affected the state, producing three web stories, two of which had accompanying short radio documentaries. It wasn’t a money-making trip, but it was a careermaking one. Israel also produced a cannabis documentary, entitled Hashing it Out, at the end of 2017. Israel found the cannabis industry fascinating, so when he arrived in Winnipeg, he already had an extensive list of story ideas. The first feature posted to The Leaf was an all-encompassing guide to deciding whether to cultivate marijuana at home. “So, you want to grow your own (legal) weed?” ran in the Saturday paper. It’s a far cry from the experience of Vancouver’s alt-paper, the Georgia Straight. In 1969, its then-editor-in-chief, Dan McLeod, and former managing editor, Bob Cummings, ended up in provincial court over their cannabis growing guide, a front-page story that encouraged readers to “plant their seeds.” The Straight had already earned a notorious reputation. Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell called it a “filthy, perverted paper.” The paper, the Globe wrote, ran everything “from standard apartment-for-rent ads to appeals for sexual liaison.” In 1971, a Moosomin, Saskatchewan, schoolteacher was fired for letting Grade 9 students read the Straight. “The whole town is in an uproar,” the superintendent told the Globe. For publishing the guide, McLeod and Cummings faced charges of counselling the cultivation of marijuana, a direct violation of the Narcotics Control Act. The charges were eventually dropped. Now, the Straight has a full-time cannabis editor, Amanda Siebert, who took on the role in July 2017. Siebert’s section publishes, on average, two stories per day, and there is no shortage of angles for her to tackle. “I have the opposite problem,” she says. “I have too many stories to write and not enough time.” Siebert says she was made editor because coworkers noticed cannabis piqued her interest. “I’m open about it. I tell people I’m a cannabis user, and being open helps me get a better grasp on what I’m reporting on,” she says. “I eat, sleep and breathe cannabis.” Israel wouldn’t go that far, but cannabis is on his mind 24/7. SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 23
Within The Leaf’s first two weeks, Israel sent out the first edition of The Leaflet, a weekly newsletter; debuted a cannabis advice column, cheekily called “Dear Herb”; and published an interview with Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam, a member of the first team to isolate the chemical structure of THC. The site doesn’t run strain reviews, but Samyn isn’t ruling out a more consumer-based reporting strategy in the future, once cannabis becomes legalized. Israel’s intended audience is larger than the Free Press’s, which, as of 2017, boasts the best reach (64 percent of Winnipeg adults) of any daily newspaper in a major Canadian city. He and Samyn hope to develop The Leaf into a hub for cannabis journalism, and audience
“I was just kind of rolling my eyes and thinking, ‘Are we still on this?’” Manisha Krishnan says. “It’s just such a Weed 101 understanding” engagement has been growing, Samyn says. Since The Leaf’s launch, its monthly traffic has grown by an average of 20 percent, with nearly 30 percent growth in unique visitors, says Wendy Sawatzky, Free Press associate editor. About 12 percent of readers are based in the U.S. Advertisers are taking note. On The Leaf, the Free Press is charging about double the price for ads that it does on its regular digital platform, says Karen Buss, the paper’s director of ad sales; cannabis ad rates range from $45 to $60 per net CPM (cost per thousand). In Manitoba, the law about advertising cannabis is still somewhat unclear, but it’s expected to follow similar guidelines to tobacco— although nothing has been made official. So while Buss couldn’t run ads for the substance itself, she anticipated having a full slate of cannabis-related advertisements, from tear-proof bags, to leaf cutters and other accessories by January. But, she says in late February, the ads haven’t come in as quickly as she thought they would. Once legalization hits, however, she anticipates that even more companies will be looking for space to advertise. “I believe that it will increase the paper’s overall revenue,” she says. While not every publication is creating weed verticals, there isn’t an editor in Canada unaware of readers’ interest in cannabis stories. Derek DeCloet, the editor of the Globe’s Report on Business, says that cannabis has moved ever higher on his list of topics of interest since Trudeau’s announcement in March 2017. DeCloet adds that the ROB’s cannabis coverage has seen a noticeable spike in readership, especially among investors. Legalization, DeCloet observes, has driven up interest in publicly-traded cannabis companies, and during the fall of 2017, Globe reporter Christina Pellegrini began covering them essentially fulltime. (DeCloet said she occasionally writes other stories as well.) Pellegrini had started covering the industry with zeal a few months
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prior. “At some point,” DeCloet says, “myself and the other editors went to her and said, ‘We need someone to cover marijuana fulltime, and that person should be you.” But DeCloet acknowledges that legalization has brought “more stories than any one reporter can do. “You can expect to see many different reporters’ bylines on stories about cannabis,” he adds. “It’s a pretty big deal, what’s happening.” Reporters at regional papers are boning up too. Jacquie Miller of the Ottawa Citizen has reported extensively on illegal dispensaries and policy, and has educated herself on the finer points of cannabis to deepen her reporting. “I don’t smoke it, though,” she says, laughing. “I’m a karate mom.” Lauren Strapagiel, managing editor for BuzzFeed Canada, says her newsroom is too small to justify a full-time dedicated weed reporter. (She is one of two full-time editorial staff dedicated to Canadian news.) However, Justin Ling, a former Vice Canada editor, has been brought in to contribute roughly one story per week related to cannabis, among other topics. Strapagiel emphasizes how important covering overlooked topics—like the effects of cannabis policy on racialized and Indigenous people—will be moving forward. “There are a million angles on this story,” she says. BuzzFeed Canada belongs to BuzzFeed’s international media network, and Strapagiel knows Canada’s legalization efforts will be of international interest. “The world is going to be looking at Canada to see how we tackle this,” she says, unsurprised that traditional publications are jockeying to cover cannabis. “They have to cover it. It’s a huge story that impacts everybody in the country.”
Adam Greenblatt, the Quebec brand manager of Canopy Growth Corp. (TSX:WEED), the largest publicly-traded licensed producer in the world, says he’s seen a major shift in news coverage of pot. Greenblatt co-founded Montreal’s first medical marijuana clinic, and ran for Parliament in 2004 at the age of 19, as a Marijuana Party representative. “I’ve seen it go from a being a fringe issue to a mainstream one,” Greenblatt adds. “The industry is, too.” Companies that produce cannabis paraphernalia will seek places to advertise, and mainstream publications like The Leaf are going for the ad revenue. However, some websites, like LiftNews have been writing about and reviewing cannabis products and strains for years. When I first spoke to David Brown, then-editor-in-chief of Lift, he was following exactly 420 people on Twitter, though it wasn’t clear whether it was social media serendipity or a marketing ploy. “Just to be silly, I guess,” he later confirmed. In 2014, Brown’s business partner Tyler Sookochoff, founder of Lift, saw that legal cannabis sales were moving toward the web, so he and Brown decided to develop a community for online discussion to create a better-informed medical consumer. Lift features product reviews for weed strains, oils and weed accessories, and posts between 20 and 30 stories each month, which Brown says are nonpartisan, along with sponsored content from cannabis companies. Lift publishes strain reviews, detailed reports on provincial marijuana policy, and information about the growing stable of licensed producers.“It’s really kind of just grown organically,” he says. Lift currently has about 25 staff, including salespeople and marketers,
Winnipeg Free Press photojournalist Mike Deal gets up close and personal with some of the product at Delta 9 Cannabis, a licensed producer of medical marijuana
PHOTO: BEN WALDMAN
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and runs annual cannabis expos in Toronto and Vancouver. “It’s not strictly a media outlet by any means.” Brown thinks legacy news companies adding cannabis beats will be essential toward understanding legalization and its impact. When reporters know the legislation and its regulations inside and out, they’ll ask more informed questions. “It’s a fascinating topic, and I’m excited to see more media companies invest in this beat,” he says. The site caters to a small, but increasing, market of medical users, along with industry professionals, policy makers and non-medical consumers. Many cannabis industry insiders and journalists alike point to Brown as the go-to guy for in-depth looks at the Canadian marijuana industry, policy, and international law, rather than puns or jokes about cannabis. “My goal is to make weed boring,” Brown says. In January, Brown announced he was leaving Lift to join the federal government’s Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, in the policy, legalization, and regulatory affairs commission. He’ll still be trying to make weed boring. Replacing Brown is Kate Robertson, a graduate of Western University’s journalism school and former digital editor at Toronto’s NOW magazine. Robertson, who openly uses cannabis, says Lift is expanding, adding managing and associate editors, as well as a content marketing professional to monetize the site’s news section. Like Brown, Robertson stresses that Lift is objective. “When it comes to news, you have to give readers content that isn’t one-sided,” she says. “If there’s anything that’s been unfortunate about traditional cannabis publishing, it’s the shameless bias that’s made some of those websites unreasonable.” Canadians need reliable reporting in order to understand the cannabis space, Robertson says. Brown agrees. “I think that covering this topic is sort of a historic duty.”
A few minutes before the prime minister took his seat at Vice Canada’s Toronto headquarters for a town hall meeting about legalization, Patrick McGuire, the alt-media giant’s former head of content, stood with a smirk on his face and a two-foot-tall replica of a weed plant in his hand. It was over a week after the legalization announcement, so Vice, which since its 1994 launch has covered drug culture extensively, invited Justin Trudeau for a discussion with senior writer Manisha Krishnan, 30, about the “nuts and bolts” of the policy. “I was hoping we could start with you telling us about the last time you smoked weed, and why was it the last time?” Krishnan asked to open the conversation. “Um. You know, actually, one of the things is, my friends, my high school friends, everyone who’s known me a long time thinks it’s just really really funny that I’m the one in charge of legalizing marijuana,” Trudeau replied. “Because they know that I am the boringest partier when it comes to drugs of any type.” A number of years earlier, Trudeau continued, a joint was passed around at a party, and he “took a puff.” Across Krishnan’s face crept a grin. Since starting her career in 2008 as a reporter and editor for North Vancouver’s North Shore News, Krishnan has bounced across
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the country, working for Maclean’s, the Calgary Herald and the Toronto Star. With a wealth of reporting experience, Krishnan has a deep understanding of what legalization will mean in various pockets of Canada. The audience was comprised mostly of young people interested in hearing what Trudeau had to say. Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker, passionately pleaded for Trudeau to legalize all drugs to combat the opioid crisis. Malik Scott, a young Black man facing charges for possession of marijuana, asked the prime minister if he’d
“I’m assuming there are no free samples for the press?” planned to pardon people like him once the law changed. In both matters, Trudeau was noncommittal. Krishnan has several beats, but counts weed as one of them, as do many other Vice Canada reporters. “I think Vice has so much more weed literacy than any other outlet,” Krishnan says. “I think that our weed coverage is by far the best in the country.” McGuire says Vice’s mandate for covering marijuana is allencompassing, focusing on policy, economics, health, and culture, including the “human” side of the story. Yes, in 2016 Vice published an article titled “This Is What Happened When I Ate a Mega-Dosed $500 Weed Sundae.” But the media site has also consistently pushed out some of the most in-depth coverage of cannabis’s black market, harm-reduction efforts, and the industry’s dark underbelly. A few days before The Leaf launched, for example, Krishnan published an extensive investigation into a national chain of dispensaries allegedly exploiting its workers. Krishnan spent six months reporting, and her story shed light on an industry that few Canadians understand as fully as she does. “Despite the fact that dispensaries have become ubiquitous in major Canadian cities, their inner workings largely remain a mystery,” she wrote. Vice has the insight to ask intelligent questions of politicians, which Krishnan says all media should, even though some reporters still treat marijuana as a big, green bogeyman. When Ontario’s provincial government announced its plan to distribute weed through its liquor retail shops in October, Krishnan angled to ask Premier Kathleen Wynne a question. One reporter, Krishnan recalls, asked something along the lines of, “Is this stuff dangerous?” Krishnan found the question disingenuous. “I was just kind of rolling my eyes and thinking, ‘Are we still on this?’” Krishnan says. “It’s just such a Weed 101’ understanding.” “I don’t know that [journalists] are making mistakes as much as they’re just a bit late to the party,” McGuire says. “Think of your average Toronto Star reader or Toronto Life reader. The odds of them being directly affected by drug policy, I’d say, is pretty slim.”
December 2017: Solomon Israel puts one hairnet on his
head and another on his bushy brown beard before he walks into a production pod at Delta 9 Cannabis Inc.’s 7,432 square-metre medical cannabis production and distribution facility in Winnipeg’s Transcona neighbourhood. “I’m assuming there are no free samples for the press?” Israel asks Delta 9’s 27-year-old CEO John Arbuthnot, laughing as he walks in. Wearing his hairnets, a mesh-like bodysuit, and a pair of blue latex booties over his slushy shoes, Israel, along with Free Press photojournalist Mike Deal, goes in for a tour—a rare opportunity to see the inner-workings of a potential industry titan, and to see its cultivars up close. Delta 9 is one of two licensed medical cannabis producers in Manitoba, and the only one with full licensing for cultivation and sale. In November, the company listed on the TSXV exchange with a private placement offering of eight million common shares. A few weeks later, Arbuthnot struck a deal to distribute Delta 9 product through Canopy’s Tweed Main Street online store, a network with over 60,000 members. Deal, who photographed the facility some months before, is taken aback by its rapid expansion. “So much has changed,” he says. Arbuthnot leads the pair throughout the vast complex, a nondescript, sheet-metal-covered building tucked neatly under the city’s nose. Despite the thousands of kilograms of cannabis being cultivated in over 15 specially-designed, odour-controlled growpods, Israel can’t smell a thing from the warehouse floor. Delta 9 was approved by Health Canada to add 143 more pods, but the company hopes to one day have 600. Between July 2018 and July 2019, Arbuthnot aims to open 30 retail shops across Manitoba, so long as it’s allowed under provincial regulations. “We’ve got a lot planned,” he told me, although Israel had already reported on all of that. In the first pod, Israel and Deal get a look at Delta 9’s Super Lemon Haze, a strain that sells for $9 per gram. Justin Roy, the production supervisor, offers smell samples. “It’s got a real citrus scent,” he says as Israel takes a whiff. The tour proceeds to another pod, where juvenile plants grow under bright lights. Delta 9 currently produces about 2,000 kilograms of cannabis per year, but the company is aiming to increase to 17,000 by 2020. As Delta 9 expands, other cannabis companies will too. According to Health Canada, there are currently 91 licensed medical cannabis producers in Canada, along with over 235,000 registered clients as of September 2017—a number that will only continue to climb. The number of medical practitioners providing documents for clients to access marijuana is increasing too. Israel is at the centre of the boom, and he doesn’t think The Leaf’s stories will slow down anytime soon. As for his audience, Samyn isn’t concerned about a lack of interest from readers, even those who are nearing retirement age. “Last time I checked, they had weed at Woodstock,” he quips. In the pod, Israel reaches a latex-covered hand toward a shelf to his left with dozens of tiny green plants. He lifts one up, exposing its roots. It’s like a hockey reporter getting a one-on-one interview with Wayne Gretzky. “That’s beautiful,” he says. But Israel can’t stick around for too long. He has to go file his third story of the day.
A cannabis reporter’s dictionary The language related to cannabis can be complicated, filled with acronyms, chemistry jargon, and legal terms. Here are 10 terms to help cut through the smoke: ACMPR: Introduced in 2016, the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations is the federal set of guidelines outlining legal procedures regarding the distribution of, and access to, cannabis required for medical purposes. LPs: Licenced cannabis producers are allowed to grow and/or sell marijuana issued under the ACMPR to the public. That includes dried or fresh marijuana, cannabis oils, or starting materials for consumers legally allowed to purchase it. Dispensaries: Unlicenced storefront operations selling cannabis that are illegal under Canadian law. Their supply is grown by unlicenced growers and is not subject to testing or regulation. Canadian police frequently raid and shut down dispensaries. The Grow: A reference to where cannabis is grown in geographical or spatial terms. “Where’s The Grow?” Indoors or outdoors? In Ontario or Alberta? If you don’t know, ask. THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of two active compounds in cannabis and the plant’s primary psychoactive component. THC acts on specific binding receptors to elicit the high feeling. The compound was first isolated in 1964 at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. CBD: Cannabidiol is a compound found in cannabis that doesn’t produce intoxicating effects when interacting with neural receptors. It’s often cited for its therapeutic applications, notably related to treating childhood epilepsy. Cannabinoids: THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, plantbased compounds that interact with the human body to produce physiological effects. Terpenes: Hydrocarbon compounds that produce distinctive scents that are produced by plants, including cannabis. Different terpenes produce unique aromas in different strains of cannabis. Per Se Limit: In regard to drinking, the per se limit is .08—or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Canadian provinces are currently devising per se limits regarding THC, although many have disputed the effectiveness of such a policy given the wide range of effects cannabis has. The Black Market: Any cannabis business operating outside the ACMPR and other regulations. In certain areas, like Vancouver and Victoria, a “grey market” exists, containing both legal and illegal elements. Those cities have given business licences to storefronts that operate outside of the ACMPR’s purview. —BEN WALDMAN SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 27
Covering the New Hate When journalists report on the far-right, how close should they get? B Y DAGMAWIT DEJENE ILLUSTRATION BY MAT T DALEY
Jonathan Montpetit stands in the middle of a crowd of over 200
people. It’s hot—at least 30 degrees—and suffocating. The cigarette smoke in the air stands still, devoid of any wind. The people are restless, pacing on the concrete floor, with protest signs held at their sides. The most prominent feature is a black flag with a large white paw print—a wolf’s paw. Sweaty bodies move in and around Montpetit, most wearing black T-shirts with the same white paw print on the left breast and another large one on the back. With heavily lined faces in perpetually unhappy expressions, the crowd appears different from the younger generation waiting outside the parking garage. Stuck in the dimly lit underground parking garage, the group found itself an area without too many parked cars. They are here to protest, but for now they’ve been denied the chance.
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They are here on a bright Sunday afternoon, on August 20, 2017, as a group of people united by the same beliefs. They think their country has been stolen from them, that they’re losing power. Their website reads: We do not attack We do not threaten We protect and defend Our values Our rights Our freedom Our security As well as the foundations of our Nation So that the future of our children does not end up in the hands of radical Islam Sharia. We are...La Meute La Meute—French for “The Pack”—has organized this rally to protest what they say are the government’s lax immigration policies. The group is concerned the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in Quebec favours minority groups, especially Muslim religious practices. On its public Facebook page, the group says each of its self-titled patriots “fights against any exclusion or preference based in particular on race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political beliefs, language, ethnic or national origin, and social condition.” The page goes on to say the group wants to uphold the Canadian and Quebecois culture and way of life. “La Meute does not believe in Canadian multiculturalism as proposed by Justin Trudeau, since it believes that it is a deconstruction of the host society that inevitably leads to social chaos.” Today, the police have instructed members not to leave the parking garage because of the large crowd of about 300 anti-racism protestors outside. Montpetit is the only reporter to remain on site in the parking garage. As a journalist with CBC Montreal, he has been following this group closely for about a year—a challenge he took on after discovering La Meute and other groups were more prominent than he realized in Quebec and elsewhere. La Meute was founded in October 2015 by ex-military Eric Venne and Patrick Beaudry. The group’s private Facebook page, which Montpetit has access to, has over 41,000 members. This Sunday, Montpetit takes pictures and videos, and talks to
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members and leaders, who are hopeful they will get their chance to protest. “Hi, my name is Jonathan Montpetit and I’m a journalist with CBC Montreal. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” “We’ve been told not to talk to the media,” he recalls many of them responding. Eventually, some talk. Montpetit has a long, off-the-record chat with Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald, a member who was suspended from the group after attending the Charlottesville rally that resulted in the murder of anti-racism protestor Heather Heyer. It’s unclear whether the leaders of La Meute are aware he is here. If they are, they don’t say anything. They do, however, speak to Montpetit to reinforce their own narratives. “Look how violent the left is,” they say of the anti-protestors outside. “We’re the peaceful ones.” Montpetit tweets a total of seven times while stuck in the parking garage. Each time, he has to run up two flights of stairs to get a cell signal. He also does a short live news update for CBC in a dark stairwell. Once La Meute finally gets the okay, the group marches silently by the Quebec National Assembly. With a high number of arrests of Antifa protestors—short for anti-fascist—La Meute appears to be the more civilized of the two groups. Montpetit later writes that today has been a great public relations victory for the far-right.
ACCORDING TO “UNEASY ALLIANCES: A Look at the Right Wing Extremist Movement in Canada,” such groups have operated since the early 1900s. That’s the conclusion reached by University of Ontario Institute of Technology professor Barbara Perry and her research partner Ryan Scrivens, a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University. Recently, the public has seen right-wing zealots rebrand, Perry says, adding that groups call themselves anti-Muslim, antiimmigration, white nationalists, and, of course, “alt-right.” Perry says these groups are becoming more organized, presentable and are expressing their views in a PR-friendly way. As these groups evolve, so do the ways journalists cover them. In the age of social media and the deep dark web, reporters struggle to determine what’s newsworthy. How much of these groups’ activities need to be covered and how much of their narrative should journalists let go unchallenged?
MONTPETIT FIRST STUMBLED ONTO THE BEAT in 2016 when Radio-Canada did a story about an anti-Muslim pamphlet that cir-
“These groups are becoming more organized, presentable and are expressing their views in a PR-friendly way” culated in the eastern townships around Sherbrooke, Quebec. The pamphlets were placed in residential mailboxes and tucked under the windshield wipers of cars. They warned against the alleged rise of “radical Islam” and said, “Don’t let these abusers turn Quebec into Islamic territory.” The pamphlets were signed, “La Meute.” That one incident snowballed into Montpetit getting contacts for groups such as La Meute, Soldiers of Odin, and Atalante Québec. Montpetit says most groups operate secretly online, using private online pages. He has succeeded in joining some, but knows there are deeper, closed areas he does not have access to. There are, however, some left-leaning groups that have snuck into the deep private pages and become helpful resources for journalists. Anti-Racist Canada (ARC), for instance, is an online blog that tracks several Canadian right-wing groups and posts their private plans and conversations online. For example, ARC uncovered that, on January 27, 2018, around the one-year anniversary of the Quebec mosque shooting, Pegida Canada and participants from the Northern Guard, The Three Percenters militia, and the Proud Boys all staged an anti-Muslim protest at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips and Mel Lastman squares. The blog revealed that some members were wearing armour and sporting makeshift weapons. One screenshot shows a video of a leader from Northern Guard’s Toronto Chapter showing off his concealed knife, with the caption, “Glad this never had to be used. Always a good thing.” Another shows a member bragging about the violence inflicted upon anti-racist protestors. It reads. “We won, chased a fucker into McDonalds, punched another and one walked into my flagpole, great day.” ARC has reported on several stories about far-right groups, including the conspiracy theory, which spread throughout the U.S. and Canadian far-right, that the Antifa would wage a war against the right on November 4, 2017.
PERRY AND SCRIVENS ARE THE TOP RESEARCHERS in Canada working in this field. Together, they have published several papers and reports examining the history of these groups and how they are changing. In “Uneasy Alliances”, Perry and Scrivens tracked several instances of violence in Canada that have been connected to rightwing groups, and talked to former members of the far-right and to the police. One example reads, “In 2008, a 17-year-old Aryan Guard member attacked a 26-year-old Japanese woman in Calgary. The
youth first made disparaging comments about Asians, and then followed Asako Okazaki as she left a bar. He drop-kicked her in the back of the head and continued to kick her after she hit the ground, all while wearing steel-toed boots.” The man was convicted of assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, and three counts of breaching probation from previous convictions. Perry and Scrivens note that, until recently, extremist right-wing groups have been considered “fringe” and uncommon. However, according to their study, the internet has increased visibility and recruitment for these right-wing groups, based on the data collected for their study.
ON JULY 5, 2017 HANNAH THIBEDEAU SITS in a CBC studio about to host another segment of Power and Politics. The topic this week is about five members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) who face expulsion after they interrupted an Indigenous protest on Canada Day at the Edward Cornwallis statue. (Cornwallis is the founder of Halifax, who put a bounty on the Mi’kmaq people in 1749.) “They carried the Red Ensign flag and sang ‘God Save the Queen,’” Thibedeau tells her viewers. Video footage shows five white males, all wearing khakis and black polo shirts with a yellow stripe across the collar. They march up to a group of Indigenous leaders and position themselves in a face-off. There are smiles on their faces. “The men accused the protestors of disrespecting Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who established a policy of genocide against the Mi’kmaq people,” Thibedeau says. The five men refer to themselves as members of the Proud Boys, website describes the group as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” “Joining me now from New York City,” Thibedeau says, “is Gavin McInnes. He’s the co-founder of Vice, he’s the host of his own show, and he’s a co-founder of the Proud Boys men’s movement.” McInnes is wearing the same black polo shirt with the yellow stripes, and his arms are crossed on the table in front of him. Thibedeau asks what he thinks of the suspension of the five men from the CAF. He tells her it’s “abhorrent” and that “we have stabbed our servicemen in the back.” “This whole story has spun out of control and a bunch of rumors—made up by Antifa and the alt-left—have become the truth to the point where the top brass is already apologizing. They’ve already been sentenced and they didn’t do anything,” McInnes says. (The men were not actually sentenced. Rear-Admiral John Newton issued a statement on August 31 that said the investigation SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 31
had been completed and that no criminal charges were laid. Except for one member who decided to leave the CAF, all have been reinstated in their regular units.) Thibedeau asks McInnes to “straighten out the rumours,” looking for his account of what happened that day. McInnes tells her the men were at a bar on Canada Day when they heard about an anti-Canada Day rally happening nearby and decided to check it out. “The protestors get very confrontational, tell them to get the hell out of there. And by the way, our boys, the Proud Boys were told to take that flag down on Canada Day!” McInnes raises his hands in an “I give up” motion. (The flag the five men carried with them hasn’t been the official flag of Canada in over 50 years. The Red Ensign flag was replaced by the Maple Leaf in 1965. Paul Fromm, white nationalist and director of Canada’s Association of Free Expression, wants the Red Ensign to be reinstated as Canada’s official flag. Fromm has been quoted, saying it is “the flag of the true Canada, the European Canada before the treasonous European replacement schemes brought in by the 1965 immigration policies.” The flag has been called the Canadian version of the U.S. Confederate flag.) “And that becomes ‘disrupting an Indigenous ceremony’?” McInnes asks. “Disrupting a disingenuous ceremony is what it was.” Thibedeau continues by pointing out that Cornwallis issued a bounty on the scalps of the Mi’kmaq people. “Can you see why the Indigenous people were protesting?” she asks. “Can you see why Cornwallis issued a bounty on Mi’kmaqs?” McInnes responds. There is a short awkward pause. “What does that mean?” Thibedeau finally says. McInnes continues to recount a version of history in which the French and the Mi’kmaqs joined forces to fight the English and won. According to him, Cornwallis issued the bounty to counter this attack. (The Canadian Encyclopedia says that Cornwallis believed that the French and the Mi’kmaq joined forces but, in reality, they didn’t. He sent soldiers and mercenaries to push the Mi’kmaq away from the settlement but they refused. In October 1749 Cornwallis ignored London’s plea to make a trade with the Mi’kmaq and issued an order known as the scalping proclamation.) Thibedeau doesn’t interrupt McInnes’s rant, but lets him continue to promote a petition he started, which attempts to collect 10,000 signatures to exonerate the five men. (The website, which redirects users to a page on Rebel Media shows no indication of how many signatures McInnes succeeded in collecting.) Thibedeau attempts to counter McInnes’s claims by stating that the Chief of the Defence Staff put out a statement calling the five
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men’s behaviour inappropriate. McInnes takes this statement as an opportunity to rant about how the Canadian military’s top ranks are corrupt. In a Canadaland article published on July 6, CBC admitted, in an email, that it “erred” in its presentation of that particular interview. “While the intention was to provide insight and context about the group, we erred in not providing details of Mr. McInnes’s published anti-Jewish sentiments nor did we adequately challenge him on some of his and the Proud Boys’ controversial views. The show did have an expert on immediately following Mr. McInnes’s appearance who challenged what the group stands for, but a more comprehensive response would have included an Indigenous representative to critique Mr. McInnes’s views,” wrote Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC English Services. Thibedeau later publicly apologized for the failings of her interview and did a follow-up segment with Indigenous lawyer, Katherine Hensel, who explained the flaws in McInnes’ claims. Thibedeau did not respond to repeated interview requests from the RRJ.
“IT’S SUPERFICIAL COVERAGE,” Davide Mastracci says on how Canadian media has been covering the far-right. Mastracci sits across from me in a crowded café in Toronto’s Distillery District. The so-called “poster boy of leftist propaganda masquerading as journalism”—a title given to him by an angry writer in an article in The McGill Daily—is concerned with how journalists have been portraying these groups. Mastracci has written several stories on the far-right, anti-Islam rhetoric, and free speech on platforms such as Al Jazeera, Vice, the National Post and The Walrus. He is currently the associate opinions editor at HuffPost Canada. Although he has never interviewed members of the far-right, he researched it while writing a story for The Walrus called, “Why Canada Missed its Best Chance to Deradicalize the Alt-Right,” which analyzes why such groups seem to be gaining attention. He says journalists are not giving the full context in their stories and need to write more critically. This includes giving relevant background information and asking for proof of the claims members are making on air. Questions such as, “How do you know that?” and, “How did you get that information?” are key. “Those sort of people [like McInnes] know how to use the media. They’ll say certain things or make certain controversial claims to get their foot in the door,” says Mastracci. He warns that if journalists don’t challenge members of the far-right during interviews and make them provide evidence to support their claims, they risk simply giving them a platform to share their views.
“The big debate is whether journalists can both challenge these groups and call them out while remaining objective in their reporting” Even Montpetit acknowledges that giving free PR is one of the risks journalists run when covering these groups. He tells the story of David Tregget, the former leader of Quebec’s Soldiers of Odin, who has left to create Storm Alliance. Tregget had agreed to speak with Montpetit, but before the interview heard a story that Radio-Canada had done about his group. He didn’t like it. “He [messaged] me and said he was really upset,” Montpetit recalls of the conversation, which occurred over Facebook Messenger. “He said, ‘I’m no longer going to cooperate with you. I’m not interested in taking part in the interview.” Tregget, however, changed his mind once he read Montpetit’s first story on La Meute, which was published on December 4, 2016. He agreed to talk for a profile on his group, which Montpetit published 10 days later. “The generous explanation is that he saw we were objective and agreed to let us take part,” Montpetit says. “The more accurate description is he wanted the publicity.” But does publicity lead to an increase in membership? No one knows for sure. Perry and Scrivens agree that the numbers are growing, but it’s hard to say why they’re growing and by how much. The two are currently trying to better measure growth. Perry estimates a growth of about 25 percent based on the new groups she has come across in her research since 2016. This increase, she says, is visible through the emergence of new chapters of some of the groups that they identified in 2015, and new groups they had never heard of before.
EVAN BALGORD IS A JOURNALIST who has been monitoring farright groups in Toronto since February 2017. He writes a biweekly column for the Torontoist called “Eye On Hate” in which he reports on their activities. Balgord says most of these groups won’t speak to journalists: they see the media in one of two ways, either as the enemy, or as a tool to use to represent themselves in the best light. Balgord has written about the far-right for Now Magazine, Canadaland, the Toronto Star, and Canadian Jewish News. He’s also recognized by the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society as an experienced researcher on “the overlapping anti-Muslim and white nationalist movements in Toronto and Canada.”
“They will absolutely misrepresent themselves,” Balgord says, adding that there’s one ethical question journalists need to ask themselves every day: How much do you let these groups represent themselves versus giving the readers a true representation? The big debate is whether journalists can both challenge these groups while also remaining objective in their reporting. Montpetit says calling these groups racist would be editorialising because technically they do not identify as being racist, but as being antiMuslim and anti-immigration. But is that a difference worth noting? Last year on November 25, La Meute and other members of the far-right in Quebec held a rally in Quebec City. They were met with anti-racism protestors and the day ended with 44 people arrested, almost all of whom were anti-racism protestors. The next day, Montpetit published an article about the rally. He wrote that “La Meute, for its part, publicly denounces the use of violence and rejects racism.” Nora Loreto, a writer and activist who has written for The Walrus and rabble.ca, has a problem with that. “When they say that [these groups] are not racist, you literally report that. Does it fucking matter what they say?” says Loreto. “Isn’t there a neutral way to evaluate whether or not they’re racist? It’s like, ‘Oh wait, there’s literally an SS thunderbolt, yeah, that’s pretty racist.’” Loreto says journalists can be objective without letting these groups define themselves. She adds that there can be accuracy without condemnation. Journalists don’t have to outright say these groups are bad, they just need to show it by offering the history of the group. “Is La Meute a racist organization? Despite what they say, yes,” she says. Can you report what they say? For sure, but you need to put it into context.”
IN MASTRACCI’S ARTICLE FOR THE WALRUS, he wrote that while many were asking how Nazis could be marching in the streets in 2017, “marginalized people, however, were asking another question: How did it take so long for everyone else to notice white supremacy is alive and well?” Loreto says that since the journalists taking on the responsibility of covering the far-right are primarily white people, the reporting is biased. “White journalists are ill-equipped in general to write about this stuff,” Loreto explains. “And I say that because it is one thing to live in a society where you are experiencing racism, it’s a whole other thing to be white and to go through the process of understanding how racism exists.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 33
“I wandered into a rally and they were inquiring very loudly as to whether my tripod would fit sideways up my ass” Loreto says if you haven’t experienced racism as a white journalist, you are always bumping up against an invisible barrier preventing you from getting the story right. As a result, the story tends to break down into a sort of tennis match—Antifa on one side and the far-right on the other. “But that’s not actually at all how it works. There are degrees to how racism exists in society: it goes from from banal, systemic, pernicious racism that is everywhere, all the way to Neo-Nazis trying to fight people in the streets, which we have here,” she says. Loreto lives in Quebec City on the street where La Meute and antiracism activists faced off on November 25, 2017. She has many friends who were part of the anti-racist protest. The anti-racist protestors tried to halt La Meute’s demonstration by blocking their route, and some even threw snowballs at the group. However, before the two groups got close to each other, police swarmed the anti-racist group and tear-gassed and arrested them. Despite this, Loreto says, the media portrayed it as “another protest, another clash.” When it is white journalists writing these stories, Loreto says, the media either sensationalises the event or trivialises it.
WHEN I MET BALGORD, HE SPOKE openly and bluntly about the interactions he’d had with far-right group members. “At one point, I was on an enemies list, which was physically distributed at an event,” he says. “And on that enemies list they were nice enough to actually label me as a leftist, semi-legit, media, which I thought was nice because they weren’t nearly as nice to others.” It’s safe to say that Balgord knows all the major players of the far-right in Toronto fairly well, and they know him. They recognize him when they see him at rallies. He tells me about one interaction he had with the Three Percenters, an armed militia group that holds anti-Islamic views and seems ready for war. “I wandered into a rally and they were inquiring very loudly as to whether my tripod would fit sideways up my ass.” Under these circumstances, Balgord has reason to fear for his safety. But that doesn’t stop him from attending the rallies. In the summer, there was a far-right rally at Nathan Phillips Square almost every month. He attended the majority of the rallies and made sure he was always prepared. “As a journalist you should be taking some safety precautions,”
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Balgord says. “You wear a helmet. You wear smart clothes. I also started wearing sturdy boots.”
EVERYONE I SPOKE TO about the far-right agreed that the main thing journalists are missing is proper research. This is common in regional coverage, says Mack Lamoureux, Vice Canada’s go-to reporter on the far-right. At these smaller outlets, he explains, journalists have to juggle several stories at a time and typically work in a small team. As a result, when reporting on, for example, the Soldiers of Odin, they fail to mention that the group was founded by Mika Ranta, an avowed white supremacist who was convicted of assaulting an immigrant in Finland. According to Lamoureux they also fail to mention that within their organized groups, there’s typically a lot of anti-Islamic behaviour and members tend to have connections to groups such as Blood and Honour, although the RCMP has not confirmed that there is a link between the two groups. “There tends to be a lot of nuance left out,” Lamoureux says, referencing when journalists wrote about the free snow shovelling services offered by the Soldiers of Odin in 2016, “which is not the full story.” Balgord says Canada does not have any organizations that track these groups, as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) does in the United States. The closest Canada has is ARC. But there’s only so much ARC can do as an independent blog. What Canada really needs, Balgord says, is a professional group to collect and maintain all of this information. In a Toronto Star opinion piece he co-wrote with former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, Balgord said that “Canada needs a professional organization to track, document and counter right-wing extremism and racist groups.”
IN THE TIME SINCE MONTPETIT FIRST STARTED covering hate he has gained a lot of access to far-right groups in Quebec and has developed relationships with them. They invite him to their discussions, they tell him when they’re planning a rally, and they offer him insight into how they organize. Montpetit is aware that for the most part the groups that he covers are trying to use him, but he believes showing the public how these groups organize and the rhetoric that they are putting out outweighs the risks of publicity. “I don’t think we’ve helped them in any way,” Montpetit says. “For people committed to fighting against the spread of the far-right, they need to have access to what these groups are about, how they organize.”
Active Canadian far-right groups La Meute: The group was created by Eric Venne and Patrick Beaudry in 2015, just after the first wave of Syrian refugees arrived in Canada. The two modelled the hierarchical group after their military backgrounds. The Facebook group boasts over 43,000 members. So far, La Meute has not spread past Quebec.
Atalante Québec: The group advocates for a “renaissance of the neo-French in Quebec.” It’s unclear whether the group has a leader. It was responsible for a sign at a far-right rally on October 15, 2016, that read, “Death to Terrorists! Islam Out!”
Proud Boys: Founded by Gavin McInnes in 2016, the group considers itself a “pro-Western fraternal organization” for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Soldiers of Odin: An anti-immigrant street patrol group founded in Finland in October 2015 after the European migrant crisis, the group’s founder, Mika Ranta, has connections to the far-right neo-Nazi movement. The group has spread all over the world, and has several chapters in Finland, Australia, the United States, and Canada.
Northern Guard: The group was formed by several former members of Soldiers of Odin in fall 2017. The men-only group is anti-immigration and claims to protest against what they call “illegal immigration.” The group believes Canada has too many immigrants and should stop accepting new arrivals.
Pediga Canada: The Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West is a German nationalist group that believes Germany is becoming increasingly Islamicized. The Canadian chapter of the group shares the same concern and protests against Islamic extremism.
Three Percenters (III%’s): Founded in Alabama in 2008, this American militarized, anti-Islamic movement fights against restrictions on private gun ownership. The Canadian movement began in 2015, shortly after Justin Trudeau became prime minister. The Alberta group claims to be preparing itself for a war against those who are threatening to steal their land, and is meeting weekly for gun and combat training.
Storm Alliance: The group was founded by Dave Tregget, a former member of the Soldiers of Odin, in the of summer 2017. This group protests against the presence of refugees. Members have been known to patrol borders to intimidate immigrants and refugees who attempt to seek asylum in Canada.
Aryan Guard: Based in Alberta, this neo-Nazi group was founded in late 2006. Members boast “white pride worldwide,” and carry swastikas and the celtic cross. The group often refers to its leader as “micro-fuhrer.”
Blood and Honour: Originally founded in 1987 as a neo-Nazi music promotion network and and U.K. political party, Rock Against Communism. The neo-Nazi group has an official presence in 20 countries. The Canadian charter aims to “raise awareness of issues concerning our unique and combined European cultures and heritage so that we may preserve and pass on those values to future generations.” The group uses the swastika, confederate flag, celtic cross, and the South African flag used during apartheid. The group has ties to Combat 18, an armed and radical branch. Combat 18 is known for its white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, as well as its involvement in violent measures like murder and bombing in the name of its cause. —DAGMAWIT DEJENE
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Louder Than Thunder The inside story on Tanya Talaga and the writing of Seven Fallen Feathers, the book that shook up Canada B Y RHIANNON JOHNSON PHOTO BY IAN WILLMS
BLACK CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO leaves the city of Toronto, heading north to the Trans-Canada Highway, which runs west to the small community of Raith, Ontario. It’s the 1970s, and a young Tanya Talaga is riding in the back of her mother’s car, seats trimmed with ivory leather, to the Northern com‑ munity to visit family for summer vacation. For city-dwellers, going to the cottage or cabin usually means heading somewhere in Muskoka— somewhere settled. Raith is different. An hour north of Fort William First Nation, Raith is less of a town and more of a stop along the highway—it’s in the bush. It lies adjacent to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the Ojibway lived before settlers planted their boots and drew up treaties to dictate where First Nations people would live—in segregated reservations. From the highway, run-down houses are obscured by thick brush. Raith is sweltering in the summer, but it was during those summers that, as a child, Talaga went fishing in an old steel boat, set rabbit traps with her relatives, and hung out in a wood cabin with no indoor plumbing and an outhouse. Of
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the latter, she says, it was a horror show for a city kid. In Thunder Bay, a more urban spot, Talaga has relatives, including great-aunts who she would also visit during those summers. There have always been Cree and Ojibway people in the area; it’s where they would meet up to trade, travelling by the rivers and streams. Since the city’s amalgamation in 1970, the fallout from the residential school system played a significant part in shaping dynamics within the city, creating tensions between Indigenous and nonIndigenous people. For the most part, Talaga was sheltered from this conflict. Still, there were stories of inequality. She knew Indigenous women shouldn’t walk alone at night. There was a separate hospital, the sanitorium, for the Indigenous population, which had high rates of tuberculosis at the time. Even the two former cities that made up most of Thunder Bay seemed to be two separate worlds: Fort William, an urban setting for working class Indigenous folk, and Port Arthur, which remains populated by the middle class.
“We were pretty much thrown into the deep end,” Talaga says. “We ended up treading water together so we wouldn’t drown” A veteran journalist who has been working at the Toronto Star as a reporter for more than 20 years, Talaga knows the area intimately. It’s why, decades after her summers at the cabin, she returned—this time, to report. Talaga found herself digging deeper into the racial tensions that were splitting apart the idyllic setting of her summer vacations. There were stories of conflict (resource developers who wanted to take over ancestral Indigenous lands) and violence (women and girls who went missing or were murdered, years before the Canadian government probed into the issue). She was pretty much alone, one of few Indigenous reporters covering some of Northern Ontario’s most vulnerable communities. Now, Talaga has released her first book, Seven Fallen Feathers—a deep dive into the deaths of seven Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, located minutes away from her summertime spot. Getting here wasn’t easy. Despite the increased presence of Indigenous journalists within mainstream media for more than 20 years, only recently have newsrooms carved out dedicated space for Indigenous issues. That reportage can be complicated. The Indigenous beat unravels emotion and shame from some of Canada’s darkest places and most marginalized citizens. Like Talaga, I know this firsthand: As a young Ojibway journalist, I have seen and experienced the hurt that runs through the blood of Indigenous people. It’s a pain that sticks in your gut, an intergenerational trauma. But there is light in these struggles, and the work of Indigenous journalists aids in reconciliation. Young reporters like me would not have a place in this industry were it not for those who came before—like Talaga. Talaga’s passion for Indigenous storytelling is fierce. She mined the
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Indigenous issues beat before there was a place for it in the newsroom, and told the stories she cared about because they needed to be heard—and no one else would tell them. Talaga’s presence as a pioneering Indigenous journalist will have a lasting effect on newsrooms, inspiring young Indigenous writers to seek out stories to tell about their own communities.
The first thing Talaga saw when she got off the
plane in Thunder Bay in April 2011 was Mount McKay. Towering over the city, it’s a spiritual hub, where pow wows for Fort William First Nation are held. The mountain lies on the south side of the Kaministiquia River and divides the city of Thunder Bay from Fort William First Nation, a physical boundary that has historically separated the Ojibway reserve from the urban world. That day, Talaga was on a routine assignment for the Star, reporting on low voter turnout among Indigenous people in anticipation of the next federal election. First interview on the docket: Stan Beardy, the Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political body that oversees 49 First Nations in Northern Ontario. The territory of the Nishnawbe Aski Nations stretches from Manitoba, north to Hudson Bay and James Bay, and Quebec lies to the east. It is home to 45,000 people who, prior to 2000, were relatively invisible to the rest of the country, thanks to mainstream media. Beardy served Nishnawbe Aski Nation as Grand Chief for 12 years and, in 2012, the final year he held office, the territory had been in the national news dozens of times. Talaga headed to the third floor of the Victoriaville Centre mall to interview Beardy, in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Band office. The building is a lasting mark of drab 1970s architecture—the rugged postmodern beige brick and panelling have seen better days. Much like the overcast skies of early spring, the band office is grey from floor to ceiling. As the pair sat in a drab boardroom, Talaga began asking question after question for her voter turnout story—how few Indigenous people voted, the possibility of Indigenous people swinging an election if they all voted together, about former New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton. But Beardy was thinking about something else, something deeper: Jordan Wabasse, a Grade 9 student in Thunder Bay, had been missing for 70 days. He had travelled 500 kilometres from his home in Webequie First Nation to attend high school in the city and disappeared that February. Wabasse would be just one of seven Indigenous youth in the city, there for an education unavailable in their northern communities, to be found dead in 10 years. As Talaga pressed on in her questioning, Beardy couldn’t contain his exasperation. “Why aren’t you writing about Wabasse?” he asked. She didn’t have a satisfactory answer. The interview changed direction: Beardy went on to tell her that the young man had disappeared but no one was reporting it. “I stopped and I listened,” Talaga remembers. “When he said that to me it was like lights just went off.” Disbelief turned into nausea as Beardy explained the situation and questions began flooding her mind. What do you mean six students died and a seventh is missing? Where are the news trucks to cover this? But there was nearly nothing in the papers, or on TV. Then Beardy opened up about his own heartbreak. On August 1,
2004, Beardy’s 19-year-old son Daniel died after being attacked and brutally beaten while he was at a party in Fort William First Nation. The assault left him battling for his life in intensive care for 30 hours. At the time, Daniel was the second-rated goalie in Junior A hockey, heading for the NHL. Wabasse was also a goalie. “I trusted Tanya, and a lot of times with the media they will try to interpret what they think you should be saying,” says Beardy. “So, I shared my personal experience with her. This is something that’s very close to my home, my heart, my life.” Talaga has a way of encouraging strangers to confide in her their deepest pains. She is a natural listener, and hearing Beardy, she realized there was something much larger at stake in Thunder Bay than a political election story. There was something wrong in this city, a truth she understood as the weight of Beardy’s words settled into her chest. The pair left the boardroom shortly after so Beardy could show Talaga, in person, the sites of tragedy in their community. He took her to an area near the Kaministiquia River, beneath Mount McKay. Early spring hadn’t melted all of the snow, but mud was forming as the thawing earth began releasing its moisture. Standing by the river, Beardy nodded to Talaga: “This is where we think Jordan is.” It’s the spot where search parties found one of the boy’s sneakers. Talaga felt ill. “I stopped what I was doing and I checked myself,” she recalls. “I realized, okay, stop being this Toronto-centric reporter and remember who you are, where you are, and who you’re listening to.”
Tanya Talaga, as an infant, being held by her greatgrandmother Liz Gauthier (a residential schools survivor)
Talaga was born in the suburbs, in Scarborough,
Tanya Talaga as a child, fishing at Dog Lake near Raith, Ontario, her mother’s ancestral home PHOTOS: COURTESY TANYA TALAGA
Ontario, to Sheila and David Talaga in 1970. On her dad’s side she’s Polish. From her mom, she received her Anishinaabe heritage. Journalism wasn’t always in the cards. Talaga never attended a formal journalism school, instead studying Canadian politics and history at the University of Toronto in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She started volunteering at Victoria College’s The Strand newspaper during her undergraduate degree, and became hooked on news. “I loved being able to tell stories, to be a fly on the wall and to write what was happening and to meet people that I normally wouldn’t meet,” she says. Talaga also wrote for the university’s paper, The Varsity, where her career began to take shape. It’s where she learned to write and report, honing her skills working with Naomi Klein, Rachel Giese, and Simona Chiose. By 1994, Talaga was The Varsity’s news editor. Her experience at the student papers helped Talaga land an internship with the Star in May 1995. She shared a desk with another intern, Michelle Shephard, now the paper’s national security reporter. The two young women bonded quickly. “We became fast friends mainly because we were both so young and freaked out to be working at the Star,” Shephard says. “We were pretty much thrown into the deep end and ended up treading water together so we wouldn’t drown.” After the internship, Talaga secured a position with the Star as a general city reporter. But it wasn’t until she joined the Queen’s Park bureau 14 years later to cover provincial politics that she began exploring stories of Indigenous injustice. There, she got crafty. Her colleagues—among them Robert Benzie, Rob Ferguson, and Jim SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 39
Coyle—were all big hitters in hard news, and she saw an opportunity: she would write features instead, and find more leeway in the subject matter of her material. “To me it was a wide-open territory [that] nobody was writing about,” Talaga says. “Nobody.” In late 2009, she began covering the mineral-rich area known as the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario. As Talaga describes it, the area was supposed to provide the province with its next big resource development boom. She spoke directly with First Nations leaders Beardy (the two would meet again in Thunder Bay the following year) and Sandy Lake Chief Adam Fiddler, who warned the provincial government that there would be consequences if a controversial land bill was passed. Tension developed between local Indigenous communities, the provincial government, and mining companies because of the lack of free, prior, and informed consent in how the area would be developed. The leaders believed the bill would give the government final say on how the land would be developed. The impact would rival the signing of Treaty 5 a century prior, which ceded 100,000 square kilometres to the British Crown. Talaga reported from the scene as local First Nations communities blockaded the development site for two months. “This is where she really cut her teeth on Indigenous matters, in terms of the policy matters,” says Benzie, Queen’s Park bureau chief for the Star. “There would be days when there would be a story coming in here and she would say, ‘Look, if I don’t do this I’m not sure anyone else will in any other news organizations.’” Benzie already knew Talaga from his reporting days with the National Post. She was always one of the Star reporters he hoped to run into on assignment because of her warm and friendly attitude, he says. Her personality and skill as a reporter charmed Benzie into inviting Talaga onto his Queen’s Park team in 2009. “You want people who work hard, are smart, are decent, and who will look for stories that maybe we otherwise wouldn’t find,” he says. But Talaga was only just getting started. Through her conviction and passion for the stories she covered, she’s been able to gain the trust of her sources by getting to know them as individuals, says Benzie.
A memorial dedicated “In Honour of Our Ojibwa Elders,” with Mount McKay in the background
When Talaga returned to Toronto in 2011, after
learning of Jordan Wabasse’s story, she began covering the deaths of Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay through a series of articles published in the Star. The first story ran on May 8, 2011, when Wabasse was still missing. Talaga was the first to draw the connection to the six other students from Nishnawbe Aski Nation who were in the city to attend high school who had been found dead. Many reserves in the North can’t provide secondary education and if youth want to complete their education, they have to attend school hundreds of kilometres away from their families. This was the case for the seven youths Talaga would profile. The disbelief that these kids had died so far from home, in a community close to her own upbringing, along with the fact that no one else was reporting on them, drove her to continue covering the stories. In the series, Talaga’s articles looked at the systemic problems facing Indigenous communities in the North—unemployment, lack of education, health care—to bring in a much-needed element of histori-
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PHOTO: TANYA TALAGA
cal context for those unfamiliar with Indigenous issues in Canada. But it was her humanizing storytelling that was most compelling. She constructed personified narratives—who these youth were, their motivations and dreams—that connected complex lives to the names of the missing. “She’s a passionate person and she was never regardless of what beat she was in. She was never someone who just mailed it in,” remembers Benzie. “She was always somebody who got into the story, got to know the people she was writing about, cared about them. I think that you can see that in the book and you can see that in her stories.” Exploring a story so emotionally devastating can be challenging— reporters must fight to remain distant, to not get too involved. Talaga found a delicate balance. She was able to deliver the facts about the seven youth in Thunder Bay in an objective and straightforward manner. At the same time, she got to know the families and friends of those youth—where they came from, who was back home wait-
“It is that humanizing and reminding people that these were actual flesh and blood people—I think that’s one of the greatest impacts that this book has had” ing for them—to tell a greater story about love and resiliency. The stories were powerful tales of loss, heartache, and community that shook readers. Eventually, the stories of these youth—their lives cut abruptly short, and the dark truths behind their deaths—became the centrepiece for Talaga’s debut book, Seven Fallen Feathers. The book, released in 2017, digs not only into the lives lost in Thunder Bay, but also the issues still lingering for Indigenous communities across the country. Decades since the Indian residential school system was abolished, Indigenous people have continued to struggle. Children are still taken away from their families at the hand of child welfare societies in disproportionate numbers. Some must leave their homes if they want to get an education, like the seven students Talaga profiles. Seven Fallen Feathers notes the resilience of Indigenous communities and their strength to continue living against all the weight of the past. “That’s what the book was about at the end of the day. Honouring the kids and the families and the resiliency of the people,” Talaga says. “We’re all still here.” Putting the book together proved Talaga’s own resiliency. It was a product of seven years of reporting, researching, and writing, covering stories of deep trauma and despair. When Janie Yoon, managing editor at House of Anansi Press, approached Talaga about writing
a book in March 2016, Talaga knew she couldn’t stray away from the stories she followed for so long. Yoon was immediately swayed, since at that time the inquest into the seven youths’ deaths was just drawing to a close. “I said, ‘That’s your first book.’” That June, after covering the inquest into the Thunder Bay deaths for the Star, Talaga headed to a cabin on Lake Superior with her teenage children to write. The lake, the largest and most northern of the Great Lakes, seems to move of its own volition. The backyard of her getaway home rolled down into the clear, cool waters of Lake Superior, a place of childhood remembrance for Talaga. “Every time you fly over [the lake] to get to Thunder Bay, it’s always angry,” she says. “The plane always shakes.” It seemed the perfect setting to work on Seven Fallen Feathers. It was the first time, as a full-time journalist and single mother, that Talaga was able to work on a long-form project. From the time that she was a young girl, Talaga had always loved writing and wanted to write a book. This was finally her chance. No one day looked the same when she was writing. “Some days I would just stare at my computer or my cat, like nothing would happen,” she remembers. Like the waters of Lake Superior, the inspiration came in waves. “I’m not the kind of writer that can force myself to write 1,000 words a day just to get it out,” she says. Writing the book was a labour of love, and sometimes Talaga felt like she needed to be in the right place to write it. It would take a lot of reflecting before any words would come out, despite the deadlines she was facing from her publisher. “There were times where I wouldn’t look at anything for months, I would just put it away,” she says. There were plenty of learning curves, too. Yoon found herself reminding Talaga that not everyone knows the historical context of Indigenous people and how they fit into broader Canadian society. “Sometimes we take for granted that people might know more than they do,” says Talaga. “You can’t just write a throwaway sentence about the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). That has to be backed up with a this long explanation—you can’t assume that everyone else knows.” Her telling of that history provides a vital framework for the book and shows where the deaths of these children fit into the national narrative. Talaga also wanted to avoid Seven Fallen Feathers becoming a true crime read. Instead, she worked to present the reader with the larger societal, cultural, and historical issues that face Indigenous people in Canada. Throughout the book, Talaga uses her journalistic skills to recreate the lives of the seven youth, all the while weaving together the context of Canada’s history with the residential school system and its fallout effects on Indigenous communities in the North. This includes the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old who died of exposure and starvation when he walked for 36 hours after running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario. In November 1966, a month after Chanie’s body was found, a physician’s inquest was held, though the boy’s family was not informed that it was happening. From the inquest came four recommendations; among them, the final finding noted that the residential school system causes severe emotional and developmental problems for the children sent there. More than 6,750 stories of the traumatic experiences from those who survived being incarcerated in the residenSPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 41
tial school system throughout Canada were heard from 2009 to 2014. These stories and the tireless commitment by the Truth and Reconciliation commissioners brought together a final report and 94 Calls to Action in order to help Canada move forward. For Seven Fallen Feathers, it is this context that Yoon says has been crucial for readers. “It is humanizing, and reminds people that these were actual flesh and blood people,” she says. “I think that’s one of the greatest impacts that this book has had.” Just one year since that initial pitch, months toiling away by the lake, and nearly seven years after her interview with Stan Beardy in Thunder Bay, Talaga finished Seven Fallen Feathers. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
As the conversation around Indigenous issues has
opened up on the national stage, the release of Seven Fallen Feathers comes at a crucial moment in Canada’s history. “The issues in Thunder Bay have been in the news constantly, which we didn’t expect,” says Yoon. “Then the book came out, and now it’s reinforced the importance of the whole country looking at the issues surrounding the Indigenous peoples.” It comes at a pivotal moment, too, for Canada’s news industry. Before the Idle No More movement made national headlines and before the release of the TRC’s final report, Indigenous issues were a blip on the radar of many Canadians. In less than 10 years, the atmosphere and appetite for journalistic content on Indigenous issues has changed significantly. When Talaga was working on the Ring of Fire series, for example, her articles were seven among hundreds written on the issue that year. The majority were provided by news wires such as the Canadian Press or Canada Newswire, with a few localized publications, like The Hamilton Spectator. But the headlines of these other articles overwhelmingly focused either on the financial benefit of developing the geographical area, with little or no mention of Indigenous communities in the area, or the blockading and protest by First Nations communities because of the tension with the government and mining companies. But now, Indigenous issues and affairs have gained traction in news organizations have slowly begun to develop specialized beats and teams to cover the stories. In 2015, the TRC called for additional funding for CBC, to support projects like CBC Indigenous, where I work. This has assisted in bringing Indigenous issues to the forefront, including the legacy of the residential school system in Canada and the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Still, CBC’s Lenard Monkman says it remains difficult for Indigenous journalists to find work in private newsrooms. Monkman has been working as a journalist for almost two years with CBC Indigenous. He says that there has been a notable shift in news coverage of Indigenous issues since Idle No More, even though Indigenous stories have always been happening. But thanks to Indigenous journalists, including Talaga, there are now more places in newsrooms for young Indigenous journalists. “We [as Indigenous journalists] are able to tap into our community and tell the story from a different perspective, as opposed to what we’ve been trained
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The unveiling of the gravestone at the memorial service for Robyn Harper, the only female in the missing seven Indigenous youths
PHOTO: TANYA TALAGA
to think about ourselves and what we’ve been trained to think about the way that our relationship is with each other in Canada,” says Monkman. “It’s still an exciting time to be an Indigenous journalist in this country.” Storytelling is a deeply ingrained part of the Indigenous culture that comes through in how Talaga’s stories are written. When you’re Indigenous, it’s difficult to separate yourself from your material— you always feel the urgency of a story, and the complex, deep emotions ingrained in their narratives. In her writing, eloquent language weaves together the immediacy of the news with a humanizing factor, showing her sources as real people that have affected their communities and are loved by their families. “She’s one of a lot of journalists who have been doing an incredible job covering that situation there [in Thunder Bay] and putting a real human face on it,” says Tim Fontaine, formerly of CBC Indigenous, founder of the satirical Walking Eagle News and host of the satirical television show The Laughing Drum on APTN. Fontaine has only recently gotten to know Talaga on a personal level, but he has been following her work and coverage on Indigenous communities for years. “She’s simply one of the brighter lights and louder voices in there, even though she carries herself quite quietly,” says Fontaine. “She’s managed to make a real impact and I think that’s a testament to her work, to her journalism, and to her craft and writing.” “Tanya has been a leading voice in Canada, consistent in her coverage of Indigenous issues, whether it was during her years at general assignment, Queen’s Park, or later when she was able to cover the beat full time,” says Shephard, who has known Talaga since their first day as Star interns in the 1990s. “She was always paying attention—I’m just so delighted that her book has come out at a time when the rest of Canada is too.”
The story doesn’t end with Seven Fallen Feathers.
The deaths in Thunder Bay and the racism facing First Nations youth and adults in the city has dominated Canadian news this past year. The disappearance of Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg, two Indigenous youth, in May 2017 opened old wounds in Thunder Bay. Both were found dead in the McIntyre River, the same river where three of the seven youth in Talaga’s reporting were found. Their disappearance and deaths made headlines in all major Canadian newspapers, from the Star to the Globe. It also sparked feature articles questioning how this could happen. As Talaga points out, “These are kids coming from Indigenous communities, where there are no traffic lights, there are no fast food outlets, there are no shopping malls. These communities are very different, they’re rural, there’s no clean water. So you’re taking a kid who’s lived their entire life like that and you’re putting them on a plane sending them to Thunder Bay to live with a family they don’t know, you know, 13 or 14. Imagine. That to me is just stunning.” Talaga’s commitment to covering Indigenous stories and her devotion to Thunder Bay is a testament to her skills as a reporter and has solidified her status as a pioneering Indigenous journalist. “There seems to be a lot of awakening as a result of her book,” says Beardy. “She invested a lot of her own time, her own energy, to find out if there was more than what a person sees on the surface.”
With an increased focus on reporting on Indigenous issues, books, podcasts, and more that will improve your understanding
Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada, by Chelsea Vowel Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers, by Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen L. Robertson.
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, by Thomas King The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy, by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City, by Tanya Talaga As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson In Search of April Raintree, by Beatrice Mosionier
Media Indigena, hosted by Rick Harp
Indian and Cowboy, an Indigenous media network founded by Ryan McMahon
Missing & Murdered, a CBC News podcast hosted by Connie Walker
INDEPENDENT MEDIA kukukwes.com
Muskrat Magazine Red Rising Magazine
Reporting in Indigenous Communities, an educational guide created by Duncan McCue. Available online at http://riic.ca/ Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, www.trc.ca
MAINSTREAM MEDIA OUTLETS CBC Indigenous APTN
ALSO: GET TO KNOW YOUR LOCAL INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES
* Tanya recommends
SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 43
Warning Signs Inside Canadian fake news and the ongoing efforts to minimize its pernicious influence B Y DANIEL CAL ABRET TA ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE DONALD
TO UNDERSTAND THE DEVELOPMENT of fake news in Canada, go to a shopping mall in St. Catharines, Ontario. There you’ll meet 17-year-old Yaman Abuibaid, one of the country’s pioneers of fake news. On a chilly, mid–November afternoon in 2017, Abuibaid enters The Pen Centre mall, sporting a dark blue St. Mary’s hockey jersey with a gym bag hoisted over his shoulder. Despite his slim physique, he looks like a high school athlete. “It’s actually my friend’s jersey. It was hockey day at school,” says Abuibaid, a Grade 12 Denis Morris Catholic High School student. “I wore this to fit in with the crowd.” Though hockey isn’t his game, Abuibaid used to be into sports, specifically football, until Grade 8 when he lost interest in favour of computer programming and web development. The young techie has been developing websites since he was in Grade 6, but he struggled to get page views and visitors. This would all change when Abuibaid reached Grade 9 and heard rumblings in the Denis Morris lunchroom about an article about Kim Kardashian being
SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 45
spotted in public, supposedly missing her right arm. Many students believed this story—but Abuibaid wasn’t so sure. “Everyone was going on this website, and it was fake,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s definitely the key—fake news attracts people.’” In November 2014, Abuibaid officially entered the world of fake news with the launch of Hot Global News. He would go on to launch three other fake news websites: The Global Sun, The National Sun and Avocado News. Abuibaid’s ventures would prove to be both popular and lucrative. He says his websites have reached over 10 million visitors and generated over $70,000. For more than three years, the sleek, black desk wedged in the corner of Abuibaid’s St. Catharines bedroom became his unofficial office. Often sitting next to him would be a black coffee mug with math formulas and equations inscribed on the outside of the cup. At its height, Hot Global News had around 15 people writing for the site, mainly friends and acquaintances of Abuibaid, as well as co-founder Daré Adebanjo. “We didn’t talk to each other—we’d just write the article, the title, Photoshop an image and publish it within 30 minutes,” says Abuibaid. Even the quotes in their articles, often attributed to high–profile individuals, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, were fabricated. In just over two years, Abuibaid says his sites have racked up 200,000 Facebook page likes cumulatively. Now a high–schooler in his graduating year, Abuibaid is a small part of a global phenomenon. There were approximately 167 active fake news sites around the world as of December 2017, according to BuzzFeed’s media editor Craig Silverman, who has been studying accuracy and trustworthiness in the media for 14 years. The majority of sites on his 2017 list are not Canadian–based.
ALARMING RESULTS REGARDING Canadians’ inability to identify fake news surfaced in May 2017 through an Ipsos poll, conducted on behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), about Canadians trust in traditional news media. Of the 1,001 Canadians surveyed, 69 percent said they continue to trust traditional news media. Roughly 81 percent of respondents said they were somewhat confident in their ability to discern what is real news and what is fake. The poll also revealed that approximately 63 percent of English-speaking Canadians surveyed failed a quiz on fake news that required participants to indicate which six images from news websites were false. “Credibility and trustworthiness of the news
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is a big issue, a volatile issue, a potentially dangerous issue—and Canadians are going to want some help in sorting this out,” Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker told Global News. While some use fake news to push a political agenda, others are driven by the alluring prospect of making significant amounts of money. “It’s really all clickbait,” says Abuibaid, with the goal of getting as many clicks as possible. Fake news propagators create incendiary, yet false headlines with the goal of driving readers to their websites. Once a visitor clicks on an ad, both the website creator and the ad–service provider make money. Google AdSense is one of the most popular digital–advertising programs. One of AdSense’s bid types is a cost-per-click calculation based on an auction–type system, which enables advertisers to note how much they’re willing to pay for clicks on their ads. “Standards are an issue in our business,” says Andrew Casale, president and CEO of Index Exchange, an independent and international advertising marketplace where digital media companies sell their ad impressions openly and in real time. “Some companies are very short-term motivated. There are [ad] exchanges that just want volume and will list absolutely anything—that is a problem,” he says. Casale and his company pride themselves on working with fewer, but quality clients—like Bell Media, Rogers and CBC-Radio Canada. Casale estimates that there are over 90 other active global advertising exchanges, some of which allow illegitimate news websites to reap the rewards of advertising dollars. “As a member of the [digital advertising] ecosystem, it is far too easy for companies with bad intentions to start up websites with the sole intention of generating traffic by putting out fake headlines and fake content, generating a lot of clicks, and in turn, ad revenue,” he says. Some major companies use automated tools to reach consumers online. In March 2017, JPMorgan Chase ads appeared on approximately 400,000 websites per month, according to The New York Times. The report revealed that an ad for JPMorgan Chase’s private client services had appeared on hyperpartisan and fake-news websites, specifically pointing to one that appeared on the website Hillary 4 Prison below a headline claiming that actor Elijah Wood revealed “the horrifying truth about the Satanic liberal perverts who run Hollywood.” As a result, JPMorgan started limiting its display ads to approximately 5,000 websites it preapproved, a practice known as “whitelisting.” Over the past year-and-a-half, Google, Facebook, and Twitter
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s definitely the key— fake news attracts people’”
have come under fire for their roles in the cycle of fake news and misinformation, and faced particularly severe scrutiny in 2016 during the U.S. presidential election. American media pundits and political commentators alleged they were not thorough enough in stopping the dissemination of false or misleading content. More recently in October 2017, concerns were raised when it was discovered that fact-checking organizations such as Snopes. com and PolitiFact were inadvertently promoting fake news stories like Melania Trump is leaving the White House,” and “Televangelist Joel Osteen is leaving his wife!” with ads served by Google, according to the Times. As a result, co-owner and vice president of Snopes. com, Vinny Green, told the Times the website had tried to filter out misleading advertisements from the 150 million ads he said were sold and aired on the site in September 2017. “We don’t want sites that misrepresent themselves or deceive users in our network and we’ve taken steps by prohibiting Google ads on sites with misrepresentative content,” Aaron Brindle, head of public affairs for Google Canada, said in an email. The policy created in 2016 regarding “misrepresentative content” states, “Google Ads may not be placed on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about you, your content or the primary purpose of your web property,” Brindle also writes that: “We are extending the principles and updating our policy to ban ads being placed on sites with misrepresentative content. We recognize that we have a huge responsibility to connect people to quality information—it’s a job we take very seriously.” If a website is violating its policies, Google will first send a notification of the violation to the site operator. If the operator does not “bring [its] site into compliance,” then ad serving will be deactivated, according to its AdSense policies that. Twitter has faced significant issues surrounding fake news and misinformation. In response, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all announced plans last November to implement “trust indicators” to assist users in assessing the credibility of news outlets and journalists that appear in their news feeds. When the Ryerson Review of Journalism attempted to arrange an interview with someone from Twitter, we were directed to blog posts published by the company. Twitter also declared last December it was updat-
ing its in-product messaging when it holds back content, to explain where content was withheld and why. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in August 2017, Facebook is the most popular source for news out of all social media sites. The company has often been criticized for not taking enough action to curb the dissemination of fake news and hyperpartisan stories. Despite Facebook taking steps to curtail fake news from its platform, John Fraser, president and CEO of Canada’s National NewsMedia Council (NNC), says, “Most of the fake news that students would be seeing, it doesn’t come from media—it comes from Facebook postings of their colleagues and friends. They heard some story, they picked up something, they passed it along and off it goes. It has this whole currency.” For over a year, Facebook has been exploring various options to rid its platform of fake news. In December 2016, the company announced its “Disputed Flags” tool to alert news consumers of false and questionable information with a red flag. But after running tests for a year, the company discovered Disputed Flags didn’t have its intended effect. “Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs,” Facebook said in a statement. This past December, Facebook ditched Disputed Flags and unveiled its “Related Articles” function to help better contextualize the story people are reading. Through its research, the company found that displaying related articles next to fake news stories led to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flags were shown. In January, Facebook made major changes to its users’ newsfeeds, announcing it would scale back the amount of public content from publishers and businesses, prioritizing content from people’s Facebook friends (bring on the cat videos and GIFs—and less news). “The company is making it harder for legitimate news organizations to share their stories (and thus counter any false narratives), and by doing so, is creating a breeding ground for the fake news it’s trying to stamp out in the first place,” writes Swapna Krishna, a technology and science journalist for Engadget.com. In late January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 47
social media platform will start prioritizing “trustworthy” news in newsfeeds, based on what Facebook members identify through a survey as credible and authentic information. Based on their subjectivity, users voice their opinions regarding what they believe is and isn’t fake. The National NewsMedia Council (NNC), a voluntary self-regulatory ethics body for the English-language news media industry in Canada, has over 800 members, including the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and Canadian Press, all of whom follow their own comprehensive guidelines. The NNC receives complaints about what people think is fake news, but the public isn’t always catching actual fakes. Complainants raise issues about the science used in stories about vaccinations or climate change, alleging news organizations are trying to push their own agendas and not basing articles or broadcasts on the right scientific studies. According to the NNC, this might be because there is no uniformly understood or accepted definition of fake news. From 2016 to 2017, the NNC says it received 42 complaints that were primarily about accuracy, 16 complaints about opinion articles, and nine complaints regarding fake news. These complaints were registered against both members and non-members of the NNC. The organization says it received 79 total complaints in 2016 and 86 in 2017.
ABUIBAID AND HIS HOT GLOBAL NEWS colleagues circumvented digital advertising policies—like Google’s, which prevent sites from requesting people to click on ads and purchasing pay-per-click space in an attempt to gain traction on the web. They would either pay people at Denis Morris Catholic High School $5, give them a free Spotify account, or free Apple News and PlayStation cards, paid for by Hot Global News. In return, schoolmates would share the website’s articles on Facebook. “We had around 50 people at our school share our links, and then from there it just branched off,” Abuibaid says. “If you share a link on Facebook, five to 30 of your friends will see your post. So those 50 people that we got to share, hundreds and hundreds [of people] saw it.” A story that really put Hot Global News on the digital map was an October 2015 article with the headline, “Justin Trudeau To Build Marijuana Stores In Every City Across Canada”—a play on Trudeau’s campaign pledge to legalize cannabis. According to
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Buzzfeed News, that article was viewed more than 170,000 times and obtained more than 20,000 likes, shares, and Facebook comments. In the month leading up to Trudeau being sworn in, Abuibaid and Adebanjo published a series of articles about the incoming prime minister. Their site’s ad revenue jumped by over 2,000 percent that month (from around $500, to $10,734.40), according to BuzzFeed. “It was Justin Trudeau that sparked our success, which started everything,” Abuibaid says. He notes that Hot Global News first wrote celebrity fake news articles about Kim Kardashian and Iggy Azalea. The website didn’t make nearly as much money compared to when it started publishing stories about Trudeau. “I was sitting in class and my teacher was talking about Trudeau. I was in Grade 10,” Abuibaid says. “I wrote [the article] in class, and the next day, [I had] $900 in my AdSense account.”
THE HEADLINE READS, “President Obama Confirms He Will Refuse To Leave Office If Trump Gets Elected.” The source? A Vancouverbased satirical news website called The Burrard Street Journal (BSJ). The story would go on to become one of the site’s biggest, generating over 383,000 Facebook reactions and 892 on Twitter despite the story being deemed “false” by Snopes.com, who claim to be the “oldest and largest fact-checking website on the Internet.” It was a busy news day, between the aftermath of the Labor Day weekend shootings in Chicago and reports of a suspected chlorine bomb attack in Syria, but the fake story still made an impact. But BSJ doesn’t see it as fake, they see it as something else: satire. BSJ’s disclaimer page puts the site and its content in context: “If you clicked here, then you are probably doubting the legitimacy of one of our articles. Well friend, those are some good instincts, as the BSJ is a satire news, parody and humour website and is for entertainment purposes only. All Burrard Street Journal and Burrard Street Football articles are satire news and entirely fabricated...Please feel free to copy and paste this disclaimer into your Facebook comment to ‘prove this site’s bullshit.’” It’s one of many information-based websites throughout North America that walks the line between fake news and satire. Although John Egan, the founder of the BSJ, has writers from Canada, the U.S., and England contributing to the site, the bulk of the content is written by him. However, Egan says his girl-
“That is the risk satire takes, that somebody might read it and say, ‘Oh my God, this is real news.’ But the joke’s on them, really, if they do that”
friend, Janael McConkey, wrote the site’s most popular story. It was published the day before the January 24, 2017 U.S. House of Representatives vote that permanently passed the 1976 Hyde Amendment into law. The U.S. legislative provision prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except in instances of lifethreatening conditions for women, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. McConkey’s article, “Female Legislators Unveil ‘Male Ejaculation Bill’ Forbidding The Disposal Of Unused Semen,” stated, “a group of leading female legislators have enacted a new bill that forbids American men from disposing of ‘unused’ sperm, requiring them to bring any recreational semen to a nearby fertility clinic.” The article was, of course, deemed false by Snopes.com. But it didn’t matter—it was a success, bringing BSJ’s Facebook following up from 23,000 to 33,000, Egan says. Egan classifies his site as satire. Silverman sees this as strategic. Over the past year or so, authors of fake news have discovered a method of hiding behind the veil of satire and using it as a shield to reap the rewards of digital advertising dollars. By claiming their website is satirical, fake news creators can defend themselves against allegations of fake news and misinformation. Silverman notes the difference between legitimate satire sites and personalities—such as The Onion and The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz—and sites like the BSJ, calling them another breed. “[They] will, in some cases, actually publish genuine satire, but they also publish stories that have no satirical value,” he says. “And those are the ones that often get the most attention, the most virality and earn the most money.” Silverman categorizes the BSJ’s story about Obama refusing to leave office as failing to meet the qualities of satire. “There is absolutely nothing satirical about that story,” he says. “It is 100 percent a fake story trying, at that point, to capitalize on the fears of Trump actually getting elected.” Julia Creet, an associate professor in York University’s English department, has been teaching classes about satire for 20 years. Creet, unlike Silverman, deems the BSJ satirical. For one, she says, the site’s disclaimer makes it “very clear” that it’s satire. Secondly, you have to judge the article in the context of the whole website. She
notes the BSJ article, “President Trump Alleges He Was Sexually Assaulted by Hillary Clinton” is on the same page as another BSJ story, “Donald Trump’s Approval Rating Rises Above IQ for the First Time.” “No Trump supporter is going to read those two headlines together and think that this accusation is actual news,” she says. Creet states that a lot of BSJ’s articles play on elements of satire, such as irony and exaggeration. “That is the risk satire takes,” she says, “that somebody might read it and say, ‘Oh my God, this is real news.’ But the joke’s on them, really, if they do that.” How do readers figure out where to draw the line? In April 2017 alongside her research team, Victoria Rubin, a professor at Western University in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, launched the “Satire Detector,” which is based on technology she and her colleagues presented in a June 2016 research paper. This detector partly determines whether a news piece submitted is satirical or legitimate. Rubin says satire is a rhetorical technique used across any platform with the goal of eliciting an intellectual or emotional response on a significant issue. “The purpose is not just simple mockery. The target is critiqued and it’s often a call to action,” Rubin says. “If it doesn’t quite comply with this sort of definition, that would not be a satirical piece.” The Satire Detector is a “narrow-purpose tool” where a user can input the headline of an article, as well as 1,000 words of the body text. After the search is conducted, the detector will determine whether the article is satirical.
IN FRONT OF A WHITE WALL inside BuzzFeed’s downtown Toronto office, Craig Silverman and his team work to debunk fake news and other online misinformation. Silverman works on his computer, with a red placard that reads “Super Analista Del Web” resting on his desk. Posted on the wall behind Silverman is a black flag with the words “fake news”, a gift from his editor in New York. Just above the flag, the word “debunk” is printed on a piece of white paper. Fake news and debunk are two words that drive Silverman and his three-person team daily. “For a long time, I felt like I was off in this weird obsessive corner SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 49
Brill’s Content Guard
The founder of a long-gone and respected review of journalism returns with a new venture—fighting fake news
focusing on something that certainly some people cared about, but it was not a topic of general conversation, and certainly not a topic that was considered an urgent priority by governments around the world,” Silverman says. Now, it’s his daily beat. Every morning, Silverman goes through his list of fake news sites and examines their recent activity. Over time, he has built up saved searches of fake news sites using a tool called “BuzzSumo,” which enables Silverman to analyze how content from a publisher has been doing over a certain time period. Silverman sees how much traction fake news items from illegitimate sites get across a variety of platforms—most notably, Facebook and Twitter. CrowdTangle Link Checker is another resource Silverman uses to detect the “virality” and social media engagement—it shows him which Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are sharing fake news and misinformation. “What [CrowdTangle] does is it gives us the ability to actually see who has been key in helping this spread,” Silverman says. When the RRJ went to visit Silverman at the BuzzFeed Toronto office in early January, he showed a fake news story through BuzzSumo that got a significant amount of social media engagement that week. Its headline read, “Room full of servers and hard drives destroyed in Clinton house fire,” and the fabricated story received over 12,000 Facebook engagements and 183 Twitter interactions. The source was a U.S.-based conspiracy website known as YourNewsWire.com, one of 167 fake news websites Silverman indexed in his 2017 list. Silverman says if a fake news story is doing really well and reaching a lot of people over social media, he will cover it and debunk it. There is one caveat, though. “You always have to balance, is it worth actually giving them the inadvertent attention of saying, ‘Hey this site is making up stories?’” he says. “We always try to wait and see if something is really spreading. If people really do seem to believe it, then we’ll step in.” Rather than relying on news organizations like BuzzFeed, or factchecking websites like Snopes.com, Silverman says there are ways the everyday news consumer can counter fake news and online misinformation. “To actually combat this problem, there’s a lot of things that have to happen,” he says. “But for the average person on the most basic level, people need to be aware that there’s a huge
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To Steve Brill and Gordon Crovitz, both journalists and news entrepreneurs, they’re giving the nod to real-life, human journalists to combat arguably the most prevalent technological phenomenon today—fake news and online misinformation. In contrast to those technologically driven initiatives using digital tools, indicators and algorithms, NewsGuard Technologies—launched in March—will employ dozens of veteran journalists, tasked with analyzing approximately 7,500 news and other informationbased websites most viewed and distributed within the U.S. The news sources will be assigned reliability ratings akin to a traffic light: green, if it’s reliable information; yellow, if a website is repeatedly biased or imprecise; and red, if a site deliberately publishes misinformation and propaganda intended to deceive. These ratings will be followed with a “Nutrition Label” blurb about each source, detailing the site’s track record, ownership and the scope of their coverage, among other things. “Two NewsGuard analysts will independently review and rate each site or online publication. One will then draft the Nutrition Label, which the other will edit,” NewsGuard’s launch announcement states. “Our goal is to help solve this problem now by using human beings—trained, experienced journalists—who will operate under a transparent, accountable process to apply basic common sense to a growing scourge that clearly cannot be solved by algorithms,” Brill said in the announcement. On the surface, this initiative can seem time-consuming and tedious. But this may be the kind of focus and dedication a serious issue like fake news needs in order to be properly addressed. Media literacy organizations, educational institutions and initiatives, and intrigued consumers will be provided with a browser plug-in edition of the software, supplying NewsGuard’s Nutrition Labels and ratings to them for free. According to CNN, NewsGuard will try to license its Nutrition Labels and reviews to tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter. Once its Englishlanguage service is established in the U.S., NewsGuard will expand internationally. —DANIEL CAL ABRET TA
amount of information coming from a wide variety of sources—and the fact that we have such a democratized media environment means it’s going to be coming from tons of different places, and it’s going to have different levels of trustworthiness and veracity.” Silverman advises users to be critical and skeptical of online information before they share and disseminate it. “The first piece is just awareness—and then from there I really encourage people to read something closely and figure out, ‘What are the sources being cited and where is this information coming from?’” he says. “If I were to take one of the quotes or the information in the story and Google it, do I find other sources, reputable sources that I’m familiar with that are reporting it? Just those steps alone, that extra little bit of scrutiny would help people 80 to 90 percent of the time.” Critical thinking, analysis, and healthy skepticism are at the heart of the youth media literacy initiative known as NewsWise, plans for which were announced last September. Google Canada’s philanthropic entity, Google.org, gave the Canadian Journalism Foundation and the youth civic engagement-based charitable organization, CIVIX, a $500,000 grant to create and administer NewsWise, which will assist youth, ages nine to 19, in developing skills to sort and filter what is and isn’t fake news.
The NewsWise roll-out will occur in Ontario classrooms this spring in advance of the provincial election campaign. It will be in place across the country by the 2019 federal election. “If we can get these young people practicing how to access and interact with news and different sources of news,” says Dan Allan, the content director of CIVIX, “we’re hoping this could become a lifelong habit of always thinking through what you’re reading and hearing>”
SITTING OUTSIDE STARBUCKS at The Pen Centre, Abuibaid reflects on his fake news career, and whether misleading people bothered him. “No, because it was just an easy thing to do,” he says. “We were tricking people, but it never occurred to us how crazy it could possibly be—how people would think negative about this, how it could change people’s opinions or perspective.” Looking back on his experience, Abuibaid notes not knowing the impact of his and his colleagues’ actions at the time. “It was somewhat ignorant on our part. We didn’t realize what we were doing,” he says. “We would just see numbers go up, our bank accounts go up, our statistics for our website go up—but it never occurred to us that what we were doing was immoral.”
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For female conflict correspondents the trauma doesn’t leave, even after they have B Y K AROUN CHAHINIAN
A perfect August evening. The sun is setting slowly
over Larchmont Harbor as the scattered yachts create ripples on the waters of Long Island Sound, their floating frames swaying in the wind. Sulome Anderson is running late, as usual. She hurries down the pavement outside the Larchmont Yacht Club to make it in time for her friend’s wedding in 2016. The outdoor ceremony is coming to a close as a panting Anderson arrives, quickly blending into the crowd of sharp suits and flowing dresses. Shortly after, as guests mingle inside large white tents, attendants whisk by with plates of delectable hors d’oeuvres and champagne-filled flutes. Frank Sinatra’s voice drifts out from the speakers, but is overpowered by loud laughter, conversation, and the sound of glasses clinking. Anderson joins the merrymakers, toasting to the couple’s future and feeling relaxed in her mint-green cocktail dress and fashionable stilettos. She’s walking through the crowd with a plate full of appetizers when: Boom! The loud blast of a cannon slices through the chatter, and Anderson’s reflexes kick in. She falls to her knees, touching down
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ILLUSTRATION: DAVE DONALD
onto the hot concrete, her plate of beautifully crafted hors d’oeuvres scattering around her. The boom, it turns out, is a ceremonial accoutrement—the yacht club’s customary exclamation point on a wedding well-executed. Everyone around Anderson seems to know this and, as she falls to the ground, they erupt into cheers and impromptu toasts, then turn quizzically to her. Silence. It takes a few seconds for Anderson to realize she isn’t in danger. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and adjusts her dress, mumbling embarrassed apologies.
A couple of months earlier: a different setting. Anderson—a freelance journalist with
a reputation for telling evocative stories about topics likes Hezbollah, Sunni child soldiers, and human rights issues—is walking on the dry, cracked land outside an outpost near ISIS territory, outside the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Nearly 30 armed Kurdish fighters accompany her, as part of an assignment that involves shadowing the Hamawand—a tribe with a historical reputation for resistance, including the Ottoman Empire, the British, Saddam Hussein, and now, ISIS. She was told about this militia by a contact from Beirut, and her curiosity to report in Iraq led her to write a profile about them for Vice.com in June 2016. Her clothes cling to her body in the stifling heat of the desert sun. With each step the sounds of gunfire grow louder, bringing the group closer to the frontline of the war. She hears the rocket whizzing above her head before she sees it. Landing 55 metres away into a nearby school, Anderson waits for the explosion, but there’s only deathly silence. Trying to stay composed, she feels her body trembling. The militia fighters with whom she is travelling open fire, even though the rocket is a dud. “I just concentrated on holding my camera and taking pictures and on not freaking out,” she says now.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is well-known, but its depth and long-term
effects are often not fully understood. It develops after someone faces or witnesses a traumatic event, which could be combat, sexual assault, or a near-death experience. The most common symptoms are intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and emotional and physical reactions to triggers. Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychologists would consider Anderson’s cannon reaction to be an example of Criterion E—one of eight levels of PTSD—in which a person shows signs of heightened or startled reactions and hypervigilance. For Anderson, sounds of gunfire and sights of suffering became common, and that story-book wedding reception at a sophisticated yacht club was when she realized she hadn’t escaped them. According to the manual, PTSD begins with the traumatic experience itself. Once individuals are exposed to trauma, they may be identified under Criterion B (intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and other internal and distressing symptoms). If things don’t resolve at that stage, it leads to Criterion C (avoidance of trauma-related feelings and reminders). Criterion D is a wave of negative thoughts, which affect the individual’s mood, interests and general outlook. Criterion E is the beginning of physical symptoms: hypervigilance, aggression, difficulty sleeping, or startled reactions. If the symptoms last longer than a month, a person can be identified to be in the Criterion G state, which can be functionally impairing. Laura Kasinof is an American reporter and author of Don’t Be Afraid of the Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen. She was living in Yemen when she started reporting on the 2011 Arab Spring for The New York Times. Focused on getting stories, Kasinof didn’t consider the negative impact on her mental health until she realized she needed treatment for PTSD after returning home from Taiz, in southwestern Yemen, covering the takeover of the city by anti-government forces. Kasinof found herself within a turbulent crowd, with hundreds of civilians frantically running. She watched—and reported—as the military shelled civilian areas, feeling numb. She had no guilt, no panic, no sense that something was wrong. That numb feeling tempted her to intentionally put herself in harm’s way when reporting “just to feel something.” Death and destruction were commonplace in Kasinof’s new world; she would often shut off her emotions to avoid falling into depression, “otherwise you’re not going to go there every day, it’s too sad.” But she noticed she was slowly beginning to have difficulty switching them back on again. “You forget how traumatizing it is to see people die,” continues Kasinof, adding that these stories are important to tell, but she needs to be healthy if she is to continue telling them.
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Many people believe that for PTSD to occur, the individual must directly experience the trauma. That isn’t always the case, according to Anthony Feinstein, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a neuropsychiatrist. The symptoms of PTSD would be the same for a journalist or a civilian as they would be for a soldier who physically experienced conflict, he says. PTSD can be triggered after personally experiencing trauma, witnessing it, or indirectly being exposed to it as a first responder. The DSM also states that PTSD could be caused by learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. That day in Taiz—only six months into her career as a conflict correspondent—was when Kasinof came to realize that something wasn’t right. The only thought she had in her mind was, “I’ve got to leave this place, something’s wrong with me.” Once she flew to New York to visit family, she thought being away from conflict would be enough of a break for her to begin feeling like herself again. However, she noticed that she grew angrier and more irritable—what psychologists identify as Criterion E. Another symptom common for soldiers and conflict reporters is hypervigilance, as Anderson experienced. While Kasinof began to shake that off during treatment, it reappears on occasion. In the summer of 2017, five years after she last reported in Yemen, Kasinof was sitting in a restaurant near the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, where she was living at the time. A few of her friends were visiting when their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. Kasinof’s self-protection instinct kicked in. She jumped up from the table and hid behind a cabinet, even though she knew that many people carry a pistol in Georgia. But in that moment, Criterion E reared its head again. PTSD among soldiers is a common and much-discussed issue. But it’s fairly new for it to be taken seriously as a concern in the newsroom. In 2002, Feinstein studied 140 war correspondents and found 28.6 percent experienced a lifetime prevalence of PTSD, 21.4 percent had major depression, and 14.3 percent struggled with substance abuse. When looking specifically at women’s reactions to trauma and anxiety, Feinstein found that female conflict correspondents are “a highly select, resilient group” within the gender population. According to the American Psychological Association, women have a higher chance—often twice the chance—of developing anxiety than men. This, Feinstein believes, can be caused by gender differences in brain chemistry, specifically in levels of serotonin, which contribute to responsiveness during periods of stress and anxiety. However, he adds, it can also be due to social upbringing since women are more conditioned to fully experience and embrace their emotions, while men are conditioned to suppress them. In his study, “War, Journalism, and Psychopathology: Does Gender Play a Role?” and his book, Journalists Under Fire: The Psychological Hazards of Covering War, Feinstein found “no statistically significant gender differences in frequency of substance abuse or symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, or depression.”
“I had a magazine offer me $100 when I first started out for a 2,000-word story in which I went to the Syrian border,” Sulome Anderson says. “I was risking my life; that’s humiliating”
Historically, conflict reporting has been an exclusive boys’ club. At the time of the
First World War, women were generally looked down upon if they showed interest in writing outside of the lifestyle section. But, gradually, more female journalists began breaking into the field through persistence and with the help of strong role models, who had blazed a trail for them—women like Kit Coleman, Martha Gellhorn, and Dickey Chapelle. While male journalists might focus solely on conflict, women reporters may be able to analyze the effects of the war and speak to women and families, gaining access into interviewees’ homes and personal stories. In Anderson’s case, she wasn’t inspired to pursue war reporting because of a trailblazing woman. Instead, her role model was a man—specifically her father, Terry Anderson, a renowned conflict correspondent for the Associated Press. He started his career in 1974 in Asia and Africa, and eventually became the chief Middle East correspondent in 1982, based in Beirut. What made him a household SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 55
name, however, was the moment when he became a story. On March 16, 1985, Terry was kidnapped while walking down a street in Beirut, having finished a game of tennis. His abductors—members of a Shiite militia affiliated with Hezbollah—grabbed him and pushed him into the cramped space behind the front seat of a car. Anderson’s kidnapping lasted nearly seven years. He was a hostage for Hezbollah, who unsuccessfully tried to use him to drive U.S. military forces from Lebanon, leaving him with physical and psychological scars. Sulome met him for the first time as a curious six-year-old, when he was finally released. He was consumed by PTSD. He was distant and unaffectionate, not how she’d imagined him, as she described in her memoir, The Hostage’s Daughter: A Story of Family, Madness, and the Middle East. What she didn’t realize until later in her life was how deeply her father’s PTSD affected her psychologically, specifically through her struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and substance abuse. But the experience also drew her toward conflict reporting. After attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she began freelancing overseas. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Vice, Esquire, Vox, and Newsweek, among other publications. “These stories need to be told,” she says. “I really want to make people care about the human beings suffering from war.”
Many journalists take hostile environment training in order to learn how to properly react
when reporting in war zones, but an average course represents a huge cost often not feasible on a freelancer’s income. The training programs expose journalists to certain situations, like violent protests or kidnappings, to train them to remain calm and prepared if they actually find themselves in such situations while on assignment. They allow reporters to identify their own vulnerabilities and make safe decisions in the field. Adam D. Terpstra, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and social worker who has focused on the study and treatment of trauma, says proper training before being dispatched into a conflict zone can help prevent PTSD. “Part of PTSD is the interpretation of the inescapability from the shock or the event, which would allude to the idea that the person does not have ways to understand what’s going on around them,” says Terpstra. “If you cannot navigate through that, you become arrested in the trauma; that’s where PTSD blooms.” But this training can cost up to $4,000, and with the small compensation freelancers receive for their stories, and having to pay for travel costs and lodging, that—along with a trained security guard—is simply not in the budget. In April 2011, Kasinof was in Sana’a at the centre of an anger-fuelled protest in a tent city. What started off as a demonstration with 5,000 people grew to 10,000 as the day went on. The political revolution against the corrupt Saleh government wasn’t settling and the Yemeni citizens had a fiery anger that couldn’t be extinguished. A group of around 400 youths removed themselves from the crowd and marched outside the busy protest camp. Government forces instantly surrounded them and, unsure whether the group was going to become violent, released tear gas. Kasinof heard the bullets before she saw them. Just from the distinct sound of the gunfire, she knew that whoever was shooting was standing from the second floors of nearby homes and buildings. She said she can still tell the difference today between a sniper shot from ground level and one from above. The protest camp was in a state of chaos. Citizens ran in all directions, scurrying for cover like mice. Panic washed over her as she heard the cracks of unseen sniper bullets. Kasinof had two options: Run, and face the chance of being caught and deported. Or hide. Her eyes scanned the streets. She spotted a small shack beside a mechanic shop, and sought shelter there. The structure was made of a thin material; she wasn’t sure if it was corrugated metal or some kind of cheap wood. It stood at about one metre by three metres, and was too small to stand up in. Squished
“I concentrated on holding my camera and taking pictures—and on not freaking out”
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What’s In The Bag?
When reporting in conflict zones around the world, what do these renowned female foreign correspondents bring with them? Laura Lynch: Award-winning CBC journalist who has reported from Syria, Pakistan, Israel, and Zimbabwe during times of conflict • First–aid kit • Water • Tissues (which serve double-duty as toilet paper) • Earplugs • Empty Tampax box to keep something private • A fake wedding ring, if she is going to areas where it might make it easier to deal with men • Headlamp and lots of batteries • Clothes, though the type depends on the climate Maya Gebeily: Lebanese-American journalist covering Syria and Lebanon for Agence France-Presse • Phone(s) • Notebooks • Pens • External batteries for everything • Laptop • Dates and almonds as energy snacks • “Tons of bobby pins to keep this wild hair in check” • “One particularly useful piece of advice that I got from a colleague a few years ago was to bring something special as a comfort item—a small bottle of fragrant lotion, a favourite pair of socks, a token from my mom. When the going gets tough, having an item like that with you can absolutely transform your morale and give you the extra boost you need to file something powerful”
Tara Sutton: Canadian journalist and filmmaker, whose work documenting the conflict and human rights abuses in Fallujah, Iraq during the 2004 siege was recognized by the Amnesty Media Awards • Good worn–in hiking boots • Large cotton head scarves—work as decor, a head cover, a lens wiper, a pillow for long car rides, and a general protectant from dust and odour • Her teddy bear Nick, who she’s had since age 12 and always came in her carry–on bag—“I felt Nick was my home and my protector!” • Camera gear: camera, lights, batteries for camera and microphone • Notepad • Pens • Duct tape • Microphone clip • Memory cards Mellissa Fung: Canadian journalist, former correspondent for CBC’s The National and author of Under an Afghan Sky: A Memoir of Captivity, in which she details her experience of being abducted for 28 days in Afghanistan • Medical kit • Extra pens and pencils (to hand out to children at refugee camps) • iPhone (doubles as a camera) • Zoom audio recorder • GoPro • Hand sanitizer • Heavy-duty bug spray • Small Fujifilm instant camera (“Whenever I’m at a refugee camp, everyone wants to see the pictures we take of them, and until I invested in that camera, I could only show them what was on the screen. It’s nice to be able to give a mother who is living in a camp a physical picture of her and her children as a keepsake” —K AROUN CHAHINIAN
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beside her were six others also seeking protection. Kasinof could taste and feel the tear gas slithering through cracks and openings, and she hoped the shack would hold up. Thirty minutes later, the chaos subsided.
Maya Gebeily would likely have had a better response plan had she been in Kasinof’s
position. As a staff correspondent in Lebanon for Agence France-Presse, conflict training was a mandatory requirement when she was tasked to cover conflict there. She also had a safety kit, which included a flak jacket, helmet, first aid kit, BGAN (a portable satellite router), and a satellite phone. In February 2016 Gebeily underwent a four-day training course run by French security forces just outside of Paris. She went through simulated conflict scenarios that involved dealing with hostile people, physical and sexual assault, identifying weapons, and an overnight, five-hour mock abduction—all to understand how she would react in a high-stress situation. The kidnapping scene took her by surprise, even though she knew it was just a training scenario. Told to go into a training warehouse for a lesson on bullet identification, she was taken off guard when four men burst in and covered her head with a dark hood. Gebeily and her colleagues were then pushed into a truck and relocated. Although she knew it wasn’t a real abduction, her body and mind were reacting as if it was. To her own surprise, however, she remained calm. She felt as if time had slowed down and the only thoughts running through her head were about finding ways to escape. It was cold outside. She was repeatedly reminded of this when she and her colleagues were forced outside of the warehouse, only to have buckets of cold water dumped over their heads. The training began around 11 p.m. and they weren’t released until around 4 a.m. “Even if you know that what’s happening around you when you’re doing the training is not real, you at least get the sense of what it would be like, so that if it happens for real, it’s not the absolute first time,” she says.
Anna Therese Day, an award-winning freelancer, media activist, and founder of the organiza-
tion Frontline Freelance Register (FFR), was slowly drowning in guilt and PTSD as she began making a name for herself in the Middle East. Normal interactions became exhausting and she began slipping into a dark depression. The question, “How am I helping anyone?” kept eating at her. During her time reporting on the Syrian Civil War, she became increasingly cynical about whether “journalism actually helped.” She had spoken to many families and written hundreds of articles throughout her career, but she wondered if the impact on these people’s lives and well-being was insignificant. During these darker moments, what helped her re-centre and come up for air was the idea that while journalists are working towards helping change lives, discourse or policy, “it’s also enough to do your best work, honour individual families, and contribute to the broader mosaic.” When dropped into an extreme situation with no buildup or preparation and then quickly pulled back out, the mind has difficulty grasping whether you are really in danger, says Terpstra. Gebeily’s kidnapping wasn’t real but, in the moment, her survival instincts switched on and it all became real. This is a similar experience to that of journalists who are “parachuted” into war zones. Because their minds can’t fully process what is happening, one of the only emotions that resonate with them is guilt. This guilt is often rooted in the fear of putting colleagues or fixers in danger, along with the unwavering reminder that, as journalists, they are visiting these war zones only to report, but cannot help. This state of chaos is physically and mentally inescapable for many civilians, but for a journalist the experience is temporary. “There’s no buildup. You’re dropped in, you’re there for three weeks, you experience it, and then you leave,” says Terpstra. “Guilt might be the entity the mind can grapple with and try to make sense of the scenario.” To avoid this feeling of guilt, journalists often try to “turn off” their emotions when speaking to civilians who are gravely affected by the conflict but, according to Anderson, a human’s natural sense of
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empathy stops them from being able to do so and their work suffers if they ignore that sense of empathy. While some reporters try to “detach” from their emotions so they don’t “burn out,” emotions often seep through anyway.
The nature of conflict reporting puts freelance journalists at a high risk for PTSD, but even
those with full-time bureau positions are vulnerable. Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail’s Latin America bureau chief, says that while her paper has a few services to offer its foreign and conflict correspondents, they are not offered unless the reporter asks for help. Nolen is currently based in Brazil, but her career has taken her to over 80 countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Afghanistan, and Sudan. Despite her long career across multiple conflict zones, she has never been offered help. An editor asked her “Are you fine?” once, about 15 years ago, but this was the only time anyone has ever checked on her. “The assumption just is that we’re all fine,” she says. “No one’s ever checked in with me to see what I needed, I think it would be on me to ask. But then, of course, one of the things that happens is that you become unable to ask. That’s a problem and I think we should do it better.” Nolen recently took part in the Dart Center’s Ochberg Fellowship, where she raised her concerns about the way PTSD is handled and treated in newsrooms. She was made aware of existing services at the Globe and in the industry in general, but these services’ lack of advertising is a problem in itself. In the absence of support from their publications, journalists tend to create informal solutions, turning to each other for help or to professional guilds for assistance—organizations like the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, the Rory Peck Trust, the International Women’s Media Foundation, A Culture of Safety, and the Frontline Freelance Register. With the help of IWMF, for example, Kasinof was finally able to receive hostile environment training. “You wouldn’t send paramedics or firefighters to the field without training,” says Jane Hawkes, cofounder and executive producer of the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, adding that other first responders have been quicker than media companies in establishing systematic training and trauma support. FFR is also an international organization specifically designed to create a community for freelancers. Launched in June 2013, it provides training resources and a support system to freelance conflict reporters, but also lobbies for change in the industry to improve working conditions for independent journalists. It’s the only organization run for and by freelance journalists. In the last few years, access to resources has been a challenge for the entire journalism industry, not just freelancers. Publications and media companies now have much tighter budgets, and content creators often find themselves fighting for compensation. Freelancers find themselves easy targets of exploitation when taking dangerous risks to complete an assignment. “I had a magazine offer me $100 when I first started out for a 2,000-word story in which I went to the Syrian border,” Anderson says. “I was risking my life; that’s humiliating.” She eventually talked her way up to $250, but that it was a real struggle getting to that figure.
“I’ve got to leave this place, something’s wrong with me”
Anderson surprised herself
when she reacted as she did at the Larchmont Yacht Club at the boom of a cannon. She said she hadn’t realized that she had been so affected by her experience of reporting in conflict zones. While Anderson had a history of borderline personality disorder (BPD), she believed she knew how to handle her emotions. She now recognizes the long-term impact of her conflict reporting career. Loud sounds still scare her and she always keeps an eye on the exit anywhere she goes. Now, she’s calling for a more mainstream conversation about PTSD in journalism. “It’s a real problem and the problem is that people don’t talk about it.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 59
Game Changer How a start-up called The Athletic is reshaping sports journalism B Y DAN LEBARON ILLUSTRATION BY DANIEL DOWNEY
N AUGUST 2016, Sean Fitz-Gerald was doped up on Percocet atop the dark brown couch in his rec room watching Black Mass when he got the first of two calls that changed his career path. He had broken his elbow while playing hockey the previous week and now found himself in a stupor, staring blankly at his TV. The injury and events that followed happened quickly—broken elbow on Saturday, surgery on Sunday, home by Monday. Coveted Tragically Hip tickets for the week after surgery had been reluctantly let go. Things weren’t going great for the award-winning sportswriter, and they were about to get worse. “The Toronto Star calls and says, ‘Okay, we’re whacking you, but you get three months,’” Fitz-Gerald recalls. A year earlier, the Star had successfully hired him from the National Post, where he worked for 15 years with promises of an increased sports presence. “I loved working at the National Post,” he says. “I only left because the Star was expanding their coverage.” Now 40, Fitz-Gerald was a casualty of the retrenchment that has become so common at news organizations across the United States and Canada. He was one of 22 Star employees and 26 temporary staff axed that August. Fitz-Gerald didn’t know it at the time, but being laid off actually
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cleared a path for him to become a central figure in a news experiment that’s disrupting sports journalism’s status quo. After leaving the Star, he spent a short period sussing the market out for new job opportunities but hadn’t found anything satisfactory. “That’s when Adam Hansmann called,” he says. Hansmann, 30, and his business partner Alex Mather, 38, had been hard at work in a small San Francisco office trying to manufacture sports journalism’s future. After explaining how it might work, he offered Fitz-Gerald a job and the response was a resounding yes. Hansmann and Mather had a compelling story. The pair surmised that sports journalism wasn’t dying, but that the old model definitely was. They first met while working for Strava, a website and sports app that monitors the athletic performance of its users. Hansmann worked on the business operations side of the company, while Mather was vice president of product management and design.
“The famous interview that the founder did when he said his job was to kill newspapers made me gag a bit” “When I heard Alex was leaving Strava, I said, ‘Okay, what’s he up to?” Hansmann says. “Alex filled me in on this idea that he had been noodling on for a new kind of sports media company, building off of what we learned at Strava and solving our own frustration as fans at the decline of quality sports journalism.” A few weeks later, Hansmann left Strava himself. The two set to work building the initial product and recruiting the group of writers that would help launch the sports media company now known as The Athletic. The approach would be totally unlike the advertisement-based, newsroom-centered system that had been failing for years. The idea was to hire the best sportswriters across the U.S. and Canada to write for a company that would produce content free from advertisements or clickbait. Writers would have editorial freedom to pursue the stories they wanted to cover and be trusted to set their own schedules and write from wherever they liked. The Athletic would be completely digital and subscription-based; readers in Canada could either pay $10 per month or roughly $60 annually when the product originally launched, similar prices to what they charge today. The company launched in Chicago in January 2016 which, as fate would have it, turned out to be the perfect time and place. Unbeknownst to Mather and Hansmann, one of the most compelling sports stories of the last century was set to unfold in the Windy City—
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the Chicago Cubs’ first World Series victory in 108 years. Spurred by the Cubs’ amazing run and the subscriptions it generated, Hansmann and Mather decided to expand. “Our goal is to establish a presence in the major sports markets on the continent,” Hansmann says. So far, the company’s coverage has expanded to include eight regions in the U.S., including such historic sports cities as Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit. In Canada, the company has made similar moves, expanding into seven cities including Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. In Toronto, Fitz-Gerald was the fifth hire. Hansmann says he and Mather funded the business on their own for the first four months, operating an office of just five employees. Neither took a salary for the first year, despite both getting married and working tirelessly. “Needless to say, we have invested considerable sweat equity into the venture,” says Hansmann, adding they’ve both “aged about 10 years since launching the site.” Fortunately for them, the company’s expansion whetted investor interest. A Silicon Valley-based seed funder called Y Combinator (YC) gave The Athletic one of its initial outside investments of $120,000 in 2016. YC received a seven percent equity interest in exchange for its investment and partnership, which also included professional mentorship and access to the program’s alumni network that consists of companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit. In January 2017, a round of seed funding led by venture capital firm Courtside Ventures (CV) landed the company $2.3 million. Six months later, an additional $5.4 million was raised, which was once again spearheaded by CV. Hansmann and Mather refuse to release any subscriber numbers for The Athletic, but what they showed investors obviously instilled confidence in their vision for the company’s future. In addition to the company’s up-front payment model, investment capital has allowed The Athletic to land some of North America’s most respected sportswriters. Ken Rosenthal, Tim Kawakami, and Sheil Kapadia, amongst others, put their faith in The Athletic, and in some cases, left top jobs to do so. Rosenthal, one of Major League Baseball’s best-known sports reporters, was forced to ditch his writing post at Fox Sports when the company switched to an all-video format. Kawakami spent 17 years as a columnist for San Jose’s Mercury News before joining The Athletic as the editor-in-chief of its Bay Area site. Kapadia, formerly the Seattle Seahawks beat reporter for ESPN, was a rising star who survived several budget cuts, but chose to join The Athletic because he says it offered him an opportunity to run the site’s operations in Philadelphia, his hometown. Hansmann says hiring only reputable and trusted writers enabled the partners to focus on running the company’s business side, while leaving the editorial staff to control content. “Mostly, we attribute our success to the journalists we’ve successfully recruited, taking their careers into their own hands,” he says. “Our role at headquarters is to deliver the platform, fuel the venture with investment, marketing, and operational support, but the editorial staff makes it go.” The company now employs around 100 full-time writers, none of whom report to a conventional office for work. Most set up shop at team practice facilities, or write from home or local coffee shops,
allowing The Athletic to eliminate a substantial portion of the overhead costs associated with legacy media brands. Editors also work from remote locations. Unlike many traditional media outlets, there are no wordcounts or article quotas. For the most part, writers are given the freedom to write about what they want. Because of this structure, most of The Athletic’s content differs from the cliché game previews and recaps, predictions, and listicles that dominate typical U.S. and Canadian sports pages. So far, The Athletic’s unique business model appears to be thriving. In addition to the 21 local sites up and running in the U.S. and Canada, seven national sites are also operational, covering the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Collegiate Athletic Association football, and National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball. Another national site, The Athletic Ink, is dedicated to features and commentary. Though precise subscriber
numbers are unclear, Toronto’s version is profitable and already has more than 20,000 subscribers says James Mirtle, the editor-in-chief of The Athletic’s Canadian operations. If that number was exactly 20,000, and every one of those subscribers took the cheapest option available on the website (C$4.79 per month), that would mean the company’s revenue in Toronto would be about C$1.15 million per year. Since Mirtle says the Toronto office only employs 12 full-time writers (some of whom also write for the national sites), and has no physical infrastructure, it’s not implausible to think that The Athletic has a profitable business model for the digital age. This seems especially likely in cities like Toronto, where there are large numbers of rabid sports fans. “A lot in the coverage of us is a lot of skepticism. A lot of people saying this will never work,” Mirtle says. “I’ve had to deal with that since day one, since I joined The Athletic. It sometimes can be a little frustrating with the amount of success we’ve had and that continues to be the story.”
Building The Athletic’s Team Canada A who’s who of sports journalists making a big move They come from newspapers, blogs, pro hockey teams, and other outlets. The Athletic’s roster is flexible and fast, and comes with a breadth of experience EDMONTON Allan Mitchell: Contributor; comes from Bleacher Report and Hemel Hempstead Gazette (UK) Jonathan Willis: Lead writer; comes from the Edmonton Journal CALGARY Kent Wilson: Staff writer; comes from Flames Nation MONTREAL Arpon Basu: Editor-in-chief; comes from LNH.com and CTV Montreal Marc Antoine Godin: Managing editor and senior journalist; comes from La Presse Emna Achour: Associate editor; comes from KOTV productions and NHL.com Marc Dumont: Editor; comes from CBC’s Metro Montreal
TORONTO James Mirtle: Editor-in-chief; comes from The Globe and Mail Jonas Siegel: Staff writer; comes from the Canadian Press Eric Koreen: Staff writer; comes from the National Post Scott Wheeler: Staff writer; comes from SB Nation’s Pension Plan Puppets John Lott: Staff writer; comes from the National Post Sean Fitz-Gerald: Managing editor; comes from the Toronto Star Sunaya Sapurji: Assistant managing editor; comes from Yahoo Sports Kaitlyn McGrath: Associate editor; comes from the National Post Joshua Kloke: Writer; freelancer VANCOUVER Israel Fehr: Writer and editor; comes from Yahoo Sports Jason Brough: Staff writer; comes from NBC Sports, currently a host on TSN 1040 Mike Halford: Staff writer; comes from NBC Sports, currently a host on TSN 1040
WINNIPEG No full-time staff at the time the RRJ went to publication OTTAWA James Gordon: Staff writer; comes from the Ottawa Citizen NATIONAL NHL Pierre LeBrun: Senior writer; comes from ESPN.com Eric Duhatschek: Staff writer; comes from The Globe and Mail Ian Denomme: Deputy editor; comes from The Hockey News Sarah Goldstein: Managing editor; comes from ESPN.com Dom Luszczyszyn: Analyst; comes from The Hockey News Tyler Dellow: Staff writer; comes from the Edmonton Oilers hockey analytics department Justin Bourne: Senior writer; comes from the Toronto Marlies —DAN LEBARON
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Hansmann and Mather are happy with the progress, but plan on continuing the company’s breakneck expansion. “We want to continue to grow market share in our existing markets,” Hansmann says, “and we want to add a few dozen new markets and verticals.” In addition to winning readers and growing exponentially in a short time period, The Athletic has revived the careers of respected sportswriters across the U.S. and Canada. “I had just gotten back from the Final Four and writing the national championship game story, so I generally did not think that I saw the writing on the wall,” says Dana O’Neil, a college basketball writer who was laid off by ESPN last April after a decade on the job. “I was pretty much blindsided.” After she was let go, O’Neil was hired by The Athletic’s NCAAB site—a relief since she wasn’t willing to relocate from her long-time home in Philadelphia. “I have kids that are teenagers and my husband loves his job,” she says.
“I’m a big believer in newspapers and I don’t want to see them die” O’Neil’s career began in the newspaper industry, working for the Bucks County Courier Times and Philadelphia Daily News in the early 1990s. Like O’Neil, Toronto’s Fitz-Gerald began his career in the newspaper industry, beginning with The Kingston Whig-Standard back in 1999. Their backgrounds point out the irony The Athletic faces: While throwing life preservers to sportswriters, it is also trying to overtake the market shares of the newspapers those same writers helped build. In Kevin Draper’s October 2017 New York Times article, “Why The Athletic Wants to Pillage Newspapers,” Mather fired a warning shot to legacy media organizations across North America. He said The Athletic would “suck them dry of their best talent at every moment,” adding it would “make business extremely difficult for them.” “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Mather told The Times, impervious to the fact that nearly all of his employees still had friends and family working at papers across the country. The company took an immediate PR hit as its own employees and the media took issue with Mather’s ruthless tone. “I was a newspaper reporter for a long time,” says O’Neil in response to the Times article. “I’m a big believer in newspapers and I don’t want to see them die.” That said, she adds, she’s pleased with the open dialogue that has developed at the company since the article was published. “I will say in [Mather’s] defence, and what’s cool about our com-
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pany, is there were a lot of conversations, very honest ones,” she says about her colleagues’ reactions to the piece. “To his credit, he’s listened to what we said, he has returned phone calls, he’s apologized— I think—very sincere[ly], and I think he’ll be better for it. I’ve worked for a lot of newspapers and corporations that really could care less about what reporters think, so I’m definitely going to have his back, give him the benefit of the doubt, because I know he has ours.” Other critics in journalism have been more pointed. “The famous interview that the founder did when he said his job was to kill newspapers made me gag a bit,” says Paul Chapman, deputy editor of both The Province and the Vancouver Sun. “Of course [journalism] is competitive, but there’s sort of a comradery and a spirit and that was sort of counter to that.” Nevertheless, Chapman understands where the entrepreneur is coming from, and the challenges facing The Athletic as it attempts to build a new business model that can succeed in a deteriorating industry. “There was an apology after and I’ll take that at face value, but I like the concept,” Chapman says. “I appreciate what they’re trying to do, and I welcome any good journalism that’s out there.” Even so, Chapman acknowledges there is little evidence to suggest that the paywall model will take off. “ESPN has tried a subscriber model with their ‘Insider’ and I don’t think it’s been terribly successful,” he says, “and they have the best insiders and the biggest operation going.” As for others in the industry, Chapman says colleagues’ opinions of The Athletic are mixed. “Some people scoff at it and just say people won’t pay for journalism,” he says. “There are people that think, ‘Oh, they’re neophytes—they’re not actually newspaper people, they don’t know what they’re doing,’ and then other people are intrigued. Everyone is waiting for the shoe to drop,” Chapman says. “Everyone is waiting for someone to come up with that model, and when it works I think everyone will sort of rush to adopt it, but right now [The Athletic] looks good, it sounds good, but I still think every venue has a way to go.” Hansmann echoes Chapman’s thoughts, saying that Mather’s comments to The Times were simply a reflection of the dire straits in which sports media companies find themselves. “Most of the staff understands that we’re a start-up in a deeply troubled industry,” he says. “They wouldn’t have willingly left well-paying jobs to join our team if the founders were not competitive people who were going to work their asses off to see the venture through to success.” The Athletic isn’t the first to attempt a remake of sports journalism. Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcárraga Milmo funded a sports newspaper in 1990 called The National Sports Daily, which was similar to The Athletic. Azcárraga enlisted Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford—possibly the most respected sportswriter of his era—to be editor-in-chief. Deford was hugely successful at amassing a Rolodex of talented writers: Norman Chad from the Washington Post; Mike Lupica from the New York Daily News; Ivan Maisel from the Dallas Morning News; Leigh Montville from the Boston Globe; among others, all signed on to bring America something it hadn’t seen before: a daily newspaper dedicated entirely to sports.
Abandoning old conventions of sports journalism means previews and recaps are out, and long-form creative writing is in Here are five articles that show what The Athletic is all about: n The Recovery: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Clune Brothers, by Matt Clune n In One: My Four Wild Days Trapped in MinorLeague Hell with the Brampton Beast, by Scott Wheeler n Maxim Noreau’s Olympic Diary: Lessons Learned and a Medal Won, by Maxim Noreau n ‘He’s With Us Every Day’: Ten Years After His Death, Mickey Renaud’s Memory and Legacy Live On, by Scott Cruickshank n Meet the Toronto Tattoo Artist to the Stars— Including Many of the Raptors, by Blake Murphy —DAN LEBARON
“It was the right idea at the wrong time,” says Peter O. Price, former president and publisher of The National Sports Daily. “The content was unique. The content was unimpeachable,” Price says, adding the project was burdened by inefficient distribution and high printing costs. The National Sports Daily folded in less than two years. Nearly three decades later, Hansmann and Mather are trying to prove they have what eluded Price and Azcárraga—the right idea at the right time. All that’s certain is the economic model that once fuelled sports journalism—and not to mention journalism in general —is broken. Advertising has migrated to low-cost venues like Google and Facebook while consumers avoid paying for content wherever possible. The resulting revenue squeeze has forced significant cutbacks of sports coverage at digital giants like Yahoo, Fox, and Bleacher Report as well as at newspapers across North America. Some enterprises, like Grantland, have folded altogether. More broadly, a 2015 study by Ken Goldstein, a media economics and trends expert, suggested there will be “few, if any, printed daily newspapers” by 2025. The report cited daily newspaper circulation in Canada, which went from around 50 percent of households in 1995 to 20 percent in 2014. If those declines continue, Goldstein says the five to 10 percent of households that remain in 2025 won’t be enough to support the print business model. Most people in journalism believe the future is online. The problem is how to realize it profitably, and so far, no one has a conclusive answer. Though still in its infancy, The Athletic offers a glimmer of hope. Beyond the feel-good stories of career revivals for Fitz-Gerald and O’Neil, the company’s disruptive business model offers a new approach in an industry that desperately needs one. This past March, another major investment into The Athletic again showed the company’s unique model is making significant strides. The funding, which was led by Evolution Media and also included some previous earlystage investors, secured The Athletic another $20 million in funding, dwarfing the company’s early capital raises. The plan with the new funds, according to Hansmann, is to do much of the same. “We’re investing in our continued editorial expansion,” he says after the funding was made public. However, Hansmann also says that the new influx of capital will be used to develop other parts of The Athletic as well. He says they will use the money to support team growth at the company’s headquarters, and that they are also “keen to begin experimenting with other formats like podcasting, live events and possibly video.” Given how the company has developed, it’s not shocking that Canadian operations leader Mirtle sees The Athletic’s potential in the sports world as on par with some of the great technological innovations of the 21st century. “When things like iTunes first launched, people thought it was a bit crazy and it would never work. When Netflix launched, people thought it was crazy because you could just go to Blockbuster,” Mirtle says. “There’s a lot of disruption happening in the world and a lot of it is ideas that people thought were crazy in the beginning. I think that The Athletic, from what I’m seeing, with how successful we’ve been so far, I think that we might qualify.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 65
Collective Actions Photographers are banding together in order to uphold quality photojournalism B Y ZOE MELNYK
IN THE MID–1990S, the Toronto Star newsroom bustled with around 25 photojournalists who all covered different stories. Now, that same newsroom is lucky to have 10 photographers on staff. With the economic crash in 2008, the rise of social media, and the precipitous decline in ad revenue, photojournalists are being cut from the newsroom dramatically. Some of the most substantial examples include the dismissal of the entire Chicago Sun-Times photography staff by May 2013. In Canada, The Globe and Mail cut all but two of its staff photographers in 2014. Though the Chicago Sun-Times commissions freelance work, there is significant pressure on reporters to capture their own photos and video. The news organization even gives reporters iPhones to get the shot. Instead of weathering the storm alone, some enterprising photojournalists have started working together in groups known as pho-
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tography collectives. While each collective has its own unique brand, there is one common thread—to uphold photojournalism standards and continue to encourage excellence in photography. SOFIA (SOCIETY OF FEMALES IN ART) is an all-woman photography collective that was organized in the summer of 2014 over a few drinks in a Toronto bar. Group members knew of each other through their line of work and broached the idea during an industry party, says founding member Michelle Yee. “We wanted to come up with a reason to hang-out together, but through the context of photography,” she writes in an email. SOFIA provides a way for these photojournalists to communicate their ideas and support one another. The collective debuted its first showcase, Bad Behaviour, in May 2016 at the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in Toronto. The resulting exhibit displayed each photographer’s perception of the phrase “bad behaviour,” capturing the emotions of rebellion, fear, and insecurity through their work. “SOFIA is very close to my heart,” Yee adds. “I don’t think I would be here without that collective.” Since the exhibition, SOFIA has decided to mentor other photographers through a mentorship program. They published a social media call-out to gauge public interest and were overwhelmed with the response. “The number of applicants made us realize how much of a need there was for support,” Yee says. The year-long mentorship aims to help female photographers work on their technique and create a voice. In May 2017, seven of SOFIA’s eight group members—spanning across Toronto, New York City, and Los Angeles–all took on mentees. Yee’s mentee is an amateur photographer based in Chicago. Prior to the mentorship, she was already working on her technique and needed more support, says Yee. Similar to SOFIA, the Boreal Collective was created to provide a safe haven for photographers seeking a community. Formed in 2010, the group has held a series of professional workshops and an event known as the Boreal Bash in Toronto, as well as in Puebla and Oaxaca City, in Mexico. These events provide a networking opportunity for photojournalists and are a chance for the collective to showcase its work and promote new initiatives—like the launch of its newsprint publication Tension in 2014. Johan Hallberg-Campbell, a former Boreal Collective member, says the idea for the group started in 2010 at one of his exhibitions, Scalpay: Last of the Fishermen. “I wanted to go ahead with the Bash idea and thought a collaboration with Boreal would be great,” Hallberg-Campbell says. Joining the group was also a way for him to receive critical feedback on his work, which he believes is important for any medium.
Hallberg-Campbell understood the value of criticism during his time at the Glasgow School of Art. In his photography class, he recalls one of his classmates told the instructor she was content with her work and didn’t need criticism from others. “The teacher went ballistic and kicked her out of class for being egotistical,” Hallberg-Campbell remembers. GROWING UP, AMBER BRACKEN WOULD READ issues of her grandparents’ National Geographic magazines. The photos laid out on glossy pages sparked her interest in photography at a young age. Now, she is a freelance photographer based in Edmonton and hopes her own photography can have similar significance to others. “I was creative and I wanted to do a job that was meaningful,” she says. “So many images presented to us are filtered or edited in some way and photojournalism cuts through that.” Along with freelancing, Bracken is also a member of the Rogue Collective—a photography organization which prizes a strong sense
Jennifer Roberts, Rogue Collective Collective’s Mandate: “Award-winning Canadian photographers with a strong belief in the power of image and are relied upon for their journalistic integrity” Title of Photo: ‘Black Lives Matter’ Story Behind the Shot: In the middle of covering Toronto Pride 2016, a group representing Black Lives Matter Toronto protested the parade to show how the LGBTQ+ community excludes people of colour
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May Truong, SOFIA Collective Collective’s Mandate: “Challenge, encourage and elevate one another through each member’s creative processes, foster a sense of community, as well as to support emerging female voices in the photographic realm” Title of Photo: From her ‘A Floating Life’ series Story Behind the Shot: Truong is a second-generation Chinese-Canadian. This series is her way of recreating life growing up in a home with traditional Chinese parents while struggling under the weight of their expectations. The first photo displays her parents in the dining room at the end of the table, with the subject, intended to be a younger version of Truong, distancing herself from them
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of journalistic integrity and high standards. Bracken started working for the Edmonton Sun in 2008 but was laid off at the end of 2013, which is why she decided to launch her freelance career. Shortly after, she discovered Rogue. “I was drawn to the idea that you can accomplish more together,” she says. “Also as a counterbalance to the loneliness of freelancing.” Rogue has members based across Canada, with some in Ontario and Alberta, which can help its members expand their audience. “It’s a matter of having reach, if we do a project or a collaboration, we have a louder voice than we would as an individual,” she adds. However, working with a large number of people can also slow down progression of projects. “The inertia can be crippling,” Bracken says. “We’ll have good ideas and conversations, but actually taking those ideas and making them reality can be frustrating.” But even with the inevitable hurdles of group work, photo collectives could still be the future of photojournalism. “That’s really what the freelance experience is right now,” Bracken says. “it’s almost like you’re engaged in a bunch of different communities.”
Ian Willms, Boreal Collective Title of the Photo: #11 from his “We Shall See” series Story Behind the Shot: Willms’s father’s first time outside in two months. It was a sunny day on January 1, 2015 and his father admitted he didn’t think he was going to live to see the new year
Ian Willms, Boreal Collective Collective’s Mandate: “Explore complex narratives and communicate stories visually, with patience, commitment, and integrity” Title of Photo: #7 from his “We Shall See” series Story Behind the Shot: On November 10, 2014, Willms’s father was in a devastating motorcycle accident in South Africa. Willms and his father had a difficult relationship, but after the crash Willms dropped everything to be there for him. He began documenting his life as a caregiver, which led to this photo from when his father couldn’t speak for over a month. He is trying to communicate with his father, which was often a struggle
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Don’t Mess with De Niro And other do’s and don’ts of interviewing celebrities B Y ALEXIS KUSKEVIC S ILLUSTRATION BY ANTONY HARE
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Downey Jr. Pattinson. These three Roberts share a dramatic experience: They have all walked out during a media interview. In 2015, De Niro exited a recording with Radio Times in Britain after claiming the journalist asked him questions with “negative inference.” Pattinson was guided from a conversation with Ryan Seacrest after he was pressed about his relationship with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart in 2009. Downey Jr., in a tantrum nearly as temperamental as his behaviour during the 1990s, called British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy a “bottom-feeding muckraker” during an interview with Howard Stern in 2015. “You never know what you’re heading into,” says Eli Glasner, an entertainment reporter and film critic for CBC. “You can do all the preparation in the world and then people can just be in a mood.” While the journalists who survived the experiences above did so with their limbs intact, it’s their reputations among Hollywood’s PR and celebrity elite that may suffer after what is perceived to be a disrespectful encounter. And the A-list celebrity can be a unpredictable beast. Johanna Schneller, a film columnist for The Globe and Mail, knows interview risks all too well: After a session with Julia Roberts for GQ, Schneller was told she was not allowed to interview her again. “If [a celebrity gets] to be super famous, they have what they call ‘writer approval.’ They can say, no,” Schneller says. “[Roberts] didn’t like what I wrote about her, but I thought it was fair. I don’t want to have to write only nice things. I want to be free to write what I see and what I’ve observed and what I feel to be the truth of our encounter, and I think that means being fair but also that means people aren’t going to like you.” Celebrities are the lions of show business, a spectacle to reporters who operate as safari hunters, observing from afar, sometimes really up close. While journalists can only hope to survive each encounter, there are suggested rules to follow if the ultimate goal is to get readers, listeners and viewers the most engaging stories possible.
Rule #1: Don’t Tell Them Your Questions In Advance Steven Banks, a producer for Entertainment Tonight Canada, has endured celebrity interviews on various occasions. “When you show questions in advance, first of all, it’s easy for a publicist to say no, no, no and no,” he explains. “That throwing-off moment [from an unexpected question] might elicit or catch different responses than what you’re expecting.” According to Glasner, using only pre-approved questions “just makes for a SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 71
less interesting interview. If you know exactly what you’re going to be asked before it starts, then you start preparing your answer and rehearsing it, and then it’s just not as spontaneous.” Glasner believes that in order to survive an encounter with celebrities, the subject mustn’t be aware of the moves you’re about to make. “They’re dying to be asked something interesting,” he continues. “Anything you can do to give them an opportunity to be themselves or share something special—most people will actually appreciate that.”
Rule #2: Do Deep Research “I find when interviewing a celebrity, it helps to do your homework,” says Chris Knight, chief film critic at the National Post. “Read the press notes, hit up IMDB, do some research, [and] even watch some of their movies,” he adds. “The more you know about them, the better you’ll be able to talk to them.” In late 2017, Marni Weisz, the editor of Cineplex Magazine, was scheduled to interview Star Wars actor Mark Hamill. A few days prior, she was scrolling through his Twitter account when she found a thread about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing Chewbacca socks, which became a fun part of her interview with Hamill. “Know the things that you should know going in,” Weisz says. “One of the most important things in overcoming any nervousness is research, research, research.” Glasner agrees. In 2013, during the promotion of the film Labor Day, Glasner interviewed filmmaker Jason Reitman, who directed the movie. There was a certain prop in the movie that caught Glasner’s attention—a hand-held arcade console Donkey Kong tabletop game. Glasner remembered playing the same one growing up, and, thinking it would be a great introduction, he brought it into the interview. “I reveal it, and he goes: ‘Oh, my God—it’s the thing!’ And then he starts telling me this story about how he had to have that specific game, and how it was really hard to buy, and they went onto eBay to find it. It was the perfect segue into where I wanted to go,” he says. “So if you do your research, and you see an opening, and there’s something—and it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Rule #3: Build A Connection In some cases, Glasner explains, the well-trained celebrity will initiate a connection in order to improve the interview. This belief rang true during an encounter with Dwayne Johnson, who, prior to sitting down with Glasner, told him that he liked his watch. “It’s not a very good watch,” Glasner recalls, “but it kind of sets a nice tone.” While producing quality interviews is something all journalists strive for, Knight warns that though it’s important to have a connection, it’s also important not to get too tied up in it: “I’ve had many nice chats with Jessica Chastain and with Sarah Polley, but I think I can still be fair to their work.” Not every interview is going to be a good one. During the 2016 Emmy Awards,
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Zulekha Nathoo, a CBC entertainment reporter, was working on the red carpet when she asked Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner how she felt about three actresses from the show receiving nominations in the same category. Turns out, Turner wasn’t one of them. Accepting Nathoo’s apologies, Turner laughed it off. “It sucks at the time, but at the end of the day it’s an experience that everyone has at some point and it’s definitely educational,” says Meaghan Wray, a digital editor for Hello! Canada. She experienced the same embarrassment while working as a culture intern at Flare, asking a comedian an unwelcome question that led to the interview being cut short. “It makes you grow a tougher skin and, in a way, kind of equalizes you. You realize that celebrities are just normal people, too, and it kind of lights a fire under your ass.”
Rule #4: Don’t Get Too Fancy During promotional tours, most celebrities just want people to see their movie, buy their album or watch their show. This often leaves journalists grasping to get unique interviews, and coming up with absurd ways in order to do so. In an article for The Guardian, journalist Chris Stark wrote about an encounter with actress Emma Thompson, who he interviewed at a press junket. Overhearing someone say that Thompson spoke French, he attempted to be different—asking her questions in the language as a way to be creative. Unfortunately—yet, a little expectedly—it didn’t go as planned. Rather than using the interview to learn more about Thompson’s personal life, Stark spent the few allotted minutes he had speaking a language he barely knew while an “angry PR lady” glared at him. “I think it’s a temptation to try and like—you know, you want to feel like you’re an equal,” says Glasner. “You want to say, ‘I’m cool just like you’ or ‘I get it.’” The time one wastes trying to impress them, Glasner says, is time that could be spent getting a more informative interview. “Even if you do know something, people make the mistake of showing how smart they are as an interviewer, showing how much they know, and what that means is that you’re sort of closing the door to any questions,” says Schneller.
Rule #5: Treat Them As Human Beings “If you realize that, at the core of this,” says Banks, “you’re sitting down with another human being—you’re sitting down with somebody who has probably the same issue that you might have, although they might have a lot more money in their bank account—they connect through emotions.” Volunteering information about your personal life, Schneller says, can help. “If I’m asking them about their divorce, I say that my parents were divorced so they know I’m not judging them. So my way of establishing a connection is more about just showing them that I’m there for them, that I’m interested in them, and that I want to bring out the best in them, even if sometimes the best is challenging. That’s sort of my style.” According to Weisz, celebrities are “just people.” She shrugs her shoulders, as if it’s the simplest truth in the world: “Treat them the same as anyone else. You’re both going in with a job to do, and you’re equals.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 73
NO ESCAPE The neverending online threats to female journalists B Y JACOB DUBÉ ILLUSTRATION BY FRANZISKA BARCZYK
IT WAS 7:30 A.M. ON TUESDAY,
October 24, 2017. Jane Lytvynenko was at her desk monitoring the news and flipping through her online feeds when a notification popped up on her screen alerting her to a personalized tweet. When she clicked on it, a photograph jumped up at her. Lytvynenko flinched. The image on her screen was children, all of them dead and laid out on hard asphalt, their clothes soaked in blood from open wounds. Below the photo was a message for Lytvynenko: “Ukrainians kill children,” it read. “You are stupid hooker, whore. Your hands in blood!” Lytvynenko
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flinched again, feeling the blood drain from her face, her heartbeat accelerating. She knew why she had been targeted. Lytvynenko, a Torontobased news reporter at BuzzFeed News, had penned a piece taking apart and questioning the veracity of a Twitter thread going viral online. The thread, posted by user LauraSession10, speculated the reason behind the killing of four American soldiers in Niger and called attention to the unpreparedness of the entire operation. But Lytvynenko’s journalistic instincts kicked in and she focused on the problematic source who published the viral Twitter thread that was shared across the internet by thousands of people, including celebrities, even though the Twitter user had no credentials to be claiming the story as truth. Lytvynenko’s piece was published on Friday, debunking the story by going through the thread piece by piece and pointing out inaccuracies. LauraSession10 then spent the entire weekend harassing her on Twitter, shifting the attention off Lytvynenko’s story and onto the journalist herself. With much of the global media focus on the murky Russian influence on the U.S. election process, LauraSession10 began a focused effort to discredit Lytvynenko, claiming she was Russian and could not be trusted. In fact, Lytvynenko is of Ukrainian descent. But as the political tension and coverage of Russian influence grew, Lytvynenko became a target. The Tuesday morning message—in particular, the image of the murdered children from a different Twitter user—threw Lytvynenko so off balance that she left her desk and took a walk around the block to refocus. Afterwards, she reported it to Twitter, which took it down quickly, but the damage had been done. She couldn’t get it out of her mind. “It wasn’t a good feeling,” she says.
STORIES OF ONLINE HARASSMENT—LIKE LYTVYNENKO’S— are more commonly the norm than the exception today. Journalists— especially those who are women and members of marginalized communities—increasingly find themselves targets of online rage. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) surveyed 400 female journalists across the globe, including Canada, and its report published in November 2017 found that 44 percent of respondents had experienced online abuse. Michelle Shephard, the Toronto Star’s national security reporter, has been working on the Omar Khadr story, writing about the young Canadian who spent 10 years detained at Guantanamo Bay. In the summer of 2017, when Khadr received a $10.5-million settlement from the Canadian federal government, Shephard received an anonymous envelope in the mail that was addressed directly to her. When she opened the envelope she discovered a print copy of her article, “Ottawa to offer Khadr an apology.” The article was slightly crumpled with a streak of what appeared to be feces on it. Shephard responded to the personalized note with humour. She tweeted out a photo of the letter with the following caption: “1. Subscriber! 2. Environmental. 3. Glad they spelled my name correctly.” Online harassment isn’t exclusive to women in the media industry. Gender-based online harassment is common in the public sphere, from threats of violence to demeaning comments. Last year, employees from far-right website The Rebel took to calling Canada’s
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environment minister, Catherine McKenna, “Climate Barbie,” and Conservative politicians and social media users followed suit. The internet has become an increasingly threatening place to be—even more so for female reporters and people of colour who could be deterred from pursuing important stories because of personal attacks or physical threats. A 2017 Pew Research Center study on online harassment found that 21 percent of women aged 18 to 29 reported being sexually harassed online, as opposed to only nine percent of men. Paired with the recent trend of false information going viral and the lack of real change from the companies hosting social media platforms, online harassment poses a threat to how journalism is conducted, and to the lives and mental health of the journalists coming into work each day.
VETERAN FEMALE JOURNALISTS HAVE A LONG LENS ON modern-day harassment, having lived through several eras of technological change before the advent of social media platforms, even the internet. Kim Bolan, a crime reporter for the Vancouver Sun, recalls receiving her first death threat in 1997, around the time when Sun reporters were given personal email addresses. Bolan’s death threat arrived in the form of an anonymous letter. In the pre-internet era when readers had a bone to pick with a reporter, they had to ink a letter, buy a stamp, locate a physical address, and mail it in a post box. The series of steps acted as a deterrent, says Elizabeth Renzetti of The Globe and Mail, who has seen a spike in hate mail over the years, especially as social media platforms have replaced many other modes of traditional communication. By all accounts, online hate is different. It takes minutes—sometimes seconds—to find someone’s contact information and fire something off. The stages in the process of mailing a letter that would provide a cooling-off period no longer exist. In the internet era, differences of opinion on individual stories moved to online comment sections. But with the large-scale adoption of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, journalists like Bolan and Renzetti feel a shift in both the nature and volume of responses. Today, Bolan marshals a staff blog called Real Scoop, sorting through threats to separate the serious from the toothless and reporting the former to police on occasion. “I leave the threats on the blog. It’s there for the whole world to see, and that person is going to have to live with that being up there,” Bolan says. In Canada, comment sections have been changing with increased moderation or are sometimes completely shuttered, leaving journalists at the mercy of one-on-one communication with their haters through social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The Toronto Star shut down its online comments sections, and others like The Huffington Post and CBC have added regulations to control content, like moderating or removing comment sections on stories about controversial issues. The Toronto Sun published a statement when it shut down comment sections in 2015 that read: “The increasing use of Sun comment boards for anonymous, negative, even malicious personal attacks, albeit by a minority, has led us to conclude our current commenting system is not serving the interests of the majority of our readers.” The Sun has since reopened its comment
When she got sent a tweet that said, “Your life is over,” she realized that location services were activated on her account, and it was possible to locate her home online
sections, which now use a posting forum through Facebook where commenters are identified by their personal profiles. Even though there is no option for a poster to be anonymous, there is still a loophole to get around being linked to an aggressive comment if a user is committed enough to create a false account. Opinion writers are often at the receiving end of these personalized hate messages, and Renzetti, whose column often focuses on women’s issues, says she no longer reads comments. But as some comment sections have shuttered or tried to add moderation, she says the culture of the comment space has morphed into something ugly and more personal. She likens comment sections to live online theatre, where commenters perform for each other, while she says social media messaging is more uninhibited, public, and personal. If there is a singular event that has heightened the intensity of online hate toward journalists, Renzetti says it’s the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House. When Renzetti writes about him, she gets personally attacked; she’s either too old or ugly to be harassed by Trump, she’s told. While Renzetti regularly receives insults of that kind, the Star’s Shree Paradkar often receives messages like, “Go back to your shitty country,” or “Hope your husband rapes you tonight.” She likens social media responses to columns to a chronic, unrelenting pain. And because she writes about gender, race, and identity, and is a person of colour, the barbs and attacks are particularly vicious. When a journalist is parachuted into a war-torn region for a couple weeks, or publishes a controversial story, the personal toll from the reporting and the public backlash might be severe, she says, but it’s still temporary. But opinion writers—especially those like Paradkar—are at the receiving end of hate all the time. Just as Renzetti sees Trump’s election as a defining moment for targeting journalists online, Lytvynenko believes it was Gamergate that released the flood of online hate toward women. More than a century after women began to establish themselves in newsrooms around the world and venture beyond the women’s sections, they remain unwelcome in niche spaces, including the gaming world. In 2013, Zoë Quinn, an independent game developer, created a textbased game on mental health called Depression Quest. The game received a host of positive reviews and quickly gained popularity
amongst new gamers. But just as things began to take off, Quinn’s exboyfriend published a series of blogs posts accusing her of cheating on him with five other men who worked in the video game industry or covered it as journalists. He accused her of gaining biased media and industry support. What ensued was a veritable witch hunt. Quinn was presumed guilty, and a deep and enduring antiwoman movement raged across the online gaming space, with support from then-Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who took up the cause after online haters started the hashtag #gamergate. All of that was accompanied by a months-long orchestrated online campaign against Quinn, wherein she ended up being “doxxed”—her personal phone number and her family’s address were released, resulting in an onslaught of phone calls and messages threatening her and her family. Exposed to an angry and misogynist public, Quinn was forced to leave her home and live with friends, often sleeping on couches until the fervour died down. The Gamergaters, also known simply as “trolls,” backed off when Quinn published messages from a private chat on Twitter between members of the group—“I think she tried killing herself before,” one poster wrote, and another responded, “She should try that again.” The Gamergaters retreated when Quinn published their chats exposing that they were not a movement for games journalism like they had posed themselves, but just sexist and misogynistic. The perpetrators attacked and sent online death threats to other women such as Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic, and Brianna Wu, a software engineer and video game developer. The Gamergaters convinced other users to not trust the information coming from news outlets, and created posts with false information that went viral. Writing in The Guardian, Matt Lees identified striking similarities between Gamergate and the modern alt-right hate groups— especially in the ways they attack their critics and create false facts. “This hashtag was the canary in the coalmine, and we ignored it,” he wrote. Gamergaters also targeted other media personalities. In a 2014 talk, Sarkeesian, revealed she received death threats from fake social media accounts because she used feminist perspectives and criticisms to talk about video games, and that her name and identity were hijacked to create content to intentionally stir angry internet trolls. Images of her wearing horns and looking like the devil were shared virally amongst the community online. Back then, she called it an “information cascade.” New information was coming in at such a pace, she says, and was shared so quickly, it was difficult to verify if it was real. “In terms of coordinated campaigns, I think that Gamergate is what started all of this in a way,” Lytvynenko says. “It’s shown people that you can do these coordinated harassment campaigns and sometimes they work.”
IN 2010, WHEN GINGER GORMAN WAS A REPORTER FOR the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), she worked on a series of stories about LGBTQ+ issues around Queensland. One story profiled Mark Newton and Peter Truong, a gay couple struggling through paperwork to get their son from Russia. Gorman reported SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 77
on the couple’s story: Newton was the boy’s biological father, but his son was born through a surrogate. After the interview was over and she clicked a “happy snap” of the couple with their son, Gorman and the child chased chickens around the couple’s property. The photograph and the story were published shortly after. But two years later, a joint investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service and Queensland Police revealed Newton and Truong weren’t really the boy’s adoptive parents but pedophiles who purchased him for $8,000 (U.S.) while in Russia. The child had been abused by the two men since he was weeks old and Newton and Truong would bring the boy with them to be sexually exploited as they travelled. Newton, an American, was sentenced to 40 years in a U.S. prison, and Truong, an Australian, was sentenced to 30. “I spent a lot of time with that little boy,” Gorman says. “They duped me like they had duped everyone else.” The photo she took was used in just about every story about the men’s arrests, with the child’s face blurred out. But the photo’s credit was rightly assigned to Gorman. What followed was a troll bombardment. Gorman’s 2010 piece was shared online, depicting her as part of the problem. On personal blogs and on Twitter, people started calling her a “pedophile lover.” Things got more personal when the now-defunct Nazi website Iron March published a photograph of her family, a brutal blow for Gorman, whose maternal grandparents had survived the Holocaust. Gorman and Quinn’s experiences illustrate the shift in audience engagement with women online. As the “orchestrated online hate campaign” against Gorman grew she realized just how vulnerable she was. “It came at me like a tsunami,” she says. Location services were activated on her phone, making it possible to track her movements, including when she was at her Queensland home. One day she received this tweet, “Your life is over.” She then began to fear for the safety of her children, especially since a family photograph had been widely shared online. “Is someone really coming for us?” she remembers thinking. “Is someone really going to harm my children? It was terrifying.” Gorman’s specific challenge was that the threat followed her everywhere. It hadn’t happened in a supermarket or another public space she could have exit and leave behind. Wherever she went, wherever her kids went, fear from the digital threats followed. “The threat is omnipresent.” At one point she reached out to ABC, but her employer wasn’t sure what to do and offered her psychological counselling. Gorman declined, saying she just wanted to know if her children would be safe. She contacted the police, and an officer told her, “Just stay off the internet, love.” For young journalists entering the field receiving abusive emails and online messages can be rattling. Toronto Star reporter Fatima Syed says she receives weekly abuse. When she entered the media industry through the Star, Syed heard other journalists of colour talk about harassment as a regular feature of their work experiences. Even though she knew it could happen, Syed was not prepared for the personalized hate mail she receives. A recent message from a reader came via email, calling her a “Burmese slut” after she wrote about human rights crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.
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She just wanted to know if her children would be safe. When she contacted police, they simply said, “Just stay off the internet, love”
“Theoretically, you know you’re going to get it, and you know how bad it’s going to be,” Syed says. “But you’re not prepared with the emotional whammy that comes with receiving it.” There’s also the added pressure that comes from her own community. The coverage of minority groups from mainstream media organizations can be spotty, and reporters can make a lot of mistakes that could paint a community in the wrong light. As a Muslim, Syed knows her reporting of issues pertaining to Muslims will be held to a higher standard by the community. But community responses aren’t always constructive. After covering a court case involving a Muslim defendant, a man—Syed says she can’t recall an attack coming from a woman— called her and told her she was worthless, and that he hated that she was a Muslim journalist “because [she was] giving Muslims a bad name.” Considering the work she puts in making sure her stories are fair and accurate, this type of feedback rattles her. Experienced journalists provide support, though. “Sometimes all you need is someone else saying, ‘Man, what an idiot.’”
JOURNALISTS HAVE RESPONDED TO THE TROLL PROBLEM in different ways. When she was hit with a wave of hate, Gorman tried to understand the mindset. She interviewed as many online trolls as she could. “I don’t know if that was brave or stupid. I’m not quite sure,” Gorman says. “It just seemed like an online emergency.” All of them were men. She also found they had developed orchestrated strategies, often working together in groups to perform coordinated attacks. They were overwhelmingly white and middle class, and some had girlfriends. The men told Gorman they felt discriminated against, their identities threatened by women and minority groups. Lashing out was a response. In 2014, researchers from the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, and the University of British Columbia published a joint study titled, “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun,” defining “trolling” as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.” Researchers interviewed over 1,200 Americans online and found trolling was strongly related to personality traits that correlated with sadism, psychopathy and narcissism. The study found these people spent between one and
two hours a day commenting on posts online. “Our research suggests that, for those with sadistic personalities, that ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem,” the authors stated in the report. One man told Gorman that women, those women in positions of power, are easy to attack—trolls threaten these women with sexual violence or violence against their children and families. “That’s why they choose female journalists as targets,” Gorman says. “It’s a great threat to them. It’s so incredibly sad. [Trolls] are not able to accept a more inclusive society.”
A PRESSING CONCERN IS THE IMPACT ONLINE ATTACKS have on female journalists’ ability to do their jobs. Duncan Pike, co-director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, a group that monitors issues of free expression and access to information, says social media platforms—especially Twitter—are an integral part of a journalist’s career. They can connect with potential sources, share their stories and even start their own publications. For readers, it’s a way to make their voices heard in an unprecedented way. But harassment and doxxing are an always-present concern for reporters looking to tell important stories. It doesn’t matter how tough you are, he says, it will always have an impact on you. That strain on their lives can cause journalists to think twice about reporting on unpopular topics, and it has a ripple effect on their coworkers and sources as well. “Their colleagues will look at that and think, ‘Oh God, they had to leave social media for a month or a year and just never came back. Do I want to speak out on this issue and get the same thing?’” Pike asks. “It does have a real silencing effect.”
WHEN GORMAN REACHED OUT TO HER MEDIA COMPANY FOR help, they offered emotional support but couldn’t offer physical protection. She set out to do something about it by understanding troll culture. In March 2017, Renzetti and some coworkers heard Globe reporter Janet McFarland, Star columnist Heather Mallick and Vice Canada senior writer Manisha Krishnan discuss the hazards of being a female journalist online at a Canadian Journalism Foundation J-Talk panel. After the talk, Renzetti realized how little of her experience with harassment she had shared with her colleagues, and vice versa. “You just end up internalizing this stuff,” Renzetti says. “But it’s not your fault that someone is calling you a bitch on Twitter.” The event was a catalyst for a new support group at the Globe. The meetings started small, but in time, grew to include up to 12 women at a time, including members of management. The group conducted research on other newsrooms’ policies but has yet to come up with a conclusive plan of action. Beyond the policies they hope to produce, Renzetti says discussing and speaking about the attacks they face in a public space helps take the power back from anonymous trolls. Paradkar, who has been at the Star for a over decade, says the key—for her—is to motor on. Even though the threats and abuse is ever present, being at the receiving end has only emboldened her’s resolve. “I feel like it’s allowing them to win if I take a day off and lick my wounds, so to speak. The best revenge is if I keep going.”
Facebook and Twitter aim to filter online harassment, but hate still gets through As journalists and others who work online are more open about the harassment they receive on social media, there’s been increasing pressure put toward these companies to take action. Here’s how Twitter and Facebook say they deal with abusive behaviour—and times where they might have dropped the ball. Throughout 2017, Twitter announced it was taking action against abusive accounts and comments on its site. These measures included safe search options, collapsing “potentially abusive” comments so they wouldn’t be immediately viewable, and either removing or limiting these accounts at an increased rate. In October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company would also be taking action against hateful imagery and violent groups. Globe and Mail reporter Elizabeth Renzetti says she used to really enjoy Twitter at the beginning, but now “it’s like watching drunks get in a fight outside of a pub.” Despite Twitter’s changed position, when Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos initially posted by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of far-right group Britain First, in November, Twitter chose not to delete the posts. A spokesperson for the website told CNNMoney, “to help ensure people have an opportunity to see every side of an issue, there may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability.” Facebook has policies regarding abuse and threats on its platform when they’re deemed as credible, especially relating to race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. “We allow you to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them,” the Community Standards page says. However, what constitutes an infringement on Facebook’s standards is still up for debate. In October, Facebook banned a woman for posting the comment “men are scum” in response to a collection of screenshots detailing rape threats sent to women—while more overtly racist comments were deemed acceptable and remained on the site. Later several other women were banned for posting similar comments in protest of that ban. In May 2017, Facebook announced it would be adding 3,000 moderators to its staff after videos showing murder and rape were allowed to be live streamed to news feeds everywhere. —JACOB DUBÉ
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MAKING A TERRORIST
Two men are surrounded by officers during the Toronto 18 terrorism arrests, shown in this screengrab from a police surveillance video
How journalists become the state’s megaphone when national security is under threat
ES SAY B Y MARIA IQBAL
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LIGHTS FLASH AND SIRENS BLARE
as multiple cruisers pull closer to the Lexus cruising down the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. As they close in on the driver, 21-year-old Ahmad Ghany, the vehicles push him off the highway and onto the median. According to a Hamilton Spectator article, the officers then tell Ghany to step out of his car. One officer frisks him while another handcuffs him. Ghany’s 17-year-old wife of two months sits shocked in the passenger seat. Ghany’s friends tell the newspaper the police drive off with Ghany and the Lexus—leaving the young woman behind on the side of the highway. In another raid on the same Friday evening in June 2006, tactical police unit vehicles pull into a private driveway in Mississauga, leading into a quiet enclave of townhouses steps from the Meadowvale Town Centre. According to a report in the National Post, Abdul Qayyum Jamal, 43, sits on a bench outside his house scanning the day’s newspaper. Inside, his wife, Cheryfa, is on the living room couch, changing her son’s diaper. The vans come to a halt just outside Jamal’s house and a team of uniformed officers file out, fully armed. They descend on Jamal, handcuffing him. Some of the officers step into the house, pointing their guns at Cheryfa and her boys, who scream with terror. Cheryfa ducks to the floor, her baby crying on the couch while the officers search the home. When they finish the sweep, the officers drive off, taking Jamal with them. Roughly 400 officers were part of a coordinated series of raids in Toronto and Mississauga that ended with the arrests of 11 men and four youths. Two others were already serving sentences for separate convictions of importing and simple possession of firearms at the time of the bust, and were charged as part of the sweep. Two months later, another suspect was added to the group, which came to be known as the infamous “Toronto 18.” At a news conference the next day, the police would reveal a 9-mm gun, a handmade cellphone detonator, radios, and a sample of ammonium nitrate. Suspects were accused of purchasing three tonnes of the chemical to blow up three buildings, including the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s Toronto offices. The group had arranged for the purchase of the ammonium nitrate and was in the process of storing it when the raids began. They were charged in one of the biggest terrorist investigations in Canada. The story made headlines across Toronto: “Terror Cops Swoop”; “Al Qaida Busts”; “GTA Terror Sweep.” Reports of the arrests described above, cobbled from newspaper accounts, made headlines across Canada. All across the country
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there was an overwhelming sense that a major disaster had been averted. This, it turned out, was not the case. In the 17 years after two planes were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon, killing close to 3,000 people, journalists worldwide have grappled with how to cover terrorism. The 9/11 attacks launched legal efforts to combat the perceived new threat. The United Nations called on countries to pass special laws against terrorism. But neither the UN nor individual states agree on a single definition of terrorism. Canada introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act to the code in December 2001, broadly distinguishing terrorism from other violence when it’s done in part or in whole, for a “political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” in Canada or abroad. The Toronto 18 case was the second time someone would be charged under these laws and the first time someone was convicted. With the chain of widely covered attacks across the globe in 2017—Quebec City, Manchester, Edmonton, Brussels, Las Vegas, and Manhattan—news outlets, including ones in Canada, have reignited the debate over how the word “terrorism” is applied and whether current policies are adequate. This discussion comes in the wake of increasing public concern that the press sensationalizes attacks, and jumps quickly to call attackers “terrorists” when they’re carried out by Muslims, but not when they aren’t. And that by simply relying on the Criminal Code or police charges to define terrorism rather than investigating how it is applied, journalists and media outlets amplify state narratives regarding who is a terrorist. Four years before the Toronto 18 arrests, a Syrian-Canadian software engineer named Maher Arar was on his way back to Canada from Tunisia when he was detained at an airport in New York City, questioned, and then deported to Syria via Jordan. There, he was imprisoned for over a year and tortured. Canadian and American officials held that Arar had been part of a terrorist cell, leaking accusations that he’d trained with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and had tried to recruit Canadians into terrorist activity, claims which eventually appeared in press reports. After Arar was vindicated, he was brought back to Canada. In 2006, a public inquiry revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had provided misleading information linking Arar to terrorism. Arar accepted a $10.5-million settlement from the Canadian government in 2007.
In the 17 years after two planes were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon, killing close to 3,000 people, journalists worldwide have grappled with how to cover terrorism In 2003, The New York Times was swept up in a scandal involving its reporter Judith Miller’s coverage leading up to the United States’ war in Iraq. Relying heavily on information provided to her by confidential sources in the American intelligence community and government administration, Miller reported the United States had discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The information Miller received was false—and played a key role in bolstering public approval for the war in Iraq.
THE NIGHT THE TORONTO 18 STORIES
broke, Omar El Akkad was in Kingston, Ontario, “The first day after the arrest, The Globe and Mail was largely beat by the other major papers,” says El Akkad, who left the Globe—and journalism—in 2016. The Toronto Star had out-scooped the other papers when its national security reporter, Michelle Shephard, learned about the investigation months in advance. On the night of the arrests, she and the editorial team finalized details for a largely pre-written story for the next morning’s paper. “That night, our editor-in-chief Giles Gherson made a rare decision in our age of instant news,” Shephard wrote in Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism’s Grey Zone, published in 2011. “We would not post our full account of the terror investigation until 5 a.m., in case our competitors tried to catch up before their deadlines.” It worked. The following morning the Globe had a small item on A2. The Times published a story detailing how well the Star had beaten the other papers. In an interview, Gherson says they knew they were ahead of the other outlets, “but you never really know how far ahead.” Despite the early lead, when court hearings began, “the precise nature” of the suspects’ charges was still
foggy. “It was not going to be a simple story,” he says. Meanwhile, Globe reporters gathered on the second floor of 444 Front Street West for a meeting with Edward Greenspon, the editor-in-chief at the time. Greenspon told the staff how unhappy he was at the way the paper had been beaten. “It was a sickening feeling,” Greenspon says, calling it “one of those terrible days in the life of an editor.” For the reporters, the message was clear: get the story back. So, El Akkad and his colleague, Greg McArthur started knocking on doors to find out more about the suspects. Another reporter, Colin Freeze, covered the court hearings. Like the Star, they began following whatever leads they could find to piece together exactly what the 18 were accused of doing. Four days after the arrests, Freeze got a hold of a Crown document detailing the charges against the men. It had the most specific account of the allegations the press had yet seen. Freeze asked someone to let him read the synopsis, agreeing not to make copies or take written notes. Instead, he read it aloud into a tape recorder. Meanwhile at the Brampton courthouse, Gary Batasar, a defence lawyer for Steven Chand, a 25-year-old Muslim convert and a former member of the Canadian Forces, stepped out and began discussing the charges with reporters. “The allegations suggest that [Mr. Chand] would personally like to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” he told them. The next day, the front pages screamed: “Cell Planned to Behead PM” in the National Post; “Former Soldier Accused of Plan to ‘Behead’ PM,” read the Star’s headline; and under a banner introducing the “shocking revelations,” the Globe’s cover page read, “STORM Parliament Hill, SEIZE the Politicians, BEHEAD the Prime Minister.” The allegations even made their way to The New York Times, which had an A1 story about the news. For journalists kneecapped by the sweeping publication ban, Batasar’s announcement was a welcome gift, and a sensational one at that. It was the closest the press had come to finding out what the charges against the men were. The problem was, the prosecution document didn’t say the beheading allegations were a significant part of the plot. “There was reference to one suspect saying he wanted to do that, but there were no material steps towards making that plot a reality,” Freeze says. “These guys [in the Toronto 18] were buying explosive chemicals. They weren’t buying guillotines or scimitars,” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 83
Freeze says. “So, what the lawyer said outside the court should’ve been tempered.” Freeze’s story about the Crown brief was printed as a single column below the cover story about the beheading allegations. It explicitly noted that the beheading allegations weren’t included in the synopsis. “It was what everyone had been dying to know—what are the allegations,” says McArthur about the story. “[The Globe was] the only one that had it, whereas everyone had this stupid quote from the defence lawyer.” A decade later, Greenspon isn’t sure if he’d run the same cover page again. “Knowing afterwards what I know about that, yeah, I probably wouldn’t have played that as strongly,” he says, noting that the Globe was working with fragmented facts, on a tight deadline. “If I had a do-over again in the moment, I don’t know.” For his part, Gherson defends the Star’s beheading headline. “It looks crazy today,” he admits. But, he says, “It’s hard for me to say categorically that I would’ve done it differently.” Newspapers have to make their best judgment calls at the time the story is unfolding, he says. “The whole point of journalism essentially is to write pieces of history as you know it and leave it to historians to write the full story.” The beheading plot wasn’t the only aspect of the case overblown by the press. The press treated the members of the Toronto 18 “as much more than just suspected criminals” immediately after their arrests, writes John Miller, former journalism chair and professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, in an analysis he co-authored with Ryerson researcher Cybele Sack about coverage of the case. “It’s pretty doubtful these people could’ve carried out any significant act of violence,” Miller says, pointing out that the suspects were armed with only one gun, and didn’t have authentic bomb-making materials. The police had timed their raids with the delivery of three tonnes of ammonium nitrate to the suspects. Reporters later heard in court that one of the ringleaders, Zakaria Amara, had relied on one of the undercover moles to arrange the delivery of the chemicals, which would’ve taken much longer for the suspects to acquire because of restrictions on buying the fertilizer in large amounts. Before the delivery though, police replaced the chemical with a fake substitute. “The first report said it was delivered to them and they were caught with it,” says Miller, going over the press coverage. “Well, it wasn’t ammonium nitrate,” he adds. “Even if they’d completed the transac-
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tion, they wouldn’t have been able to blow up anything.” The suspects were armed with a single gun: a 9-mm Luger pistol, shown at the news conference the day after the arrests, brought to the camp by Amara. The group tried to use Mubin Shaikh, an undercover police informant who had infiltrated the group, to buy guns for their training camp because he had a license to buy firearms. (The “training camps” themselves were outdoor retreats, located near Orillia, Ontario, involving paintball games and shooting practice, and trips to a nearby Tim Hortons.) A key witness in the Crown’s case, Shaikh wrote in a blog post about one of the ringleaders, Fahim Ahmad, “There was absolutely no chance his band of brothers could successfully storm parliament, behead all the MP’s including the PM, force the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.” Perhaps the biggest aspect of the story that was overblown was the name. “‘The Toronto 18,’ has this element of, ‘These are 18 equal partners in a massive terrorist conspiracy,’” El Akkad says. Shaikh publicly said that some of the group, including Chand—who was accused of wanting to behead Harper—should never have been arrested. Making matters difficult was, in part, the complexity of the case. During the trial, two major narratives emerged—one that portrayed the group as a sinister threat to Canadian safety, and the other extreme, which saw them as a bunch of kids in way over their heads. But the reality was somewhere in between, which was seen in the mixture of verdicts in the end, with some members having their charges stayed in 2007, and others being sentenced to life. “This was an element of laziness on the part of the media,” says El Akkad. “We give them these catchy names and then they stick,” he adds. “That’s all our fault, everybody who reported on this case, everybody who used that terminology is in part complicit in creating that kind of sense.” In his analysis of the case, Miller looked at the dependence on unnamed sources in the news coverage after the arrests. Of the 295 stories studied, 46 percent used anonymous sources. “The number of anonymous sources that were used in the news coverage was just way beyond the pale,” he says, pointing to newsroom guidelines that say anonymity should be the exception, not the rule. The most frequent unnamed sources were CSIS and RCMP investigators. The social and political context of the arrests reveal more about what was at stake in the Toronto 18 case. For one, when the Anti-
“Most of the time, nobody asks questions. Something happens and everybody wants to report it,” says Monia Mazigh. “I would call it porn sort of—everybody wants to see it, you just have to show it” terrorism Act passed in 2001, it had some limited-time provisions that needed a review to extend them beyond 2006. That review was ongoing at the time of the arrests. The case would also be “critical for Canada’s international reputation,” read a Star article the morning after the arrests. “There has been cause for skepticism concerning the ability of Canada’s intelligence and police services to prosecute security cases,” it continued, noting the humiliation after earlier cases like Arar’s “exposed an inexperienced federal police force.” The way the news of the arrests was announced, it seemed the security forces had intervened just in time. That was the subject of a story by El Akkad more than a year later based on internal records, obtained through an access to information request to Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, showing the behind-thescenes mayhem in the government after the arrests. The documents revealed “a small army of communications officers crafting talking points, hurriedly updating speeches and correcting their bosses’ miscues,” it reads. “They also reveal meticulous government monitoring of virtually every media account of the arrests, as well as a consistent focus on getting all key players in Ottawa to echo the same talking points about the Conservative government’s dedication to fighting terror.” The large amount of force shown during the arrests and court proceedings amplified the perceived threat posed by the suspects. “There was great coverage about the court appearances with helicopters in the air and snipers on surrounding buildings as if the whole Muslim-Canadian community was going to come to their rescue,” Miller says. Shaikh says the press sensationalized its coverage of the case. The day when Chand’s lawyer spoke about the beheading allegations, Shaikh was with his wife and kids in a safe house in Niagara Falls watching the coverage from a hotel. When he saw the snipers and police helicopters outside of the courthouse, he was stunned. “I
swear to you at the beginning when I saw that, I did not know what case this was.” When he learned about Ghany’s dramatic arrest on the highway, he thought it was excessive. “Why would you do that for a guy who was up there for two days?” Shaikh says, describing Ghany as a “shy kid.” “Why would you need to gunpoint chase him down on the fricken highway?” In the end, 11 of the accused either pleaded guilty or were convicted of participating in terrorist group activities. Two pleaded guilty to intending to cause explosion for the benefit of a terrorist group. Ahmad also pleaded guilty to importing firearms for the benefit of a terrorist group and instructing others to carry out activity for a terrorist group. Chand, who Shaikh said should’ve never been arrested, was found guilty by a jury. As for the seven remaining, one youth was released after the preliminary hearing, and two youths and four adults had their charges stayed or were acquitted. One of those whose charges were stayed was Jamal. After the authorities had arrested him from his home, he was locked in Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ontario. He was let out of his cell for only 20 minutes each day, according to his lawyer. At his bail hearing four months later, Jamal had visibly lost weight, the Star reported. From inside the walls of the prison, Jamal could see that the isolation was getting to everyone. The inmates would fight with each other and yell at the prison guards, his wife, Cheryfa, told the press. Jamal and Cheryfa’s only comfort was in reading the Qur’an. By April, his defence lawyer and counsel for the 12 other accused began to worry. They’d been in solitary confinement for 10 months now, and their lawyers predicted it could be months or even years before their trials began. Solitary confinement has been criticized as a cruel form of punishment, often compared to torture. The UN has called on states to use solitary confinement only as a “last resort, for as short a time as possible.” In Canada, the punishment has been criticized for its lack of oversight—and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in December 2017 that the government has one year to amend its laws to address that issue. In the early days after the arrests, stories circulated about the time Jamal spent with young men from his mosque—six of whom were also arrested in the case. The stories suggested he was recruitSPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 85
During the trial, two major narratives emerged: one that portrayed the group as a sinister threat to Canadian safety; and, the other, that saw them as a bunch of kids in way over their heads ing the young men for the planned attacks. As the oldest member of the group, Jamal was a likely ringleader, papers speculated. Though he was denied bail at first, by November, the Crown dropped the “planning to cause a deadly explosion” charge from Jamal’s case. He’d spent 17 months in pre-trial custody, most of which was in solitary confinement before being let out. In April 2007, almost two years after his arrest, charges against Jamal and three others were stayed. His lawyer, Anser Farooq, called for a public inquiry into the way the case was handled. Raymond Motee, representing Ibrahim Aboud, another of the accused, who was 19 at the time of his arrest, said his client had been called a terrorist simply for attending the training camp. “There has been a stigma attached to his name from the day that he was arrested, and that stigma will continue to follow him around like a perpetual shadow,” said Motee. Jamal, too, said “his life—and that of his wife and sons—had been ruined by the publicity.”
PART OF THE CHALLENGE IN COVERING
the Toronto 18 was the court-imposed publication ban. While pretrial publication bans are meant to ensure a fair trial for the accused, they can make it difficult to balance the government’s story with other versions of the events. This way, the state can decide who’s labelled a terrorist when the initial charges are reported in the media, even before court proceedings begin. “The state has a monopoly almost on designating what falls into that box,” Freeze says, noting past governments have disagreed about groups like Hamas and Hezbollah over which is a “terrorist” group and which is not. But journalists should be more critical in the early stages, says Monia Mazigh, former national coordinator of International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. “Most of the time, nobody asks questions. Something happens and everybody wants to report it,” says Mazigh, who became well known for her vocal campaign to rescue her husband, Maher Arar, when he was detained
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in Syria. “I would call it like porn sort of—everybody wants to see it, you just have to show it.”
ALMOST 12 YEARS AFTER THE ARRESTS,
the 18 men originally arrested in connection with the plot remain difficult to categorize. Some were found guilty, while others were found almost entirely innocent. Yasin Abdi Mohamed, who in addition to Ali Mohamed Dirie, was serving a sentence unrelated to the terror charges in a Kingston prison at the time of the arrests, was the only suspect to have his terrorism-related charges stayed without any conditions. After he was released from pre-trial custody in 2008, Mohamed and his family opened an Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto. He is now believed to have moved out of the country with his family. As for Jamal, after his charges were stayed, he went back to driving school buses with his wife. They opened up their own company in Mississauga, which services Islamic schools. Many of the 11 who received prison terms were released. Chand, who supposedly wanted to behead Stephen Harper, was released in 2011. Dirie was released the same year and allegedly boarded a plane for Syria in 2013. Shaikh, Canadian government officials, and local Muslim leaders reported he had been killed there. Ahmad, who pleaded guilty to instructing others to participate in the terrorist group, was released in January. Amara, and another man, Shareef Abdelhaleem, are serving life sentences. What began as a tale of a massive terrorist plot that was compared to the Oklahoma City bombing, eventually unraveled into a case where the principal crime was the intentions of the individuals involved, rather than any realistic possibility of a large-scale terror attack. For his part, El Akkad isn’t sure how much has changed in the press in the 12 years since the arrests. “It’s still an uphill battle for journalists to properly convey nuance, because by the time we find out about the story, it’s when something terrible has happened,” he says, adding that there’s not enough attention given to the backstory. “We do generally a fairly good job on the when, where, how. We do a much worse job on the why.” The handling editor on this story (Sonya Fatah) is a former Globe and Mail reporter, who also worked on the “Toronto 18” case, and is a current co-instructor at the RRJ.
A sampling of newsroom policies on using the T-word The Globe and Mail: A terrorist is a person or group who threatens or uses violence against the public for political purposes. Though the style guide says bombing planes and buildings counts as terrorism, attacks on the military or police don’t, except when the word is attributed to government officials. “When it comes to individuals, we must be more circumspect,” it says. “Many present-day public figures were members of terrorist groups in their youth, including anticolonial movements.” When stories mention past links to these groups, they should be clear that the individual is no longer connected to them. CBC: Terrorism is used for attacks against innocent civilians “for political, religious or some other ideological reason. But it’s a highly controversial term that can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict,” says the outlet’s language guide for journalists. Reporters at CBC are advised to avoid the label and instead to be more specific when describing the act or person concerned—for example, instead of using the word “terrorist,” it suggests calling the individual a “bomber” or another descriptor. “By restricting ourselves to neutral language, we aren’t faced with the problem of calling one incident a ‘terrorist act’ while classifying another as, say, a mere ‘bombing,’” it says. There is, however, no prohibition on using the word “terrorist.” Canadian Press: While there’s no consensus from the United Nations on what “terrorism” means, most people agree that the 9/11 attacks was an example of it, says the stylebook. “For journalists, the best advice is to be specific in the choice of terms used, and to guard against automatically labelling one side the terrorists, which makes the other side automatically the good guys,” it says. Further, it advises journalists not to be afraid to use the word, but to do so “with caution,” noting that words like “bomber” and “gunmen” are more neutral and specific. Toronto Star: While the newspaper doesn’t have its own policy on using the word “terrorism,” the Star generally follows CP, says Anthony Collins, the outlet’s copy and stylebook editor in an email. However, the Star does have a practice of referring to the Islamic State group as Daesh, saying that the group “is neither Islamic nor an internationally recognized state.” Collins adds that the word “terrorist” remains a subject of discussion in the newsroom, however, such as in the context of the mosque shooting in Quebec. An episode of CBC’s The Investigators explored how the word “terrorism” is used in the media. “It’s important that we as journalists think really hard before we use words,” said guest speaker, Indira Lakshmanan of Poynter Institute for Media Studies based in the United States. She pointed to the legal definitions of terrorism in Canada and the United States, which require that there be a political motivation to the attack. This is why news outlets hesitated to call Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette or Las Vegas attacker Stephen Paddock a terrorist. “Authorities have not yet established any ties that I know of to terrorist groups or political motivation in those cases,” she said. But Yasmin Jiwani, a professor of communication studies at Concordia University, is critical about using policies that define terrorism on the government’s terms. The definition of terrorism is an “ideological construct,” she says. “It’s used by those in positions of power to legitimize certain acts or even to make them legible as forms of violence and other acts are not forms of violence.” She says while the far right also carries out similar acts of violence, like in Bissonnette’s case, it’s not considered terrorism. “What is named as an ideology?” she asks. “The white settler mindset is not considered to be an ideology even though we know it is.” —MARIA IQBAL
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Hide and Seek
The ethics of going undercover ES SAY B Y EMMA BEDBROOK ILLUSTRATION BY DERRICK CHOW
OTING PAILS, RAGS, cleaners, mops, and a vacuum, she walked into her third house of the day. Mopping her way through the sparsely-furnished foyer, she came to a halt at the pile on the floor. Upon scooping it up, it became clear the tenants had left it untouched for days until she, the maid, would come. The dog poop was dry and light. “That’s the kind of detail that makes it come alive,” says Jan Wong, Globe and Mail veteran, award-winning journalist, bestselling author, and now associate professor of journalism at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick “I don’t think I would have gotten the detail if I had just tried to interview a whole bunch of maids.” It started as a simple story about public policy and minimum wage: Could Canadians really live on $7.75 an hour? To find out, Wong immersed herself for one month back in 2006. She and her two sons moved into a $750-per-month basement apartment. Working for $9 an hour—though the math showed she was being paid far less—she successfully illustrated what it was like to live below the poverty line. They lived on cheap carbs (in 10 days, she dropped six pounds). And she worked crushing hours, scrubbing the toilets of Torontonians. For Wong, her minimum wage series was uncharted territory. The Globe had not done many undercover stories, and she felt as though she was navigat-
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ing an ethical “minefield” alone. “Generally speaking, you must be constantly aware of conflicts of interest, of rules, and of when to break those rules. It’s not something that can be carved in stone. A reporter must assess each circumstance each time,” says Wong.
HE CANADIAN ASSOCIATION of Journalists’ ethical guidelines say reporters “may go undercover when it is in the public interest and the information is not obtainable any other way; in such cases, we openly explain this deception to the audience.” The question is not whether undercover journalism should be done, but how one can diminish sources’ feelings of betrayal or invasion of privacy; after all, journalists are sometimes immersing themselves in people’s lives for weeks or months. As David Studer, CBC’s director of journalistic standards and practices, explains, the guidelines set out lofty principles. It’s left to journalists, their editors, and people like Studer to apply these principles during each new undercover project. Journalists navigating the murky ethics of undercover journalism are creating their own rules and reasoning—and coming to very different conclusions. Of all the concerns plaguing undercover journalists, revealing personal information about unwitting subjects is one of the most pressing and perplexing. For his 2004 book, Down to This: Squalor and Splendour in a Big-City Shantytown, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall dedicated a year to undercover immersion journalism. His book revealed deeply personal details about the squatters who lived in Toronto’s “Tent City”—filthy, garbage-filled, unused lakefront property, populated by homeless people. During his time immersed in Tent City, he created his own ethical rules to follow. One was telling subjects he trusted that he was writing a book, and they were a part of it. He would scribble into his notebook in front of them, or remind them that he was jotting down their conversations and actions when he was alone in his ramshackle hut. Of course, it’s not clear they really believed him. In a place like Tent City, many people are working toward their breakthrough—a novel, a screenplay, a memoir. Before the book was published, he contacted his closest Tent City friends to ask if they wanted to use their real names. BishopStall only included first names, but knew that those who knew the residents could likely still identify them from their descriptions. As part of the publishing process, he consulted with a legal team. They advised him to change the names of a few residents who had committed serious crimes, to protect himself against being subpoenaed in a potential lawsuit. No one that was contacted asked for a name change, but even now Bishop-Stall struggles with accepting their decision. He wrote that one source, Karen, smoked crack cocaine
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while pregnant. Eddie, another resident, told Bishop-Stall that he had been sexually abused at school. Changing their names might have offered a psychological softening they might have needed. Choosing to be completely transparent revealed the harsh reality of his subjects’ lives. Not everyone will take kindly to the personal details that are included, and the results can be costly. Wong and the Globe were sued by the Nitsopoulos family for deceit and invasion of privacy after Wong described their Thornhill home, according to the Canadian Legal Information Institute. The Ontario Superior Court ordered the Globe to pay $9,160 in legal costs. The Globe also tacked an apology onto the end of one of Wong’s articles. Kate Fillion, a former Maclean’s editor-at-large and author, went undercover early in her career, and wrestled with the question of how much to reveal about her involuntary subjects. In 1990, at the age of 25, she spent a total of three weeks over a two-month period observing life as a student in a Scarborough, Ontario high school— the cliques, the racism, the homework. Each teacher who taught her knew she was a journalist, and was aware that once she left high school for good, she’d write a Toronto Life feature about her stint. She felt particularly guilty criticizing Mr. Stevens, the pseudonym for a popular, respected and confident teacher, who she felt had given up on challenging his students. Fillion went undercover to provide a first-hand perspective of high school through the eyes of a student, and in doing so brought awareness to the pitfalls of the Ontario education system. Her review of Stevens was swift and clear, leaving readers to come to a decision themselves: “Once he used an entire period to cut strips of paper with our names on them and pull them out of a bag to determine the date on which each student would deliver an oral presentation. Twice we’ve been given 35-minute tests on 10 vocabulary words.” She revealed that there are no safeguards for students who want to receive the highest education possible: “Curriculum guidelines and teaching credentials, for instance, provide zero protection from teachers who are lazy, untalented or just burnt out.” After spending a significant amount of time as a student, she knew he wouldn’t expect her tough observations. Having the teachers of her classes know she was a journalist was a requirement demanded by the principal. However, this created a gap in anonymity among staff, and created the possibility of professional ramifications for Stevens. His subject, grade level, and detailed behaviours were all reported, making him easily identifiable by other staff members. This in turn could threaten his reputation and career. This was the reality Fillion had to accept. Fillion let the principal read the final article. To her surprise, he
Undercover reporting is a balancing act between gathering enough information to initiate action and minimizing harm to citizens. The longer you spend immersed in a story, the more likely you are to get personally entangled
didn’t ask for anything to be changed: “I think he wanted an objective observer’s opinion of his school for all the right reasons: curiosity, and the desire to make improvements where possible. I’m not sure he’d let a journalist in again, though.” She remembers him wondering how Stevens would react, but she never found out.
L TOMPKINS, A JOURNALIST and teacher at the Poynter Institute, says revealing as much about sources as possible gives context for their actions and motivations. Wong’s writing included personal details about Maggie, the pseudonym for a maid featured prominently in Wong’s series. Having known Maggie, Wong says she would not have been pleased with the depiction of her obsessive need for perfection and her abusive marriage. Stephen Ward, founding director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that personal information about sources should only be revealed if it proves to be a pertinent element of the wrongdoing. This, for instance, might mean including private details about a source if a journalist is reporting on abuse. However, Ward adds that journalists should clearly state the private details act as evidence in the story. Lisa Taylor, an assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, doesn’t support releasing personal information of subjects considered innocent. Some of the details in Wong’s piece were gratuitous, says Taylor, and had the “potential to hurt the people whose interest you’re supposed to be looking out for.” Hurting someone like Maggie, she says, can’t be justified because Maggie was an unsuspecting and blameless character. Contrariwise, Wong says that the personal details about Maggie became essential to reiterate that sedulous Canadian women were working brutal, low-paying jobs out of necessity—and to help readers relate to and respect them. “I tried to mitigate the invasiveness of the story, while still keeping compelling details so readers would engage with the issues,” says Wong. “So many people came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I will now always offer a cup of coffee to my housekeeper.’” Sources and readers don’t always agree with journalists when weighing the potential harm to individuals and the public interest of a story. Bishop-Stall assumed there would be people featured in his book who wouldn’t like their depictions. There were a few physical altercations and threats of showing up to readings that never amounted to anything. Bishop-Stall set out to report a first-hand experience of Tent City, not to glorify or sugar-coat the people who live there. Bonnie, a tenant from Tent City, was “pissed off” when the book came out. Bishop-Stall attributes this to possibly being uncomSPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 91
Jan Wong, Kate Fillion and Stephen Ward choose their favourite undercover stories fortable seeing herself through a different lens. Ethically speaking, subjects can’t edit the narrative or their past actions, but that doesn’t mean journalists should disregard a subject’s safety or psychological well-being. Bishop-Stall empathized with the people in his book; if the consequences of his writing weren’t ones he could live with, he’d take specific details out. In his case, he wrote the details first and thought of the implications during editing. “The whole point of going into places like these is that it is uncharted territory. You know, the whole point is you’re shining a light into corners that people don’t know about,” says Bishop-Stall. “You don’t even know what the ethical questions are until you’re inside them.” And much of the fallout of what’s included in the book can’t always be predicted. “Ironically, most of the backlash was from people who weren’t even in the book,” says Bishop-Stall. “It’s never, ever, ever the people who you think are going to be upset by it.” The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee was his strongest opponent. The committee had made a film on Tent City, Shelter From The Storm, released in 2002, and filmed in December 2001, which featured Karl, the “mayor” of Tent City, who Bishop-Stall describes as “a genuine neo-Nazi and one of the worst people I’ve ever known.” Bishop-Stall expressed no need to protect Karl, and his writing directly contradicted the committee’s portrayal. Cathy Crowe, cofounder of the committee and street nurse, says residents of Tent City felt betrayed and that his book damaged their chances of employment, schooling, and their family relationships. According to Crowe, one resident attempted to secure legal counsel. Crowe acknowledges and supports the benefits of undercover journalism, but she feels Bishop-Stall prioritized profits over ethical journalism by including many raw and private details. Geoffrey Turnbull, a journalism instructor at the University of King’s College, in Halifax, says Bishop-Stall’s decision to offer a name changes on an individual basis can be justified on an individual basis. Betraying the trust of someone who is acting in a harmful way toward the public, as Karl was toward Tent City residents, is not unethical. However, he adds, subjects that are faultless deserve to be sheltered from harm whenever possible. Turnbull also says it’s important to recognize that Bishop-Stall dedicated a year of his life to immersion journalism. He didn’t live in a shack for a week and write what he saw. He lived all the dirty details: the unemployment cheques, the drug use, the rat infestations. Bishop-Stall had to keep these guidelines in mind all the while living in a dangerous place, where the struggle to survive could outweigh his moral compass. He grappled with doing the right thing, staying alive, and maintaining journalistic integrity. The conclusions Bishop-Stall drew about whether people
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One of Canada’s most illustrious journalists has a soft spot for the classics. Jan Wong says Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly is one of her favourite undercover books. In the story, Bly is admitted to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum to expose abuse and neglect, unbeknownst to staff. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, is another favourite. The book explores welfare and the working poor. Ehrenreich, much like Wong, presented herself as an unskilled woman looking for a job and trying to make ends meet. Kate Fillion says there’s no contest. The 1961 book, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin, changed the course of her life. At 11 years old, she read Griffin’s tales of segregation in the Deep South, and it inspired her to major in Black American history in university. Though controversial at the time, Stephen Ward always liked the undercover sting investigation known as the “Mirage Tavern.” The “Tavern” was a bar bought by the Chicago Sun-Times in 1977. They used it to investigate city officials who were shaking down local businesses and accepting bribes—all of which was documented on camera. —EMMA BEDBROOK
deserved privacy were not based on one or two encounters, but hundreds. In this way, undercover journalism can be more ethical because reporting decisions are based on a journalist’s comprehensive analysis of sources’ personalities and concerns. Undeniably, how long journalists spend in the field is another ethical dilemma to consider prior to undercover work. If too short, they’re appearing to “slum it” for a story and they may not get the intricacies of the struggles people face, or why they act the way they do. But according to Tompkins, spending too much time risks them building the kind of trust that causes people to be overly vulnerable, and to feel incredibly betrayed when the story comes out. Taylor says a year would be enough time to provide a broad understanding, but it’s not feasible for most journalists or news organizations, she adds. There is simply not enough funding. Without that liberty, journalists may have to accept—and disclaim—that they aren’t providing a full picture if they choose to continue with an undercover story. To combat inherited privilege, Taylor suggests journalists focus the story entirely on the subjects, and omit personal reactions. Taylor adds that too many details make a subject more susceptible to recognition and embarrassment. Hypothetically, creating a composite character would reduce the risk of a subject being exposed or uncomfortable while describing the details of a particular life. But that choice also carries ethical challenges. Wong shortens the time frame for immersion, or undercover journalism, saying anything less than a month of hard work is unacceptable. Her month working undercover as a maid gave her carpal tunnel syndrome, a side effect she still lives with to this day. When journalists dip into the world of undercover immersion journalism, they have the potential to blur the line of editorial independence. Ward says undercover reporting is a balancing act between gathering enough information to initiate action and minimizing harm to citizens. The longer you spend immersed in a story, the more likely you are to get personally entangled. Fillion thinks personal involvement comes with a price. She became a sympathetic listener to another student, a troubled teenager with a difficult home life and seemingly absent parents. When he confided in her, she became concerned about his safety and the risk of self-harm. “I found myself in an uncomfortable grey area where I could no longer pretend to be a teenager,” she says. She told him she was an adult and directed him toward counsellors, but lost his trust. Feeling she had crossed the line as a journalist, she excluded him from the story. Retrospectively, she can’t think of another way she could have handled the confusing situation: “My job was to try to talk to the kids and find out about their lives, and this particular kid was so thrilled to have anyone listen.”
Bishop-Stall featured himself heavily in Down To This. His meticulous work was only made possible by becoming a Tent City dweller, and living the day-to-day life known by other tenants. Out of friendship and a sense of obligation, Bishop-Stall went to visit Jackie and others a few times after the book came out, but he eventually stopped. Fourteen years after his book’s publication, only a handful of the people he considered friends in Tent City are still alive. It became too hard to revisit that life, but it continues to have a lasting impression on Bishop-Stall. He still thinks—and talks—about it often. Revealing the truth to sources is another major ethical conundrum that undercover journalists wrestle with. Coming clean, says Ward, isn’t necessary. When Wong left maid work, she left behind the maids, too. She never contacted Maggie again. Though she wanted to confide in her before the series ran, lawyers at the Globe advised against it, fearing an injunction that would halt publication. When she left high school, Fillion told the teenagers she’d befriended that she wasn’t a student, but instead an adult who was checking things out. They never bothered to ask why or for what, or who she really was. Instead, they just found it “hilarious that [she] passed.” Ward says a journalist doesn’t have any obligation to inform in advance, as long as the story has been done properly. Allowing a right of reply, he says, is only a good idea if including the response would boost the narrative, and doing so wouldn’t put publication in jeopardy. This changes person-to-person, and largely depends on moral blameworthiness. According to Ward, the ethical rules for how powerful and influential people are treated are different than those for ordinary citizens. If a journalist exposes and names someone powerful—the head of a corporation or a government official— giving a right to reply is ethically sufficient, says Ward. Undercover journalists have a responsibility to the communities they infiltrate, says Turnbull. Their reporting should initiate public debate, and ideally, social or political change. It remains a personal decision whether to keep in touch and provide support for sources after publication. Wong says reporters aren’t social workers, instead their “contribution to society is illuminating problems.” There’s no rulebook for undercover journalism. There’s no definitive guide that could be applied to every case. Every time, it’s the work of a journalist and an editor that answers the burning ethical questions that could break a story—and its subjects. “Undercover can never be perceived as simply unethical or ethical. You have to see, well, what is the story, what are you doing. Why did you do this. It is a case-by-case basis,” says Wong. “I don’t think there is a template.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 93
A True Pro A tribute to the late Randy Starkman—husband, father, son, friend, and Canada’s premier amateur sports journalist
B Y MAT T OUELLET ON MARCH 11, 2011, the Toronto Star published a story titled, “When love runs out of time: Parents fear for injured son.” This was Randy Starkman’s magnum opus, a 4,500-word piece that reflected the type of stories he strove to tell. Starkman was writing about Scott Finlay’s parents—Hugh and Rosemary—and their threedecade struggle to establish a brain injury centre to house their son who’s paralyzed and unable to speak since a near-fatal crash in 1978 at the Canadian alpine skiing championships in Lake Louise, Alberta. The narrative feature contained many themes: parental struggles, uncertain futures, lost ambitions, and unexpected challenges. General readers, health practitioners, and policy makers read the piece, and in September 2017 in Napanee, Ontario, Finlay House officially opened its doors to house six residents who had brain injuries, including a 61-year-old Finlay. Starkman didn’t live to see the full impact of his article. He died in April 2012 from complications following a bout with pneumonia at the age of 51. Canadians with some knowledge about luge or kayak or shot put, and the athletes involved, can likely trace that back to Starkman. The Star Olympic sportswriter’s work reflects a lifetime spent honing a beat, covering performances by Canadian athletes that most often get ignored. Over a career that spanned three decades, he was continuously finding new audiences compelled by his subjects and
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their tales. By writing about them, he tied together universal themes of perseverance and loyalty to draw in unsuspecting readers. Starkman set out to accomplish what only the best sportswriters are able to do consistently: write stories that appeal to people no matter how interested they are in sports, says Mary Hynes, who was married to Starkman for 23 years. Hynes, who hosts CBC Radio’s Tapestry, says he used his mother as the barometer for gauging a reader’s interest in everything he wrote: “That was sort of the test Randy put for himself every time out. If Estelle Starkman could read it and enjoy it, then he thought he had done the job well.” STARKMAN BEGAN HIS CAREER at United Press Canada in 1980, covering amateur sports in Europe, before moving to the Star in 1988, where he wrote almost exclusively about Olympic sports until 2012. Starkman’s coworkers and the athletes he covered have paid testimony to his attention to detail, the energy he invested on a single story, and his commitment to sustained reporting. “When the story was ready, Randy would tell you, ” says Dave Perkins, former columnist and sports editor at the Star. “Randy was a bleeder. He was bad for sitting down and actually writing. He always wanted to make that extra phone call.” In the press rooms of the Olympic Games (he worked every single one between Seoul in 1988, and Vancouver in 2010), he was famous PHOTO: COURTESY MARY HYNES
for sticking around long after everyone else had left, although, he had to leave the ’96 Atlanta Games early to attend the birth of his daughter Ella. “My first Olympics was Athens. I’d finish writing at 1 a.m. sometimes,” says Canadian Press sportswriter Lori Ewing, “And afterward, there was a rooftop bar, and you’d have to walk through the press centre to get to the washroom, and he’d still be sitting there, typing away. And I’m like, ‘What the hell is he still writing about?’ He just worked so hard.” His practice of journalism—the attention to detail, the time and effort put into building trust with sources and the relatable storytelling—is exactly the kind of journalism that is worth recognizing in an outlet like the Ryerson Review of Journalism. STARKMAN’S MAJOR CAREER breakthrough came in 1993. A few years after Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was caught doping at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, the Star had a breaking story: the athlete had tested positive for banned substances again. At the time, Johnson was far from the public eye. The story was a huge exclusive for Starkman, a piece he was able to write based on information from inside sources he’d cultivated over years. It revealed how Johnson had been tested at the Hamilton Spectator Indoor Games on January 15, and again two days later at a Grand Prix event in Montreal, followed by another random testing in Toronto. The story gained international attention, and earned his first of two National Newspaper Awards. He was also dedicated to shining a light on concussions in hockey, long before the issue was widely and seriously discussed. What made Starkman’s work meaningful was the humanity he employed as a reporter and as a person. It is what endeared him to his sources and to his loved ones. It is why—when he died—Mary and their daughter Ella found their mailboxes full of grieving notes from readers across Canada, and from athletes and their parents. An example of his generosity dates back to 2008 when Perkins recalls Starkman receiving a $10,000 prize from the Dr. Tom Pashby Sports Safety Fund for his contribution to advancing public interest on the concussions issue. “I said to him, ‘Christ, it’s the middle of January. It’s 30 below zero here, the weather sucks. Let’s grab our wives, we’ll use your 10 grand, and we’ll go to Jamaica for a week or something,’” says Perkins. “You know, totally selfish. Of course, Randy just had this look on his face and he said, ‘Well, I already donated the whole $10,000 to the Breakfast Club,’ and I felt pretty small.” OLYMPIC ATHLETES SAY they trusted Starkman in a way they didn’t most journalists. When she was competing, rower Marnie McBean says journalists covering the Canadian rowing team were often digging for information that would hint at some sort of animosity between her and teammate Silken Laumann. “You have two of the world’s top scullers in the same program,” McBean says, “And at one point competing for the same spot, and people would come to find out, ‘Well, who’s the bad guy here? Because there has to be a bad guy.’ Randy never wrote it that way because that’s not what he saw and it’s not what we felt.”
In taking a distanced and nuanced approach to storytelling, Starkman took his time with reporting and writing his stories. That investment meant checking out the athletes at training camps, including going to Lake Placid to watch the skiers train. “It was during times like that, I think, where a lot of the relationships were forged,” says Hynes. “Because it wasn’t that he was just showing up during your 90 minutes of glory at the Olympics. He was there during the drudgery and the times of non-glory just as readily as he was at the Olympics.” Many athletes say they can’t remember the first time they met Starkman, only that they grew closer over time. “It became an advantage of time and perspective.” McBean says, “He saw us all grow up.” As a result, friendships formed. Cross-country skier Chandra Crawford recalls asking Starkman and his family to have dinner with her when she was visiting Toronto and looking for something to do. Hurdler Perdita Felicien wrote in a blog post about how Starkman helped her figure out transitions as her athletic career was coming to an end. He also had an aggressively competitive side he tapped into from time to time. “Playing ball hockey with Randy Starkman was very surprising to me,” says TSN Radio host Dave Naylor, “Randy as a person was benevolent, generous, charitable and a highly empathetic human being. Randy was not like that as a ball hockey player. He was very aggressive, and he would push the limits on the rules. If you were in front of the net with him, he would, NHL-style, try to hold you.” At home, Starkman was incredibly engaged and a quiet craftsman. When his daughter Ella was obsessed with Cruella de Vil, he carved her a chair with de Vil’s face on it, upholstered with dalmatian-spotted fabric on the seat. He once carved a papier-mâché replica of a guitar for her. One Halloween, Ella dressed as Cruella de Vil and Starkman made a dalmatian mask for himself and followed along on a leash. “He was the best dad,” Ella says breaking down at the memory of her lost father. “Even when he was working really hard he always called from the Olympics.” At heart, Starkman was what all journalists ought to be—a student. His academic interest in every aspect of sport is how athletes first felt like they could trust him. They also admired him for the knowledge he had. Starkman’s extensive knowledge put other journalists in the post-event media scrums to shame during the Olympics. In the Hynes-Starkman household, this could get annoying. As Starkman droned on about an obscure Olympic sport, Hynes would go into mock suicide mode, aping a scene from Airplane!, a film the couple loved. “I’d pretend to be pouring a can of gasoline on my head,” she says, laughing at the memory. “You’ve got to stop—I can’t hear one more story about luge or I’m going to die.” Starkman shared his love of his career with his family, and his love for his family with the people he spoke to. He was a man who happily shared his loves with everyone he knew, and he has been sorely missed. SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 95
Our Stories Six women on their experiences of sexual harassment in and out of the newsroom B Y ANNIE ARNONE ILLUSTRATION BY MELANIE LUTHER
ASED ON DECADES of quiet acceptance of behaviour inside and outside the newsroom, movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have led to a reckoning. The Ryerson Review of Journalism spoke to several women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. The RRJ’s interviews reveal systematic and systemic exposure to an abusive male-dominated news and media culture. These stories are singular; episodes that reflect how women have been—and continue to be—sexualized by colleagues and by their sources.
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Shaheen Pasha: Fielding the Serial Inviters When she was 19 years old, journalist Shaheen Pasha was already hard at work brushing off requests for interactions outside of work: invitations to dinner at editors’ homes, or to go out for drinks. Later in her career came invitations to text, call, and communicate late into the night. The conversations arrived with offers, Pasha remembers, like one from a senior journalist at her workplace at the time. She recalls him saying, “We’ll do this in a more private setting.” As a Pakistani journalist and one of a handful of marginalized reporters in the newsroom, Pasha struggled with this kind of treatment. She was constantly told by friends and colleagues to keep her head down and keep working. “I talked to other people that I knew, other journalists, other people of colour, and asked, ‘Should I say something?’” she says. She was told that there were not a lot of people who looked like her in the industry and being perceived as a troublemaker could kill her career. Pasha’s phone would go off while she lay in bed with her husband. “Another one?” he used to say, seeing her frown as she read a text from a man asking her what she was wearing—someone she interviewed for a story hours earlier, who seemed perfectly kind. So Pasha withstood the harassment and kept going. Twentyone years later, the workplace challenges and unwanted messages have subsided since she stopped working in a full-time newsroom in 2013. No matter how many stories she writes and is proud of, or interviews she nails, Pasha cannot shake the fact that journalism is simply different for a woman—it always comes down to her gender or appearance. In her classroom at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she currently teaches, Pasha uses stories from her experiences when teaching newsroom ethics to her students—addressing the shoulder brushes and the late-night text messages that never sat right with her. Professors did not address subject matter like this in her time as a student. Pasha feels as though it’s her responsibility to show her students how to navigate these situations. “I’m a pretty ‘woke’ feminist, but for so long I didn’t see anything wrong with how I was being treated, I just kept my head down—it was just part of the industry,” she says, adding that it was seen as a part of toughening up. “Now as a teacher, it hurts me to think about my students doing the same. I don’t want them to be silenced, I don’t want them to tolerate this like I did.”
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Marie-Danielle Smith: The Legacy of Gestures When Marie-Danielle Smith discusses work culture with her mother, she realizes that despite a generational divide, their experiences as women working in the political sphere are not very different. Smith’s mother was a Senate staffer in the 1980s, which likely influenced her interest in covering politics. Receptions here and there and scrums on Parliament Hill were part of the job. Smith enjoyed political reporting—starting off at Embassy, which is now defunct. She chased the politics beat until she was hired at the National Post. For a young journalist, parties and off-therecord meetings with politicians were common elements of reporting on the Hill. But it took time to adjust to this political reporting culture and she wondered if the closeness of relationships between journalists and politicians was appropriate. One recent afternoon, Smith and her mother sat on Smith’s couch discussing the #MeToo movement and the impact of the latest allegations on North American politics. Smith’s mother began to tell her stories of her time as a staffer, when she experienced inappropriate interactions with male colleagues. She recalled one incident involving an unnamed senator. Smith’s mother stood across from him discussing work. He patted his lap with the palm of his hand, gesturing her to come sit. She laughed it off and went on with her day. Smith wondered out loud to her mother why she had never said something to anyone about it. But listening to her mother’s story made Smith recall her past. The same thing happened to her on the Hill several years later.
“If you talk about it, you lose, if you don’t talk about it, you lose”
“I was interviewing a senator and we were alone in his office,” she says, recalling the eerily similar details to those of her mother’s story. His office was inviting, comfortable, and regal—lined with wooden panels and photos of former Hill legends. “I had chosen to sit on a chair opposite to him.” Smith says. “In the middle of the interview he stopped me and asked that I come sit right next to him.” “I don’t bite,” he said. Smith declined, laughing the invitation off, but remembers feeling uncomfortable. The interview continued, she filed her story, and another instance on the Hill—just like her mother’s— went undocumented. “It was just the culture,” Smith says. “It’s one of those things you brush off because you don’t want to make a fuss—you want to do your job and ignore what just happened to you.” In January 2018, about two years after the incident, the National Post published Smith’s story: “Young and female on Parliament Hill: A Post reporter reveals what it’s really like for women who work there.” Smith revealed the story of the senator—without naming him—and discussed how it impacted her. “Who cares if somebody put their hand on my knee at a party?” she writes. “Does it really matter if that one guy keeps greeting me with kisses on the cheeks, when he shakes hands with everybody else? Is it a big deal to be on the awkward end of a dirty joke? Should I be laughing along? “These are questions we ask ourselves, even when we have a gut feeling that says, ‘This is weird.’”
Leah McLaren: The Dotted Social Line The room was crowded as The Globe and Mail staffers celebrated the Christmas season. Leah McLaren and her colleagues were blowing off some steam after a backbreaking year of work. McLaren was chatting with a bunch of senior journalists when she felt a hand slide up the back of her skirt and grab her bottom. She moved away, but the hand followed. She thought it was her boyfriend until she turned around and came face-to-face with one of her male colleagues. Despite feeling disgusted, it hadn’t crossed McLaren’s mind to report him—she was a contract employee and desperate for a full-time job, so she thought it might impede her chances. She saw what happened to women who reported harassment and she wasn’t prepared to put herself in that situation. So she attempted to move past the incident and filed it away in her memory. But McLaren soon realized there were other perceived instances of sexism in the newsroom. Almost 18 years later, she recalls all of the moments she let pass—a couple of men being marched out of the office for sexual harassment, an editor asking her to wear a low-cut top to a source’s house—simply attributing it to the macho newsroom culture. “At the time when things like that happened in the workplace, we just didn’t really question it,” McLaren says. “We knew it was wrong, but it was the air that we breathed and the ground that we walked on.” After allegations about Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual misconduct and office behaviour hit the newsstands, McLaren wrote about her experience at the Christmas party for the Globe. She reached out to her colleague to let him know and asked if he had anything to say in response. He apologized. In her column, “Women shouldn’t have to wait years for sexual offenders to apologize,” McLaren decried a lack of accountability on the part of abusers despite the social shift. “Over the course of this grand cultural conversation we’ve been having about sexual abuse and harassment, I’ve heard countless victims stand up and tell the story of what happened to them,” she writes. “But how many abusers have admitted to their part—no matter how minor—in this culture of abuse? How many have stood up and apologized?”
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“He was untouchable. He had power and I didn’t, I was so scared that if I had gone to my boss in that moment—I had just started at this radio station, I was brand new to this company—I didn’t think I would be supported”
—K ATIE SUMMERS
Marci McDonald: The Last Edits It was late at night and the next day’s Toronto Star had just gone to bed. Marci McDonald was a summer intern at the publication, and by the end of the evening, she had the front page story in the bag. It was the biggest night in her journalism career thus far. Her colleagues congratulated her on her first A1 piece—complete with the banner headline. “Let me take you out for a drink,” her editor offered. She was so excited to be accepted into the boys’ club that it didn’t even occur to her to say no. Most of her colleagues at the time were male. She always thought she fit in well, though there was an unspoken rule that women had to be tough. The night went well. Over drinks, she and her editor shared pleasantries about her piece. Nothing about the night implied that he had an ulterior motive of any kind. In what seemed to be a simple attempt at chivalry, he walked McDonald home. It was after midnight at this point—McDonald’s shoes brushed the pavement alongside her boss’s as they neared her home in Yorkville. As she approached her door and the two said their goodbyes, he lunged and grabbed her breasts with both hands. “Are those real?” he said. McDonald was horrified. She pretended it wasn’t happening. Extricating herself, she told him that her roommates were waiting, and walked up to her apartment. What she considered to be the most important night of her career at that point was undercut by that incident. In November 2017, McDonald sat before a crowd at a journalism panel in Toronto titled, “Is This On The Record?” She discussed, more openly now, her experience being sexually assaulted by her employer. “It wasn’t the only thing I’d kept a secret as well—subjects would come onto you,” she said to the audience. “You somehow always did feel it was your fault in those days.”
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Anne McNeilly: Who’s the Boss? With each passing week at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, now known as the Waterloo Region Record, Anne McNeilly successfully fended off a senior editor who repeatedly asked her out for drinks. She was in her late twenties at the time, and recalls never feeling just right enough about entertaining his plans. One spring day, however, she changed her mind. She had little desire to go out, but her editor asked her again. Despite declining—saying that she had too much work to do—he insisted, reminding her he was her editor and assuring her that it was okay. She then felt like she couldn’t say no, and finally said yes. The two drove through downtown Kitchener, enjoying the sun in his sports car. Finally, the car came to a halt. McNeilly looked up and realized they had stopped outside a popular strip joint in the area. Her stomach churned, but she followed him inside. “What are we doing here?” She wondered. They grabbed a table, ordered a few drinks, and discussed their work—chatting generally for the next couple of hours. “I just pretended that going to a strip club for lunch or for a drink was the most normal thing in the world,” McNeilly says over 30 years later. “Whereas now with more experience I would say, ‘What are you thinking?’” At the end of the afternoon, McNeilly couldn’t wait to go home. But when they got back to her editor’s car, he asked her to join him for a picnic—his reasoning being that it was nice out and his family was away. Her heart sank. “I really do have to go, I have people coming over for dinner,” she said, even though she didn’t. He accepted and drove her to her car. McNeilly sits in her office, gazing out the window as she tells her story, her hands gripping one another tightly. “I think there’s something about the power imbalance between someone young and an older person who has more authority,” she says. “It just never occurred to me to mention that to anyone—if you talk about it, you lose, if you don’t talk about it, you lose.”
Katie Summers: The Source Files Big news circulated in the AMP radio station office in Calgary. Katie Summers was a few months into her new job as an evening radio host at the pop music station when she heard that a famous Canadian musician was coming in for an interview—she was ecstatic. The band had been a favourite of hers for as long as she could remember. While she wasn’t asked to do the interview herself, she would get to see the lead singer, and she was nervous—this was a big opportunity. The rockstar walked into the room with his management team and record-label officials. Summers recalls complimenting him, explaining how as a longtime fan she was excited to meet him in person. The singer looked at her, smiled, and responded with a chuckle. “’Well if you’re lucky, I’ll let you take me outside and you can blow me,” she recalls him saying. Summers remembers being so shocked she had to take a second to catch her breath. Her long-time musical inspiration had humiliated her in a room full of men, downgrading her to “a piece of meat.” Swallowing the lump in her throat, she carried on with the photoop her colleague who conducted the interview had requested for social media. After the photo was taken and they parted ways, the musician grabbed her bottom. The incident has caused Summers to lose the respect she had for him. She wasn’t emotionally affected, but in the three times she’s interviewed him since, her demeanour has been different—she focused on being professional. Several years later, Summers thinks about how badly she didn’t want to lose her job, fearing that her experiences would be devalued if she said anything about what happened, especially as a new hire. “He was untouchable,” she says. “He had power and I didn’t, I was so scared that if I had gone to my boss in that moment—I had just started at this radio station, I was brand new to this company—I didn’t think I would be supported.” Summers compared her workplace environment to a boys’ club. “I worked really hard for my job, and to be where I was,” she says. “I just made the choice to let it go, I had to.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 101
The life and times of one of Canada’s most popular columnists in the late-19th and early-20th centuries—a dossier B Y L AUREN DER
HAT MADE COLEMAN so notable? First of all, there were few women employed by newspapers at the time. The 1901 Canadian census recorded only 50 female journalists in a country with a population of 5 million. Most worked on the “women’s pages,” consisting of household hints, fashion tips, and society gossip. But Coleman also wrote about politics, religion, and social justice issues in an era when it was assumed women took no concern in such things: “I think it is paying us women a poor compliment to imagine we cannot take an interest in the highest and very deepest challenges of the day,” Coleman wrote in an 1892 column. As the author of the column, the Woman’s Kingdom, she was one of the few women columnists whose work was read by men, and kept up a game amongst her readers to guess her sex as she flitted between traditionally masculine and feminine topics. Barbara Freeman, author of Kit’s Kingdom:
The Journalism of Kathleen Blake Coleman, wrote: “She juggled the androgynous and womanly aspects of her character to invent an intriguing public persona designed to draw readers of both sexes.” Despite being best known for covering the SpanishAmerican War as the world’s first accredited female war correspondent, Coleman thought war was a terrible thing and “devoted many angry, sad, and blunt words to its evils.” Kit was really Kathleen Blake Watkins, a single mother of two. She was born Catherine Ferguson in Castleblakeney, Ireland, in 1856, to an educated family. Young Kathleen attended a Catholic school in Dublin and then a finishing school in Belgium. Her interest in social–justice issues was sparked at a young age by her uncle, Thomas Burke, an unusually outspoken and liberal Catholic priest. When Kathleen was 20, her parents set up an arranged marriage to a man 40 years
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older. It was a loveless, unhappy union. They lost their young daughter, and upon her husband’s death his family disinherited Kathleen. In 1884, at the age of 28, Kathleen left for Canada on her own. “She…had a stately air around her and acquaintances were often struck by her intelligence, her warmth, and the musical quality of her accent. They also noticed a quiet melancholia, which never seemed to leave her,” wrote Freeman. Kathleen was well-educated in the classics and music, and also spoke French and Spanish, which would help her in reporting on the Spanish-American War from Cuba. In Canada, she married again to Thomas Watkins. They moved to Winnipeg and had two children. Watkins turned out to be an alcoholic and serial philanderer. He was rumoured to still be married to a woman in England, so Kathleen left him and took the children to Toronto. Family stories have it that Watkins had been the love of her life.
PHOTO: NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA , PA164721
In Toronto, Coleman began freelance writing to support her family, first for Saturday Night magazine, and then The Toronto Mail. Kit was a carefully crafted persona, claiming to be a descendant of a deposed Irish king and living with a dear friend called Theodocia. She “created a kind of a fantasy background that would be very much admired. She admired it, too. I mean, it’s a persona that’s a bit out there,” says Marjory Lang, author of Women Who Made the News: Female Journalists in Canada 1880-1945. “The notion of coming from this faintly gentry, genteel background in Ireland. That’s part of the fairy-tale kingdom that she created.” Coleman was outspoken about women’s issues. She fervently believed that women should be able to work if they wanted to, and be paid equally to men. The average male journalist in Toronto at the time made about $35 to $50 a week—Coleman’s salary was estimated at between $20 a month (supplemented by cleaning houses on the side) and $25 to $35 a week at various points of her career. The plight of the poor was a frequent topic. She advocated for better working conditions, especially for women, such as better pay, fair treatment, and proper breaks. Coleman wrote of being appalled at the low wages and long hours that factory girls endured, trying to draw readers’ sympathy with descriptions like this Dickensian portrait of a “working-girl”: “A slight lame girl in a shabby black gown was toiling wearily up the long staircase after her day’s work was done. Her face was pallid with that grey look upon it that comes from confinement, want of proper rest, and lack of bathing. As she limped past on her way to her room in the roof, one could see what a frail, delicate little creature she was.” Coleman often disguised herself as a man or a poor woman. Her travels included trips to London, California, Ireland, and the West Indies. This was remarkable and shocking in an era when many women had not been more than a few miles from home, and it was scandalous for women to travel without a male companion. In one series of articles
from London, she followed in the footsteps of mid-19th century author Charles Dickens, wandering through seedy neighbourhoods, writing lurid descriptions of visits to “all sorts of queer places, thieves’ kitchens, tramps’ shelters, midnight markets…and other savory spots.” Journalism in Canada was at a crossroads in the 1880s and ’90s, as Kit Coleman was making her breakthrough. The newspaper industry was moving “from a strictly political press into a more mass press depending on advertising,” says Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star. “This was the beginnings of the business model that we now see has been decimated, building an audience that you could sell to advertisers.” Newspapers quickly discovered the marketing potential of ads targeted towards women, placed in a section in the paper specifically designed to appeal to women. The stunt journalism of sending women reporters into environments women did not commonly enter was a common technique for papers at the time—used to attract the attention of readers, though frowned upon by more respectable publications. Coleman’s Cuba trip was an example. Sending women into such places was considered “almost offensive, very edgy” and caused a sensation, Freeman says. Coleman went to London in 1897 to report on Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Her descriptions of the pomp and pageantry, the stately queen, and the processions and military ceremonies appealed strongly to The Mail and Empire’s mostly pro-monarchy readership. On one occasion, she rode in a carriage with then-Canadian prime minister Wilfrid Laurier. A month later, Laurier invited Coleman to accompany him and his wife to watch the Prince of Wales present medals to colonial troops. Coleman is best known today for going to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War in 1898. Once there, she reported on the human cost and aftermath of the war, the effects on both the local civilian population and the soldiers who fought, and the condi-
tions they were then living under. On the way back from Cuba, she married her third husband, Dr. Theobald Coleman, in Washington, D.C. “She seemed to be content with him,” says Freeman. “I think his protection was important to her. I think she needed a safe harbour after some very stormy years.” In covering such a wide range of topics, Coleman often faced opposition from her editors, but stood up for herself and fought for the right to write what she wanted. When she started at the Mail, it was a fairly liberal paper, but became much more conservative when it merged with the Empire. After the merger, her editors told her to write a more traditional women’s page, sticking to recipes and fashion. She asked her readers what they wanted, and was flooded with letters imploring her to keep doing what she had been doing, which she then proceeded to dump on her editor’s desk. The episode is depicted in a clip from CBC’s Canada: The Story of Us series. But despite that victory, Coleman’s relationship with the Mail and Empire had deteriorated after years of disputes over editorial freedom, and she quit in 1910 after being denied a raise. Coleman started syndicating “Kit’s Column” to newspapers across Canada, charging $5 per article, more than she ever made at the Mail and Empire. She refused to let her former employer print it. Kit Coleman died of pneumonia in 1915, at the age of 59, leaving her husband heartbroken. Her obituary in The Globe contained nothing but praise, saying that one biographer had stated that of all the women writers in Canada, Kit was “the most practical, the most brilliant, witty and kind.” “Journalists themselves are very forwardthinking and present-minded, and until recently, I don’t think all that interested in their own history,” says Lang. And while Coleman is in the Canadian News Hall of Fame, which even now has mostly male inductees, English says that “we haven’t celebrated the women, the pioneers of journalism really, in any way”—and that includes Kit Coleman.
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From Homeroom to Newsroom
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Peeking inside Toronto’s high school newspapers B Y L AUR A HOWELLS
IT’S LUNCHTIME at North Toronto Collegiate Institute and a group of teenagers are debating their newsroom policy on anonymity. “I think anybody should be able to be anonymous if they want to,” says 17-year-old Philip Ko, the contrarian driving the debate. “If their article is good, why not publish it?” The room buzzes with dissent. About 20 young journalists sit in an English classroom, packed lunches on their desks and the next print issue on their minds. One student wants to pen an anonymous op-ed about sexism in gym classes—but does that justify protecting her identity? “I think if you have an opinion, you should own it,” argues Annie Doane, 17. “What if this person decides to write something anonymous, and it’s all completely wrong?” These students are on the editorial board of Graffiti, the school newspaper. There are 37 students on the board—Graffiti attracts some of the keenest of the more than 1,200 students who attend the public school, located in Toronto’s Yonge and Eglinton area. The paper has a strong presence in the school; on days when it comes out, students get an extended homeroom period to read it. In the past, the newspaper has let students stay anonymous when confessing to things that could damage their futures, like stealing or doing hard drugs, says Jessica Bulgutch, a teacher advisor. Does being frustrated about gym class pass muster? Ko mentions the op-ed could influence a teacher and negatively affect the student’s grades. “Shouldn’t we protect people against that?” The meetings aren’t usually so heated, says co-editor-in-chief Chantelle Nejnec, 17, after the bell rings and the students hurry to their classes. But there are always energized discussions where the board members brainstorm story ideas, discuss issues, and craft their vision for the roughly 40-page newspaper they publish four times a year. As professional newspapers shutter and shrink, there are still teenagers across Toronto putting out impressive publications while wrestling with some of the same challenges as the wider industry. High school newspapers can be invaluable places for students to grapple with ideas, amplify their voices, and receive first-hand training in media literacy. At Graffiti, Baruch Zohar, a longtime teacher advisor, pushes students to question the status quo and pursue stories that matter to them. Recent editions included an article about students selling
tests, a critique of the school’s award assembly, and pieces about media suppression in Turkey, the politics of Snapchat and Instagram beauty filters, and the “unwritten rules” of lunch. Students enjoy reading content they can relate to, says 17-yearold Madeleine MacIsaac-Sun, the editor-in-chief of Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School’s newspaper, the Mary Ward Planet. But they’re also politically active and passionate about what’s happening in the world. Recent editions of the Planet included reporting on school events and study tips, as well as pieces on NAFTA, provincial politics, and the #MeToo movement. “I don’t know one student that doesn’t care about what’s going on,” MacIsaac-Sun says. “We try to write things that we ourselves would want to read,” says Planet art editor Yuki Tam, 17, as she meticulously designs a feature on the semi-formal dance. The Planet looks more like an arts magazine than a standard newspaper, and has a tradition of sharp visuals and creative design. Tam spends six to seven hours designing the cover illustration alone. “Blood, sweat, and tears” go into each paper, says teacher advisor Nicole Powell, herself a former Mary Ward student and Planet photographer who still keeps copies of newspapers she helped create. “I love watching what these guys produce. Every time an issue comes out…I can’t tell you how proud I get.” At R.H. King Academy in Scarborough, Kingsley Voice co-editorsin-chief Aarti Patel and Timur Islam say working at the school paper makes them think critically about the news they consume. “It opens your eyes to [the fact that] people write the news. It’s not just this magical thing that exists,” said Islam, who now finds himself critiquing professional newspapers’ layouts or noticing bias in articles. MacIsaac-Sun thinks recent talk of fake news has prompted many of her peers to be more critical of what they read. She hopes her school paper helps with media literacy; student readers can have an example of something “genuine,” while writers experience the journalistic process of finding sources and checking facts. In Ontario, some of the top high school publications are recognized at the Toronto Star’s annual high school journalism awards, which include 21 categories for print and online publications, from sports reporting and feature writing to electronic layout and editorial cartoons. The awards are open to the whole province, but schools in the Greater Toronto Area make up the bulk of entries, although numSPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 105
“I feel like every time we’re done making a newspaper we all just look at it like it’s a masterpiece. We look at it and we’re like, wow. We created this” —A AR TI PATEL, co-editor-in-chief at the Kingsley Voice
bers have begun to dwindle. In 2003, the Star reported that there were 1,363 entries from a total of 52 schools. In 2017, it received 620 entries from 20 schools. High school papers generally require supportive administrations, and their existence often depends on dedicated teacher advisors. Other schools produce newspapers as part of a class, but at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, it all started with the students. In 2011, Mahan Nekoui and Soheil Koushan founded Garneau’s The Reckoner in Grade 11, in the midst of a controversy over severe overcrowding at the school. Nekoui and Koushan were part of an enriched program at the school, which several people wanted relocated to alleviate the problem. Nekoui says students didn’t feel like they had a voice in the decisions. At the same time, he says, the school also lacked a sense of community. So he and a handful of friends in the enriched program started an online “underground” newspaper, named after a Radiohead song. By the end of their first year, The Reckoner had won several Star awards (including best electronic newspaper), giving them the money—and legitimacy—they needed to expand into print. Nekoui, now a medical student at Harvard University, remembers the thrill of distributing that first newspaper after many long nights of planning. “It really felt like we were able to do what we wanted to do, which was to give students something that they would actually care about, written by their friends,” he says. These days, The Reckoner has a staff of more than 80 students, and was dubbed the “Meryl Streep of high school journalism awards” by the Star for its award-winning ways. The staff tries to report on everything they can in their school, says Varun Venkataramanan, the current editor-in-chief. The paper features student opinions, artwork, and creative writing, and their self-developed website has an athletics scoreboard and data visualizations. While print remains an integral part of The Reckoner’s operation, it has also continued to expand its digital presence. A few years ago, staff even made an app. Venkataramanan scrolls through a piece he worked on, which gives a statistical breakdown of the 2016 U.S. election results through interactive maps and graphs. “This is my version of art,” he says, laughing. Reflecting the school’s diverse population has always been a priority for The Reckoner. Last year, the paper ran a series called
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“Coming to Canada,” in which students wrote about their experiences as immigrants.“I just want it to be an area where we can tell everyone’s story,” says Venkatamaranan, who took over as editorin-chief the following year. Since starting underground, The Reckoner has forged a stronger relationship with the school’s administration. But it’s still entirely student run—although administration has to see everything before it goes to print. But Venkatamaranan says his paper has a lot of freedom, more than at some other schools. “We’re allowed to be critical of things that are happening in the school itself,” he says. Indeed, high schoolers don’t always have full freedom of the press. Content often has to be approved before publication, and there can be limits on what students can say. Graffiti’s teacher advisors encourage students to speak their minds and be critical. But they’re a school first and foremost, says Bulgutch; the paper can’t publish anything that would hurt other students and they have to be wary with stories involving teachers and administrators. That means certain things can’t get published, while others require a negotiation process between the school, teachers and the newspaper’s staff. “There’s always high school politics that go into what we can and can’t do as students,” says Christopher Mohan, co-editor-in-chief of the Eye of the Tiger at Thornhill Secondary School. Mohan, 17, says his paper has a lot of freedom, and he’s glad to have supportive faculty and oversight. But high school is a small place, and ideally students wouldn’t have to deal with the potential awkwardness or backlash from teachers, reading their published opinions, he says. Mohan also has financial issues on his mind; high school newspapers aren’t immune to the grim realities of print journalism. His paper is struggling with debt, and has faced funding cuts from a student council that thinks print is unsustainable. This year, the Eye of the Tiger had to fundraise for four $750 print runs, through a mix of ad sales and rose, tea, and bake sales. They might eventually have to phase out their print edition and go online-only, but co-editor Isabell Pitigoi “really, really want[s] to avoid this.” “I think there’s something special about having a physical copy,” says Pitigoi, who says the print edition makes the paper much more visible to the school community. “I think if that physical presence was lost then we would lose a lot of readership.” For now, the editors are fighting to keep print alive. “We’re trying
to get the community to understand that this newspaper, if they want it to continue, it needs to be supported,” says Pitigoi. Downtown, at Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, however, the Golden Falcon discarded its print edition a few years ago. The paper became increasingly expensive to print over the years, says staff advisor Edward Lee, who wasn’t sad to see print go. Online publishing afforded new possibilities for multimedia and audience interaction. “Was semi-formal a triumph or defeat?” screamed a banner on the Golden Falcon homepage in February. “Read the editorial soon.” Co-editor-in-chief Matthew Lindzon, 17, who runs the newlyupdated website, says the paper has been trying hard to increase online readership, and the efforts have paid off—it went from roughly 8,500 page visits in 2014 to about 90,000 in 2017 (Forest Hill Collegiate has less than 1,000 students). The Golden Falcon promotes content through social media, publishes “Humans of FHCI” on their Instagram page, and strategically releases articles at different times throughout the week. They also use Instagram stories to poll student opinions, says Lindzon, who adds that not many of his peers use Facebook. But while online is their priority, the editors actually want to bring back the print edition to increase their readership. They’ve done some surveys of the student population, and readers want a physical copy. On a Friday afternoon before Christmas break at R.H. King, it’s
crunch time in the Kingsley Voice newsroom—the next issue comes out in a week. The room is a flurry of activity. Students scurry from screen to screen, negotiating layout and figuring out how to photoshop “creepy eyes.” The art directors stand on a table, trying to take the perfect shot of a student holding an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for their cover story. “I say this every time: I have no idea how this is going to happen, and yet somehow it will,” laughs staff advisor Brian Wilkinson, who says he’ll never let go of print; it’s just too valuable of a learning experience. Students’ writing gets better when they realize they only have a certain amount of room to get to the point, and say what they want to say, Wilkinson says. Producing a newspaper is a tangible accomplishment students can hold on to, he adds. It’s not just a grade on paper they’ll toss in the garbage after class. “It teaches them creative problem solving, deadlines and pressures, and also, ideally, the reward that comes from producing something of value,” he says. Last year, one Kingsley Voice cover featured students of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds standing in the shape of a maple leaf, with a headline reading, “Where do you belong when people shout: ‘GO BACK HOME’? Patel, the current co-editor-in-chief, wrote the editorial, in which she described feeling conflicted about her cultural identity as a second-generation Canadian immigrant. “In recent years I have heard racists tell people of colour like me to ‘go back to their country,’” she writes, “and it got me thinking, if I were to ‘go back to my country’ where exactly would I go?” Patel’s article, “I’m Indian, I’m Canadian, I’m Proud,” resonated with her peers, she says. “I realized that a lot of students at R.H. King also struggle with their cultural identity because they come from immigrant families, and living in Canadian society sometimes we don’t know where we belong,” says Patel, who envisions a paper that reflects her school’s culture and connects its community. Patel and Islam, her co-editor, want to create something students will be proud of. But putting out a newspaper can be gruelling, and a week before deadline, they’re stressed to the limit. Still, they find solace in knowing it will all be worth it once the issue hits newsstands. “I feel like every time we’re done making a newspaper we all just look at it like it’s a masterpiece,” says Patel. “We look at it and we’re like, wow. We created this.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 107
Storied Careers Two of Canada’s oldest journalists look back on their decades in the business
EVERY WEEKEND, Cecile “Cece” Hodgson McCauley sat at her kitchen table in Norman Wells, a Northwest Territories hamlet with a population of about 800, to write her Monday column, her “special pen” in hand. It took Hodgson McCauley about an hour to write it, always by hand, always with the same brand of pen. When she finished, Hodgson McCauley faxed the finished product to Vancouver, where her daughter-in-law typed it up and sent it to the Northern News Services, the Yellowknife-based publication for which Hodgson McCauley wrote for roughly 40 years. “I sell the paper, you know,” she’d say. Hodgson McCauley, a founding chief of the Inuvik Dene Band and the first woman chief in the Northwest Territories, first picked up a copy of the News of the North in the early 1970s. After poring over one issue, she contacted J.W. “Sig” Sigvaldson, the former publisher of Northern News Services. The writing didn’t reflect on issues that truly mattered to its readership, she thought. “I said, ‘Who’s this guy you’ve got writing? He doesn’t say anything and it’s so stupid,’” she recalled telling Sigvaldson. “Well, why don’t you write for me?” he asked. She had no prior writing experience, but Sigvaldson gave her a shot. “I call a spade a spade,” she said. “I don’t beat around the bush.” Originally from Fort Norman, Northwest Territories, now known as Tulita, Hodgson McCauley, a Métis woman, grew up along a trapline—originally a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post—about six miles south of town. Along the line, she remembered, there wasn’t much to do. But Hodgson McCauley had her hands full. When she was six, her mother died and she had to take care of her 16 brothers and sisters. Not long after, she was sent to a residential school in nearby Fort Providence. For Hodgson McCauley, her time there was “the 10 best years” of her life. People treated her well, and she learned to cook and sew, she said. Hodgson McCauley vividly remembered one time her father went into town and brought her back a magazine: “Oh boy, did I ever read that book so fast.” Her columns tended to take an advocate’s tone. They were informal, conversational, and called for improvement to the territory’s
Cece Hodgson McCauley B Y DANIEL CAL ABRET TA
Cece Hodgson McCauley died on March 11 at the age of 95 after decades of activism and journalism. She filed her final column on March 5.
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governments and systems to improve life for its residents, especially its youth. “I don’t give a damn about the rich or high-class people. I’m teaching the little guys. They’re the ones I worry about,” she said. Randi Beers, a reporter and editor for CBC North, used to edit Hodgson McCauley’s column. Beers says some of her views were controversial, but her voice was unique, often funny, and helped build perspective: “[She had] the sort of stream-of-consciousness writing that probably only comes when you sit down and pen a 700-word column every single week by hand.” In January, Hodgson McCauley stoked controversy when, in the wake of Senator Lynn Beyak’s expulsion from the Conservative caucus, she wrote a column suggesting the residential school system had a “good side” nobody was willing to acknowledge. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” wrote Bill Erasmus, the national chief of the Dene Nation, to CBC in response. Residential school survivor Ellen Smith took issue with the column. “It’s not about the money. It’s what truly took place in our environment when we all went to residential school,” she told CBC. “I went there for 11 years.” Opinions aside, Hodgson McCauley cared deeply for her region and the people who live and work there, and was unafraid to share her thoughts, no matter how offbeat they seemed. “She [had] wisdom,” says Mike Bryant, the managing editor of the Northern News Services. “She [was] our eyes on the ground and she’s been a part of the culture, history, and politics of the region for a very long time.” In 2017, Hodgson McCauley was honoured with the Indspire Award in recognition of her contributions to political discourse. She advocated for the Mackenzie Valley Highway extension, which she believed will improve access to resources for those living in her region. “I think she [had] credibility because people [believed] her conviction,” Bryant says. “They [knew] when she [wrote] something in our paper, she honestly [believed] it.” Above all, Hodgson McCauley hoped her column created awareness of issues in the North and prompted people to make a difference. “I just say what I think,” she said in November. “I’m Cece McCauley: I say anything.” PHOTO: COURTESY INDSPIRE
Jim Hume B Y JACOB DUBÉ
PHOTO: NIC HUME
AT THE AGE OF 90, Jim Hume was laid off from his job. He maintained a regular Sunday column at the Times Colonist in Victoria, B.C., for 48 years, until he was notified the publication was “changing its structure” and cutting expenditures for freelance writers—he was on the chopping block. His final column ran on March 30, 2014. Most would consider a layoff in their 90s career-ending, but on the same day that he got fired, Hume asked his youngest son to help him set up a website; he didn’t want his brain to atrophy. Hume updates his blog, The Old Islander, every week. “I did it for my own health as much as for somebody else,” Hume says. “I’ve still got a deadline once a week, I still meet that deadline.” Lately, he doesn’t have to look very far to find something to write about. On The Old Islander, he writes about various topics, including daytime television, electric cars, and provincial politics, with a patience and attention to history missing from many current columnists. Now 94, the nonagenarian has been a journalist for the better part of 70 years. In his career, he’s met royalty, Canadian and British politicians— he had an annual Grey Cup bet against former Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson; Hume won four and lost two—and is the longest serving member of the B.C. Legislative Press Gallery. “In a way, he’s a kind of a living memory,” said his son, Stephen Hume, 71, a former columnist for The Vancouver Sun. Hume was born in 1923 to a blue-collar family in Nuneaton, England—a small town just north of Coventry. He lived on a grimy street overlooking a hat factory, but would often escape the industrial setting to visit his grandfather on the rich farmland exterior. In a post Hume published days before Christmas last year, he reminisced about holidays spent in Nuneaton during the Great Depression.“Those were the days, when the first carols were heard only a few days before Christmas; when a boy soprano could send “O Holy Night” echoing through the shadows of an old church’s vaulted ceiling like an angel singing; when most of us could sing along with the great choruses of Handel’s “Messiah.” And some of us still can.” In his teens, he interviewed for a copyboy job at the now-defunct Nuneaton Observer, and when he told his father, he forbade it. Hume’s father
was a veteran of the First World War, where he fought in the Battle of Gallipoli. He lost his left eye, a chunk of his cheek bone, and had severe damage to his left arm and collarbone after being hit by shrapnel from a Turkish shell. Hume’s father was suspicious of white-collar work. “He wanted me to learn a trade which would last me the rest of my life,” Hume says. “He never thought journalism would do it.” His father set him up with an apprenticeship at a tool plant in Coventry—his impression of a decent job—but it didn’t go as planned. Hume wasn’t so great with his hands and ruined more pieces of steel “than you would ever think possible.” Hume’s attempts at starting a writing career in England were all received with rejection letters. Around 1947, Hume—newly married with an infant son—met Doris and Muriel Howe through a friend. The sisters were true romance novelists, writing over 40 books since the 1950s. They told Hume he had a much better chance of making it as a writer in Canada, and recommended he move to Western Canada. He chose Victoria because it was the furthest away from England. “I figured—in my total ignorance—that if we didn’t like Victoria, we could start to work our way home,” Hume says. He moved to Victoria in 1948, but both the Daily Times and the Daily Colonist rejected his applications, citing a lack of knowledge of Canadian affairs. After a series of odd jobs as a woodsman and a baker, among others, Hume got a job as a sports reporter at the Nanaimo Daily Free Press in the 1950s, and everything snowballed from there. He went on to work in several newsrooms, with one stint outside of journalism in a municipal government organization. When asked why he left his government job after only 18 months, Hume responded, “Because I can’t stand you bastards up close.” He eventually settled on the Times—later renamed the Times Colonist—in the spring of 1965. In the ’50s, Hume visited England, took his father to the pub, and showed his old man his bylines as a newly minted sports editor in Nanaimo. His dad still didn’t believe this was how he was making a living, but Hume later found out his father would bore friends with stories of his “famous writer son.” Nobody knew how small the Free Press really was. “I think he was proud of me in the end,” Hume says.
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A Spiritual Journey Religion still matters to millions of Canadians, so why is there so little coverage of faith and personal belief? B Y JACOB MCNAIR
Mary Hynes sits with a cup of tea
in a cozy, burgundy-walled studio at CBC’s Toronto offices. She’s interviewing Paul Bramadat, a professor at the University of Victoria, about his study of the spiritual demographics of Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest region encompassing British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. It’s a segment for her radio show Tapestry, where she talks to Canadians about religion, spirituality, philosophy, psychology, and all other aspects of the “messy business of being human.” Even though Bramadat is phoning in from across the continent, Hynes keeps the tone personal—as if he’s sitting right there with her. While Bramadat’s initial answers revolve around mechanics and data, Hynes’s informal, caring tone and questions pry him away from his prepared answers. When asked about the area’s distinctive spiritual trends, he notes, “the influence of what I call ‘reverential naturalism,’ which is to say, that being out in nature is not just a place where one does a spirituality or religion, but it is a medium through which [spirituality or religion] is done.”
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Hynes asks for an example, commenting, “I guess the image that’s coming to my mind is, you have everything! You have the ocean, you have the mountains. You know, this part of the world is pretty spectacular in terms of natural beauty. So how does that shape a sense of spirituality?” “I moved here about 10 years ago, and most professors teach, and were taught, that everything is a social construction–” “Sorry, where did you move from?” interrupts Hynes. “I moved from Winnipeg, where I spent about 30 years of my life, but I’ve lived also in Quebec, and in the Hamilton area.” Bramadat goes on to describe how, on moving to B.C., he noticed a number of drivers unironically using a B.C. licence plate with the motto, “The Best Place on Earth,” which was offered by the government from 2007 to 2011. He believes it “does really capture the way in which people think about this place, and so it just led me to think, ‘Well, is there anything about this place which might be distinctive from the various other places I’ve lived?’ I love the prairies, I love that landscape, but it’s a place of horizontal and somewhat elusive beauty. It requires your attention. In Cascadia, the beauty doesn’t really require your attention—it reaches in and kind of grabs it.” “I know your focus is the historical and political context,” says Hynes, taking an even more personal tack, “but that’s exactly what I’m going to ask you to step away from for a couple of minutes, because I’m wondering about a time you might have felt being taken out of yourself. Having a moment that was so arresting, so sublime ... so kick the prof to the curb for a second and just be Paul: tell me about a time when you were just gobsmacked by the geographical place you were in.” “Well, one of the real challenges to this question,” Bramadat replies, “is not just that you’re asking me to not be a religious studies professor; the bigger challenge is how frequently it happens. So when I used to run, I’d be running with my son who would be, say, eight years old, and we’d be running along the oceanside, and there would be Mount Baker in the distance, and seagulls and seals and maybe a whale, and the pounding of the surf, and I would actually stop him, and I would say,”—Bramadat’s voice drops to a whisper— “‘Max. Look at this. Pay attention. This is not normal.’ And he had been here for three or four years at this point, and he would just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Dad, this is just Saturday.’ “Having those moments as a parent, where you’re trying to pass on this sense of majesty and the sublime to somebody for whom this is just what his neighbourhood looks like,” Bramadat continues, “that’s tricky, but certainly, when I’m on my own, there are moments when I just stop, get off my bike and stand there, and just think, not just, ‘My goodness, am I ever lucky,’ but ‘What is happening here? How am I being challenged to see myself not simply as a consumer of this moment, but rather as something that is transformed, transfixed by that experience?’” Spiritual encounters like this—whether or not they involve a distinguishable God—are part of the lives of millions of Canadians, even in British Columbia, where about 44 percent of the population is non-religious, nearly double the overall Canadian average according to the 2011 National Household Survey. Yet all too often, the state-
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ment, “We don’t get religion,” made by The New York Times’s executive editor Dean Baquet to NPR in 2016, seems to hold true in Canada as well. “We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better.” A recent Angus Reid survey, for example, found that a majority of Canadians in seven provinces (except B.C., Ontario, and Quebec) believe religion should have at least “some influence” on public life, and 48 percent believe religious communities are at least “as relevant as ever” in addressing social issues like poverty and homelessness. But in a country where religious diversity is being driven upward by newcomers from around the world, the number of survey respondents who said they “didn’t know anything/understand very little” about a particular religion increased sharply for non-JudeoChristian religions: 67 percent of respondents knew little or nothing about Hinduism, and 74 percent about Sikhism. Forty-six percent of respondents said they knew nothing or understood very little about Islam, and about the same percentage said the same about Judaism. But while only 12 percent believed Judaism was damaging Canadian society, 46 percent believed Islam was, and nearly twothirds believed Islam’s influence to be growing in Canada. Despite all this, there are few Canadian journalists assigned to religion beats who have developed the expertise to discuss religion and spirituality in depth. The modern religion beat is messy and diverse, not institutional enough to cover using older methods. I’ve spoken to some of Canada’s remaining religion reporters—both newcomers and old hands—to find out how they’ve learned to cover the spiritual journeys of modern Canadians.
Much of Canada’s remaining religion reporting
comes from the denominational press, who are, in some ways, closer to the complexity of lived religion than any other news publication: from The Anglican Journal to The United Church Observer, from Muslim Canadian News to Testimony Magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, reporters at religious news organizations know the tension between the doctrinally-unified identity of the religious body they’re reporting for and the diverse on-the-ground lives of the members they’re reporting on. Yoni Goldstein, the editor of the Canadian Jewish News (CJN)— the country’s only national Jewish paper—has a lot of experience with the messiness of the religion beat. The CJN mandates the representation of Canadian Judaism’s diversity. As Goldstein points out, “different Jews approach their Judaism in very different ways. For some, it’s a deep-seated religious belief; for many others, it’s cultural connections; and for a large swath of both of those people, there’s a middle area where there’s some religion and also a lot of cultural interest and connections.” In terms of representation, this has meant abolishing unsigned editorials so that all opinions in the CJN come from a distinct source, including, for a time, political editorials by Mira Sucharov, a writer known for being critical of Israeli policy. Religion, however, has been the chief way in which the CJN encapsulates its readers’ diversity.
“I was taught that all religious people were kooks,” says Douglas Todd, who’s written for the Vancouver Sun his whole career, after briefly studying theology in California. “Then I discovered, as I got older, that quite a few are kooks, but quite a few aren’t”
Every weekly issue of the paper includes “Rabbi to Rabbi,” a dialogue between rabbis of different denominations (and genders) on issues from cremation to mental illness to the Super Bowl. The back of each issue also includes multiple commentaries on the week’s Torah readings. Even if the CJN isn’t read outside the Canadian Jewish community, it allows different parts of that community to engage with each other’s understandings of faith. Where the CJN caters to any level of religious devotion, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation has one foot past the line between news and outright evangelism. You realize this immediately on walking into the office, where Jesus and the saints watch over you from virtually every shelf, wall, and cabinet. Founded in 2003 by Father Thomas Rosica—a Roman Catholic priest—and financed entirely by donors (including the Gagliano, Longo, and Weston families), Salt and Light pitches its video, magazine, and radio content as primarily for teaching non-Catholics about the faith, as well as for continuing the education of its Catholic audience. After walking through Salt and Light’s quiet, spacious new offices in Toronto, past the boardroom from which the chapel is always visible through a glass wall, I meet Rosica in his office, together with Emilie Callan, Salt and Light’s community outreach ambassador. For Rosica, an inward-focused Catholic media reflects a “ship-isgoing-down” outlook, which gives up on the wider world. So while Salt and Light does cover Catholic news like current events in the Vatican or canonizations, the real goal is to report on people’s work in the Church that are doing and saying things that will capture the world’s attention, especially the work of young people. “They would be the torchbearers because people will listen to young people who speak about the faith better than they’ll listen to [nuns and priests],” he says, sliding a stack of Salt and Light magazines across the table. Although most of the articles are written by people of different ages (with content written in Cantonese, Mandarin, French, and Italian), the latest issue is a “youth edition” written almost entirely by young adults, and the articles are about everything from the importance of giving young laypeople the opportunity to get involved in their parishes to the experiences of a young Catholic lesbian. Rosica and Callan also see Salt and Light’s role as helping to improve the secular news coverage of the Church. “That’s a real responsibility for Catholic media,” Callan says, “because Catholic language is not part of our culture, necessarily. It’s not as well known.” Rosica adds, “One of the goals here is that we’re training young Catholics to speak for the faith.” Rosica isn’t one to heap criticism on the secular media. He frequently acts as an official source—including a four-year stint as English language media attaché during the Benedict-Francis transition—and has never felt prevented from getting a Catholic message across. However, he says that he does find himself pushing for reporters to dig deeper and do more research in stories about Catholicism. “My role with the media is to say, ‘I want you to be a good journalist.’ One of the things I do is when a journalist gets the story right is I call them. No matter how complex, how difficult the SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 113
story is, ‘You did a good job at this,’’’ he says, “and if they don’t, I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, why’d you do this?’ ‘Well, I had to get it done right away,’ or whatever. One of my roles is providing names for people when there’s a story and coaching media on how to go about things so they don’t hang up the phone on you.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that reporters outside
the field of religious journalism aren’t as comfortable diving into these communities—even to dig up less evangelistic stories than those produced by Salt and Light. Religion scholars like Joyce Smith, a journalism professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, have theories about why religion journalists have increasingly struggled to wrap their heads around Canada’s changing religious landscape. “Religion seldom gets covered on its own terms, and by that I mean that it’s generally in a hyphenated context with something else,” Smith comments. “It’s religion and education; or religion and bioethics; or religion and Middle-Eastern-conflict. It’s always religion-and, and there’s not a lot of coverage of the religion. So, what happens in religious communities? What are people’s beliefs and how are they evolving?” A big reason for the decline of religion reporting over the past few decades is that religion reporting of the mid-20th century was overwhelmingly institution-based: in fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, the ultimately unsuccessful progress of unification talks between Canada’s Anglican and United churches was covered by many prominent publications, including The New York Times, made some front pages, while smaller papers often reported on Sunday sermons in local churches. Smith notes that the United States saw a temporary increase in the number of dedicated religion reporters after the beginning of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and the police siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. Canada, however, lacked comparable events that stirred newsrooms to reconsider the place religion occupies, and only the biggest papers maintained it as a beat. In the West, the Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal, and Calgary Herald; in the East, the Ottawa Citizen, the Montreal Gazette, as well as Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Star, Telegram, and (the Telegram’s successor) Sun. When the wave of newsroom job cuts hit in early 2010, the religion beat seemed hyperspecialized and irrelevant according to the old reporting models. It was an easy cost to cut. As a result, reporters are often in the awkward position of not even knowing what they don’t know. “Most journalists are coming at it from what I might call a ‘secular perspective,’” says Justin Tse, a B.C.-born scholar of Chinese Protestantism at Northwestern University in Illinois. “They want to look at the diversity of religions that are out there, but [think] those religions should be housed in institutions, and that basically the way to tackle a religion story is to look at institutions.” The problem is, Tse isn’t sure that’s how religious communities operate. “I feel like people who go to religious communities often make use of those institutions for their family life, their own personal
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“That’s a risky thing for a lot of people, because they’re depending on my judgment, and that runs against the ethic of ‘Just lay it all out there.’ Let the reader decide what’s right, what isn’t right.’ But I think in this particular case, in order to report what is accurate, I have an obligation as a reporter to distinguish between the different voices because there simply are voices that are less legitimate than others”
well-being, their social life, or even to connect with God. But I don’t feel like those religious institutions are a totalizing disciplinary force on people’s lives.” In Tse’s academic research, he’s interviewed Chinese-Canadian evangelical Christians about their views on social issues like samesex marriage. “I ask them, ‘How did you get into the sexuality issue? Was it your pastor who sort of preached this from the pulpit, or was it from the Bible?’’’ he says, “and they say, ‘Well, we watched the news, and we got concerned about it, and then we pressured our pastor to address this because he wasn’t addressing it.’ That’s not disciplinary action! That’s not institutional formation! That’s someone making use of the institution as a sort of nodal point in a wider array of everyday relations.” It’s precisely this messy religion, says Tse, that makes religion reporting so important. It’s not so much to monitor big institutions, but that a multicultural society like Canada’s relies on the coexistence of different groups of people, even when they disagree on issues as fundamental as faith.
Even more so than their colleagues in the denomina-
tional media, journalists in the secular press have had to learn how to cover the changing realities of religion in Canada on the fly. Modern reporters like the following three have figured out ways to make their beats flexible enough for the diverse and de-institutionalized world of North American spirituality. One of Canada’s last old-style religion writers was raised an atheist. “I was taught that all religious people were kooks,” says Douglas Todd, who’s written for the Vancouver Sun for 33 years, nearly his whole career. “Then I discovered, as I got older, that quite a few are kooks, but quite a few aren’t.” As a young journalist in the 1980s (after briefly studying theology in California), Todd asked his bosses at the Sun if he could cover the religion beat. Since it was unassigned at the time, they let him take it. “It used to go either to the new reporter who couldn’t say no, or it went to the office alcoholic who they didn’t know what to do with,” he explains. He’s since won a National Newspaper Award, as well as multiple awards from groups like the Religion News Association. Todd believes the early 2000s were close to a golden age of religion reporting. It was stronger in the U.S. due to a rising awareness of evangelical Christian political influence, he adds, but it was also present in Canada when religion journalists could draw significant publicity and funding from religious philanthropy groups, such as the John Templeton Foundation: “It seemed like all the major papers had religion reporters—some had two.” Todd survived having his beat cut by making it very broad, very early on. In the 1990s, he redefined the beat as “religion and ethics” to encompass all kinds of philosophical and ethical issues in nonreligious stories, which inspired him to write a book about ethical dilemmas in 1994. By the early 2010s, his coverage of Vancouver’s religious landscape revolved around growing immigrant communities of Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, and Chinese-Christians that it
wasn’t much trouble when he was asked to take on the diversity and immigration beat as well. Good religious journalism, for Todd, has to be balanced and respectful, willing to “delve into complexity” and report someone’s beliefs without mocking them so readers can evaluate them on their own. Whether he interviews a “far-out” or “not so far-out group,” Todd says that “they come away quite happy with the story about them, but other readers think, ‘Those people are crazy!’” That’s his definition of success: the subjects feel their beliefs came across accurately, but readers can still be critical. Todd writes with non-religious readers in mind, assuming that religious people won’t need to be persuaded of his articles’ relevance, and uses a lot of data to prove the importance of his stories. After all, he notes, most of his editors have been non-religious. According to Angus Reid’s religion survey from November 2017, 75 percent of Canadians believe in God. The 2011 census found that 2.85 percent of Vancouver’s population is Sikh, and Todd thinks it’s important to understand that community. He’s also covered less institutional spiritual trends and movements—from mindfulness to yoga to neopaganism—but ultimately finds his broad approach to the beat most helpful. “Sometimes I talk about religion as the ‘meaning beat,’ so I write about the meaning of something,” he says. “I try to find the philosophical, moral hook to a story.”
Thomas Morton may not be a classic religion
reporter, but he did simultaneously join three groups that some people refer to as cults. He’s worked with Vice Media, known for its unconventional approaches to journalism, for 14 years, and has spent a lot of that time getting to know members of religious groups and other subcultures. He joined the Church of Scientology, the Unification Church, and Adidam for a month in 2006, and wrote about balancing all three while trying “to be a good practicing member of each.” By the end, he found himself developing strong opinions on the merits of their religious practices, and it felt less like an article and more like something he was genuinely trying out. Since then, he’s applied those same techniques to his work, perhaps most famously in 2015 when he participated in a Pentecostal tent revival in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He even helped set up the tent, which took about three days rather than the couple of hours the preacher thought it would take. This ended up working in his favour, wearing away the initial unfamiliarity before the revival even started. “There’s something to be said for talking to people while you’re doing a physical activity,” he says. “It puts people at ease because they have to focus whatever degree of their attention on the thing and you get a little more of a candid answer.” “I don’t really balance [reporting with participation]. I try to participate as best I can,” Morton says of his experience at the revival. “I very intentionally don’t pretend to do anything, I didn’t pretend to speak in tongues. I just allow what observations I can to slip out as they do as a participant.” While Morton was open to speaking in tongues, and refreshed himself on the Bible while in Arkansas, it didn’t happen. He did, however, feel a pull to ask the preacher if he SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 115
could preach at the next meeting. “That wasn’t something I’d gone down to Arkansas planning on—it hadn’t even really been in the back of my mind. It just kind of came up and I don’t know if that was a genuine calling from God or just an idea I had, and I was like, ‘Well, what’s the fuckin’ difference?’ “When you hang out with the country sort of evangelicals, so much of the stuff is, ‘God told me to stop by your house and check in on you,’” he says. “The obvious question is, ‘Do you have any thoughts that God isn’t telling you? And how do you determine when something’s God speaking to you and when something’s just an idea you’re having?’ and then, ‘Is there a difference?’ and I think it’s just a matter of what you call things.” Morton sees his and Vice’s brand of first-person journalism— religion-based or otherwise—as a response to the failure of the classic idea of journalistic objectivity. He believes it turned stories into “fact-delivery devices” which lacked the colour needed for a sense of place and character, and unrealistically pretended that journalists have neither personal beliefs that inform their coverage or natural emotional reactions to what they cover. “I think [this style of journalism is] helpful for communicating some of the things that aren’t communicated by facts alone,” he says.
Hynes remains a strong believer that “the human
search for meaning is important all by itself—it doesn’t need to be tethered to the day’s political news to merit rigorous investigation.” Nonetheless, she understands why news media might shy away from it. “Especially now, when newsrooms are under such strain, I don’t think a lot of them are looking for creative ways to launch new beats,” she says. “It can be really hard to achieve the right tone. Because it’s so subtle, and I think as with a lot of journalism the tendency is to approach things in a black-and-white way, and I think that’s deadly, because the beauty of this beat resides in the grey areas.” She compares the beat’s difficulty to having to make parliamentary coverage relevant to someone who thinks that Parliament Hill is a fairy tale that some people need as a crutch to get by. Hynes isn’t sure that Tapestry was ever a pure religion show. When she took over, in 2006, the producers told her that the show’s “three pillars” were religion and spirituality, philosophy, and psychology. She’s kept it that way—much like Todd does with his writing—out of the belief that it connects with people who aren’t religiously affiliated or didn’t grow up with it. “I think the experience of humans as meaning-seeking creatures is pretty universal, and I think religion is one way people try to find meaning, but it’s only one way,” she says. For Hynes, her long-time practice of holding her electric bass during moments of great stress has felt just as “sacramental” as any religious rite. The Tapestry crew spends a lot of time putting shows together, which means a lot of work, both finding a diverse array of guests and keeping track of those guests to make sure the show stays diverse. The most difficult part, Hynes says, is balancing all the different axes of diversity. An episode one week could feature a white, liberal Christian figure, and the next episode could feature a Black conser-
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vative Christian figure. The two episodes could be wildly different in the issues they tackled—but it would still be two solid weeks of Christian theology. Hynes thinks the rise of the religiously unaffiliated only makes Tapestry more relevant, especially because they are so often still looking to find some meaning in their lives. “We try to get a lot of those voices on the radio, because often if people are trying to work through this stuff in their own lives, they have given it a lot of thought,” Hynes says, “and they can become quite eloquent about why, ‘Well, this is why I grew up in my parents’ religion and had to walk away, but I didn’t want to be left with nothing.’” Hynes believes that ultimately, many people find it hard to escape questions about the purpose of their brief lives: “On the one hand, those can sound like the drunken 3 a.m. dormitory conversation, but on the other hand, there’s a reason why those questions have engaged young people in the middle of the night for many, many years.”
Religion journalists don’t always realize how
much their sources have riding on their stories. Journalist Steven Zhou converted to Islam in 2011, and has published articles in major Canadian publications. He’s now an associate editor at The Islamic Monthly, an American magazine that he also contributes to as a columnist. He knows how much his community is under public scrutiny, how people rely on the news to tell them who Muslims are, and how to distinguish which voices are legitimate within the community. To him, that means journalists can’t just be knowledgeable—sometimes they must consider taking a side. “I try to distinguish between the voices that are legitimate and the voices that I think are illegitimate,” Zhou explains. “And that’s a risky thing for a lot of people, because they’re depending on my judgment, and that runs against the ethic of ‘Just lay it all out there.’ Let the reader decide what’s right, what isn’t right.’ But I think in this particular case, in order to report what is accurate, I have an obligation as a reporter to distinguish between the different voices because there simply are voices that are less legitimate than others. “For over 1,000 years, the ‘luminaries’ of the Islamic tradition have been saying that killing innocent people, in any instance, is not okay,” he says. “But then comes along all these modern people who say, ‘Well, actually, we know better. Even if we’re all accountants or traffic engineers or something, we’re going to look at the religious scripture and say it says something quite different.’” Zhou firmly believes that telling readers when one side of a disagreement has the backing of history and scholarship and the other one doesn’t is the only way to be fair both to the readers and to the people in the story. Does that involve a lot of background research and risky courage? Yes. Do most journalists have both the time and energy to invest in doing that? No. But good religion reporting is no less necessary even though, in a time of thinly stretched newsrooms, it seems like an unfixable problem; in fact, it’s precisely because it seems like such an impossibly shadowy area that journalists have to fight hard to bring light to it. As Zhou points out, “It’s an uphill battle—like so many things in journalism, right?”
To Read or Not to Read Comment sections can give journalists informed commentary or a whole lot of grief B Y DAINA GOLDFINGER ABORIGINAL PEOPLES Television Network
(APTN) reporter Kenneth Jackson was feeling the pressure. Covering for the network’s web producer in February, Jackson was responsible for monitoring online comments, which were taking a particularly nasty tone during the Gerald Stanley trial. Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer, was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation, creating a nationwide discussion filled with anger, frustration, and even more than usual, racism. Those feelings all emerged on Jackson’s screen, and the hatred in some comments was quite awful to see. He had to take a break.“It got to the point where I was like, ‘Enough is enough,’” he says. “Once it’s ‘Burn the Natives,’ I just don’t want to read anymore. And I still had like 100 more to go.” Ideally, comments provide writers with an opportunity to engage with their readers. But sensitive subjects can bring out the worst in people, causing news organizations to take steps to control the discussion. CBC no longer allows comments on stories about Indigenous people or issues, and the Toronto Star has removed comments entirely. Is there value in reading the comments?
James Baxter, iPolitics founding editor & publisher: The degree of engagement is
perhaps different for the types of stories. I think writers like to know if people are paying attention.
Hong: I tend to avoid comments on stories Jackie Hong, Yukon News reporter: It’s
hard to draw value in comments for hard news stories, because there’s a lot of ignorance and trolling. I think there’s some value in reading comments when searching for information.
about Indigenous issues, race, and inequality. They’re cesspools of racism. I wrote about my experience with self-harm, and a lot of people said, “Wow, who cares? Just go kill yourself.” Jackson: The Boushie trial created quite
a stir. People commented, “Why not put a wall around the reserve and give them a bunch of booze and guns, and do away with each other?” How can reading them affect you? Clairmont: A journalist can only take so
much. I’ve chosen to ignore reader comments. It just broke my heart that people were saying those things. Kenneth Jackson: I don’t find much use for
Baxter: Without people engaging in reader
them. People seem to like to voice their hate online. The only time I ever read comments is if there’s been a murder or for a story I am following.
comments, we’ve lost something important. I think writers like it. I think they come to expect it and miss it when it’s gone. Hong: I don’t think anyone benefits from
What are your experiences with sensitive subjects? Clairmont: I’d be writing about a sexual
assault victim and the comments would be, “She asked for it. It was her fault.” There are negative comments anytime I write about marginalized people like women, the LGBTQ+ community, or people with mental illnesses.
Susan Clairmont, The Hamilton Spectator columnist: I haven’t read the comments for
Baxter: A man referred to one of my writers
years because they’re usually mean, nasty, and not helpful.
as a “comfort woman,” a term used during the war in the Pacific for women kidnapped
ILLUSTRATION: DAVE DONALD
by Japan from other countries and sold into sex slavery. The biggest problems have always related to comments about Israel; that’s where dark souls often show up.
racist views, victim blaming, sexism, or name-calling. There’s sometimes value in engaging with comments even when they seem troll-y or aggressive because you may change minds. Jackson: You just see the hate. There’s intol-
erance in people immediately. You just get sick of it, and that’s why they say, “Don’t read the comments.” But here, it’s just...I’m getting tired. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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DISPATCHES BREAKING IN
How these young journalists are preparing to enter a changing industry B Y KENNY SHARPE JOURNALISM IN CANADA is precarious. The last decade has seen a shift resulting in new positions at fresh startups, and decreased staff and payrolls at some legacy outlets. The decline in ad revenue and online expansion continue to impact how journalists work. Yet determined faces keep emerging, like these budding reporters who are eager to take the reins. These answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Name: Tristan D’Amours DOB: June 6, 1993 (Age: 24) From Montreal, Quebec Roots: The Link
Name: Danielle Fuechtmann DOB: August 7, 1991 (Age: 26) From Edmonton, Alberta Roots: The NAIT Nugget Freelance journalist Danielle Fuechtmann has strong words for traditional newsrooms. “Let them die and rebuild and let the industry be like a phoenix,” says Fuechtmann, who points to crowdfunded reporting and journalism startups like Edmonton Taproot or the Edmonton Quotient for inspiration. She says journalism and graphic design skills go hand-in-hand in 2018: “The projects I love working on are those where storytelling and art come together.”
Name: Jack Hauen DOB: April 23, 1995 (Age: 22) From Vancouver, British Columbia Roots: The Ubyssey
From student athlete to sports journalist, D’Amours has worked his way up to become coordinating editor at Concordia University’s newspaper The Link. There, his varsity sports reporting led him to covering Montreal Impact soccer. He seeks out “really crazy, you should know about it stories,” like one he read in The New York Times about a town in Vermont with 3,000 people that harvested 12 Olympic athletes.
Name: Reem Sheet DOB: January 10, 1998 (Age: 20) From Stoney Creek, Ontario Roots: The Silhouette
Following his 2017 internship at the National Post, Hauen’s next bylines will be published in The Globe and Mail, where he landed a summer gig this year. An editor of UBC’s The Ubyssey, Hauen has a growing interest in data journalism. “Seeing papers close all the time with a lot of jobs lost, now the market is flooded with talented, experienced people fighting for the same jobs that I am hopefully going to be fighting for,” he says.
The opinion editor at McMaster University’s student paper says Canadian media needs to diversify. “I want new stories and I want more inclusivity in journalism,” says Sheet, who recently decided to wear a hijab. Originally from Jordan, Sheet aspires to write a column for The Globe and Mail, putting her experiences to print nationally: “My goal is to help people understand my background so it’s not something scary.”
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PHOTOS: KENNY SHARPE
Name: Emma Overton DOB: January 30, 1990 (Age: 28) From Thornhill, Ontario Roots: The Red Herring From music festivals to gender-neutral washrooms, Overton says her contribution to hot-button issues is to poke fun. “If you have ideas and opinions about politics and culture you want to express, I think satire is a great way to do that,” says the contributor for The Beaverton. She says she feels up-and-comers are finding ways around the financial trouble through crowdfunding: “You kind of have to be a self-starter at this point.”
Name: Ryan Gaio DOB: May 16, 1992 (Age: 25) From Niagara on the Lake, Ontario Roots: The Brunswickan With a master’s degree in creative writing, Gaio hopes to carve out a career in humour writing. He gets most of his news through Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” and says consuming comedy gives him useful information: “I think it can be a great method of disseminating current events. When I am Jerry Seinfeld you can say that you heard it here first.” PHOTOS: KENNY SHARPE & MIKE MOORE
Name: Garrison Oosterhof DOB: March 14, 1997 (Age: 21) From Kingston, Ontario Roots: The Cord Oosterhof, a film studies major, has an eye for exposing new sides to stories, like in a video he produced about the annual St. Patrick’s Day party in Waterloo, Ontario. “The closing shot was of the street when it was empty, and there was lots of garbage and people had to clean it up. It added a second afterthought that it wasn’t all party-positive scenes.” He’s optimistic about his chosen career path despite its challenges. “I’m happy to be a Canadian journalist.”
Name: Tyler Mugford DOB: July 8, 1999 (Age: 18) From Cartwright, Newfoundland and Labrador Roots: The College of the North Atlantic Mugford has already begun educating others and engaging in conversations about issues like residential schools in his college classes while finishing his journalism diploma. His family on both sides experienced the racist schooling system, which only ended two years before he was born. “The only way we are going to overcome these dark times in our history is by talking about them.”
Name: Angelyn Francis DOB: September 19, 1994 (Age: 23) From Toronto, Ontario Roots: The Ryersonian A video editor at Maclean’s, Angelyn Francis feels many people aren’t represented in Canadian journalism. “We are all very different thinkers now. I am a Black woman. I don’t see a lot of writers of colour, of different sexualities, and different genders,” she says. “I hope my perspective brings light to stories that may have not otherwise been as well covered.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 121
DISPATCHES ES SENTIALS
The Fixer Khaled al-Hammadi is an award-winning journalist in his own right. He’s also spent decades helping western reporters do their job B Y EMMA MCINTOSH WESTERN JOURNALISTS in Yemen should know by now to listen to
Khaled Al-Hammadi. Things tend to go badly—quickly, memorably, terrifyingly badly—when they don’t. One Al Jazeera TV crew made that mistake in 2011. Following company protocol, they insisted on wearing helmets while filming—a fine idea for protection’s sake, but not when trying to keep a low profile. Al-Hammadi advised them against it. “If you use these things, you will be a target immediately,” he told them. They insisted. Within half an hour, bullets were raining down around them. “Safety procedures, I think, should be different from one place to another,” al-Hammadi says. “The local people should understand the situation more than people can from outside.” Al-Hammadi would know. Since 1995, the 51-year-old Yemeni journalist has been covering his home country for the rest of the world, filing from the centre of the action or guiding western journalists from outlets like BBC, The New York Times, and CNN. In her book, Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism’s Grey Zone, Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shephard calls al-Hammadi: “If not the most famous, then definitely the most patient. A driver, translator, producer, tour guide and save-your-butt-in-a-foreign-country friend.” Often, al-Hammadi plays the role of fixer, a local journalist hired to translate, arrange interviews, and steer foreign reporters away from trouble. It can be thankless work. Fixers—the term itself being loaded with othering connotations—often risk their lives, and rarely receive the courtesy of a byline, according to a 2017 study by the University of British Columbia’s Global Reporting Centre. At the same time, however, much of the western media’s coverage of global conflict relies on fixers, who provide as much context and understanding to reports as they do life-saving knowledge to journalists. As pretty much any major story in Yemen in the past 20 years unfolded, al-Hammadi was right in the middle. AL-HAMMADI GOT INTO JOURNALISM early. While speaking via
Skype, the lanky, kind-eyed, moustached reporter smiles remembering his first article, published when he was still in the Yemeni equivalent of high school. He and his older brother studied journalism in university, eventually working their way up from their local paper to major dailies to bylines in the foreign press. The situation in Yemen, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, wasn’t as dangerous then as it is now, but reporting there was always
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a risk: “To be a journalist in Yemen, you have to pay a price, very high,” al-Hammadi says. Conditions there have been turbulent for a long time, stretching back nearly as far as the fall of the Ottoman Empire. More recently, conflict has raged between rebels and the internationally-backed government since 2004. The country was also among those rocked by public protests and violence during the Arab Spring in 2011. In the past few years, a ferocious civil war that began in 2015 has resulted in mass civilian casualties, famine, and disease. Terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group have also spread through Yemen in recent years. Without a strong government to negotiate on your behalf, tense situations can easily turn fatal—just last May, local reporters Takieddin al-Hudhaifi and Wael al-Absi were killed while covering conflict in the Yemeni city of Taiz. A group of fighters fired a shell at the building where the pair were sheltering from gunfire, also injuring two more journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ has documented the deaths of 18 journalists in Yemen since 1992. Al-Hammadi started fixing for the foreign press in 2000, after an American navy ship in Yemen was targeted by an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack. Western reporters arrived in droves. Al-Hammadi was one of few in the local media who knew English, and, excited to improve his skills, he jumped at the chance to work for the foreign press. “I loved it,” he says. “I worked with many very good journalists.” These days, al-Hammadi spends 12 hours a day writing and fact-checking information circulating via Twitter, spreading news in English and Arabic. Locals trust him because they know he’s accurate; officials talk to him because they know he’s fair. Aside from ethics, he has good reason to maintain that balance—doing so has saved al-Hammadi’s life. In 2005, after he published an article about corruption in Yemen’s air force, al-Hammadi was jailed for two days. He had been helping a PHOTO: COURTESY KHALED AL-HAMMADI
television crew in Ma’rib when personnel from the air force started calling, saying the commander wanted to see him. He declined, knowing the documentary makers’ work would have to stop if he left. But hours later, two military trucks full of armed men pulled up to Al-Hammadi’s hotel. Air force officials demanded he go with them. “One of them was carrying a very heavy gun,” al-Hammadi says. “I tried to convince them to delay…They told me no.” They drove him about 170 kilometres back to the capital city of Sana’a, telling him he’d be back by the next morning. Instead, alHammadi was thrown in jail. “It was a very small room but without any furniture,” he recalls. “Just very dirty blankets and a very small toilet.” His situation in the room was so bad, he says, that even after 24 hours without food or water, he was barely able to choke anything down when his captors finally brought him something to eat. He was interrogated for six hours. Al-Hammadi was able to contact a friend and his wife before he was taken into custody. While he waited in his cell, they were raising a ruckus, pressuring the government to release him. “[I was] very worried about my family,” al-Hammadi says. “I was also worried about my colleagues, the foreign reporters, how they will continue their work.” In the end, he got out because officials familiar with his reputation pushed for it. After his release, he spent a few hours with his family. But the next morning, he went back to Ma’rib and resumed working with the television crew. The government asked him to sign papers saying he wouldn’t talk about what happened and would stop reporting on corruption in the air force; he ended up publishing a piece about his kidnapping experience in Yemeni media anyways. “I became more brave to write a report about anything without any fear from the government or from any side,” he says. UNFLAPPABLE AS AL-HAMMADI IS, Yemen has become too danger-
ous even for him. “I left because of my family,” he says. He recently decamped to Turkey, taking his wife and children—he has six, though one is at university in Germany. Threats aren’t new to him, but this time there were three in particular that seemed unwise to ignore: “They threatened to kill me and also to kidnap or abduct my sons in Sana’a.” Toward the end, he says, life there wasn’t much of a life, anyways—his kids couldn’t get an education, access to basic services like electricity was limited, and rockets destroyed his parents’ house in Taiz. Though his mother and father weren’t there at the time, several members of his extended family were hurt or killed. Even from outside his home country’s borders, al-Hammadi hasn’t stopped reporting on the conflict in Yemen. What else would he do? He couldn’t get another job in the Middle East, he says, and he needs to support his family. And really, he still loves doing it. “Journalism isn’t just a job to get income to survive,” al-Hammadi adds. “It’s also a message to help the society.” He’s received recognition for his work—Canadian Journalists for Free Expression gave him a Press Freedom Award in 2011—but alHammadi doesn’t keep doing it because of that. “I feel that I have a social responsibility towards my society,” he says. “I have to write well about what’s going on in Yemen.” SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 123
DISPATCHES CROS S-CANADA
From Coast to Coast to Coast
Reporters from every province and territory highlight the stories they think every Canadian should know B Y KENNY SHARPE YOU CALL YOURSELF a news-aholic? Think
you know what’s going on across Canada? The Ryerson Review of Journalism contacted journalists from sea to sea to sea and asked them for one story from their corner of the country you need to know about. These answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
NEWFOUNDL AND AND L ABR ADOR Ashley Fitzpatrick, St. John’s The Telegram, SaltWire Network
The Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project Its construction timeline is blown by two years and costs have run from $6.2 billion in 2010 to $12.7 billion. Muskrat Falls is a public project being covered by power ratepayers. Research shows a greater risk of methylmercury poisoning to wild food sources downstream, adding fuel to grassroots movements that claim the project fails to respect health and way of life.
NOVA SCOTIA Adina Bresge, Halifax The Canadian Press
ignored Hines’s repeated cries for help as he was dying. Two correctional officers were charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. The lives and deaths of incarcerated, marginalized people are worthy of our notice.
Nova Scotia’s Family Doctor Shortage Provincial health officials say 42,000 Nova Scotians are actively looking for a family physician. 100,000 are without a doctor according to federal statistics. ERs are shutting down from staffing shortages. The Liberal government is increasing efforts to recruit new doctors, but dozens of vacancies remain unfilled.
PRINCE EDWARD ISL AND Jocelyne Lloyd, Charlottetown The Guardian
Electoral Reform Traditionally, P.E.I. governments have been elected in sweeps, handing the reins back and forth between the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. But over the past year, Islanders have become more accepting of third parties. The 2015 election saw the first Green member, Peter Bevan-Baker, elected to the legislature, followed by a second Green MLA in a 2017 by-election. The Greens are now polling in second place. Also, proportional representation and support for scrapping the first-past-the-post electoral system is gaining traction.
QUEBEC Tom Fennario, Montreal APTN News
How the Mohawk will Respond to Marijuana Legalization Not only are there the dynamics of directly competing with provinces for pot dollars, but unlike the every-smoke-shack-foritself days of the Mohawk tobacco trade, band councils are more inclined now to try to regulate the business. Most Mohawk marijuana entrepreneurs want councils to stay out of their business interests, so there’s a standoff brewing between the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, versus individual Mohawk band councils, versus Mohawk entrepreneurs waiting for each other to make the first move.
NUNAVUT Michele LeTourneau, Iqaluit Nunavut News, Northern News Services Ltd.
The Efforts to Preserve the Inuit Language NEW BRUNSWICK Julia Wright, Saint John CBC New Brunswick
How Marginalized People are Treated in Prisons Lying on his back on the shower floor, Matthew Hines begged the guards at the Dorchester Penitentiary to stop. They turned the water back on. Thirty seconds later, Hines appeared to have a seizure. A federal investigation found that prison staff
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Inuit make up 85 percent of Nunavut’s population. Inuktut, which includes Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut, is recognized as an official language, and each Inuit child has the right to a bilingual Inuktut education paired with French or English. But that’s not happening. “Ottawa funds French language services in Nunavut at a rate 44 times higher than Inuktut,” says Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group which oversees the Nunavut Land Claim. “Inuit are not receiving essential services in Inuktut.”
ONTARIO Jody Porter, Thunder Bay CBC Thunder Bay
SASK ATCHEWAN David Fraser, Regina Regina Leader-Post
BRITISH COLUMBIA Tina House, Vancouver APTN News
The Resilience of Indigenous Youth
Violence Against Women
The Conflict over Pipelines
In recent years, students have been graduating in record numbers from Keewaytinook Internet High School, a First Nations-run institution in northern Ontario. But you likely didn’t hear about it. I was busy telling a more familiar story: Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg mysteriously turned up dead in a river in Thunder Bay. Their deaths shouldn’t be ignored, but neither should the lives of their peers. By focusing on death, journalists reinforce the colonial myth of Indigenous people as a vanishing race.
Women in Saskatchewan are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than in any other province. According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada in 2015 after the territories. Approximately 80 percent of Saskatchewanians who reported were women. Women are no longer accepting victimization and men are being held accountable, but Saskatchewan is lagging behind societal changes which is countering that.
With the current battle waging between the Alberta and B.C. governments over the Kinder Morgan expansion project, First Nations and their supporters say it could become another Standing Rock. “Transporting nearly a million barrels of diluted Bitumen in B.C. waters is too risky and we will not sacrifice our environment,” said Rueben George of the Tsleil Waututh Nation. “Once that’s destroyed we have nothing!”
MANITOBA Ian Froese, Brandon The Brandon Sun
How a Worker Shortage in Manitoba is Promoting Diversity Two decades ago, Winkler, Manitoba, was a town with a largely Mennonite, Christian population. But Winkler needed workers. Town officials worked with provincial and federal counterparts to bring in blue-collar newcomers. In the decade following 2006, this town of 9,000 became a city of 14,000. They built more churches. A mosque was recently established to accommodate Syrian refugees. Scores of Filipinos have settled in Neepawa, west of Winnipeg. Some locals are even learning Tagalog to greet their new neighbours. These communities are models for others.
NOR THWEST TERRITORIES Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs, Yellowknife APTN News
Housing Crisis in the North For the last 15 years, Charlie Tale has been living with mould. “It’s getting worse every year,” says the native of Wrigley, Northwest Territories. Others told me they had mould so bad they had to bungee cord doors shut and keep fans on at all times. The housing crisis for the small Pehdzeh Ki First Nation community in Wrigley mirrors many residual effects of government displacement across the North.
YUKON Nancy Thomson, Whitehorse CBC Yukon
The First Nations Influence on Economic Development The Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA)— signed between Yukon First Nations and the Yukon and Canadian governments—is the authority defining Indigenous self-government. It lays out how economic benefits will flow to First Nations through the final land claims. First Nations are increasingly turning to courts to defend agreements and have been overwhelmingly successful. Deep inequalities remain, but a paradigm shift is afoot, with three levels of government using the UFA as a blueprint.
ALBER TA Heide Pearson, Calgary Global Calgary
The Opioid Crisis As opioid-related deaths continue to soar, the province and municipalities are scrambling to get ahead of the destruction. Calgary first responders saw a 250 percent hike in opioid-related calls in 2017. In response, the province has launched a community awareness campaign to reduce the stigma around the crisis. SPRING 2018 | RYERSON REVIEW OF JOURNALISM 125
thing she looked at in the morning. “Sometimes, in a groggy state, I would wake up in the middle of the night to check it without even quite realizing what I was doing.” says McKeon, the digital editor for The Walrus. McKeon, who in the fall published F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, replaced her phone with a warm cup of tea and a book at bedtime, leaving her phone charging in a different room so she couldn’t reach for it at night while in bed, even subconsciously: “Still—it can be hard not to worry about what I’m missing, especially these days, and some nights I’ll break my own rule. It’s a work in progress!”
Save Up Those Vacation Days...
SHUT TING DOWN
Just because the news never rests doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t B Y MARIA IQBAL EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, CBC ombudsman Esther
Enkin can’t stop being a journalist. With more content being produced than ever before at remarkable speeds, journalists are dealing with a serious fear of missing out. Enkin knows the struggle all too well: “I read The New York Times on my phone at 3 a.m., and sometimes I fall asleep with my finger on a word.” Enkin loves her job, but she doesn’t want it to take over her life. It’s hard to tell which comes first—the journalist, or the human—and Enkin is looking for suggestions to keep the two separated. “If anybody has any good tips, I’m looking forward to it.”
Learning to Unplug Like Enkin, Lauren McKeon struggled to put her phone down, even when she was sleeping. She used to sleep with it charging on her nightstand—making it the last thing she saw before bed and the first
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When Robyn Doolittle had a baby girl in June, she was more than a year into her Unfounded investigation for The Globe and Mail. So, she decided not to take a full maternity leave. After a month off, she started using her vacation days so she could work part-time hours spread out over the week. At the Globe, Doolittle says, the staff is flexible, and nobody is looking at when she comes in or leaves the office. “At the same time, you’re kind of always on the clock when you’re responsible for a story.” When balancing parental and reporter duties, Doolittle makes it work: Her Instagram snapshots show the youngest member of the Unfounded team blending in well at work with her reporter mama.
…and Don’t Let Anybody Interrupt Them The demands of a daily newspaper may be different from those of a monthly publication like Toronto Life, but that doesn’t make life any easier for senior editor Malcolm Johnston. Johnston, a father of two, follows a strict regimen that includes running, reading books, and spending time with his kids. Johnston always keeps his phone on night mode to curb his Twitter-scrolling habits, and on vacation, he turns his work email off, checking it sporadically. “That can sometimes make for wild discoveries upon re-entry,” he says. “But it’s worth it!”
Taking a Break is All It’s Chopped Up to Be The pen may be mightier than the sword, but when Canadian Press reporter-editor Michelle McQuigge isn’t hustling to file a story, she likes to pick up a knife. For McQuigge, cooking is an excellent way to get a break from the news. “Chop those vegetables a little more aggressively than strictly necessary if you have to,” she says. It’s a good way to decompress, and it comes with a delicious bonus. “You can sit down and prolong your time away from the screen by eating a good meal.” And there’s nothing selfish about taking that time off, McQuigge points out. “If you’re cookin’ healthy, then you can keep doing your work!” PHOTO: ISTOCK
Risky Business It took Tavia Grant 10 months to tell one story. Here’s how she did it B Y EMMA BEDBROOK GLOBE AND MAIL REPORTER Tavia Grant
was searching for Canada’s deadliest job. In 2012, ProPublica and PBS Frontline found that tower climbing—scaling communications towers for maintenance— was a dangerous vocation. Although 93 climbers died on the job in the previous eight years, the fatalities weren’t listed in the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s workplace accident database. They found the tower industry’s death rate was about 10 times higher than the construction industry’s between 2003 and 2010. Grant wanted to replicate the research in Canada.
between 2006 and 2015. However, when converted into proportional fatality rates, it showed firefighters were one of Canada’s most dangerous occupations. After about two weeks reporting on firefighters, Grant discovered they were statistically incongruous. Unlike other professions, special legislation in many provinces automatically claim cancer as a work-related illness for firefighters. The studies Grant wanted to replicate focused on sudden on-the-job deaths—called traumatic deaths—and not long-term illnesses.
It became clear that Canada was lacking data, but Grant’s team persisted. She knew the investigation could create positive change if done properly. Now, the story needed a human interest element.
In order to accurately compare Canada to the U.S., Grant needed the same type of data ProPublica had analyzed. She had to order more data about traumatic deaths.
She visited a fishing community in Nova Scotia with the highest death toll of fishers of all provinces. Provincial fatality rates weren’t available, so Grant looked at sheer numbers. The Nova Scotia government was actively trying to decrease the number of deaths. Grant talked to fishers and families who’d lost loved ones. The families were “remarkably open” to her investigation.
Around April, Grant contacted the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and kept in touch every month. She sent a request for occupational fatality data from the AWCBC with a focus on traumatic deaths.
Follow her steps to complete the story. In January 2017, Grant ordered data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) on annual worker fatalities, broken down by occupation, from 2006-2015. The data didn’t have every worker death in Canada, but the occupations with the most fatalities were truck drivers and firefighters, among others. Total worker deaths were nearly 10,000.
Grant sent the data to Statistics Canada, which produces customized reports upon request, to calculate the annual fatality rate. By the end of the month, Grant had the first set of information.
Throughout February, Grant analyzed the data, knowing the story had significant public interest.
The data suggested truck drivers had the absolute highest number of deaths—773
The new data showed that there were 1,758 traumatic deaths between 2011-2015. Truck drivers, construction trades helpers and labourers, material handlers, and air pilots were among the occupations with the most fatalities. She sent the data to StatsCan to convert the proportional risk of traumatic death rates.
The returned data showed fishing and trapping as the industries with the highest traumatic death rate proportional to the number of paid workers in the field. Statistically, logging was the deadliest job, but of the six most dangerous occupations, three were related to fishing.
For a small industry, fishing had shockingly high death rates. Grant then verified the calculations with Globe data scientist Shengqing Wu and cross-checked the information with the TSB data which illustrated that fishing industry fatality rates hadn’t improved since 1999.
Grant believed meeting sources in person led to better details and more emotional storytelling. Although the story was still datadriven, Grant knew connecting with readers’ emotions would resonate.
After returning from Nova Scotia, Grant was on vacation for August and put the story aside. In September and October, Grant analyzed and double-checked the data, did follow-up interviews, fact-checked, and wrote. Despite the lack of available data, and after months of rigorous work, Grant’s story was finally published on October 27, 2017.
Days after the article was published, the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development released a statement. “Statistics Canada is prepared to explore collection of data from the provincial and territorial ministries of labour and the workers’ compensations boards.” The last national analysis was produced in 1996.
“I felt encouraged that our journalism had an impact in influencing federal policy and in raising public awareness about an underreported topic,” Grant said in an email. It took a year, but the results speak for themselves.
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A Dying Artform
With print publications shrinking, what’s the future of the traditional obituary writer? B Y DAN LEBARON
THE FUTURE of professional obituary writing in Canada appears to be up in the air. Many of the country’s primary obit writers are nearing the end of their careers, and in most cases, it’s unclear who will take the reins for the next generation. “When I leave the paper, I don’t know who will pick it up,” says Dan Nolan, the primary obituary writer for The Hamilton Spectator. Nolan has worked at the paper for 30 years and also holds the job of copy editor. He’s penned obits for extraordinary people: a Second World War prisoner of war, a woman who worked at Bletchley Park tracking German U-boats, and a Nigerian prince who left Africa and wound up living in Hamilton. Today, Nolan pitches about 90 percent of the obituaries he writes. Aside from those about notable public figures, he writes and produces the columns outside his regular working hours, getting paid per piece. “I think it’s a dying art form,” he says.
“Papers are so strapped now, it’s not something they think about.” The trade is at a crossroads. Although a vital part of the news cycle, obit writing remains a niche beat, and some writers are concerned for its future. Yet, while many predict the worst, others are confident obituary writing is stronger than ever. In her 2012 book, Working the Dead Beat, Sandra Martin, The Globe and Mail’s longtime obituary writer who left in 2014, cited new technology, as well as modern writers’ willingness to be more forthcoming about their subjects, as reasons for what she sees as a new era of obit writing. “There is a new frankness, an unwillingness to camouflage warts under layers of unctuous hyperbole and—thanks to technology—fresh, innovative ways to augment obituaries with photographs, interviews, and even videos,” she writes. Martin’s suggestion that the trade is still evolving is
remarkable considering that obituary writing is one of the world’s longest-standing literary traditions. The practice of writing death notices can be traced back to 59 BC, when daily leaflets called Acta Diurna were distributed across the Roman Empire, containing notable news, like births and deaths. Martin’s former colleagues at the Globe continue to dedicate significant time and resources to obits, running their one-page obituary section six days a week, usually with one to three deaths per issue. “Obituaries are very supported, it’s recognized as part of the paper that readers love,” says Danielle Adams, the Globe’s current obituary editor. She says that the paper’s editor-inchief, David Walmsley, is an advocate for the importance of the obituary column. “I don’t believe it’s dying, the Globe has a long tradition of carrying obituaries,” she adds. While some freelancing occured, Martin wrote the majority of the Globe’s obituaries. When she left, the Globe didn’t hire a new full-time obit writer, instead assigning columns either to in-house journalists or freelancers. Tom Hawthorn is one of those freelancers. He used to write a regular Globe column, but now only contributes obituaries occasionally. In 2017, Hawthorn won
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a Grimmy Award—handed out annually by the Society of Professional Obituary Writers—for the best longform obituary for his story about an ultra-marathoner named Al Howie. Hawthorn has been a journalist for over 30 years, and fondly recalls the more interesting obituaries he’s written—namely Canadian wrestlers Walter “Killer” Kowalski and Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, and former Quebec Nordique Gilles “Bad News” Bilodeau. Although Hawthorn says many papers still run robust obituary columns, like Nolan’s, he’s not sure where the trade is headed. “I would say it peaked a few years ago from not being a very interesting art form to being a really interesting art form,” he says. “But like any other part of the industry, it’s under threat.” The budget cuts and layoffs that have crippled the industry have forced editors to make difficult decisions about what they can do without. Despite the Globe’s dedication to the obit column, it doesn’t appear to be garnering the same support at other publications around the country. “If I didn’t write them, nobody would,” says John Mackie, the Vancouver Sun’s chief obituary writer. Mackie, who’s been at the paper since 1984, doesn’t have the luxury of focusing solely on obituaries,
and is often assigned to write about other topics. “Every person on Earth is worth a 15-inch obituary. Everybody,” he says. Mackie doesn’t think the obit column will die off entirely at Canadian newspapers, but he’s unsure of what the quality will be like in the future due to editors who don’t recognize the importance of obits, and a younger crop of journalists who aren’t familiar with the craft. “There will be obituaries until newspapers no longer exist; the question is, how good will they be?” he asks, adding that he thinks readers still really enjoy the obituaries. Obituary writers have to locate family and friends of the deceased, navigate libraries and historical databases for research purposes, and cobble together an accurate column that does justice to the lives of their subjects. With younger journalists not showing a great deal of interest in studying the practice, Mackie’s concerns about future quality are understandable. With an industry in flux, the future of obituary columns in Canadian newspapers is blurry. Battletested writers like Nolan, Hawthorn and Mackie are keeping the columns—and their quality—afloat for the moment, but who will take over when they’ve put away their pens?
The Ryerson Review of Journalism (RRJ) is a multi–platform magazine with an annual print edition, a dynamic web site (featuring digital feat...
Published on May 25, 2018
The Ryerson Review of Journalism (RRJ) is a multi–platform magazine with an annual print edition, a dynamic web site (featuring digital feat...